Core Worlds is the first original coming out from publishers Stronghold Games, who made their marks on the industry with reprints of Code 777, Survive: Escape from Atlantis, and Confusion. This game, designed by Andrew Parks, is another entry into the ever-growing deck-building genre. It’s for 2-5 players aged 10 and up, and takes around an hour to play (it is recommended that only experienced players attempt the five-player game). In the game, you’re a barbarian Star Empire trying to take over the dying Galactic Realm. You’ll be invading worlds and drafting new units and tactics to gain Empire points.
Being a DBG, this game comes with a lot of cards – 210, to be exact. There are 5 sector cards, 5 home worlds, and 5 sets of 16-card starting decks. In addition, there are six galactic decks of cards, numbered 0-5. Decks 0 and 5 have 12 cards each; the other four have 24 each. Sector cards will mark each deck’s location on the table. Deck 0 is for a pregame draft variant that is only suggested for experienced players. In addition to cards, the game comes with several types of markers – a round marker, a destiny marker, 5 action markers, and 5 energy markers. There are 5 player boards, 12 energy tokens, and 3 energy surge tokens.
There are several areas on the table when setting up. The five sector cards will be laid out in numerical order off to the side. Galactic decks 1-5 will be shuffled and placed next to its corresponding sector card. The Central Zone of the table should be kept empty for cards to be played for drafting purposes. Each player’s area is called their Warzone, and will include their player board, home world, and starting deck. The destiny marker goes to the player with the lowest numbered home world.
Core Worlds takes ten rounds to play. In each round, there will be six phases: draw, energy, galactic, action, discard, and end. In the draw phase, players draw up to six cards in their hand. As with most DBGs, if you don’t have enough in your deck when drawing, you can reshuffle your discards to form a new deck. During the last two rounds of the game, you draw an extra card.
In the energy phase, you count the energy generated by all of your worlds. In the upper left corner of each world card is an energy number. You’ll advance your energy marker on your player board (which starts at 0). Beginning with the player who holds the destiny marker, each player now declares whether or not they are going to boost their energy with surges (cards in your hand that boost your energy by one or two points) or exploration (discard two cards for +1 energy).
In the galactic phase, there are three steps (though the first two are skipped in the first round since there are no cards in the Central Zone). First, remove any cards with an energy token. Next, place an energy token on any remaining cards. Finally, draw cards from the current Galactic deck (as indicated by the round marker on the sector cards) so that there are 6-8-10-12 cards in the Central Zone with 2-3-4-5 players. After drawing, check to see if there are at least as many worlds in the Central Zone as there are players. If not, keep drawing until there are. Then check non-worlds, drawing until there are as many as there are players. During the final round, all remaining cards will be placed on the table.
During the action phase, you’ll be spending action points to take actions. Action points you have available are determined by the sector card, and initially you get four. Beginning with the destiny holder, each player takes turns choosing one action which they can do once. On subsequent turns, you can choose to do the same action again. There are five options:
- Draft one unit / tactic / prestige card: You’ll take one of these cards from the Central Zone by spending one AP and paying the energy cost. Units and tactics go into your discard pile, while prestige cards go directly into your Warzone. You can only draft one card per turn.
- Deploy X units: Play any number of unit cards from your hand to your Warzone, spending one AP per unit. Each unit also has a deploy cost in energy. You can play several units during one turn, but the order you play may be important.
- Invade one world: You may launch one invasion on a turn. Spend one AP and one energy, then choose a world. You must then discard enough units whose strengths (fleet and ground) equal or exceed both the planet’s fleet and ground strengths. The world then goes into your Warzone. Only units that have been previously deployed can be used. Some units have “during invasion” effects, which you can activate. Also, you’ll be able to play tactics cards from your hand.
- Use one “As An Action” ability: Some units and tactics cards can be used as an action. Spend one AP (plus energy costs) to activate it. Note that tactics cards played during invasion don’t have an AP cost, just ones that are used as an action.
- Pass: You can pass if you want, though that will end your round. You must pass if you have no more AP, and you must also pass if you’re out of energy (unless you can play a card that costs no energy).
After everyone has passed, move on to the discard phase. Discard all remaining cards into your discard pile. You may choose to retain one card. You’ll also reset your energy to zero, meaning you can’t roll it over from round to round. Finally, in the end phase, advance the round marker. This may increase the number of APs you have for the next round. When entering the ninth round, you have the option of shuffling your discard pile into your deck, giving you a good chance to draw stuff you just bought. There are only six Core Worlds and six prestige cards in the final deck. The destiny marker passes to the left, and you start over.
The game ends after the tenth round. You add bonus points and empire points on your cards to determine the winner.
Core Worlds has all of your basic deck-building mechanisms – using resources in your hand to acquire new cards for your deck, cycling through your cards so that cards acquired on one turn are available later, the ability to only buy one thing at a time. However, this game sets itself apart by introducing a set number of rounds and a sequence during that round, during which you can gain cards before doing your actions. Rather than one player taking an entire turn at once, each player gets to do part of a turn and see what others have done before doing their next phase. Having a time limit, rather than a certain condition that needs to be met (empty piles, points, last man standing), should allow for more planning and how long you have to do what needs to be done.
Core Worlds, like Eminent Domain, is taking the DBG into the realm of science-fiction, and it remains to be seen whether it will work. Most DBGs to this point have been fantasy based, so it’s interesting to see the storyline that you’re following in a different setting. For my part, I’m looking forward to seeing how all the cards work together, and whether it feels like a thematic experience as well as a strategic one. Stronghold Games has developed quite a pedigree in the last year, so it will be good to see what they’ve come up with here. It feels like it might be similar to something like Ascension, with a common and everchanging pool that people will be drafting from, but with standard decks that will decrease the randomness. I wonder about the replayability of the game since you’ll be using the exact same cards every game. I guess time will tell. I’ll be looking forward to seeing people’s impressions once the game gets released in October. Thanks for reading!