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Review: Hegemonic

3

hegemonic_boxcover

Space may be the final frontier, but there is no end in sight for the continued exploration and discovery of new civilizations and new worlds. Hegemonic brings us another new galaxy within which to unravel tales of epic conquests and great clashes of mighty empires. Will you be the one to extend your network of power throughout the known and unknown galaxy? Will your might withstand the forces of your enemies? Will you lay the foundation to rule the galaxy for the next era? There’s only one way to find out.

How It Plays

In Hegemonic, each player takes control of an alien race vying for control of the galaxy; they must spread their influence through military, political, and industrial means in order to claim leadership – the hegemony, as it were – over the galaxy. Players score points for controlling (or at least being present in) different areas of the galactic map.

This galactic map
This galactic map, areas conveniently marked by red borders

Each round has 6 phases:

  • Collection: Players get income based on their player board (more bases built = more income)
  • Expansion: Each player gets a free opportunity to add new sectors to the board and develop new technology
  • Action 1, 2, 3: There are 3 phases of Actions. In each phase players simultaneously choose an action card, reveal it, and then take turns resolving their actions.
  • Arbitration: Points are awarded based on who controls each galactic board, and a new Arbiter is determined based on who has the most cash (“CAPS”) on hand. Then players must discard their cash down to a retention limit (more bases built = lower retention limit)

In the Action phases, players have 6 Action cards to choose from, each of which has a set of options to choose from and a number that determines player order.  (The Arbiter gets to choose player order when there are ties).

  • Assault (1): Players can attack and destroy enemy bases in different branches
  • Industrialize, Politicize, Martialize (2): Each of these allows players to build bases and units of the respective branch, as well as attack and conquer enemy bases of the same branch.
  • Subvert (3): Players can attack and conquer – that is, replace a defeated enemy base with their own – enemy bases of different branches
  • Discover (4): Players can add new sectors to the board, collect a bit of extra income, , and manage their technology cards
These are the action cards
These are the action cards

The key to victory is building a robust network. Each branch of your civilization – Martial, Industrial, and Political – has their own set of bases and units that must be built within range of similar bases or units. On top of that, whenever conflict happens, bases and units are supported by bases and units of the same type within range. Each branch has a unique way of calculating base power and range; political Embassies and industrial Complexes have range 1 as far as building. But, Complexes can build Gates which connect distant sectors, making that range easier to stretch across the galaxy. Embassies can be built in range of an Agent, and in combat, all Embassies on matching colored sectors can support each other. Martial Outposts have a range of 0, but outposts can be upgraded to increase range and power; they can also be built wherever a fleet is positioned.

When combat actually happens, players add up their power for the bases involved and play a card to boost the power (each technology card has a set of power values on it ranging from 2 to 8 for each branch), and whoever has the most wins.

Players can research different technologies that enhance their abilities, with up to 3 concurrent technology cards in play and 3 levels of technology for each branch.

Players also have convenient player boards which hold all of their unused bases and which track income, building costs, and CAP retention limit.

The game ends when the stack of sector tiles runs out. The round is finished out through scoring, and then whoever has the most points wins!

A few variant rules are included in the rulebook, but the most prominent is the inclusion of a Leader option, which grants players asymmetrical powers. Each Leader has a set of unique abilities and the longer you put off using those abilities, the more powerful options you have.

The phase tracker is conveniently in the center of the board
The phase tracker is conveniently in the center of the board

Mightiest Ruler in All the Galaxy?

Hegemonic is a clever, sneaky little game. I say this because it purports to be an epic galactic civilization building game, and it’s got all the window dressings, alien race histories, and plastic miniatures to stand its ground.

In reality, this game is more Power Grid than Twilight Imperium.  Perhaps Power Grid with a sprinkling of Eclipse thrown in. If you’ve never played Power Grid, it’s an economic eurogame focused on expanding a network of power stations across Germany.  Eclipse is a 4x space game that also allows players to  focus on economics, but includes fleets and conquest and hex tiles like every good space game should have.

Warp Gates can expand your network quickly
Warp Gates can expand your network quickly

I’m leading with this comparison because it’s important to understand what type of game you’re getting into. Looking at the box, you might think that Hegemonic is all about managing the different aspects of your civilization, building up cool fleets, and exploring the galaxy while laying waste to your opponents. In reality, it’s about spending your resources wisely to build efficient network that is both defensible and has enough range to reach distant parts of the board in order to score points. Not that there isn’t thematic dressing to it all, and there is definitely direct player interaction through conflict; it’s just not the flashy, chaotic sort.

With that in mind, Hegemonic does what it does pretty darn well. The game is filled with tough strategic choices as you decide how best to expand your empire, and the choices aren’t easy. The Action cards limit what you can do, so you must choose wisely and probably can’t do everything you want when you want to do it; yet, at the same time, they offer some flexibility so you can react to the changing circumstances on the board.

This player has clearly heavily focused on military
This player has clearly heavily focused on military

You’ll have to choose which branches of your civilization you will expand on; focusing on one branch will net you a powerful, defensible network (assuming you do it right) but can limit your options near the end of the game.

You’ll have to carefully expand your network so you can reach more areas of the board to better your score, but keep everything linked enough so you’re not easily destroyed and your network isn’t split in half. You’ll have to decide where to place new sectors to benefit you or limit your opponents networks.

What I’m getting at is that there are a lot of choices, and they’re Strategic, not tactical. There are a few tactical decisions in the game, but overall you can build a long-term plan and stick with it.

This is what an invasion fleet looks like.  It's the pyramids people. And the fleets.
This is what an invasion fleet looks like. It’s the pyramids people. And the fleets.

I know I’ve mentioned combat a few times, and that probably turns off some gamers who would prefer to just build their networks in peace and see who can build the most efficiently; but the combat in this game is very controlled and low-stakes. Only so much can get destroyed at once, and the attacker has to pay CAPs for the attack, so it drains resources from both sides. In addition the Attacker has to pay the cost before the attack is made, so they pay whether they win or lose, but if they lose they lose at most a fleet or agent token.  The point is, combat doesn’t tend to wipe out networks unless two players just start fighting each other back and forth; instead, it tends to just shift networks around a bit. The outcome of combat isn’t very random, either; the power of fleets and bases on the board is a known entity.  Each side gets to add one card to the mix, but cards range from 2 to 8. Most of the time you’ll have easy access to at least a 6 of the appropriate type.  This makes it almost impossible for a weak player to attack and upset a stronger player.  Again, this brings the focus back to building a strong network, not just flying around willy-nilly trying to attack everyone.  You will need to attack to continue expanding if you want to win the game, but its not a random swingy luck-fest.

Of course, if you’re looking for exciting combat or tactical fleet building, you might want to look elsewhere. Like I said, it’s pretty difficult to go around attacking willy-nilly; you have to focus on building the network, and combat is just a small part of that. It’s not very tense or exciting combat since the outcome is almost certain.

Tech cards can be used for combat instead
Tech cards can be used for combat instead

I will mention that there are a few finicky rules that are hard to remember; for example, when you play a tech card in combat, after combat you can either keep the card and put it in your “inactive” pile, or discard it and draw a new card. It’s easy to forget that you don’t just discard.  Also, the way power is calculated for each base is different,  and can be confusing at first. Especially Martial power – when you attack with a fleet, you get one Outpost in range of that fleet to support it – and then you get to add all the power in range or with range to that outpost. You’ll need to be careful when you calculate things until you get used to it.

One of the reasons a gamer might be mislead into thinking this is a fleet-building, combat oriented game is that the components are wonderful. Galactic boards keep your table organized (and allow you to customize the shape of your overall galaxy), and have a phase tracker right there in the center for all to easily see. Sector tiles have a cool sci-fi vibe to them but the design is clean and clear; icons and base placements are very easy to distinguish even from across the table, and the range/power levels of different bases are printed right there on the board as reminders.

No big deal, just some fancy tech
No big deal, just some fancy tech

The player boards are incredible.  There’s a lot of information to represent – cost of each base, income based on how many bases you have built,  retention limit, cost of fleets and agents, stats that upgrade over time… it’s all there, neatly and clearly represented.  Even better, the boards are thick and indented where your unbuilt bases go, so you won’t accidentally sweep all your bases across the table and have to reassemble them.

Speaking of bases, the models are very simplified to many miniatures games, but they’re still pretty cool. Each base is based on a 3D object –  Complexes are cubes, Embassies are half-spheres, and Outposts are triangle pyramids.  But there is extra detail added to each one that makes it look much more science-fictiony.  Outposts even literally stack on top of each other as you upgrade them on the board, which makes for a cool visual effect.

The rest of the cardboard is quality stuff, and cards are good stock and very well designed.  The iconography is great, but the designer made a great use of their space – there are text reminders everywhere for the specifics, but once you’re familiar you can easily glance at the icons and remember what they do.  Awesome. There’s also an included player aid that details the turn structure, and on the back it has combat examples which is very useful, because the way power is calculated for each base can be confusing at first.

hegemonic_invasion
Just a little invasion going on here

Oh, here’s a thing worth mentioning; the playtime tends to clock in at 30 minutes per player, at least in my experience. (The box says 45 minutes per player).  A 4-player game will only take a little over 2 hours, and that ain’t bad for an epic space civilization game. Probably because it’s secretly not a space civ game, but the point is I’m always surprised how long the game doesn’t take, and I think many gamers out there will appreciate it. (For the record, for those of you who just want games to go on forever, there are variants included to make the game go longer).

Wrapping Up

Hegemonic is one of those games that tries to bridge the gap between an economic focus with little player interaction that is the Eurogame, and the flashy, interactive, thematic game. I think this one leans a little more euro, but aside from all this dull categorization, the game does what it does extremely well. It puts combat and direct interaction into an experience that retains a high level of long-term strategy. I don’t think the combat included will frustrate anyone but the most hardcore non-interactive eurogamer.

There are a few rules that are easy to sneak by you and bases are confusing, but overall the rules aren’t too complex, and the player aids included are ever so helpful, and the game doesn’t last too long.

Leaders add some spice once you get used to the base gameplay
Leaders add some spice once you get used to the base gameplay

Overall, I personally would tend to prefer something a little less “economic” with more exciting combat, but my preferences don’t make this a bad game, and I think a lot of you out there would get a whole lot of enjoyment out of it. Eurogamers and Themers alike.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Minion Games for providing us with a copy of Hegemonic for review.

Summary

  • Rating 9
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Summary

Pros

  • Allows long term strategy, but includes combat and direct interaction
  • Fantastic components
  • Rules aren
9 Excellent

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

Discussion3 Comments

    • Ha! I was thinking almost the exact same thing. I appreciate the thought that went into the divets on the board. There are way too many games that I’ve been in that have been messed up a small bump of the table that scatters pieces.

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