There is no shortage of space-themed 4x games in the tabletop world. From massive games that see multiple revisions and take hours to days to play, to abstracted and simplified versions, to deck-building games. If you are interested in eXploring, eXpanding, eXploiting and eXterminating, there is bound to be something that will match your taste. Daily Magic Games is entering the 4x fray with the upcoming Horizons, designed by Levi Mote, so if you are the type of player who is interested in 4x, but prefers Euro-style games then this is a game that will make you sit up and take notice. Daily Magic Games are extraordinarily good at taking tried and true ideas and implementing them in games that play out with a buttery smoothness. Heck, even their take on Uno is really fun, and Horizons keeps with that tradition.
Note: All components shown are prototype and are subject to change in the final version of the game.
Horizons is a Euro game with beautiful illustrations by The Mico that combines exploration with area control, and tops it off with variable special powers and resource management. Being a Euro game, there is no combat nor any direct player confrontation in Horizons, but the points that can you score for controlling each Star System at the end of the game are enough of an incentive to keep inter-player tension high as players jockey for control over those systems. Even though system control offers a large chunk of points, and obviously the person who ends with the most points will win, there are other ways to score, both during play and once the game ends.
The first and most direct way to score points (represented as Knowledge in Horizons) is to take an action that gives a direct Knowledge reward. The most common action that rewards Knowledge is Explore. When you Explore, you draw a World tile from the bag and place it around one of the Stars on the table. There is one Star per player, and each Star can accommodate six Worlds, but you can continue to to use the Explore action to gain Knowledge even after all of the Worlds have been discovered, although this is a fairly inefficient way to gain points. You can also gain Knowledge directly via the special actions that Allies (I'll get to Allies in a bit) let you take. The most interesting way to gain points in Horizons is via Mission cards.
Missions can score between 2 and 5 points, and each player can have a total of five Missions in their hand at the end of their turn. Missions are the only hidden information in the game. Missions aren't scored until the end of the game, so they encourage you to try and manipulate the board as you play. Missions can range from having a full hand of 5 allies, to being bereft of resources once the game ends. There are also Missions that revolve around the types of Worlds in play, such as having 3 Volcanic Worlds around a single Star. What makes the Missions so interesting is that your hand of Mission cards isn't static. You can Conspire to draw new Mission cards throughout the game in order to search for Missions that you either know will be completed, or that you are confident will be completed by game's end. Some Missions won't even be possible to complete in some games, and it can become obvious to the other players that you are after certain Missions, especially those that require a certain number of one type of World, and they can move to block you. There are also Missions that encourage you to build structures near your opponents, and others that encourage you to be as isolationist as possible. The Mission system is excellent, not only because it gives you so many options, but you can either take Missions and actively try to complete them, or let the game play out organically and search for Missions that match the flow of the current game.
As Worlds are Explored, they become available to all players to exploit. In order to Build new structures, and use those structures to Harvest Metal and Energy, you first need to Adapt your alien race to that type of World's climate. There are six different World types, Arboreal, Desert, Oceanic, Frozen, Volcanic and Gaseous, and each must be Adapted to separately, and each type can only be Adapted to once a World of that type has been placed on the board. Colonies can be Built on any world, and anything can be Built on Arboreal and Volcanic Worlds, but most World types can only have either Energy or Metal Collectors built upon them, not both. During most games all of the World types will become available, but not always. Adapting also lets you recruit Allies (as does the previously mentioned Conspire action) to your cause either by drawing the top card of any Ally deck, or moving the top card to the bottom of the deck and blindly (or not so blindly if you are paying attention to when Allies are discarded) taking the second card.
There are five types of Allies, each represented by five members of an Alien race, and each type is tied to one of the five actions. Allies each have a special ability that triggers when you take the corresponding action. While you take two actions per turn, you can only trigger one Ally per action, so even if one person monopolizes one Ally type, they will only be able to use them sparingly. On top of that, each Ally can usually only be used two times before it is discarded. There are some Allies that provide powerful combinations, but since they are discarded after they are used those combinations don't tend to stay under the control of any one player for too long. The special abilities of the Allies can be so enticing that they often will tempt you to take a sub-optimal action in order to trigger that ability, and so trying to time your actions to maximize their effect while simultaneously firing off a powerful Ally ability lends the game an awesome layer of strategic depth. It's even possible to form a competitive strategy around gaining Knowledge directly via Allies, and if your opponents aren't careful you can amass a large number of points this way.
Horizons ends once one player has built their fifth Colony, which usually only takes about 45 minutes. Since the only information that is hidden is each player's Mission cards, it's very difficult to hide your intentions from the other players, especially as the game progresses, and double-especially if you are trying to build up a huge Knowledge pool. Colonies give 2 control each, while Collectors give 1, so each player can tell at a glance who has overall control over each sector, and the tension tends to escalate steadily throughout the game as players start to vie for control over the sectors. The trick is to be just subtle enough that your opponents don't try to block you while paying enough attention to everyone else to interfere with or out-control them before time runs out.
Every turn in Horizons, from the very first to the very last is filled with viable, satisfying options. Tension mounts as the game unfolds, but it's a crunchy, interesting tension that never slips into frustration even when your opponents snag an Ally that you had your eye on or take an action to block your progress. In this game there are always so many different things you can do on any one turn, and everything that you do is good for you in one way or another. Horizons makes you feel like you are always moving forward, always progressing, and always gaining something, so every turn is filled with small satisfactions that add up to an excellent overall experience.
If you are interesting in Horizons then keep an eye out for the game to hit Kickstarter at the end of August.