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I've seen the term 4X game used to describe games, primarily strategy games.

What does this term mean?

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    I wonder if this question should be tagged strategy based upon the answer? – James Skemp Jun 18 '11 at 22:17
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According to Wikipedia:

4X games are a genre of strategy video game in which players control an empire and "explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate".

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4X refers to the 4 'X' characters in:

  • Explore - scout the map
  • Expand - claim new territory such as through new settlements or greater influence
  • Exploit - extract resources
  • Exterminate - eliminate other players, commonly through warfare

The term was originally coined during the early 90's to distinguish strategy games that required you to build up a base/empire. I would say the most famous 4X game is the Civilisation game series. In these types of games, you start off very small with your initial goal of establishing a base/initial settlement. From here you grow, expand and then compete against other factions.

Arguably, a number of real-time strategy games also contain elements of 4X. The current differentiation is based upon the complexity and speed of 4X games against real-time strategy games. In 4X games you are often able to make a large number of decisions, most likely broken up into phases/turns. Whereas in real-time strategy games the action flows without a pause, and decisions are usually simplified.

Hybrids of real-time strategy games and 4X genres do exist, such as Imperium Galactica and Sins of a Solar Empire.

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These are strategy games in which you explore, build, conquest and conquer.

Its not necessary that you need to exterminate or conquer everything, that depends on the game. Civilization for example, does not force you to destroy everything - there are other means of winning.

If there is one game that can be used as an example to simply describe 4x games in its core form, its Master of Orion.

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