Friday, February 12, 2021

Return to the Core Worlds: Empires and Nemesis

Once you’ve conquered the core worlds… what happens next?
“Winning is easy; governing is harder.”

 No, No, Not Yet

Butch: [Walks back, and Harvey tenses to begin the fight] No, no, not yet. Not until me and Harvey get the rules straightened out.

Harvey: Rules? In a knife fight? No rules.

[Butch kicks him in the groin and Harvey falls to his knees]

Butch: Well, if there ain’t going to be any rules, let’s get the fight started. Someone count. 1,2,3 go.

Sundance: [quickly] 1,2,3, go.

[Butch knocks Harvey out]

Flat Nose: I was rooting for you all along, Butch

Butch: Well, thank you, Flat Nose. That’s what sustained me in my time of trouble.

In the spirit of Butch & Sundance, let’s get the rules straightened out as I start this playtest report/preview/review:

  1. This is not a paid review. I received a playtest copy of the prototypes and will be first in line to back both Empires and the Nemesis deck when they hits Kickstarter next week.
  2. I’ve been playing a playtest copy – and while the art is solid, it’s not the same thing as a finished game. Any pictures taken by me are of the prototype copy.
  3. Due to COVID, all but one of my plays of Empires utilized the solo system. (I’ll talk more about that later.)

The Story Continues…

At the close of every game of Andrew Parks’ Core Worlds (released in 2011), the various players had inexorably advanced through the outer planets and finally subdued the core worlds in their quest for power. The question Core Worlds: Empires answers is…

…what happens now?

Each player starts with an empire of six worlds (their core world plus one planet in each of the rings) as well as a fabled leader. The task now is to turn resources and your fledgling empire into the dominant force in the galaxy – accumulating Empire points through efficiently and wisely directing your ambassadors to build armies, curry favor with the Galactic Orders, and even attempt to conquer other planets.

A Whole Lot Different, A Whole Lot the Same

The original Core Worlds used deck building drip-fed from a series of five decks… then coupled it with tableau building to amass the military forces needed to conquer various planets and finally the core worlds. I’m a huge fan of the game when you include the expansions (which I reviewed on the OG back in the day.)

Core Worlds: Empires offers a new set of game mechanics set in the same world – this time around, it’s a blend of worker placement (as you send your ambassadors off to interact with planets and advancements) and resource management. A very clever event card system not only advances the story but also gives players ways to anticipate and even manipulate end game scoring.

Many elements are familiar to those of us who played the original game:
  • the use of fleet and ground strength to win battles
  • the appearance of heroes and a wealth of unit types and planetary advancements
  • the powerful Galactic Orders – who can influence events and enable empires to better interact with various planets
Other elements are new:
  • the use and conversion of resources (similar in some ways to Terraforming Mars… though I hesitate to say that in fear of someone dismissing this as “just like TM” – it’s not.)
  • the aforementioned event deck system
  • cards and military units are assigned to particular ambassadors – meaning you need to plan ahead for combat
  • more player interaction – both from fighting over planets as well as paying each other to follow an action or use a planet in their empire

Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all it’s flavour

One of the things I really enjoy about Andrew’s designs is the wealth of variety that he values – whether it’s a deck building dungeon crawl like his Dungeon Alliance or an epic worker placement game like Core Worlds: Empires.

In Empires, there are decks for heroes, units, advancements, and tactics… as well as the event deck and the five sector decks (planets). In any one game, you are likely to see only a small portion of each deck… and approximately half of the event deck. Add the differences between the different starting core worlds, the leaders of each empire, and the ability to customize the special power of your core world… and that adds up to a lot of game to move around in.

Yes, this makes the game more tactical as you don’t have the assurance that a particular tactic or event will even enter the game. On the other hand, it helps craft a larger world… heck, let me quote Andrew from an interview he did earlier this year about designing games. He says it a great deal better than I do.
You don’t force players to play your story.
You let players create their own story within your world.
You don’t force their decisions; you don’t try to make certain things happen… you say “Here’s a world that I created. Go mess it up. Have fun.”
The sheer amount of content combined with the clear iconography and straightforward worker placement decisions leads to an a new adventure and a new challenge each time you play.

The Nemesis Strikes Back

Yes, I realize that doesn’t make much sense… yet. But in the chronological history of the Core Worlds, the Nemesis has struck before. (We’ll get to that below… just keep reading and all will become clear.)

One of Andrew’s strengths as a designer is the creation of strong card-driven AIs for solo play as evidenced by his cooperative game Nemo Rising as well as the tremendous solo system for Dungeon Alliance. That solid work continues with the solo deck for Core Worlds: Empires.

The AI empire takes an equal number of turns as you… and they are competitive as well as talented at frustrating your plans. I’ve played four times against the Nemesis AI – and I’ve only managed to beat it once.

The Nemesis Appears

The other game – well, expansion – that will be a part of the Core Worlds Kickstarter is a Nemesis deck for the original game, allowing an official way for fans of Core Worlds to play the game even if no one else wants to join in the fun.

The Nemesis deck is customizable both to use (or not use) the two previous expansions… and to set a difficulty level that’s challenging for players regardless of their level of experience with the game system. (My only play – so far – on the lowest difficulty level was a nail-biter, with the Nemesis besting me by only a couple of points.)

Final Thoughts

I have a lot of thoughts. And not just about the new Core Worlds games. Why did Ben & Jerry’s cancel Holy Cannoli ice cream? Who decided that a serial killer Muppet named Gritty should be a hockey mascot? Why in the world did J.T. give Evil Russell an immunity idol?

But that’s not why you’re reading this… so let’s get to the good stuff.

Kickstarter Related Thoughts
  • This game is not in “we’ll get it ready after we get their money” shape – it’s actually a 99% finished game design that playtesting is simply ironing out the bugs.
Multi-Player Thoughts
  • My single two-player game was a lot of fun… my choice to work the event deck was countered by my son becoming aggressive with his fleet of ships.
  • For me, I think the sweet spot in multi-player play will be three players – enough to increase the variety of planets available, but not so many players that the game time extends.
Length of Play Thoughts
  • Our two player game took about 2 hours & 15 minutes… noting that this was our first game.
  • My solo games average 90 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how often I glance at the TV to see if Tottenham (COYS!) is winning or losing.
Final Final Thoughts
  • I really love the way the game combines crunchy Euro decision-making with the grand sweep of the theme and the art.
  • I really love the solo mode and even though there’s some set-up time, it’s been worth the extra work each time.
  • I’m looking forward to teaching new folks this game once face-to-face game groups are a thing again.
As for the Nemesis deck for Core Worlds, it works like a charm and lets me play one of my well-loved games in my collection. What’s not to like?

The Kickstarter for the Core Worlds games has 12 days to go – I highly recommend you check it out!


Quotes found in this review in order of appearance:
  • “Cabinet Battle #1” – Hamilton (musical)
  • Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (film)
  • “Whole Lot Different – Charlie Peacock (from the album “Lie Down in the Grass”)
  • “The Task” – William Cowper (poem)
  • Andrew Parks – interview on NerdLab

1 comment:

Rob Cannon said...

You convinced me to back the project! I wish the promos were the first stretch goal, though.