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Apollo4X: A Space Trading 4X Game – Early Preview

By on December 18th, 2014 10:12 am

Apollo4X | A turn-based Space Trading 4X Strategy Game by Digi-Ent

As mentioned earlier we’ve had a recent resurgence in the 4X genre with many games trying to explore their own paths. One of such titles is Apollo4X, a space 4X that doesn’t follow on the traditional footsteps of the genre (I’m referring to the Civilization series here and not just the Master of Orion one). Apollo4X is developed by Digi-Ent (Digital Entertainment), a small indie development company.

Apollo4X is more of an economic trading space 4X game, which uses a tactical maneuvering combat system involving decision making but not grid-map movement, which the term is usually more associated with. This is an odd blend and one should consider mechanics you would see in both board games and trading card games (physical ones), combined with Tycoon style games. The premise of the game is that you are a recovering world of humans with multiple nation states. You play as the head of the Apollo Trading Company, a powerful corporation who has been given monopoly on the space expansion program. You will oversee colonisation, colony development, and help form a unified republic on your planet, while fighting off the Centaur menace. You will also command its military to defend your colonies and seize Centaur worlds.

SpaceSector was able to play the latest build of the game, and to speak with the team at Digi-Ent to ask them a few questions. Currently the game is available at GamersGate as part of their Early Access program and is up on Steam Greenlight in order to get the game on Steam as well. They also have a quick FAQ page and a YouTube channel that both showcases the game and offers tutorials. You can also go to their official site if you wish to know more.

Apollo4X | Combat

About the Game

Apollo4X is a turn-based space trading 4X game. However, it takes more inspiration from economy games such as the Tycoon series. It still has the traditional 4X elements but does them differently. You’ll still explore outwards (but not with a ship), colonise planets, built up these colonies (economically), and then lead your military into battle to eradicate the Centaur menace. However, unlike your typical 4X games you don’t command fleets, control the local economy of a planet or fight for space superiority. Instead, you gather favours by fulfilling colonial demands (which cost you your services, but are used to bring Apollo together), gather political clout from becoming more dominant (which you can spend to do things which you normally can’t), and run the space trading economy to make profit (which you spend to expand your reserves and purchase services). Services are the game’s usable resources. These will be used to expand economies, colonise, recruit troops, develop colonies, fulfill colonial demands, and fuel your expanding merchant fleets.

As mentioned earlier, you make money by running the trade routes, which is a core component of the game. You basically grow the infrastructure of each colony and assign minor corporations to run the demand side of the economy, you then select trade routes to fulfill the demands of each planet to make your fortune.

The game also doesn’t have building queues. Instead, the player buys what they can afford and tries to make more money so that they can buy more and expand their influence and use it with the services purchased. The player will expand the clout of their company. The closest to ‘building-takes-time’ is colonial infrastructure, which is gained per turn from cities (which are paid for with services). The player uses these to expand their colony locally by improving supply and demand, or by expanding the stellar net or growing the local fleet (for trading). However, these too are directly applied, you spend the infrastructure and get what you want if you have enough.

Apollo4X | Trade Route Completion

As the FAQ explains, the Centaurs don’t care about space supremacy, they gladly let you land on their world. As for themselves, they seem quite adept to invade your worlds as well. This is one aspect that makes Apollo4X different as it doesn’t have space combat; instead it focuses on ground warfare. Ground combat is handled via a card battle system (not as in cards are used to influence combat, but as you have the mechanics represented by something similar to a card game).

The combat is about selecting the correct units to make up your army, selecting which unit to activate and choosing the action it will take. The system is not about luck, but about making the correct choices. You will need to exploit enemy weaknesses and get status effects like flanking to maximise your troops. Also, morale plays an important part. You don’t have to kill all your enemies though; you just have to make them flee to win. It should be noted that the Centaurs are a race that revels in war, so you have a difficult task ahead of you.

You succeed if you are able to achieve multiple agendas. One is naturally defeating the Centaurs, but this also includes growing your economy till you become the economy of Apollo, unifying the republics of Apollo, expanding the stellar network, and allying with an ancient alien race. You can also lose by being voted out (losing all your favours) or by having Apollo overrun by the Centaurs.

Though there are several factions of Centaurs, they do not play the same game as you. The term asymmetrical gameplay is applicable here. They just expand and go about claiming territories for themselves, sometimes a neutral planet, sometimes one of your own, and as I said earlier Apollo can be next on their path.

The game offers a lot of customisation at start-up and instead of a typical difficulty slider you choose how lenient or strict your economy is, how many Centaurs are present, how capable they are, and how difficult it is to run your expanding empire. The game also offers a 2D map mode for those who are jarred by the 3D map, and a casual mode that prevents you from losing traditionally.

Apollo4X | Colonial Demands and Services

The Reasons and Inspirations for the Game

The game is definitely off the beaten path for a space 4X title, so I took the liberty to ask the developers a few concept questions which you can read the answers for here. Here are a few highlights to those who are curious:

4X is stuck in a rut. All these games rely on the Civilization 1 economic model. We’ve had 20 years of it now. “Food, Industry, Science” which leads to “population, build queues, and a tech tree.” There are some really good “MOO-Too” games out there, but nothing that has an economy that considers supply and demand economic forces in a way that satisfies us.

With Apollo4X, we targeted the amazingly under-serviced market for people who like a little “tycoon” in their strategy game. And those tycoon genre games are a pretty narrow selection as well, being mainly theme park, airport business, and city manager type games. Nobody has done this in space until now. Instead of laying down buildings and trying to attract customers, we have the player building trade ports on colony worlds, dictating import demands that they profit from shipping around the galaxy, and leaning on politicians with their money and influence to influence politics in their favor. We’re not into minutiae management here; it’s very top-level delegatory “make this happen, now!” CEO stuff – the player isn’t designing products or stocking shelves.

Apollo4X is all about “It takes money to make money” in that you’re investing in colonial economies and market bending bribery to maximize your income from your shipping business. This is all inspired historically by the East India Company, and its interactions with Imperial colonies and the government, eventually becoming the government because the officials in power were utterly inept. In our fiction, Apollo has about a dozen nations that are all squabbling and unable to unite, the infrastructure is in total decay, and the economy is in shambles. Meanwhile, the equivalent of a Mongol horde is spreading across the galaxy and the Apollo Trading Company decides “Alright, someone has to assume leadership of this rabble and save our bacon.” You need troops, but those cost money. The tools at your disposal are capital gained by trade, political approval earned by resolving colonial demands, and corporate clout that comes from building infrastructure to unite the colonies.

At no time are you worrying about build queues or what to research next and how many tens of turns down the road you’ll see the fruit of it. Apollo4X is played in business quarter length turns, and you’re dealing with commodities that already exist in the market space, which fluctuate in availability based on economic forces you are subject to, but not in complete control of. If you can afford it, it’s yours. –Digi-Ent

Apollo4X | The Killing Blow

Combat being another less explored path; naturally I decided to ask them about it as well:

Combat is heavily inspired by Games Workshop’s “Warhammer” series. We wanted something that had the depth of chess, but looked approachable like checkers. There’s a lot involved in creating a tactical electronic board game where they player moves little tanks and soldiers around on a map and that was frankly beyond the scope of this game, and would be a distraction from our economic simulation goals. So, we adopted a familiar looking card combat mechanic that just about everyone is immediately familiar with conceptually. However, unlike contemporary card games there aren’t a huge number of different units, but each unit can be given orders that make it behave in completely different ways.

There are units that are good for scouting what the enemy strategy is. There are units that heal or protect friendly forces, or inflict debuffs on the enemy. Orbital strikers have freedom to choose what targets they will engage, and can bombard, disrupt, or support other units. Marines can hunker down defensively, assault directly, or attempt to place a flanking debuff on the enemy that makes other marine attacks much more effective. One political faction grants a special Praetorian unit that exists primarily to assassinate enemy champion units, which are otherwise rather difficult to kill with standard troopers.

Finally, we also model battlefield morale, which you aren’t going to find in any other card combat game. Fighting a giant alien monstrosity tends to be a psychological contest as much as one of attack and defense. You’d better kill it fast with concentrated fire, or your troops are going to break and run. Historically, so much of warfare is more about making your enemies unable to continue the fight rather than killing them to the last man. We simulate that with battlefield-wide morale calculations. -Digi-Ent

Apollo4X | Events

A Quick First Impression

As mentioned, I was able to play the game a bit so that I have first-hand experience with it. Naturally, as mentioned earlier, this is not your traditional 4X game as it doesn’t follow the Master of Orion style or the Civilization style 4X template. However, it may still be worth the curiosity, especially if you’re looking for something that is different.

The build I played was still in development with not all the components fully implemented (some City-States and Centaur factions were not yet added), and naturally the game hasn’t been fully balanced yet for challenge. That phase will happen once all the features have been introduced. The next patch will finally add all the features, and the final process of polish and balance will begin. Despite this, the game ran surprisingly well, naturally there were some oddities that one would expect for a project still in development.

What I noticed about the game is that there is no such thing as an idle turn. Every turn you will do something, though sometimes you will have to hold off to another turn before doing one of your bigger actions. These ‘smaller’ turns will still require several critical actions, and you will still do a lot in those turns. Even on the default settings I’ve seen the Centaur menace expanding, and the combat did make me consider my options.

At this stage it’s hard to give a more detailed opinion, and the traditional risks for Early Access games still applies, but the game is exactly what it says it is. Also, many events in the game get event pop-ups that explain what is happening, this also happens when you use certain clout abilities for the first time. This event pop-ups really help drive the story of your successes and establish the lore for the setting. SpaceSector will certainly keep an eye on this title. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section below.

Apollo4X can be purchased at GamersGate in Early Access for $19.99 and is currently up on Steam Greenlight for approval. The game is available for PC, Mac, and Linux. The estimated release date is for Early 2015. They’re also looking for testers to help test the game (which is separate from the Early Access program and anyone can apply), you can apply here.

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25 Comments


  1. Gary says:

    Sounds interesting! I gave it a Yes vote on Steam Greenlight.

  2. Vendor Lazarus says:

    It does sound quite different, which could be a good thing.
    The inherent problem this approach faces though is that it has to be really good and rather intuitive for both new players and old 4X veterans to grasp the mechanics all the while having fun at the same time.

    I admit that I feel slightly excited by this new blood mixing it up and trying something fresh.
    Rehashes of old stuff can get boring, it’s polish that’s needed.

  3. Njordin says:

    looking forward to it. please dont go casual.

    but why is there still no emperor of the fading suns remake ? it´s the golden era of new old games and 4x. does anybody know an similar project?

  4. UncaJoe says:

    Well, it surely does sound interesting. And different. I think I’ll but it at some point, if it looks like it’s living up to its promise. Good review, Edward.

  5. UncaJoe says:

    Edit didn’t work, but change “I think I’ll but it” to “I think I’ll buy it.”

  6. Hypnotron says:

    an overview podcast with Space Game Junkie and Joseph Young, one of the developers

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsF4FSbr8Tk

    and of course Apollo4X youtube channel was mentioned in the article above
    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWQWDFKV6k_Bo28H5ucOvXg

    I’m hestiant to comment because I’m still not sure I understand the game fully. With that in mind, dare I say the game seems to be missing something.

    In Railroad Tycoon, there is obvious and gratifying visual feedback of your enterprise growing, the cities growing around them, and the flow of your trains throughout the network.

    1) This game is missing visual feedback on game progress beyond mere NUMBERS changing within the various labels and icons.

    2) This game doesn’t reference the populations you’re ostensibly helping through your capitalistic scheming. It gives the game a very cynical vibe. What are we doing all this for? Isn’t capitalism supposed to be about liberating people, liberating culture and allowing the people to prosper?

    3) show as enemies to capitalism, different economic systems, political systems, and even certain philosophies\religions. My claim here is that capitalism is not just an economic system but a philosophical and political system as well. That is why capitalism tends to co-opt those systems… eventually making those systems believe that capitalism isn’t just compatible but is advocated. There was a time when Christianity might have been much more aligned philosophically with socialism but now most western societies view Christianity as a brother to Capitalism.
    a) effects of different types of aliens with different culture and attempting to turn them into free market economies that you can take over. Peaceful, pacifist, buddhist style Turtle People may be completely opposed to that. What strategy do you employ to take over/influence/puppetize their leaders and get them to open their markets or become capitalistic? Maybe you use a covert military operation to slam an asteroid into their planet, then you offer them aid and loans at 50% interest which drives them into huge debt which they can never repay without converting their society to open capitalism.
    b) how do you get the peaceful but extremely xenophobic Mice People to allow aliens to set up corporations on their planets?

    4) Tools of capitalism: embassies, spying, propaganda, corporate espionage, hacking, covert actions, false flags and sponsored terrorism.. so more build options and military types/military actions beyond “marines” and “attacking”

    I like the abstraction of being able to direct “what you want done” without having to actually micromanage afterwards. Planet X has lots of Mineral Y, but a Corporation sent there can use Mineral Y and will increase demand for Mineral Z… more trade and the benefits are automatic. But there’s just not enough gratifying visuals that show off the happiness of the people (just a dry approval rating#, clout# and $$$) or the growing and spreading prosperity. I don’t really know how to fix that other than saying it seems like something that needs addressing.

    Disclaimer: I barely understand the game so i’m just going out on a limb with these comments :)

  7. Hypnotron says:

    just wanted to add again for emphasis

    part of the reason Tycoon games and Sim City style games (which are economic games and to a lesser extent governance games) are so successful is the satisfying visuals of watching your rail network or city grow… that aspect of those simulations are the least abstract part of the game! You don’t just see numbers, you actually see the miles of rails, the trains moving about at the precision scheduling of a fine tuned clock, and the buildings growing and the area of control and dominion growing.

  8. Hypnotron says:

    to extend the example of the peaceful but xenophobic Mice People… maybe you send military aid, medical aid to the Mice People in their darkest hour of need when their homeworld is being besieged by hostiles… you develop a “special relationship” with them from there on out since humans shed blood to defend them.

    It’s cinematic, it’s melodramatic, but being able to do things like that can make games endearing.

  9. Hypnotron says:

    sorry for all the followups – the edit post doesnt seem to work.

    just wanted to add, I know there’s a danger of turning the game into something it doesn’t want to be. But I think the two hard rules you can always keep are
    NO VISIBLE SHIPS OR UNITS TO MICRO AROUND THE GALAXY
    NO MICRO OF CORPORATIONS AND TRADE

    So transportation is always automatic..

    But that doesn’t mean you can’t have visuals of ships that are going back and forth along trade routes instead of the weird green and red particle systems between worlds that show trade routes.

    It doesn’t mean you can’t have an explosion occuring on a planet’s surface after some battle took place with an icon you can click that shows what happened there exactly.

    It doesn’t mean you can’t have a similar explosion event (that is played AFTER “end turn” which users can then click to see what happened, and discover that anti-capitalist terrorists had took out an entire city block in your financial district.

    I think more of those Total War style cut scenes would do the trick.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qZImMB-yKA

    Similar procedurally generated city scapes that users can click to see how their cities are prospering… or decaying.

    I realize it’s a TON of extra content and perhaps beyond the scope of 1.0. But polish like that can go a long way in making a good game into a great game.

  10. Hypnotron says:

    sorry! another possible suggestion.

    – for new players especially, it’s confusing to determine what to do next. I think much more central in the interface should be Total War style messages that appear and stack along the left hand side of the screen where demands by
    labor leaders
    environmental leaders
    cultural leaders
    social leaders
    business leaders
    city state leaders
    etc
    can be made (often competing and contradictory) that you have to try and balance and which give the players guidance on what to do next.

    Energy Corp Leader might demand new worlds with Hypdocarbon deposits be colonized.
    Super Semiconductor corp might demand new worlds with certain rare crystal deposits for them to setup new manufacturing facilities.
    Community Leaders on Planet Alpha might demand more trade routes for exotic luxury goods.
    Environmental Leaders might demand a cease to more city building on Planet Beta.
    Trade Partner worlds might demand more security forces to be stationed there to help with terrorism.
    Military Industrial Complex demands more wars.

  11. Hypnotron says:

    as a scifi fan it’s hard to not let various scifi world types, government types and philosophies creep in… capitalism seems a difficult and un-scifi sort of system. So maybe the emphasis on capitalism should be disguised more. It can all still work the same way, but economic focus should be deemphasized when describing/talking about the game and instead the focus on the tools available to the player as a sort of aspiring Galactic Hegemony Leader. Some additional city state types can be Pleasure/Safari/Resort world where the high stress financial mentality can be left behind. Upper class Hegemony citizens go there to unwind. Other worlds look like Utopian The Jetson’s style worlds whereas others are oppressed industrial, Blade Runner worlds. Western worlds that have very few laws and operates like wild west.

    Each world should visually evolve a personality (somehow) that makes them graphically stand out as a type of world… i dont know how you would do that, but as it is, they are too generic. With planets being the primary “units” in the game, they should evolve unique visual styles that give them personality that matches the type of use of the planet.

  12. Hypnotron says:

    perhaps for utopian world, the planet has tiny little bubble style ships putting along… you see them taking off and landing like little distinctive ants as you zoom in on the planet.

    the blade runner industrial world has puffs of belching smoke appearing.

    the western world has all kinds of dog fight sequences occurring that represents bandits and outlaws living their dreams.

    the carnival/party/pleasure world seems to have fireworks constantly going off in the atmosphere as 24 hour celebrations are occurring year round.

    the point is, the planets need some kind of personality.

  13. Njordin says:

    i think you forgot something to add Hypnotron. maybe you should consider writing another post? ;D

    but i can only agree with many of your points.

  14. Joe@Digi-Ent says:

    Just want to let everyone know I have received their comments.

    @Njordin. Hardcore games make up 20% of the market but 50% of all purchases. We know our loyal base. Some studios forget that. (Not mentioning any names.)

    @Hypnotron. I can only help but agree that your criticisms about ambiance are valid. However, what is specifically difficult is that we have an extremely limited amount of resources and so we are forced to manage what little we have on key points.

    When we made Apollo4x, it was designed to have functional but engaging gameplay. We wanted to go out and break the mold, because if anyone wants to return to the standard model, Gal Civ 2 does it better.

    Now, there are other 4xs with an incredibly level of ambiance; Civ BE captivates me specifically in that regard, even if the “color” of the terrain is very hard to tell. Endless Legend is also a great example of successfully providing ambiance, with watching the cities grow on the land.

    I think Hypnotron really hit on solid design principles, and we’d like to implement them, if we can manage to get this game off the ground first. (We are still in the Red.) Getting on Steam is crucial, but it has been a tragically rough ride so far.

    Nevertheless, Apollo4x performs exactly as is promised; a skill-intensive 4x. There isn’t a “Great Library Slingshot” or a passive AI that dies to creeps. This is a game that pushes the player in such ways like Arkham Horror the Board game or Old-School MoO2. We are currently implementing all the features as of now, but the moment we have finished that, all it takes are a few minor numbers and we can make Apollo4x a VERY difficult 4x…or not, because we have a number of ways to customize difficulty.

    As such, we have such a simple UI, I can understand why people would assume its “casual,” but it’s only because the game emphasizes informed choices over being buried with numbers. I still, for instance, can’t recall all the things that prestige does in my EU games. (Nevertheless, PI is the best studio on the market in my opinion.)

    Yet those simple relationships grow into a very complex web of decisions, because the game doesn’t do ANYTHING automatically on the player’s behalf. As such, it is an eternal balancing act to make sure the empire is functional, yet because there are literally only three stats to keep track of in the game, its quite manageable, especially because the player is NEVER punished for neglecting anything. (The game doesn’t even “auto-deduct” upkeep, all expenditures have to be approved by the player!) So the player doesn’t have to worry about all his research labs suddenly “upgrading” into bankruptcy. However! If the player is reckless, he can create a slow and steady bankruptcy nevertheless, more on the line of GM.

    So at the end of all this, Apollo4x goes into the opposite direction of Distant Worlds; highly abstract and challenging decision making, as opposed to hands-off “the computer calculates for you.” And that everything about the game, from top-to-bottom, is produced to be functional out of the gate, because a machine cannot be fixed just by polishing its shell.

    And most importantly of all. This game perhaps is most loyal to the “indie spirit,” it does something new, and it does it successfully. It suffers from a limited budget, but, if given the chance, I am absolutely receptive to fulfill nearly all of the community’s desires, if given the chance to do so first!

    Regards,
    Joe@Digi-Ent

    PS: Feel free to discuss this further at http://www.apollo4x.com. And any suggestions we CAN do we WILL do. This game is for the gamers, and as of recently, the industry has forgotten that…

    • Hypnotron says:

      Thanks Joe for the reply. The concept is really cool and innovative and I look forward to it’s release!

    • BTJ says:

      “So at the end of all this, Apollo4x goes into the opposite direction of Distant Worlds; highly abstract and challenging decision making, as opposed to hands-off “the computer calculates for you.” ”

      That is actually the worst way to play Distant Worlds. It really starts to shine, once you put the automation off.
      That being said, I will have a close look on your game. It looks very interesting.

    • UncaJoe says:

      Thanks for the update, Joe. Impressive. I like your idea of many ways to customize difficulty. I hope that comes to pass. Oh, and for what it’s worth, I voted for you on Steam’s Greenlight. Good luck!

    • jasonbarron says:

      Hi Joe@Digi-Ent. I’m heading over to Steam to vote for the game. If it makes it on, I’ll have a serious look at buying it on day one. Good luck to you and your team:)

  15. Smoking Robot says:

    Spreadsheets in space?

  16. Sawelios says:

    “Getting on Steam is crucial” (c) I can name dozens of modern games that had success BEFORE they got on Steam or even AREN”T PRESENT there. Don’t get stuck with this heinous Steam. Its time will pass sooner than you think.


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