If you like the idea of Risk but don’t have 300 hours to play a board game, might I recommend Rex: Final Days of an Empire. This intensely thematic strategy game is set in the crumbling world of the Twilight Imperium universe and offers a tantalizing mixture of strategizing, scheming, and sneaking around to ally with or double cross your fellow players.
You can choose from a variety of very different races who have a very cool range of specialized abilities that, while they may seem unbalanced at first glance, end up being pretty excellently designed for a harrowingly close game.
As you can see, the game setup is fairly straightforward. You’ll definitely need quite a bit of table space; the board is large, and each player needs some room for for their race card, traitor cards, strategy cards, troop tokens, influence, etc. The learning curve is fairly steep—one of our players kept misunderstanding rules or forgetting them and it hurt him pretty badly until he pulled a sneak attack victory in the midnight hour—but once you get it set up and go through a round or two, it’s pretty easy to pick up.
This game took us about three hours to play with setup, rule discussion, and some distractions throughout, so while this isn’t Risk, it still isn’t a quick and easy play-in-an-hour game. We played with three players, and the game can accommodate up to six, which would significantly increase the playtime. When it’s not your turn it can feel a little slow if you’re only focused on your own goal, so keep a close eye on your opponents’ movements and actions.
With only three players, we didn’t get to experience much of the alliance feature in an official fashion, but we definitely took part in some very enjoyable unofficial backstabbing and blatant teaming-up against the more over powered player.
My Game Ratings
Like I mentioned, one of our players got really tangled up by the race-specific rules and we all got a little bit confused, so re-plays will definitely run smoother. The main mechanic that threw me off was bidding on the strategy cards. It was honestly a mixed bag; because some players were constantly strapped for cash and others were swimming in it, there was some fun player interaction happening with the bidding, but it seemed more time-consuming than necessary. Since the turns are already very long, these cards probably could have gotten into our hands through a simple card draw and cut down the time just a little bit. But the majority of the game ran smoothly and we often found ourselves in trouble of our own making.
I had so much fun playing this game. As the Hacan, I thought I had an easy win ahead of me—all I had to do was distract the others until round 8 and I would win. But I got so locked in with another player who would also win at round 8 if he owned a specific territory that the third player snuck the victory from our grasp at the last second. The final round came down to two seriously epic battles, and the game honestly could have gone to any one of us depending on how those two fights went. It was such a tense ending, and I was very pleasantly surprised how balanced it ended up being. The game itself is fun, but the player interactions that the alliances and traitors open up really take it to another level.
While there are quite a few pieces, they all have very distinct functions and fit into the game in ways that made sense. The PvP mechanic with the battle dials was very unique. At first I was a little skeptical, but the way we had to set up our strategy and reveal them simultaneously worked well. It had a little bit of a steep learning curve as well (especially with what order to play the cards in) but once we figured it out we were throwing the dials down dramatically and getting really into it. And the art in this game is beyond beautiful. Everything from the location spaces to the influence tokens to the race cards were elegant and well crafted. I especially like the background blurbs on the back of the card that helps you get to know your race a little better. The designers obviously took immense care when creating the visual components of this game.
Overall Rex was a well-written, nicely balanced, and elegantly designed game. I had a killer time playing it, and despite a few bumps, we all found our footing and really go into the player vs. player dynamics. This game was very fun with three people, but I’m definitely going to try to play with more in the future to see how that changes the experience.