Horizons, designed by Levi Mote and being Kickstarted by Daily Magic Games, is a fun, relatively light riff on the 4X format. In it, players will take on the roles of space-faring races who are exploring the galaxy, gathering resources and allying themselves with alien races so as to establish themselves as a galactic superpower!
**Kickstarter Prototype Alert – All that you see is subject to change!**
For the uninitiated, 4X Games are a genre that are defined by four central gameplay concepts – eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate (why we couldn’t just call them 4E games is beyond me, incidentally). Horizons is a light take on the genre, removing the most directly contentious X (exterminate) and leaving center stage for the other three.
Jess: As a matter of preference, this means Horizons is a lot more appealing to me. The indirect competition of resource-management and area control are a lot of fun, as opposed to the slugfest that direct player contention can create. Like I say, it’s a preference thing, but I like this take on it.
In Horizons, players will explore star systems, gathering energy and ore in order to build colonies, and make alliances with alien races. Each player’s turns consist of taking 2 actions (these actions can be the same, if they want). Available actions are:
- Explore – draw a planet tile from the bag and place it adjacent to one of the stars (there will be one star per player). Gain one Knowledge Token as a reward for expanding the board.
- Adapt – develop the ability to settle on a given planet type, and/or make an alliance with an alien race.
- Build – spend resources to build either collectors or colonies. Collectors increase a player’s ability to Harvest resources, while Colonies are valuable for establishing majority control over star systems.
- Harvest – Gather Energy and Ore based on the number of each collector type you’ve built.
- Conspire – Draw either 2 mission cards or one mission and one Alien Ally card.
Andrew: Alien ally cards are powerful, either augmenting your actions or giving you additional options. Each ally is aligned with one of the five action types, and each time you take that action, you may optionally trigger an ally of that type. Each ally can be used twice before it must be discarded, but under the right circumstances, they can be incredibly useful.
Missions are hidden from your opponents and scored at the end of the game. They all describe board states which will earn you points if they are true when the game ends. Drawing more Missions is never a bad thing – you aren’t penalized for missions you didn’t complete.
Jess: And that’s a really good thing, because some of them come down to mostly luck (like having a certain number of planets of a given type in a given star system). I made the mistake in my first game of chasing my mission cards rather than focusing on trying to establish my resource collectors and I got trounced.
Andrew: Yeah, Missions seem to make for better bonuses rather than actual goals, though the ones which relate to building structures can certainly synergize with establishing majority control, which is super-valuable for endgame scoring.
Jess: What I really enjoyed about Horizons was the fact that while I never felt overwhelmed with choices, how you spent your actions mattered – you were always trying to balance the need to expand against the value of your alliances.
Andrew: Absolutely. For a game with such relatively simple per-turn choices, I found the strategy really satisfying. Since each planet has slightly different resource costs when building, the early part of the game was all about building your resource engine without breaking the bank. And by the time you could afford to build basically anything, the game was already narrowing to a close, making each placement more and more important.
At the end of the game, triggered by a player building their last Colony, scoring determines the winner. Your score is comprised of:
- 1 point per Knowledge token (gained through the Explore action)
- Points for each complete Mission card
- Points for majority control over each star system
The way these majorities are calculated is simple – each player Collector gives them 1 point of control and each player Colony gives 2. The player with the most control points has majority and scores the most points, and the player with the second-most control points gets a lesser bonus.
Jess: My only gripe with the scoring, especially in the 2-player game when there is no 2nd place scoring, is if you don’t control a star system, then all of your buildings really don’t amount to anything. It feels a little lame to have pumped out all these structures and have them be worth nothing.
Jess: Well, it’s tough, because it does so many things really well. The choices are intuitive and quick, the strategies are easy to grasp and embrace, and I really like how the game ramps up at the end, with players naturally accelerating toward the finale as they gain more and more resources with each built collector. On the other hand, I didn’t like that some of the missions were literally luck-based, nor did I enjoy how the end came all at once as soon as someone built their last colony.
Andrew: I see your points, totally. Your observation about Mission cards is legit, though as we observed they really are best treated as bonuses rather than goals which dictate your gameplay. And Daily Magic has said that the final version will have Missions sorted by player count, which will make them a more meaningful part of the game.
Andrew: I agree with you about the end-game scoring, though – I do wish each planet was scored as well as each star-system, somehow, so that you felt rewarded for all of your building efforts. Still, I had a great time with Horizons.
Jess: Don’t get me wrong, me too! The art from Mihajlo Dimitrievski on the Alien Ally cards is fantastic as always, and even though this was just a prototype, it looked really good. And Horizons is definitely a smart take on 4X (3X?) games, making what is often a fussy, long-game genre into something quick and incredibly accessible. I liked it a lot, but I wanted to love it, and I can’t say I did.
Andrew: Gotcha. I thought there were some moments of real design elegance – the Alien Ally cards acting as augmentations to the standard actions, the simple exploration mechanic, even the need to spend a turn Adapting to new biomes before you could build there, and more. I agree with your criticism, though it didn’t really detract from my experience, and I still recommend the game, having enjoyed basically every aspect of it.
Jess: So do I, actually, even given my minor quibbles. Despite them, Horizons is a solid, fun game that sits comfortably on the light/medium weight border and has a whole lot going for it. And in doing away with the Exterminate part of the X-equation and still keeping things interesting and engaging, I’m more than willing to forgive a few nit-picks.
We can’t wait to see what comes from the Horizons Kickstarter – while our prototype looked great, Daily Magic Games has a long history of putting together fantastic productions, and we are sure this one will be no different.
(Gameosity received a prototype for this preview, along with the right to request a retail version after the Kickstarter. We were not otherwise compensated.)