Space Empires, 1981 from Mayfair Games, is one of those
rare gems that is largely overlooked, both in its day and to this
The game came out in a mini-size format - not as small as the
Metagaming microgames, but the next size larger. The components are
therefore simple and cheap, but this doesn't mean it's a poor game.
On the contrary, it's an excellent game, one of the few wargames that
can be played by two, three, four, five, or six players, and works
well at any level.
The game consists of a simple space map with twelve home star systems
and maybe half that number minor systems. Each home system is
labelled with a unique letter, from A through W, and all but two of
them also have a number on the system. The lesser systems simply have
the number "1" on each of them. The map also has the combat results
table printed on it, and a concise listing of each race's special
There is a slim rulebook, and a number of die-cut counters, and that's
it. The counters are space ships, in twelve different colors. There
are twelve different races in the game, each beginning with a
different letter, corresponding to one of the home systems on the map.
A race has a given number of counters, all of which are the same
color, and have the race's letter and two numbers on them. The
numbers are simply Combat Factor and Movement Factor. One of the
races' counters are also uniquely numbered.
To start the game, take one ship of each color and mix them upside
down. Each player chooses two ships to represent his home races. If
there are any left over (that is, if playing with less than six
players), the remaining ships are placed on their home systems to
represent minor neutral races' resistance.
The game then goes in four stages:
- Production Phase: determine how much production value each player
has by totally up the numbers on the systems they control;
- Building Phase: spend production points to build ships - excess
points may be saved;
- Movement/Combat Phase: each race, in alphabetical order, moves as
many ships as desired, then has combat with those which can fight;
- Victory Determination Phase: check to see if someone controls
seven home systems - if so, the others have one turn in which to
reduce him below that number, or the game is over, with the player
with seven systems the winner.
Pretty straightforward, actually - there are rules for movement,
combat, zones of control, doubled power if defending your home
system, and so on. Nothing out of the ordinary in wargaming so
far. The Combat Results Table is interesting in having 2-3 and
3-2 columns, and there are no Retreat results: everything is either
a kill, an exchange, or remain in contact.
What gives the game a distinct flavor and high replay value is that
each of the twelve races has a unique ability, power and speed of
ships, and quantity of ships available. The "A" race, for example,
has ten ships they can build, all of which have 6-5 value (6 combat
factors, 5 movement points). Their special ability is a paralyzing
ray: they can capture enemy ships unharmed and take them into their
fleet. In game terms, this means that for each ship destroyed with
an Eliminated result (not merely an Exchange), they can add one
more ship to their stack. The "R" race has ranged weapons; the
"V" race has lots of little ships, but can move and attack twice
in a given turn, the "W" ships automatically win any attacks without
rolling the die, but can be attacked normally; the "D" race can
use a "warp" drive to teleport almost anywhere on the board, and
While some of the powers are more useful than others, a race with
such a power is then limited either in the counter mix, combat
values, movement factors, location of home system, position in the
alphabet (for order of movement) or some combination of the above.
For example, the "W" race, which wins all attacks automatically,
has only four ships it can build, moves last in the turn order,
has slow-moving ships, and its home system is in the corner of the
map - so it takes it forever to get out and conquer the other races.
This means that all the races are roughly equal. They don't have
to be exactly equal, because each player starts with two different
races. You can mix races you control in a given stack of pieces,
and when you conquer a system, you get to control any new ships
built of that race.
The chose-two-different-races-randomly at start routine and the
fact there are so many different strategies to use with each race
give the game a high replay value.
The game's major flaw, as a multi-player game, is that some players
will be out of the game early, while the game can continue a long
time therafter. The best fix for this is to play for a given time
period - say, two hours - and whoever controls the most races (with
production points as a tie breaker) at that time wins. That, and
have some quick two-player games available for those who are
eliminated quickly to enjoy while the others finish up Space
While out of print, the game should still be available at conventions
from used-game dealers, or in auctions. Pick one up if you like
the idea of multi-player science fiction wargames - this is a good
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