Bill Reed
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Binary Homeworlds is an older game from Looney Labs using their Icehouse Pyramids - which as of this writing are being rebranded to "Looney Pyramids". While not their newest pyramid game, I've decided to write this review because I believe it is one of their most often ignored games that nevertheless is one of their most strategic and satisfying games. I urge anyone who enjoys a strategic abstract game to give Binary Homeworlds a try.

Though it predates Race for the Galaxy by several years, Binary Homewards has some similarities: space empire building, components used for multiple purposes, and resources which are shared by the players. Gameplay however, is quite different. And so is the feel of the game.


Components
If you're not familiar with Looney Pyramids, you should track them down. These brightly colored, square-based, stacking, plastic pyramid game pieces are the essential playing pieces for dozens of games. The plastic pieces are translucent and durable. Looney Pyramids are in many ways similar to a deck of cards: they form a standard set of playing pieces for which there are games of various skills, themes, lengths, and rules. Binary Homewards is just one of them - one of the best of them.

Binary Homewards is played with a set of 36 pyramids, so depending on how you purchased your pyramids, three Treehouse sets, two Ice Dice sets (when they become available in the fall of 2011), or through some other acquisition. You will need four of the colors: red, green, blue, and yellow, and for each color you will need three of each of the three sizes. So, three small, three medium, and three large of red, green, blue, and yellow. The black pieces are not used at all in this game.


Gameplay
The theme of Binary Homewards is that each player rules a star system with one starship. Through use of a shared pool of resources, a player discovers new stars, establishes colonies, and builds fleets of starships that can be used to trade, explore, and battle his or her opponent. Victory occurs when one of conditions is met: you control all the starships in your opponent's Homeworld system, or you destroy your opponents Binary Homeworld star system.

The Pyramids are used in one of two ways: as stars when they're standing upright, or as ships of the player from whom they are pointing. Either way, the four colors represent four different technologies. Red allows capturing pieces; Green allows producing new pieces; Blue allows trading one color piece for another; Yellow allows travel between star systems.

On a player's turn he can choose one action. The actions available depend on the technology available to her at that time. If I don't have any yellow ships or have ships in by any yellow stars, I cannot move from star system to star system, for example. There are ways to sacrifice ships for extra actions that correspond to the color of the ship sacrificed. Sacrificing a green ship allows me to additional build actions. Ships come in three sizes, and small ships must be built before mediums, which must be built before larges. The larger the ship, the more powerful it is, allowing more sacrificed actions, for example.

An interesting aspect of Binary Homewards is that there's no board. To discover a star system, you move a ship to an empty patch on your playing surface, and place the pyramid of your choice. Anywhere on the surface, because systems aren't connected by proximity they are connected by the size of the pyramid used for the star. The restriction is: you cannot travel from a star to a same-sized star. So, a ship at a small star could travel to any medium or large star, but NOT to another small star.

What makes this game so challenging and rewarding is that there is no luck involved. Everything is on the table. No rolling dice, no drawing cards. If my opponent captures my ship, it's because I inadvertently allowed her to do so. The challenge comes in planning one's moves so that you move in when the opponent is distracted with their own plans. And it comes in trying to not get so caught up in one's own plans that you allow your opponent to move in.

Because of the way that actions are controlled by the ships and stars built, the heart of Binary Homewards is really resource management. I can only build a new ship if I already have one of that color. If I need a color, but the bank is empty, I'm out of luck. If I use the last small, I make it possible for my opponent to start using the mediums. If I build too many of the same color in the same star system, my opponent can create a catastrophe, which destroys ALL the pieces of that color. So you can see how important it is to manage those pyramids.

Pros
-Very strategic. No random elements.
-Played with same pieces as dozens of Icehouse games, so cost of pieces is well worth all the games you can play with them.
-Portable: pieces fit in a small drawstring bag, no board used.
-Aesthetically interesting. Pyramids look cool placed on the table.

Cons
-Complex enough rules that there will be at least one game in which errors will be made. Can be discouraging to new players.
-Occasionally one must fight to overcome the prejudice that many gamers have against Looney Labs games, which are often assumed to be as light as Fluxx or Treehouse.


Summary
Binary Homeworlds feels like a chess game to me. The actual rules are few, but the implementation of them is complex. As everything is on the table, I can see what my opponent is doing, but not always why, or what she's setting up. When I win, it's because I outsmarted my opponent, when I lose, it's because I missed something. Binary Homeworlds pits my opponent against me for the conquest of the galaxy.
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s m t
United States
Portland
Oregon
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I like my town with a little drop of poison Nobody knows, they're lining up to go insane.
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Re: Binary Homeworlds

Nice review! I would like to try this one.
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Julien Griffon
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Re: Binary Homeworlds
dooz wrote:

Nice review! I would like to try this one.


You can, at SDG
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Michael Stone
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This game, Icehouse, Gnostica, Zarcana . . . these, the heavier more strategic games, were the reason I backed the Arcade. Waiting for delivery is going to be excruciating.
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