What is a 4X board game? - Eclipse game feature

Explainer: What is a 4X board game?

What is a 4X board game?

You may have heard the term 4X used in relation to board games and wondered what people are talking about. Hopefully we can clarify what this means in this explainer for you and you can impress all of your friends with your new found knowledge.

A 4X board game is a game that includes all four of the following elements, exploration, expansion, extermination, and exploitation. A 4X game must include all these elements. A game that includes some of these but not all is not considered a 4X game.

If it still doesn’t make sense you’re not alone, these terms aren’t really that clear at first glance. Let’s expand on them a bit below:

  • Explore – For a game to include this element it must enable players to explore some sort of map. Typically, this will involve progressively revealing tiles or map areas and their contents as players either move through these areas or use some other way to reveal what these areas contain. Usually this will mean that significant areas of the board or map are hidden at the beginning of the game, with players only able to see what’s in their starting location
  • Expand – This element involves claiming areas on the map as your own. After an area is explored, the expansion element will involve either moving units into the territory or building some sort of presence there (for example a settlement or base)
  • Exploit – This element involves improving and gaining benefits from territory controlled. The possible benefits vary for each game but could include additional resources, bonuses, technology, economic gain, or military units.  Improving areas controlled often leads to greater benefits or resource production. Resources gained can then be used to invest in further military, research or economic aspects
  • Exterminate – This is the combat element of a 4X game. Typically, it will involve attacking other players with the aim of destroying their military units and gaining their territory. In most 4X games it is rare but possible to eliminate a player from the game, the main goal is usually to reduce their relative military strength and territory.

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Who might like 4X games?

These games typically require a significant investment of time and attention. There is usually a lot going on and many different strategies to choose from. Consequently, each turn can be filled with significant decisions to make. The great thing about these sorts of games is that they tend to have a high replay value and satisfy people who really enjoy deep strategy. There are a wide variety of 4X games out there, so if you have an interest in them you are bound to find some that will appeal.

So, who is going to enjoy sinking their teeth into one of these games? Most of these games can be quite complex from a rule set perspective so in general you are looking at introducing these sorts of games to young teens and older.

If you have deep thinkers who like to really invest in games and have a long attention span, then these sorts of games will be worth a look. My son really enjoys games where he can personalise a faction over time through research or some other means, so 4X games really appeal to him.

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What can 4X games teach my kids?

4X games have numerous elements to them so there is a lot that they can teach. They are great for improving attention spans and focus. They also enable greater awareness and strategic thinking due to the numerous things that need to be considered each turn and meaningful decisions that need to be made.

What are some 4X games worth trying?

If these sorts of games sound like your thing, here are few we really enjoy:

  • Eclipse New Dawn for the Galaxy – This is my favourite 4X game without a doubt. I am a fan of the space theme and it’s implemented so well in Eclipse. In my view the game has a good pace to it without feeling like a long slog. You can reasonably complete a game of Eclipse in under 3 hours depending on the player count which is quite good for this sort of game. The races available are all unique and interesting, research and technology is implemented really well and there are numerous paths to securing victory. Each game really feels different and fresh. We have the first edition of the game and love it. The second edition boasts vastly improved components and a streamlined rule set.
  • Heroes of Land, Air & Sea – This game was released in 2018 and has become very popular. It pits Elves, Dwarves, Humans and Orcs against each other in a struggle for dominance. Like the other games mentioned above the races are all unique and as the name suggests enables you to control units spanning land, air, and sea. There is also an interesting tech-tree system that works through upgrading your capital city.

We hope you have enjoyed our explainer. If you have any more questions or just want to share your thoughts, please leave a comment below, or get in touch through our contact page.

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  1. TI is not a 4x game… it is a grand strategy game. There’s minor exploration with PoK expansion. Expand, 100% no question there. Exploit, most of the time you aren’t looking at your opponents weaknesses, you are looking at how their abilities can be worked into a political strategy to help you score points, so it’s almost the opposite (looking at their strengths). Exterminate – hell no. You will lose the game if you try and win through extermination in TI.

    1. Hi, thanks for sharing your perspective on this one. I have seen a bit of debate about Twilight Imperium, many people reference it as a 4x game and on board game geek it’s flagged as a 4x. I take your point on the explore aspect though, there is some element of this as you say in the expansion but not in the core game. I don’t want to create more confusion so Ill remove it from the list. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

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