Friday, February 22, 2013

A review of Exodus by Michael Barnes

Michael Barnes from No High Scores has written a review of Exodus: Proxima Centauri and he also agreed that we share his thoughts with all of you. 

There’s a new contender for the space 4x board game throne, and it’s called Exodus: Proxima Centauri. Designed by Andrei Novac and Agnieszka Kopera, Exodus is on some levels exactly what you are expected from a game quite directly descended from Twilight Imperium and Eclipse. Start from a home planet, take over neighboring planets, manage resources, do a little politicking, tool up with technologies, and blow up spaceships. It’s certainly not an unexpected design and it’s definitely a little more ramshackle than either of its ancestors, but after a couple of games of Exodus I’m convinced that there is room for this game in the marketplace and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes something of a cult hit, luring longtime TI3 players and recent Eclipse acolytes away to engage its particularly aggressive, more direct style of play.
If you’ve played either TI3, Eclipse, or pretty much any other 4x style space conquest game you’ll be on familiar terrain. It’s driven by an action card selection mechanic, wherein players concurrently pick an action (twice a round, or three times with the right tech) and execute it with a follow-up round enabling other players to perform a secondary action at the cost of a population cube pulled from their home planet. The actions are typical fare- research a technology on the game’s four-branch tech tree, roll a die to take some income, buy ships or upgrades to ships, or trade resources on a shifting market scale. There are three resources in the game- a general currency and rarer materials used to build ships and ship components. In a neat twist, players are taxed any time they gather those from one of their planets, all of which have finite resources available.
Movement is handled in an entirely separate phase. Each player plays face-down movement chits to each of their ships, which may have a number or be blank.  What’s more, a ship that can move three spaces may have just one chit played on it, but with its full movement allotment or it could have three blanks.   This all adds a neat- and really kind of unexpected- bluffing element to maneuvers, especially since the movement is simultaneous and not turn-based. There is no actual exploration element, but more on that later.
The political component is simple- every round three political cards that have various one-time, round-lasting, or environmental effects are displayed and everyone bids in an all-pay auction round to vote which of the cards is enacted. Combat is a basic “fives and sixes” scheme, with players tallying up the number of weapon icons on ships to determine their dice allotment. Shields absorb hits, better shields absorb more hits. There are also neutral Centurion forces on the map from the beginning, defeating them often gives you a chance to instantly learn a tech, gain resources, acquire ship equipment, or victory points.
Yes, winning the game is a victory point thing, but the victory points are mostly earned through fighting and conquest. There’s no technology or political victory, everything is geared toward awarding conflict with very few exceptions. Every ship destroyed in battle yields points as does every planet held by a majority of your population cubes, which must be shuttled out to distant worlds by capable ships and landed. This makes for a very aggressive game that rewards the bold and punishes the turtlers. I find this to be a marked difference from Eclipse and TI3 in particular, where games far too often denigrate into Cold War scenarios of limited conflict eventually culminating in all-or-nothing battles in the last quarter of the game.
One of the key reasons that Exodus unfolds like it does is along such a violent path is because there is no exploration element- so let’s call it a 3x game. The map is already defined, there are no buffer zones of neutral planets to take over that add an hour or more of playtime before anybody starts shooting. Ships have a great deal of mobility and there are no complicated movement schemes, so it’s always easy to get your fleets into position to kick some ass. But above it all, one of the things that distinguishes Exodus from the rest of the pack is that it has a WMD phase.
Once the applicable techs are researched, players can station WMDs on planets where they are the majority. These have a range of up to five, so they can usually hit a good percentage of the map after determining range with a die roll. If they hit, depending on the weapon used they can take out resources, population, or- tell me this isn’t awesome- the entire planet. Yep. Flip the tile and flush everything that was on it. Because of the nature of this game, it’s not and idle threat, either. So yes, if you were one of the folks that felt Eclipse was too much of an economic game, this one may be more to your taste. If you hated waiting four hours to blow somebody up in TI3, Exodus wants to get you to the bloody meat of the game much quicker, even if it lacks the world-building narrative and flavor text of Fantasy Flight’s game.

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