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Subject: 4x+ Mechanics Review of the Burning Suns' Prototype (1.05 Rules) rss

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Tim Smart
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My background -

I am a fan of 4x games, and wanted to create a review for 4x players. I am a backer of Burning Suns. And my default strategy in any game, for better or worse, is to turtle. I have played the game twice, one four player game and one two player game.

Quick Overview -

Players:
Each player starts the game off with an Ideology, Race, and Structure. These define the players abilities, ships, etc. For the purposes of the review and readability, the term RACE will be an umbrella term for a player's Ideology, Race, and Structure.

Actions:
Each player is given 3 leaders. Players use these leaders decide their actions each round of the game on action sheets. There are four action sheets with the following actions:
Exploration: Explore, Jump, and Scan
Civilization: Colonize, Diplomacy, and Construct
Warfare: Battle, Bombard, and Assault
Special: Ability, Recruit, and Mission

Galaxy:
Built of circles that represent planets and space, the galaxy starts constructed with unexplored systems. Each planet is either, a home planet, uninhabited, inhabited, or hostile. This is one of the first unique aspects of Burning Suns. Using circles, the galaxies can have very different feels and starts. See http://goo.gl/Qyt69g for some examples from the creator. This further allows for fairer matches for five player games, over what hexes offer. For instance, the following map has five players who are all one space tile and two inhabited planets away from each player.


Feel:
Burning Suns has a very Rock, Paper, Scissors feel to it. Thematically and Mechanically this works very well from my play troughs. Building and sabotaging empires can be done through politics, war, agents, special abilities, alliances, and artifacts. While I still move slowly, this game broke me of my turtling nature. This is because the ships themselves do not have a Rock, Paper, Scissors mechanics. Each ship can take only one damage and give one damage. In battle, the only difference between ships is their chances of a successful attack. This makes battles easier to complete and less number crunching, even when ships have upgrades. These battles go faster and have less errors (e.g. I forgot my ship can...) than games like Twilight Imperium and Eclipse. There are three unique units that players can build one of each. They have more attack dice and hit points. They feel similar to the ships from Twilight Imperium.


4x+ Mechanics -

Explore:
The Explore and Jump actions are used for exploring. Choosing the Explore action, a player can flip the galaxies circles to reveal them. Their race determines how many they may fill. Once a galaxy is explored, it is explored for all players. For players to interact on most other actions, they must be connected by explored tiles. A player does not move units to Explore. To move units into explored areas, the player must choose Jump. The Jump mechanic is generous as it allows you to move whole fleets at a time and drop off ships along the way. Mechanically, this works well and there is little confusion from new players. Thematically, it is interesting that players cannot affect what they cannot see. Two players cannot ally until they see each other as well.

Expand:
Expanding can be done by the actions, Colonize, Diplomacy, and Assault. This is where Burning Suns starts to shine in its paper, scissors, rock mechanics. Uninhabited planets require Colonize and are the easiest to take control over and keep control over, but they require a ship to go to the planet, cost money to take, and have the fewest benefits. Inhabited planets can be taken over by Diplomacy or Assault and provide moderate benefits. Diplomacy can be done from by a distance, is free, and starts the planet off in peace, but it requires luck. Assault, is also free and is guaranteed success, but requires ship and starts the planet in unrest. Hostile planets can only be taken by Assault. These planets provide the best benefits, but the assault is not guaranteed because you will have ships and ground troops to destroy. Mechanically, each race will have benefits toward different types of planets and strategies. No race is too weak for any type of action. Thematically, the galaxy feels alive and active. The costs for planets make sense. And I even had one player explaining to another player, only listening to the directions once, "You cannot Assault an Uninhabited planet, because there is no one there to assault." A good sign for mechanics and theme mixing well.

Exploit:
There is only one type of resource, crystals. The exploit of resources is pretty straight forward. You can get resources from planets, agents, items from the galaxy market, and special race abilities. There is not as much of an economic engine feel, in that, you cannot upgrade your engine much directly. And if you do, it will take a valuable upgrade slot. This reduces turtling again because the main mechanic for getting resources is getting planets. The three actions that cost resources are Colonize, Construct, and Recruit (if you fail the role). Mechanically, since there are only a few upgrade slots and most actions can be done without any cost. Money is used mostly for building ships. Thematically the lack of a need of money is strange. Most other 4x+ games you play, this is what you use for your trade-offs. This is still true here, but not a focus. It is nice that empires can run with less money, and an empire with a better economic is not a guaranteed winner. But thematically, it removes that feel of having an empire. No player felt bigger or smaller, more or less advanced, or weaker or stronger than another player. Thematically this felt the weakest for me versus other 4x+ games.

Exterminate:
Battles are not automatic and can only occur when a player selects Battle (space) or Assault (planet). That player then can only select one player's fleet or planet to attack. there is no retreat; a battle must finish. You gain a victory point if you win the battle, defending or attacking. The attacker has a first round advantage; the ships destroyed do not return fire. After the first round, both players attack at the same time. Mechanically, these battles come down to the ship's chance attack. Thematically, since battles are fewer between, they feel more built up for who will win. They feel simple with less strategy behind them. But there is a twist, a lot of cards can have supper effects based on a battle happening. These cards bring theme to battles when used and are often the spoken about part after the game ends. Whole planets can disappear, and the galaxies tide can change right here.

Sabotage:
Not only war can there be sabotage. Players can also sabotage with Diplomacy, Ability, Recruit, and Mission. A player can select diplomacy to roll and try to cause unrest, planet has less resources, or a rebellion, player loses planet, for an opposing player. The ability action allows you to use a agent's, artifact's, or race's special abilities. These abilities are very powerful, but not breaking. A player can steal another player's agent with recruit. And lastly, mission is a very unique action. This allows a player to deal one point of damage to a target. This will destroy all ships and building, and cause one point of damage to unique units. Mechanically, sabotage is straight forward with a lot depth to it. An entire round is not usually ruined for any one player. But it is definitely possible to destroy an action or two through sabotage. Thematically This game puts as much focus into sabotage as it does war. You likely will not win a game through just military, just economy, or just sabotage alone, but you can win with any two of them. Further, I have not seen a player focus on any one of them through a whole game. This makes the game feel like it is always changing, since you seldom can predict the movements of other players, round to round. The mission action seems strangely worded or feels like it should have more to it, like being able to steal money.

Research:
A player can research through the actions, Scan, Recruit, Construct, and gaining antimatter. Scan gives you a chance take an artifact that will have a very unique ability, such as switching or adding planets. Recruit will let you attempt to get an agent. Agents have one passive ability and one super ability which discards the card. Construct allows you to buy upgrades from the galactic market. The galactic market has the most research feel. Mechanically, it is nice to see that research can be acquired many ways that do not all involve cost. This system works well and different races are able to have more and less of each type of card or upgrade, so players are not always butting heads for upgrades, agents, or artifacts. Thematically, recruiting makes sense for getting agents. And the market works well to upgrade you ships while building them. Scanning feels strange, as there are no tokens or parts of space that have artifacts. A player just performs the action to roll a dice and see if they get an artifact. And gaining antimatter to unlock new abilities gives that closest feel of having an advanced race.

Diplomacy:
Diplomacy can be done through the Diplomacy action. This is how two players can become allies. Only one player has to select diplomacy, making interesting situations where the players argue who takes it. If the players decide to ally they select one of three types of alliance, peace, war, or trade. Each of these provide different benefits, such as battle-dice rerolls or more crystals (money) a turn. There are two caveats though. The alliance cards also have your race's special abilities that are very powerful and cannot be used while an alliance card, so a player must be careful not to give too much away. Also players cannot be allies when they are three or more victory points,(antimatter) away from each other. Further, if one ally wins then both allies win the game. Mechanically, this ally system is very unique and allows for non-war breaks in alliances. It provides a nice cost-benefit mechanic too. Thematically, the benefits work well and make alliances mean something. Otherwise, losing the special ability and the being too far away with victory points makes little sense. For instance, imagine three empires, 1p, 2p, and 3p. If 1p and 2p are allied with two victory points apart, 2p with the most, and 3p starts a fight on purpose with only one ship in the fleet against 3p's strongest fleet, guaranteeing a lost for 3p and giving 2p another victory point, 1p and 2ps' aliance would end. Despite the diplomacy not matching thematically, the mechanics are good enough to outweigh the theme's short fall.

Scoring:
A victory track is used to track victory points. Once a player has accumulated enough victory points they win. There are three ways to accumulate victory points:
(1) winning a battle or assault, while attacking or defending;
(2) destroying an opposing player's unique unit by any means; or
(3) Specific planets, agents, artifacts, or galactic market items.
Mechanically and Thematically this is the game's biggest shortfall. Take this with a grain of salt as I am biased against first to victory point total games because a player can often just win without a completed game feeling. All of my games so far have ended well with final battles over a planet's victory point. And perhaps the other mechanics stop a weak ending from happening. I have not played enough to verify one way or the other. But a player could win a final victory point by attacking a single ship or a planet's single squadron. The scoring, over everything else, feels like it needs the most polish. Possibly, hitting the last victory point unlocks the last level for the race and gives possible winning scenarios. Either way, this being the weakest link, shows how much the maker, Emil Larsen, has put into making this game a gem. It has been one of my favorite 4x games even in its prototype form, and am excited to see its final version.

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John Lagerquist
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Great review, thanks!
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Barry Kendall
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Helpful review. What differences did you discern between a two-and a four-player game, other than game length?
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Emil Larsen
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Hi Tim,

Woow, what a nice rundown of the different mechanics and elements. Spot on in explaining them - super!
Thanks a lot for the very kind words - that made my evening soooo much better. I'm happy to hear how the game appealed to you

I'm really looking forward to start polishing with the many great backers of the campaign - it's going to be awesome and we'll come a long way together!

Best regards Emil

PS: I'll just link to this from the campaign.
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Kevin Pluchar

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Thank you so much for a good example of how the circle-systems can be better than hexes.

This is not to say that they are strictly superior to hexes, however.

There are a lot of people saying hexes are always better, which is clearly not true by this 5-player galaxy example.
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Tim Smart
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Intrepid wrote:
Great review, thanks!

Thank you very much!

Barry Kendall wrote:
Helpful review. What differences did you discern between a two-and a four-player game, other than game length?

The two player game felt more like a chess game, where both players attempted to trap the other player into situations. The mission action and race specific cards were much more important, since the alliance portions mattered much less (though nothing specific in the rules that a two player game could not have allies. I just cannot see a reason to).
In the four player game, controlling of territories was a higher priority, using diplomacy and war more often. Allies were built and lost over planet control. By virtue of having more leaders on the board, the galactic market and artifacts were also used more often. Both games relied heavily on agent cards and the race's ideology.

Emilarsen wrote:
Hi Tim,

Woow, what a nice rundown of the different mechanics and elements. Spot on in explaining them - super!
Thanks a lot for the very kind words - that made my evening soooo much better. I'm happy to hear how the game appealed to you

I'm really looking forward to start polishing with the many great backers of the campaign - it's going to be awesome and we'll come a long way together!

Best regards Emil

PS: I'll just link to this from the campaign.

Just saw the link and quote! Thank you very much Emil. I'm glad to have made your evening.

Lockreed wrote:
Thank you so much for a good example of how the circle-systems can be better than hexes.

This is not to say that they are strictly superior to hexes, however.

There are a lot of people saying hexes are always better, which is clearly not true by this 5-player galaxy example.

I agree. I am a huge fan of hexes in general, not squares at all. But these circle galaxies look so interesting and they played just as well as hexes. After I got the Vassal version of the game, I probably spent an hour just making galaxies.
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Paul Brown
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Little did you know it would be 4 years before you could finally get your copy of this awful game. Play Eclipse or TI3/4 instead, they are far better.
 
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