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4X done quick: Space Tyrant and The Battle of Polytopia

The 4X game is the Sunday papers genre: you spread out, prepare yourself for the long, luxurious haul, and tackle this glorious unwieldy thing, thick with features wanted and unwanted and packed with colour and far-flung intrigue. Your favourite part in it will be some aspect you were not expecting, and yet the whole thing is wonderfully awash with calming familiarity. I am still surprised that the new Civ does not drop a leaflet for life insurance when you pick it up and shake it.

To put it another way, the pleasure of these games is that they take time. You start off with one settler and an entire globe is waiting to be discovered and bent to your will. In space 4X games it’s even more daunting: a solar system, a galaxy, a universe is yours for the taking. Someday someone’s going to make a multiverse 4X. Maybe we are already playing it.

But there are downsides to these sorts of things – well, sometimes they feel like downsides anyway. There are problems with the four Xs of the 4X, of course. Isn’t the explore and expand element more fun than the exploit and exterminate part that follows? But there’s also the time question: sometimes you don’t have Sunday papers kinds of time on your hands. And while there is a pratfalls pleasure to opening up an ancient save and trying to work out why you were so hell-bent on taking out Leopold II – you monster! – the memory tax of these games is probably high enough already.

So what about the speedy 4X? The brisk 4X. The 4X that likes to jog or at least power-walk. Oh man, I am glad that I engineered this opening section to lead us to that question, because I have been playing two speedy 4X games this week. Well, they are kind of 4X games anyway. And they are kind of speedy.

Imagine Civ, but you can play it on the bus and finish it on the bus too. The Battle of Polytopia is a bit like that, even though in truth it feels like Civ less than it looks like Civ, and to make it look like Civ you really have to squint.