4X: Excite, Excel, Exhaust, Exclude?

Yesterday my friends and I had a snowy day to contend with and we passed the time by playing a board game. It’s a game called Scythe that I got as a gift from my girlfriend for Christmas. Scythe is described as a 4X board game – and just in case you didn’t listen to last week’s podcast, 4X stands for Explore, Expand, Exploit, and Exterminate. You explore a map, expand your empire, exploit the land for resources, and exterminate your rival empires.

These types of strategy games are found in both the spheres of both board and video games. Classic examples of 4X video games include the Civilization series, the Masters of Orion series, Endless Space, and Stellaris. Examples of 4X board games include the aforementioned Scythe, Civilization: The Board Game, Twilight Imperium, and Clash of Cultures.

4X games often take a very long time to play – I’ve personally spent a whole day playing Civilization 5 on the computer and not finished the game, and it took two long gaming sessions to finish one game of a board game version. This is because there are often a lot of intersecting mechanics and choices you have to make and since it is a strategy game there are lots of considerations to make every time it is your turn. Also because there is a lot of information to cover, the first time you play such a game it will take a lot longer to set up and understand.

I really enjoyed playing Scythe with my friends and am already eager to try it again. However, when I’m faced with a 4X video games I often shy away from them aside from the Civilization series. So why is 4X more palatable to me in board game form over video games? That’s what I’m going to explore and expand upon (get it?) in this article.

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