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Subject: What the XXXX? rss

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Matt
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That's my perp! Futsie, all right - crazy as a coot! He's got to be stopped!
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The use of the term 4X to describe empire or civilisation building games must have sneaked up on me when I wasn’t looking. These days there are more 4x’s bandied around than in an Australian lager advertisement. The term was first coined by writer and game designer Alan Emrich in his 1993 preview of Master of Orion. It is used to describe a genre of game in which players xplore, xpand, xploit, and xterminate. So, the term is 20 years old and I have only recently heard of it – I must be getting old.

Peloponnese by Bernd Eisenstein is an empire building game set in ancient Greece. Such games are usually heavy on rules and content and often take at least a couple of hours to play and a very large table. In contrast, Peloponnese has simple rules and plays in well under an hour. Can it still manage to capture the essence of building an empire or is it crippled by compromise?

Xplore

I’m afraid that there is no exploring to be done, sorry. Not off to a good start are we?

4X Rating:

Xpand

Now we are talking, Peloponnese does indeed require you to expand your empire, and better still this is done through an interesting auction mechanism. Players have a choice of tiles (representing buildings and landscapes) that are arranged in two rows. All tiles have a minimum cost; tiles in the top row can be conquered outright but cost an additional 3 coins. Tiles in the bottom row offer more opportunity for grabbing a bargain as players only have to bid the tiles base value (you can still bid more if you wish). However, it is risky as another player can come along with a higher bid. When this happens the fist player must either move his bid to another tile that he can afford or pick up his coins and skulk off tail between legs. Players can only make one bid/conquest in each round and cannot raise that initial bid so deciding just how much to bid and allowing yourself a backup plan is vitally important.

When purchased tiles are placed in the player's display, buildings to the left of me landscapes to the right to the right. In addition the player who made the highest bid becomes the start player.

4X Rating XXXX

Xploit

Purchased landscape tiles can only be placed if they share a resource type in common with the previously placed tile. Some landscapes produce wood, others produce stone or food. Some tiles produce a combination of resources and offer more flexibility when it comes to adding them to your empire. Players can only store a limited amount of each resource, any extra are transformed into luxury goods – these act as wild cards allowing players to trade in two for any other one resource.

Buildings require certain resources before the player can claim ownership (even if a player cannot pay the resources necessary the tile can still be added to their empire – but there is a greater risk of it being removed from play). Some building tiles produce resources or increase population; others can protect your empire from disasters.

Your population is taxed to earn extra money, but at various stages of the game you need to feed your people or have their deaths on your conscience.


4X Rating: XXXX

Xterminate

There are no armies in this game, sure a player can grab a tile through conquest – but this is only represented by having to pay extra coins above the base value.

But, this is where good old Mother Nature comes into the equation. Players may not be at war with each other but they certainly have to battle against a range of disasters. There are 16 disaster tokens (three for each disaster and one blank). Each turn, two tokens are drawn and when all three of a certain type has been drawn then the associated disaster takes place. The order of the disasters may differ from game to game but all disasters will eventually hit your empire, threatening your resources, money, population and tiles.

4X Rating: XX

Xtra Words

There is also a final sting in the tail when it comes to end of game scoring. Your final score is the lowest of either you points earned for constructing buildings or your points earned for developing your population. This Knizia style scoring ensures that players are in a constant battle to balance their books. It is no good having a massive population if they have nowhere to live or likewise having loads of buildings if no one is around to occupy them.

When trying to squeeze a quart into a pint jug the danger is that everything will overflow and you will be left with a damp and sticky lap. But through thoughtful and clever design Bernd has managed to condense most of the vital elements of empire building into an elegant and quick-playing game.

Everything is easy to keep track of, the auctions work brilliantly and the whole game is satisfying, but beware although easy to understand this is a game that takes no prisoners and poor planning can lead to a mumbled XXXX as your empire falls into ruins.
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Andy Andersen
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Thank you for the review.
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Geeky McGeekface
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It's the World Series! Will the Dodgers, this year's winningest team, win their first championship in 29 years? Or will the Astros win their first Series EVER?
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Peloponnes is one of my favorite super-fillers. It also has an excellent iOS application that I spend far too much time playing. It truly is an elegant design and well worth checking out for any gamer.

Very entertaining review. I view Peloponnes as a 45-minute Civ-lite game (of sorts), but it isn't too much of a stretch to label it a (3 out of 4) X game.

BTW, Peloponnes is one of the few games that I think is improved by its expansions. I like just about all of them, although the Goat expansion may be my favorite. Since I usually avoid expansions like the plague (thus avoiding losing one third of my population), this is a remarkably strong endorsement.
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Matt
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That's my perp! Futsie, all right - crazy as a coot! He's got to be stopped!
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Thank you for the recommendation, I was in two minds about the expansions. Now I think that I will have to seek them out.
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Anders Olin
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Justice for the 96!
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That title works in so many ways cool
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