Space Tyrant is out (of early access) today. It’s a game of space fleets and factions, planets conquered or lost by dice roll, abilities managed via cards and tokens. It’s a game of diplomacy and economics, but especially of acquiring places and things, and blowing things up good when they cannot be acquired.
It’s a 4X game, in other words, in the tradition of the Galactic Civilizations or Masters of Orion series, or more recently, Endless Space (and Endless Legend, and Civilization). And now I hear some of you saying, Hey! I’ve heard of some of those games. I’ve even heard the term. But I have no clear idea of what it means.
Well, Space Tyrant is aimed largely at those who are already in the 4X fold, but it can also serve as a decent introduction, because its contribution to the usually slow-moving genre is to move as quickly as a lunch break-legnth rougelike-alike.
For the uninitiated, 4X stands for “eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate,” even though all of those words that with the letter e, because the culture of the 90’s really just boiled down to liking the letter x a lot. Space Tyrant embraces the mechanical ruthlessness of the genre—the reason why 4X games have their origins in spacewar simulations, and also the reason why War-Gandhis and whatnot have always made Civilization games so surreal—and sees the the player borging civilizations and dispatching armies with bleakly comical efficiency.
I’m honestly not enough of a 4X devotee to say whether Space Tyrant succeeds at its primary goal, namely scratching the expansionist itch while asking vastly less time and attention of the player than is customary. But I can attest that the game does an admirable job of inviting us dilettantes in—giving us a taste of all the basics, and encouraging us to experiment, to fail fast and often and spectacularly in the rich (if recent) tradition of the lunchtime roguelike.
As an introduction to the 4X ethos, and the ethically iffy implications thereof, Space Tyrant stands right alongside Universal Paperclips. The key difference is that Space Tyrant is also a beginner’s guide to the tropes and trappings of those space-exploting, planet-conquering 4Xes you’ve heard about but maybe never tried. It’s intended as a way for longtime users to to get a quick fix, sure, but also as a gateway drug. As either, and as both, it’s a neat minimalist exercise in boiling down the appeal of a famously maximalist genre.