Damn you Fantasy Flight! You make everyone else look bad with your fanciness! The dreadnaught fleet alone makes me want to flip the table in an envious rage. That said, I enjoy Rex a lot. My gaming group has mixed opinions on it though, so it hasn’t won everybody over. Let’s look.
I admit I have not played Twilight Imperium, from which this game is a spinoff in theme and characters. Although I understand in terms of gameplay, it is entirely different and is not the epic 4+ hours that Twilight Imperium boasts. So, you will be getting a review from somebody totally unfamiliar with its predecessors.
Rex is a space-themed conquest game in which 3-6 players are assigned an alien/human race/faction and vie for control of a certain number of key space stations (indicated by a little red star on the game board). If you are playing the game with more than 3 people, then you are allowed to form alliances at certain points in the game. If you choose to do this, the number of these key spaces you need to control to win the game increases. The default is 3 when playing alone. 4 with one ally. All 5 with 2 allies. This is a nice mechanic as the amount of help/allies you receive increases the difficulty of winning. Players have 8 rounds in which to achieve their victory. Each round consists of 7 phases:
1. Influence phase: Influence tokens (essentially currency) are dropped onto the board by revealing the top Influence card which will have 2 random locations on it. Influence will only drop onto board spaces with a blue icon. These provide incentive to travel to spaces that may otherwise be undesirable. The need for cash is pretty great in this game.
2. Bidding Phase: And here is where Influence is most needed/used. 4 Strategy cards (battle tactic and other beneficial cards) are pulled from the pile and kept face-down. Players go around the board, taking turns and bidding a number of influence per card. If they are the highest bidder, they receive the card. Maximum hand size is 4 (except for 1 race who can hold 8).
3. Recruitment Phase: Players recruit a set number of troops from a dead pool for free, and may pay influence to recruit additional troops or any dead leaders for their assigned strength value.
4. Maneuvering Phase:Perhaps the longest phase in the game, this phase has 2 parts. A deployment phase where readied troops (troops not in the dead pool but not yet on the board either) can be deployed onto any space on the board—whether you control it or not. This costs influence, and costs twice as much if you deploy into a space that is already occupied. Allies cannot occupy the same space. The second part is actual movement. You may move 1 set of troops on a space to another set of troops on a space. Movement is typically 2 spaces, but can be increased by certain spaces and strategy cards.
5. Battle Phase: If any 2 players are in the same space (with the exception of the ever-peaceful galactic council) a battle occurs. Battles, at least in my gaming group, are the most contentious part of Rex. Some love it. Some hate it. It is essentially a bidding and bluffing exercise in risk and loss management. 2 players are given little battle cards with a spinning dial on it and mutliple placeholders. The dial indicates how many troops you will be engaging in the battle, and the placeholders are for placing in a command leader. Depending on which placeholder you plop your leader into, this also indicates what strategy cards you will be using, if any. There are weapons and shields that can be deployed. Once both players have set their battle cards, they are revealed simultaneously. Weapons and shields are used first (and determine if a leader is killed) and then leader value + troop value = your battle score. The player with the highest score “wins” the battle and retains control of the space. The other player’s troops are eliminated. No matter what amount of troops you risk on your dial—they are ALWAYS killed. Even if you won the battle. This means if you risked 10 troops against your opponents 4 troops—those 10 troops are killed. Whatever troops you didn’t risk will remain on the space. Some like this. Some hate this.
6. Collection Phase: Any players controlling a space with influence tokens on it will get to pick up those influence tokens (2 tokens per troop). After a bloody battle, you may not be able to pick up the full amount of influence tokens on a space—this needs to be a factor in what you risk in battles.
7. Bombardment Phase: There is a dreadnaught fleet roaming the board (courtesy of the Federation of Sol race). The top bombardment card is revealed and it shows a number of spaces. The player holding the first-turn-token gets to control the dreadnaught fleet for this phase, and will move the fleet that many spaces in a set direction (numbers on space stations must be increasing from 1 – 18). Anything that the fleet passes over is destroyed—influence and troops. The only exception are spaces on the board with shield icons (green symbols)
Rinse and repeat these phases until there is a winner/winning team. In some cases it may not last 8 rounds. In other cases there will not be a clear winner by the end of the 8th round, in which case certain alien races have an instant-win condition in such an event. There is also an optional variant where Betrayal Cards (included in the game) can be distributed at the game’s onset and used to steal a victory from allied players if certain conditions are met.
- It is nice to have a game with so much player interaction. Not just with battles and bidding, but also with alliances that can constantly change.
- Game length is anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes. Perhaps longer if it is somebody’s first time playing through.
- Learning curve is not too bad. The phases are located on little “cheat sheets” to remind people what is happening, and most of the phases are brief.
- Alien races are pretty well balanced and interesting. They all afford you some great abilities, and lend themselves to particular strategies and alliances, but each game I’ve played so far has been different.
- Excellent components, quality, and a very thorough rulebook that even includes a lot of backstory to the game.
- The Maneuvering Phase is the most confusing for players I’ve found. It entails 2 parts and gets people jumbled up—deployment AND movement.
- The battle mechanic in this game is by far the most polarizing aspect. I enjoy it/don’t mind it while others hotly detest it. I understand both sides of the argument and just caution people to understand the mechanic before playing/purchasing the game if you don’t think your friends will enjoy it. Or, you can always devise your own agreed-upon house rules for how you want combat to go.
- The other aspect to battle that people have complained about is how 3-way battles go. 3 un-allied races can end up contesting the same space and have to battle it out, but there is no 3-way mechanic. 2 players must fight, and then the winner will fight the 3rd person with whatever troops and leaders they have left-over. This certainly is a difficult feat for the person having to fight 2 back-to-back battles. I agree that a 3rd battle dial would have been nice.
Rex: Final Days of an Empire Rating: 8 out of 10 (Highly Enjoyable)
I like the replayability of this game, as well as the unpredictability and diversity in strategies one can have to win it. The rules are pretty straight-forward and I find the mechanics interesting. Without having played Twilight Imperium, I would say this is a pretty original game. It’s got a bit of Risk-style conquest to it, but without the luck of dice. It’s all about reading your opponent and anticipating what friends and foes will be doing.