Ok, I have to admit it. Despite the fact that I love space games, I was not excited by this one. Not at all. Boy, was I wrong.

Small Star Empires is an area-control game based on a board made of large hexes. Each player has a rocketship which they can move any number of spaces as long as they don’t cross a space owned by another player. The player can then claim the spot they land on.

And that’s the extent of the game mechanics. Really. That’s all there is. When I first heard about it, my reaction was, “Why does it even need the space theme? Isn’t it basically an abstract game?” Then I watched the review from Undead Viking:

Undead Viking describes the exact same mechanics. And then explains how overly simple it sounds. I then expected him to say it was boring, but instead he begins gushing!

So what did I miss? Well, inherent terrain has a lot more impact on the game than I originally thought. Different systems are worth more or less points. And since the tiles are double-sided and laid out randomly, each game is a little different. On top of that, you have special spaces like Nebulas which can massively affect scoring.

Then came the coup de grâce:  The game includes hidden overlay tiles which dramatically affect gameplay but are not known until they are investigated!

Suddenly this entire idea of overly simple gameplay was transformed! What previously seemed like a glorified game of Galcon effectively found the complexity and variety it appeared to be missing!

This particular game comes as a surprise to me. I’m used to microgames like Tiny Epic Kingdoms or Province providing a lot of gameplay for their small size. But I never thought I’d see such an easy to understand play mechanic taken to such heights. My hat goes off to Archona Games.

In case you’re not yet clear where I stand, let me spell it out: this is one game I will most definitely be backing! Check it out! At only $35USD ($47AUD) the game ends up being an excellent deal.