What Exactly is a 4X Game?

What Exactly is a 4X Game?

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There are many classifications of board games out there: abstract, strategy & dexterity are but a few. For the past few years there has been one particular type of game that has grown in popularity among serious hobby gamers both for the complexity and length of time of a round. The term “4X” was first termed during a computer game review in 1993 and referred to the ability to “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate” as part of the game.

This classification has easily transitioned into the board game world thanks to games like Twilight Imperium. But the typical 6+ hours needed to complete it from start to finish make it a game that is usually reserved for special occasions. We were excited to learn that one of our favorites in this genre just got an upgrade in the form of an expansion. But since I haven’t mentioned this title previously, let me start with the base game.

To be exact, Exodus: Proxima Centauri by Passport Game Studios isn’t completely a 4X game since the map is exposed right from the start. Your ships still “eXplore”, but there really isn’t anything unknown to discover. Many call this a 3X or 3.5X title, but for the sake of this article I’ll continue to refer to it as 4X.

Exodus takes place in the distant future after humans escape a devastating nuclear war and seek shelter in the Centauri system. The locals (Centaurians?) feel sorry for us and allow us to colonize six of their planets. Over time, each faction develops their own technologies, and like humans do, begin to fight each other for control when the Centaurians announce their departure from the system.

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

Just taking a look at the setup of Exodus and you will realize the scope of this game. There is not a straight path to victory, but a number of different options, each with an equal chance of establishing dominance. Each player has their own board to track the technologies they purchase and a fleet of miniature plastic ships to be built and deployed. The main play area in the center changes depending on the number of players (up to six) and the complexity desired. There is also a marketplace board where all of the transactions take place.

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

Each turn is divided into stages that every player performs before moving on to the next stage. First, there is the upkeep stage. This is where you receive income and pay taxes (yes, there are still taxes in the future) on the planets you control. Your population also increases on your home planet (yay, procreation is still a thing also!). Maximizing income is your primary goal as you will need these resources to build technologies and ships.

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

Next is the council stage where three political cards are revealed and the current Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor determine which of the special rules for the round will be voted upon (sigh, politics is still a thing in the future…). Then every player bids on these choices with their money, with the one receiving the highest total bid becoming law. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, money still talks…

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

Now the real fun begins with the action stage. Each player has a hand of cards with actions on them and chooses one to play. All are revealed at the same time and are performed in turn order. Then each player can choose to perform a “reaction” by choosing one of the symbols on the bottom of the cards in play (yours or your opponents’). You must sacrifice population to perform a reaction, and choosing someone else’s card to play doubles the cost. The entire action/reaction procedure is completed a second time (and maybe a 3rd if upgrades are purchased) and then we move to the “Fire WMD Stage”.

This is where any rockets we have built are fired at other planets. Three types of weapons target different items (population, resources or the entire planet). There aren’t many things more satisfying that completely destroying another planet and getting to flip the map hex over revealing empty space!

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

And the last stage of the round is the Conquest stage, where each player moves their ships and attacks each other and eventually deploys colonist onto the newly-won planets. The aim of the game is to assert supremacy over all other factions, earning Victory Points along the way. The player with the most VP’s at the end of the game (seven rounds) wins.

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

As you can see, Exodus: Proxima Centauri solidly belongs in the 4X classification. You eXplore space and planets, eXpand your faction by colonizing, eXploit the planets’ resources for your own benefit and eXterminate your opponents ships and population through battle!

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

We absolutely love Exodus when we’re looking for a 3-4 hour session with our friends. At Gen Con this year Passport Game Studios was debuting the brand new expansion Exodus: Edge of Extinction, and we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it!

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

I previously mentioned that humans were spread out among six planets, each creating their own faction. With the addition of the expansion, these factions are more deeply explored with each having their own custom technology trees, backstory, starting resources and more. These are dealt out randomly, but knowing each faction’s strengths and weaknesses will definitely give you an advantage.

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com  Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

Extinction also adds a tweak to the Centauri faction (remember, this is the faction that saved us). In the base game you could attack the Centauri population that was left behind. You can still do so, but now there are combat and resistance cards that make them a little bit stronger and the conflicts with them not a sure thing.

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

Of course what is an expansion without additional ships, technologies and abilities? Space ports now allow you to build at planets other than your home planet. Hyperspace drives teleport you any spot in the system. EMP cannons that automatically hit for one damage. Space Defense Systems help protect your planets from those pesky incoming missiles.

Our favorite 4X game just got an upgrade! Exodus: Edge of Extinction adds individual roles and abilities to what was already an almost perfect game! - SahmReviews.com

If you’ve ever played Exodus: Proxima Centauri and thought you had plenty of paths to choose from, Exodus: Edge of Extinction will change your mind. The addition of this expansion makes the Exodus series almost a living game – one that will most certainly be a different experience every time you play.

Some games are better when the base game only is played. This is not the case with the Exodus series – this expansion is a must-have for fans of this genre. If you are even halfway considering upgrading your copy of Exodus, do not hesitate. Stock is low on Amazon and currently at a 20% discount off of retail.

While you’re at it, check out Passport Game Studios’ website for a number of other fine titles, some of which we hope to bring you in the very near future. They’re also pretty active on Facebook and Twitter, so give them a follow so you don’t miss out on their latest announcements!

Have you ever played a 4X game? Is it something you’d like to try?

Scott

About Scott

A former manufacturing executive, Scott now balances his family life with ownership and backend administration of websites such as SahmReviews.com, GiftCardCollector.com and a number of other online properties. He also is an occasional writer and full-time board game fanatic.

17 comments on «What Exactly is a 4X Game?»

  1. Dandi D says:

    This is very interesting–I’ve never heard of this before.

  2. Michele says:

    This looks a bit complicated for my old brain to comprehend–I think I will leave this one to the young and to people who are used to these kinds of games!

  3. Trisha says:

    This is the first time I’ve heard of the term “4X Game”. Both Exodus: Proxima Centauri and Exodus: Edge of Extinction sound really interesting!

  4. Sarah L says:

    That’s a game I’m not willing to take the time for. Give me a game of cribbage.

  5. Stephen says:

    4Xs have sounded fun to me for a while now but the length of the games is just too much. I would end up having to play it solo which most of them are not nearly as good or not built to run solo unless I am against myself. With three little kids I would also need to find a place to safely set up the board.
    I have recently come across Centauri Saga that is currently on Kickstarter. It looks to be a 4X style game but in a much shorter span of time. I’m quite excited and hope the game turns out well. Once I can find it at a decent price for a budget I plan to check that one out. It is also coop which makes it easier for me to get others to play with me.

    1. Scott says:

      I agree, the time needed to play something like this means it only gets to the table a few time a year at best. I’m working on another one from Passport Games (Pocket Imperium) that solves a lot of these issues in a small-box format. You can get the 4X feel in 1/4 the time!

  6. James says:

    I’ve heard of 4x but didn’t know what it meant. I’ll also have to find a copy of Exodus and the expansion… Sounds like a fun game!

  7. Very cool- I’ve never heard of this before. I’ll have to check it out!

  8. This sounds like a game my husband would play cause he has the patience to play Monopoly and Risk, so he with this one till the end.

  9. Katie Benard says:

    Thank you for the great review. I might have to dip myself into some great 4X games like Exodus: Proxima Centauri.

  10. Ronnie says:

    Every 2 weeks, my boyfriend and his friend organize a huge get-together that they call “Box Game Night”. About 200 game hobbyists participate in it. They are always looking for challenging games to introduce to the group, especially if they require numerous hours of participation. I’m sending him your concise article on this game – they will likely snatch it up asap!

  11. Scarlet says:

    That looks complicated but fun. I bet my son would love it.

  12. Debra says:

    This game looks pretty intense but fun. I hadn’t ever heard of 4x before – I love how I can always count on SAHM reviews for the latest on games!

  13. You always have the coolest games to share! This seems like it’s more complicated than I am used to but now I kind of want to try it just to see how long it would take me to “get it!”

  14. Deanna McCoy says:

    Interesting article. Never heard of a 4x game but own some.

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