In this article I would like to announce and introduce you to my latest and currently hottest game project
Imperium Galacticum HEX
I will tell you a bit of how this new game came to be and why I think it is the most promising game design project I got in the workings right now, which may warrant a 2014 Kickstarter if it continues to shine during initial playtests as much as it has so far.
Some have noticed that most of my games are card games, examples would be of course Elemental Clash, as well as the spin-offs Panzer Clash and Space Clash and the lesser known Crystal Clash, which is totally unrelated to the other “Clash-Games” mechanics-wise. Some of the some have even gone so far as to suspect that all I can do is card games and were wondering why I wouldn’t do any board games for a change. Let me make something perfectly clear: I do prefer card games over board games as I like a compact format and the portability of cards-only games. So yes I have to admit to my fondness of card games. Many of you will not realize but I have done some board games before, at least games that use a modular board, which I yet again prefer over games requiring a real board made of one sturdy piece of cardboard. An example would be Push&Move for instance (which has an Android / iOS App upcoming!!). So to prove all the people wrong who think I am only able to design card games, I thought it would be nice to make a board game my next main games project – Imperium Galacticum HEX! Well technically IG HEX is yet again no real board game, as it utilizes hex tiles (hence the name!) forming a modular board. Close enough to a “real” board game for me!
Ad Astra! A Little Bit of History
Many things lead me to designing a game like IG HEX. Let me start in my childhood, from which I still have fond memories of some classic turn-based “space civilization” computer games such as Ascendency first and foremost or Master of Orion etc. I loved those types of games which are among my first and also dearest video game memories and ever since I started to dabble in tabletop game design, I wanted to recreate this particular experience and feel in a card or board game. Also, since my early childhood days, the sci-fi genre had a special place in my heart and I always looked up to the stars, marvelling if someone up there was looking back, quite literally acutally as I had my own telescope and was a real “stargazer”. Furthermore sci-fi always was and still is my favorite genre both in movies and literature, which I even prefer over fantasy.
So when I focussed more and more on my game design hobby, in the wake of my severe tropical illness back in 2008, which had rendered me unable to pursue my social work studies furhter, and when a passion became a profession, more or less, I was constantly shuffling ideas in my mind how to recreate the feel and emulate the gameplay of such a turn-based space civ / strategy game as Ascendency for example. The result of this process was Imperium Galacticum (without the “HEX”), which was a turn-based game about spacefaring civilizations colonizing and conquering planets, space warfare, reasearching advanced technologies and all else you’d be seeing in one of those video/computer games that served as my initial inspiration. The problem with the game however was, and that is quite ironic, that the fact that it was a cards-only game in which you built the playing field from rectangular, standard poker-size cards and the particular layout that was forced onto me by this, limited the game to 2 players only and you were not really able to expand to all sides etc. I was always looking for an alternative format and layout for the game or some similar game which emulated that certain feel and gameplay from those classic computer games I mentioned above. The solution was kindly and indeed quite recently provided by my manufacturer of choice and trust, The Game Crafter.
Hexing Things Up
I have been a loyal customer at The Game Crafter, your one-stop, all-in-one solution for printing hightest quality prototypes and finished games of all kinds, and must say I am very satisfied with them. One thing I really like about them is that they are evolving constantly, ever keen on expanding their already pretty comprehensive product range. Also they seem to really listen and if enough people request a certain addition to their services and products, one feels they are actually trying to get that on the way. So the “breakthrough” on my quest for making a decent galactic civilizations tabletop game was made possibly by The Game Crafter starting to offer high-quality, sturdy and custom printed cardboard hexagons or hex tiles. This new product inspired me to revisit the “classic”, card-based Imperium Galacticum and enabled me to come up with a version that uses hex tiles to build the playing field instead of cards: Thus, IG HEX was born.
A Game Designer’s Intuition
So, inspired by the new product on The Game Crafter, the hex tiles, I was full of ideas and did my “magic”. Sometimes I adopt an approach in designing games which I call “speed design”. It sounds terribly unprofessional and amateurish, but sometimes I have these “epiphanies” if I may call it that, meaning the ideas and concepts are just bubbling up from the murky depths of my brain enabling me to come up with the rules and mechanics as well as the cards, if there are any, and even stats for certain things in a new game in a matter of hours. You may think this would not work out in my favor, hastily coming up with a game system and all that goes along with that in such a short time while others, and if you are a game designer yourself you will know that, spend months or years pondering about rules, concepts, mechanics etc. of a game until they feel they are good enough to even type up comprehensive rules. Well all I can say is that this “speed design” approach has worked amazingly well for me in the past. For instance I have come up with the rules, mechanics and the cards for the first set of Elemental Clash over the course of one long night. The rules are still 99% the same in the current, final incarantion of the game and the cards remain mostly unchanged as well. So what I did next was a bit risky indeed: I put consierable time into making a fancy, even finished looking prototype for IG HEX in photoshop based on my very first rules draft and with stats and values all determined through my “game designer’s intuition” as I have done many times before, to my success. Then in a whim, I took yet another risk by investing in having a high-quality version of the very first prototpye of IG HEX from The Game Crafter (partly becaue I would have been to lazy to make all the hexes myself). There was one little or even major problem with that though. Before I tell you what that was and how it is going to solve itself soon, I can only say, without wanting to praise myself too much, that my initial playtests showed, to my great delight, that the very first rules draft and the first proto based on that worked out amazingly. This once more convinced me that this “speed design” approach does work well – at least for me personally. I played with a couple of different people and they loved the game. This is very rewarding for me as a game designer of course. But let me tell you about the only major stumbling stone for the further development and future of IG HEX.
A Stumbling Stone with an Imminent Solution
So hex tiles are awesome and allow for a playing field layout that makes 3 and 4 player games possible and indeed fun and entertaining. The downside is the cost for these tiles. I have no problem with telling you that I paid over 100 USD for the game with all the components (which include the hexes themselves, chips, dice and tokens etc.), which is the most I have paid for any prototpye I have ordered on The Game Crafter so far. Now you will say “you’ll have to reduce the number of components. Nobody will pay that much money for a game!” and you are right. However there is already a solution to this dilemma, which prevents me from sending protos to friends overseas to have the game tested independently on the one hand and would make the game unsellable on the other hand. As I said The Game Crafter is constantly improving and they actually listen to requests. So I kindly inquired about the possibility of offering hex tiles with custom print on both sides. Currently they only offer hexes with custom print on one side, which doubles the number of tiles I need for the game. However the good news is that they replied to my inquiry saying the double sided hex tiles were in the workings and will be an available 1st Quarter of 2014. Thank you The Game Crafter! The thing is this in case you were wondering: At present I have one bag with “Question Mark Tiles” which make up most of the playing field at the start of the game. As space is explored, these tiles are replaced with hexes depicting planets, wormholes, deep space etc. which are drawn at random from another bag. So if you get the picture, I could just have the question marks printed on one side of a the hexes and the planet or deep space or whatever on the other side if they would make double sided tiles to conveniently flip the Question Mark Tiles, reducing the overall cost of the game almost by half as I would need only half the number of hexes then. So yeah, I am looking forward to 1st Quarter of 2014 when I can have some considerably cheaper copies of the game with double sided hexes printed and shipped to my playtesters worldwide!
About the Game Itself:
Now after my lengthy elaborations on the origins and production obstacles you will be wondering what IG HEX is all about and are maybe curious to read how it works. I will not share the full game rules just now but I am going to try to give you an idea of how the game itself works:
First of all let me make one thing clear: I don’t have any illusions about breaking new ground with IG HEX. There are probably a ton of other turn-based space civilization tabletop games out there so the basic idea is far from original. However I have designed the game without any influence from similar, existing games of this theme and genre and what it was and is all about for me is to realize my take on emulating the feel and gameplay of a space civilization computer game in a board game.
In IG HEX each player assumes the role of an advanced, spacefaring civilization exploring space, claiming territory, colonizing pristine planets or invading and conquering enemy planets, researching advanced technology, harvesting Excelsium, the universal resource / currency as well as waging war against each other, thus building their galactic empire. The goal of the game is to collect a number of Victory Points (12 – 2o depending on how long/epic you want the game to be), which you get for owning planets, from certain technologies or from besting your opponents in certain aspects such as Research, Military, Fleet Strength and Population etc.
Fun fact: I borrowed the four races that are currently in the game from Space Clash: So if you are a bit familiar with that game, which is still in game limbo at present while I am growing more and more fond of IG HEX, you will recognize the Terrans, Attrayids, Skaargans and Intrazi.
The playing field in IG HEX is made out of hex tiles as elaborated on before and can support up to 4 players (I could imagine even more but that would make the number of hexes needed skyrocket). At the outset of the game, most of the field is made out of hexes bearing a question mark. This is unexplored space which can be explored over the course of the game, replacing the question mark tiles with randomly determined (now drawn from a bag) hexes with empty/deep space, wormholes and most important of all, planets. Each planet hex has a planet card (standard poker size) corresponding to it. When you discover a planet, you can colonize it and take the planet card to place it near to you. On the planet cards there are 4 different fields with values where dice are placed to denote what sort of facilities are built on that planet and how many of each. Here’s a sample of a Planet Card:
There are 4 different types of “Buildings” on each planet card: From left to right there are Agro-Districts (sustaining the population needed to run the other facilities, except Mines which can operate without population), Military-Districts (needed to build spaceship fleets and to defend a planet against enemy invasions), Research Districts (which increase your research rate, speeding up the process of researching new technologies) and Mines (producing the universal resource Excelsium needed to build facilities and ships). Dice (regular D6s) in differnet colors are conveniently used to keep track of how many of each facility you have on a specific planet. Dice are also used as spaceships or fleets. I tried to make the game pretty basic and somewhat abstract, in fact I wanted a wholesome mix of abstract and thematic aspects, so there is only one type of resource (Excelsium) and spacefleets are just dice of your color (each player has a different color depending on which race they chose) with the value on top denoting the strength of the fleet. So what you can do for example if you have let’s say 2 Excelsium to spend is either build one strong fleet with the value 2 OR build two fleets with a value of 1 instead. The latter would mean you would place two dice with the one on top on the planet hex where you built the ships. Combat could not be simpler either, as you simply compare the total values of all your fleets engaged in a battle and the ones your opponent has and eliminate the weaker fleets, whereby the attacker must exceed the total value of the attacked player’s fleets. Invading opponent planets works similar, whit the only difference that the defending player can add the number of Military districts on the attacked planet to the total combined strength of their fleets stationed there. So you see there are a lot of pretty basic, simplified mechanics when it comes to resources, buildings and spaceships (both being just represented by regular D6s) and combat. I could imagine some people saying that all is a bit overly simplistic but all I can say from my first experiences with the game is that I have come up with a really pleasant and entertaining compromise between abstract and thematic aspects which makes for an excellent, strategic gameplay experience.
Besides exploring space, colonizing and invading planets, space warfare and upgrading of planets, reasearching new technologies is an integral part of the game. Your research rate is determined by the number of Research Districts you have on all your planets. Each player has a Research Deck containing the same cards (at present) which represent a “research tree” of various research categories which come in 3 levels each. Each level requires you to spend your virtual “research points” which is your current research rate. What you’ll be doing is picking a research project from your deck and putting it face down next to you. Then you take a dice (yet another use for dice in the game!) and advance it by spending research points. Once the value of the dice matches the research value on your current project, turn the card face up, it counts as finished and you get all the benefits from it as detailed on the card. The subsequent project in the same “branch” will cost twice as much research points as the previous so you’d better build some Research-Districts to increase your research rate! Here a sample technology branch: Propulsion Technology (Sorry I made this proto in German this time around!). Note that completing the final stage of one branch rewards you with an extra Victory Point.
Some Visual Impressions:
Here’s some photos from our first test runs to give you an idea what the game looks like “in action”. And yes, this is the very first prototype. It does look fancy!
What Comes Next – Adding Theme and Flavor:
This very first version which I am just starting to get tested extensively with my gamer friends / playtesters and of which I am increasingly fond of is kind of a “vanilla version” a rather generic version of what I envision the finished game to look like. While the basic mechanics and rules won’t change dramatically as all the people I tested the game with (at this point I would like to thank Robin, Thomas, Rosi and Hans!) agreed it worked out and played greatly and to me as well all seems to work out and come together neatly so far. However some things I still want to add. First and foremost I want to make each race more unique and give each a distinct feel and playing style, so players can to some degree choose the right race to suit their favorite playing style while still allowing enough freedom so that not everything becomes predetermined by the choice of the race at the outset of the game. At the moment, the races are more or less symmetric and uniform as the only thing that set them apart from each other is a tiny special ability which will hardly ever really matter (although in one of my games so far it did matter and decide the game in my favor…). I am going to address the issue, in an effort to achieve assymetric, distinct and recognizable races which are still well-balanced, in different ways. For now it is best to do some initial testing with uniform races and even in the finished games, players will be able to decide to play the game without “race differences” as a variant, but ultimately I will try to do the following: Firstly, I will maybe give each race not only a “static ability” which right now is a small, race specific bonus that lasts throughout the whole game, but also a so called “flip ability” which is going to be a race specific, rather powerful one-time effect which can be activated once at any point of the game by flipping the face-up race card face down. When the card is flipped to activate the flip ability, the static ability is shut down for the rest of the game. This way, you have to carefully consider if and when you will make use of your one-shot flip effect, sacrificing your static ability for the rest of the game. This concept will surely add additional flavor and theme to each race and provides another tough gameplay choice. Friends of Elemental Clash will recognize the mechanic from the popular Spellcasters variant of play. A second measure which I would like to resort to would be adding race specific research project or whole race specific branches of the “reasearch tree”. This should considerably differentiate the races from each other, while most of the research deck will still be identical and all races having access to the main/standard research projects. Maybe I will think of some more ways to set the races apart from each other. One thing is clear to me though: It will not be the easiest bit of developing the game as assymetric bonuses and effects need to be balanced against each other well, which will require clever consideration and thorough playtesting.
IG HEX as my main game project in 2014 – a Candidate for Kickstarter?
Well what will the future hold in store for this game which, and I am repeating myself, I have come to like quite a bit over the course of my first test runs? I have reached a point where I decided for myself to dedicate my time, thought, effort and last but not least financial resources to just one game design project per year. That is besides the Elemental Clash project, which will always have a special place in my heart and which I will not give up on and forsake even in the face of multiple failed Kickstarter campaigns and only relatively few fans and supporters (who are all the more dedicated and passionate about the game as I have to remark). At first I thought I would chose the sci-fi themed Elemental Clash spin-off “Space Clash” my main project for the coming year 2014, but after just a few quick plays of IG Hex, I decided to skip yet another “Clash Game” for the time being, and do something totally different for a change: IG Hex would be a perfect fit here in my humble opinion. So will we see this game on Kickstarter some time in the not too distant future? Well personally I cannot give a definite yes to that question as still more testing is needed to determine whether or not this game warrants a Kickstarter campaign, but the signs seem positive for IG Hex. With The Game Crafter starting to offer doubled sided hex-tiles the production cost would reach an affordable or even attractive level, bulk ordering would lower the price even futher and the new Bulk Order Fulfillment service The Game Crafter is offering would be very convenient as they would do the hard work of sending out maybe a few hundred copies to backers all around the world from my very own basement. What I definitely will do is get some independent testing and opinions on the game in. Once again this will become affordable for me once the introduction of the double sided hexes lowers the price of the game. What also speaks for IG Hex is the relatively low expected cost for art and graphics. Compared to a game like Elemental Clash: The Master Set that requires around a hundred individual, highly complex and thus expensive card illustrations, IG Hex does not need a lot of artwork to work and still look very pretty, as you can see for yourself in the above photos of the more than appropriate, quite fancy first prototype. Basically all I would need would be a bunch of planet artworks which are normally cheap and easy to create and pay for (I know for myself since I taught myself how to do “space art” like that and if I can do it with my limited photoshop skills a pro would be able to come up with some kickass planet art without any troubles). For the rest of the game graphics and layout, my own humble artistic abilities will no doubt suffice. So bottom line, the production cost will be trimmed down considerably and the assets (i.e. the art and graphics) will be inexpensive. What is more, the planet graphics I am currently using were mostly made by an internet acquaintance of mine, who said to me previously I could use them free of charge even for commercial purposes. I should contact him some time to acertain if the offer still stands…
All in all I am pretty positive that IG Hex will have a bright future, unless the people (all experienced gamers) whom i tried it with so far including myself would have a horribly bad taste for games, and will hopefully be appealing to many. At least I won’t hear any baseless prejudice to the extent that the game would be a Magic Clone as was the case with Elemental Clash. Well maybe or quite likely even the whole concept is not new either, but be my guest and try to come up with something completely original nowadays. Good luck with that. I for one find a delightful mix of abstract and thematic elements in the game even as it stands now and I achieved what I had intended to do in the first place. Re-creating and emulating the feel and gameplay of one of those classic space civ games which I have loved so well back in my childhood.
Well if you have come this far with reading this article about my main games project 2014 I would like to thank you very much for your time and interest. I will be posting news and updates on future developments of Imperium Galacticum Hex on this blog so please stay tuned for more. For instance I am planning to share the full game rules (version 1.0) with you on here soon!
I will close this article which turned out longer than intended with some visual impressions from the universe of IG HEX!