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Subject: Quantum as 4x? Review/Reflections rss

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This review focuses specifically on those who may be looking at Quantum as a 4x game- there are plenty of more comprehensive reviews out there that I suggest checking out, but as a disclaimer I do think the game is great and highly recommend it!

When first considering a 4x game to add to my collection, I had my eye on Eclipse. However, I knew that with all of the components, the longer playtime, and the difficulty of getting a good 4+ person group together often for a full session it just wouldn't see the table time I wanted to get out of it. After seeing a few reviewers online mention Quantum as having some properties of 4x games, albeit in a tighter, more streamlined package, I decided to look into it a bit more.

The qualifications of a 4x game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) are pretty well known, but there's lots of debate over whether certain mechanics, or certain games, really capture all four of the criteria. Several people I spoke with were quick to point out that that, despite the thin veneer of a space theme, Quantum was really an abstract area control game. I think that's a valid stance, and going into it with that expectation I certainly wasn't dissapointed. However, I've come to find that (at least for me), it is able to touch on that 4x feel just enough to scratch the itch and protect my wallet (for now...) from a more robust 4x game that might not hit the table often.

Here's my honest assessment of how Quantum's mechanics align with the more traditional 4x elements:

eXpand: One of the easiest cases to make is that Quantum is all about expansion. Your fleet of dice are constantly pushing forward, looking to settle a limited number of planets, giving you a tactical edge in future deployment and limiting your opponents' options. Even looking at the game purely as abstract area control, the expansion box is checked.

eXterminate: Combat is key in Quantum. The central mechanic of using the dice values to represent your ship's movement, special skills and combat strength is beautifully done, and the way that combat is balanced towards aggression encourages you to constantly push to eliminate your enemies' ships from the board as you expand your plastic cube empire. Although the use of dice is where a lot of the abstraction comes from, it's such a tight mechanic and removes both the component-bloat and fiddliness of combat in more traditional 4x games that I'm a big fan. Exterminate is a check.

eXploit: This one is a bit tougher. In my initial plays of Quantum, I didn't feel like my empire was benefiting from expansion beyond having another cube on the board. But a few plays in, my opponent and I started to recognize the really fantastic benefits of the Command and Gambit cards. These cards can be obtained either through sacrificing your valuable, limited actions to conduct research, or through consistent combat victories swinging the "dominance" resource in your favor. Suddenly, we were thinking about not only the tactical options available to us to expand or prevent each others' expansion, but the strategic benefits of holding a defensive choke point to get an extra turn of research and snatch that Command card that would synergize so well with our combat action. My wife gained two combat modifiers off of early expansions that allowed her to have a consistent combat score without rolling dice and force me to reroll any dice that would have been successful attacks. The combination allowed her to push my fleet all the way back across the board and continue her expansion until I researched enough to snatch a one-time use card that discarded one of hers, putting me right back in the game. The Command and Gambit cards are so interesting, and give you enough ways to compliment your long term strategy or interfere with your opponents' that you really do feel an immediate benefit from expanding beyond just gaining one more VP. Tying both expansion and investment of actions to these modifiers makes me feel like I'm balancing choices and resources, and checks the exploit box for me.

eXplore: Well, this one was left last for a reason. The map for a game of Quantum is laid out in the beginning, with no hidden information to be revealed as you make your way across the system. The board itself is modular, with a handful of recommended layouts for different player counts and game lengths, and even guidelines for creating custom maps. The alternative layouts really are awesome, and dramatically improve the game from the initial layouts that are recommended from a first playthrough. But while this option gives some nice replayability and customization, it doesn't feel like it accomplishes exploration in the way that it was manage to fit the other criteria for me. One thing that might have given more of an exploration feel would have been to attach modifiers to some of the planet tiles that give you additional or alternative benefits for being the first to arrive or place a cube there. Since there are many more tiles than are required for most maps, and they're all double-sided, this could have been a great variant to make it feel like you were exploring and encourage different strategies based on the map layout. I'd love to see this in an expansion, or may try to home brew a variant to try it out, but in the meantime exploration is the one "X" that Quantum doesn't really check.

So, do I think Quantum qualifies as a 4x game? Well... not really. It does, in its own unique way, make me feel like I'm expanding, exterminating and exploiting my way to Galactic conquest... but really lacks a sense of exploration. While there's tons of different possible map layouts, it felt like we were skirmishing over a known area rather than branching out into unknown space.

But! After all of this, I will say that the production of this game, and how tightly designed it is, didn't feel too abstract for me. I like some theme in my games, and playing this really did feel like I was controlling a fleet of ships, leveraging their unique powers and customizing their abilities through the card modifiers. It's those cards, and the resource mechanics attached to gaining them, that opened up a lot of strategy and options for this game and made it feel just 4xish enough to fill that spot in my collection for now. I'd love to pick up an Eclipse or TI3 in the future, but knowing that I can get this one to the table frequently with its tight mechanics and short play time make it a nice placeholder for a heavier 4x game, and one that I don't think would be completely replaced by one of those meatier offerings.

tlr- Quantum doesn't hit all of the criteria of a heavier 4x game, but checks most of the boxers in a unique, satisfying way.
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si Mon
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Nice review.
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Jim Blizzard
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Good Analysis I often call this a 3.5x game for the very reasons you list.
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Jo Bartok
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Interaction leads to Immersion.
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Immersion leads to Fun.
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3X Abstract.
 
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jon larsen
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As unambiguous as all four of those "X" terms would SEEM to be...perhaps if you point to a particular mechanic in a game that exemplifies that term to you it would improve the reader's frame of reference.

The first two seem common to oh so many games - and certainly not the specialized bailiwick of a '4X' title. The third, well what's exploitation anyway? Is it exploiting your opponents weakness? If so, then player asymmetry (either initial, say racial, or gained like the cards you mention) would be what we're looking for.

But perhaps the best reason to put in some qualifying/clarifying examples is to avoid quotidian weirdos like myself jumping in your thread

If you think 4x is cool, but also allow for combat - asymmetry - hidden knowledge on start...then it's a lot less rare! Kind of like that famous calculation SETI uses for extraterrestrial life (arguably the 5th X!), it all depends on your terms.

I realize we're tring to wrestle with the idea that a 4X must come in a suitcase, right...? This one sounds pretty tight--it's elegantly simple mechanics mesh with and support each other. And that's cool. So is your review. But if it's a 4x, then they all are.
 
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