Our 'Horizons' Review
Des: Levi Mote
Art: The Mico
Pub: Daily Magic Games
I'm a fan of space, a sucker for any galaxy-spanning, civilization building, technology developing epic conquest of the stars. For decades game designers have tried to match the grandeur of the reigning king of the genre, Twilight Imperium, while making an experience that only takes a third of the time. Horizons is not that game. Because it is exactly the expanse of the game in time and space that makes it an epic in the original poetic sense. If Twilight Imperium is an epic, then Horizons is a beautiful sonnet. The genius in condensing the galaxy-spanning experience was to make it an accelerating engine builder and cut out the negative interaction that would hinder those engines. Most games of this type would be called 4X referring to the actions you take in the game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate). Horizons is only 3X because it leaves out extermination and replaces it with personal objectives. By removing player's ability to attack each other the game length is shortened considerably as players cannot dismantle the progress that others have made, nor take time on their turn double guessing a military unit's possible actions and intentions.
Horizons is a game about colonization. The board is built new during each game out of planet tiles around a number of stars equal to the players. Each player represents a race vying for control of the systems. Players will pull worlds from a bag and choose which system to place them in, use starting resources to build energy and metal collectors to harvest resources to build more collectors and colonies, all the while hiring allies to help run your engine faster than your opponents. Points mostly come from controlling systems by having the most buildings (colonies count double) and from the mission cards you collect during the game. This is the key innovation that really makes the game work for me. In replacing the confrontation with objective cards the developers have swapped a frustrating limitation for personal choices that refresh my agency. To sweeten the deal, if I don't like a mission, or it becomes impossible, I can simply draw more and discard the ones I don't like, keeping a maximum of 5.
Even the gameplay is reduced to manageable chunks. On your turn, you perform two actions from the menu of five on your player board. You can do the same twice and in any order. The only action I haven't mentioned so far is taking an ally. There are five stacks of allies that correspond to the five actions. You can take an ally from the top of any stack. When you use an action you may use one of the allies you have that matches the action type you are taking. These ally actions are VERY strong so you want to do them as much as possible, but when you use an ally you have to flip them over, then when you use them again, you have to discard them back to be recycled for everyone to have a chance to use that ally. The allies are what makes this an engine building game, but one where you have to constantly maintain your engine by hiring new allies to replace the retiring ones so that you always get a bonus action. You also have a hand full of mission cards that you are trying to achieve and if that isn't enough tension the whole game is ultimately a race to put out your colonies and dominate the sector.
The final stroke on this masterpiece is the art and components. Daily Magic Games has discovered a real gem in Mihajlo "The Mico" Dimitrievski. His signature cartoony style has been gaining popularity rapidly and another publisher, Garphill Games, is using his art almost exclusively as well. The cards and cardboard are what we've come to expect over the years. I appreciate the simple, vibrant wooden resources instead of expensive metal or minis.
If there is a downside to the game it is that some of the missions seem unlikely at any player count, or at least should be worth a LOT more for the trouble. I'm glad that my only gripe is over a component that is easily patched without altering gameplay.
Fighting entropy since 1982.