Before I begin, I was sent a prototype of the game, and will receive a production copy should it fund. This is not a paid preview. If you would rather watch a video of this preview you can check it out below. Pledge for your own copy here.
Two of the people I play games with the most have an unhealthy obsession with space games. They are just as bad as I am about fantasy games. Due to this I am always keeping my eyes out for new space games that strike me as interesting.
Now it just so happens that one of the games I had the most fun with last year was Dungeon Alliance, which is a delightfully crunch-tastic dungeon adventure game. I really enjoyed it…so when I saw that the designer of Dungeon Alliance had a new space worker placement game coming, I knew I had to check it out…but unlike most of the times when I reach out to review a game, this time I was being super magnanimous, as I was really doing it for my “friend.” Not to mention, it is a fact that when you get a game for a friend it does not actually take up any space on your shelf. Kind of like how you can eat all the broken cookies you want and not ruin your diet, cause the calories fall out. Same thing. It’s science. Look it up.
In Core Worlds: Empires you control one of the Core World Empires (shocking I know) that are canonically the victors of the previous Core Worlds games. (I have never played that series, so I might not have that exact, but the point is, this game takes place in the same world, but it is a spiritual successor only.) Over the course of nine rounds you will engage in a worker placement, area control-ish actions to dominate the galaxy and make sure that your empire thrives the most.
Each player will control a slightly different empire at the start of the game. This difference comes not from the empire itself, but from different starting leaders, though as you play you are able to draft upgrade cards which will alter your personal empire board, thus growing the asymmetry of the game as you go.
The core of the gameplay is a simple worker placement, as you send an ambassador to one of the worlds out in the galaxy, each planet giving you different resources, units, cards, or reputation bonuses. Now, the bulk of those actions are pretty standard for a worker placement game, other than the units.
You see, each turn one or more new neutral worlds will be revealed. This allows the players to send their oodles of sci-fi space bada$$es to claim that planet for their empire. After all the worker placementing is finished you get to rumble in the space jungle for dominance.
Combat is quick, and based on the relative strength of your leader, and fleets, though there is the opportunity to play cards, and roll a single die to mix things up a bit. After combat some units get destroyed, and the fleet still in charge gets to either conquer the planet (losing units), or diplomacize their way to victory (spend a bunch of resources). Once done, that planet is claimed for that particular player, and is worth points at the end of the game.
Now, I can feel the question on your lips..why does control of the planets matter? Other than points. Great question! Planets that you control you are always allowed to send your workers to, however, if you want to utilize a space in another empire if will cost you some resources, and will garner that empire points for the end game.
At the end of 9 rounds the player with the most points wins the game, again points are earned by conquering planets, and through certain resource exchanges available throughout the game, and from the event cards that are drawn each round…mostly, there are more ways to draw them as well.
So what do I think?
The replay value on this is sky high…I am talking geosynchronous orbit high. That is because every game will have a different combination of worker placement spaces out on the board…heck even if you start with the same worlds at the top of the game, the random way they come out each turn will always keep you guessing.
I have also become a fan of games that hybridize euro game mechanics. I really appreciate how this game has taken worker placement, and smashed it up with a “dudes on a map” feeling of area control. Yet, what makes this so neat is that you are battling to be allowed to control new spaces, that everyone is able to use, and because of the way your units dwindle so quickly when you conquer planets, if you claim a planet this turn, the odds of claiming one the next turn are low.
I also really like that the game slowly ramps up both the available spaces, but also the number of workers that you have to place. As the game progresses you will automatically get new workers…oh and did I mention that you are able draw hero cards, which work as upgrades to your generic workers…super cool.
The last thing that I really dig is the dumbfounding amount of customization you have. You are in control, somewhat, of what planets you control, you can change what bonus your Core World offers, you can change your workers to be heroes, you can upgrade the worker placement spots on your player board with advancement cards…super cool.
While the art on the game is not complete, and the components I have are prototype, I think this game has the potential to look very cool. With the size of the game, it truly will feel like you are battling over a galaxy.
This is not a game that is going to fit on a human sized table. It is just massive, and takes up a ton of space. This is slightly compounded due to the fact that the game is going to play best at 3-4 players in my opinion, not that solo and 2 player is not fun, it is. That will make it a little harder to get to the table perhaps.
The other thing to watch for is the high level of randomness when it comes to what worker placement spots are on the board. Every game will be completely different, and there will be games where some resources are much harder to come by than others. This might be something that bothers you, as it is harder to develop a long term strategy, the game is more reactionary than pretty much any other worker placement game out there.
Bringing it all together
Core Worlds: Empires is a massive, literally, sprawling game of interplanetary dominance. The most delightful part of the game is the way the worker placement spots change not only every game, but as the game progresses. When this is combined with the ability to completely alter your own workers, and player board you have a game that has an incredibly high replay value, and eschews any pretense of their being a “winning” strategy. Empires, also has just a whiff of a “dudes on a map” or “area control” vibe to it, just enough to add conflict to the game, while allowing the worker placement mechanics to shine. It plays well solo and at 2 player, but my suspicion is that this game will sine at 3-4.
Words don’t conquer planets!
* Delightfully random, and changing worker placement actions, no two games will ever be the same
* Game starts with light asymmetry, but this increases as the game progresses
* Just enough combat to feel like you are galaxy conquering, but it is fast enough that it does not bog down
* This game takes up a ton of space (get it?)
* Fun a 1-2 players, should be even better at 3+
* Randomness of the set up, and ever changing options might be a turn off for some gamers
* Feels different from other worker placement games on my shelf