Time: ~45 minutes
Times Played: 6
I really like 3x and 4x style games as they allow you to play a game the way you want to play them. The issue with most though is that they take literal days to play. I know when I pull out a Twilight Imperium, Kepler-3042, Dominant Species, or Merchants and Marauders I’m in for a game that will take two hours or more. Which is great when you’re in the mood for such a game but not when you just want to do some exploring.
Enter IN:FLUX. IN:FLUX has the base of a good 3x style of game. There is exploration, expansion, and extermination.
For full disclosure, I was provided this copy of IN:FLUX for preview. The provided copy has not impacted my views below. This is a prototype copy so the images and some rules below will reflect that stage of the game.
IN:FLUX has players acting as one of four factions as they try to capture the objective(s) of their opponents. The objective is a stationary region on a tile. Once an objective is captured and held for an entire round, the game ends with that player gaining victory. Each faction has a unique special unit that differentiates themselves from other one another. These differences are through their modifiers for combat.
The map of the game is a big drawing point for IN:FLUX. Where most games will have a modular board but a static layout, IN:FLUX allows players to create their map to their choosing as long as their starting hexes are over one tile from one another. This can create some unique and challenging landscapes.
The basics of the game are played over four phases. During the Recon phase, players can reveal a tile of the map of their choosing. This tile does not have to be adjacent to an area that the player already occupies.
We found that even though you can explore anywhere, players would typically explore adjacent due to what they can do in the following phase. Finding out what hexes were near an enemy proved to only be beneficial to your opponent as it was now one last thing for them to explore.
The Build phase allows players to construct buildings (as seen on their faction aids) that can generate units and/or income. They can only be constructed next to buildings that have already been placed and the tile needs to be able to support that building. The two types of buildings are factories and reactors, which help produce units and increase income, respectively. Walls can also be constructed to provide a barrier to opposing units and offer a defensive buff for friendly units being attacked.
After building, players enter the Move phase. This allows units to travel the board with some limitations. Units have to move together and cannot exceed a certain limit.
Lastly, there is Combat. This will only occur if/when players engage with one another so typically a few rounds occur before any attacks are made. Combat is carried out through dice rolling, with a certain amount of dice attached to each unit. There are some additional modifiers for special units and defenses as well.
My only caveat with combat is the math needed for each battle. I have nothing against math and adding up D6’s isn’t an issue, but it’s worth noting before a game as some players just don’t want to be bothered.
Taking a players objective isn’t relatively difficult in the game if you moved your units into range. The difficulty comes from keeping the objective for the next round. You have painted a target on your back and every opponent will now turn their attention to you. We realized that the strategy of the game doesn’t come from staking claim to an opponent’s objective. No, the strategy was claiming that hex while simultaneously being able to cripple their economy so they cannot launch a counteroffensive.
No matter the player count, the game played the same. While a two-player game will have less tiles for exploration than a three- and four-player affair, the core mechanics and decision-making remain the same. Many games will change core rules or add a ghost player for a player count of two and in doing so, the gameplay will feel unauthentic and tacked on. This is not the case with IN:FLUX. That ease of growth, coupled with the succinct turns, ensures that IN:FLUX doesn’t overstay it’s welcome as players can typically fly through games.
The game reminds me heavily of Raiders of the North Sea. Not for any of the mechanical actions or theme, but because the gameplay was simplistic with an overarching tactical nature hidden behind the actions. Raiders of the North Sea has players taking one of two actions and as long as you remember “place, then pull” you’ll understand the game immediately. The same is true for IN:FLUX. While there are a few more steps, nothing is going to have you flipping through the rulebook or looking up tutorials on how to do ‘x’.
That isn’t a knock on the game either. While I enjoy heavy brain burners, not everything needs to have players doing everything to simulate a real economy. Sometimes we just want to play a game.
Is IN:FLUX perfect in its current iteration? Not yet. Most of the issues we had with the game were corrected by speaking with the designer. As the rulebook was a work-in-progress, there were some grey areas that required clarification as we moved forward.
The theme wasn’t as prominent as we thought it could be but that’s a struggle many games face. Some people don’t care about this. They see cubes and love to turn cubes into other cubes. While I enjoy that, I also love to be enriched by the lore and story that’s being told. IN:FLUX falls somewhere between the two currently but there’s room for growth.
As for gameplay issues, are two biggest gripes were with the economy and recon. I’ll start with recon as that might be more of a personal preference but it always strikes me as odd that we’re a futuristic, technology driven faction that doesn’t know what’s adjacent to their headquarters. The tiles, while different in art-style, featured mostly the same actions (building a factory and/or a reactor) which made the recon phase more of a chore than anything. There was no consequence for choosing a tile to flip over.
The economy was an issue as you would get paid out from the “bank” and then immediately return some, if not all, of that money as you purchased new units and buildings. It was just a lot of back and forth that wasn’t clean and would get annoying when your industrial complex really got up and running. It wasn’t that the economy was broken or malfunctioning but more that you were doing unnecessary steps. We eventually got to the point where we would say “I’m owed 8,000 but just give me 500 as I’m buying stuff”.
As this was in the prototype stages, the issues I mentioned above are being addressed by the developer and the rulebook is being edited to reflect some of the grey areas we mentioned.
IN:FLUX is a game that is brimming with possibilities. The prototype we played was engaging and resulted in players coming into direct combat relatively quickly. Being able to sit down, learn, and play a game to fruition in forty-ish minutes is not something to turn a shoulder to. I’m intrigued to see where IN:FLUX goes from here.