Hegemony is a game that I think is living on the outskirts of people’s periphery. Gamers know it is there, they have heard a few people talking about it, but they are scared to dive into it for fear of being swallowed whole. Much like actual politics.
And yeah, you read that right. Hegemony is a game about politics. And it isn’t just a game that features politics like many games do, Hegemony is head-to-toe draped in political intricacies. But can a game built around this theme really stand tall amongst games set in fantastical worlds, building space stations, or battling ancient Egyptian gods? Spoiler warning – surprisingly, yes! But let me tell you why...
Hegemony is a highly asymmetric, card-driven game with hand management and economic elements. But as far as basics go, only the overall mechanics can be considered simple – because you already know how they work. As soon as you start getting into the game though, these basics will soon start growing layers. Many, many layers.
I won’t lie; when I first received Hegemony I was initially excited. And then I took to YouTube to search for a how-to-play video (like I do with most new games I get), and I was surprised to find that the shortest video was an hour and a half long. I can watch Lord of The Rings up until when Gimli promises his axe to the fellowship in that time! I watched the video (twice) and read the rule book and I was starting to feel like Charlie from Always Sunny in the meme, you know the one.
Learning this game is tough. This is down to the fact that every player plays completely differently. You need to learn how to play the game in general, then learn how to interact with the game in 4 different ways, with 4 different rule sets. And it is completely worth it. This game is great!
Congress In Session…
Even though there are 4 classes that the players can take control of, you can only play with certain ones based on player count. This (to me) was a great sign before I even played it, as it shows that the game has been balanced well. In a 2-player game, players take control of the working class and the capitalist class. In a 3-player game, the middle class comes into play. And in a 4-player game, the state comes into play.
The working class is all about placing your workers out in the companies that the middle class and capitalist players create. The class is all about bringing in more workers, making sure they have jobs, increasing prosperity, striking when there are no jobs available and putting pressure on the other classes to make new job opportunities.
The capital class is all about making money. You will be creating companies, employing workers, paying wages, producing and selling goods, paying taxes, moving revenue into banked money and increasing your overall wealth.
The middle class is all about finding the right balance between the working class and the capitalist class. Whilst it also has workers (middle-class ones) and a prosperity track, you also have the availability to build your own companies. Whilst you will have the option to score in the same manner as either the capitalist class or the working class, you will also need to find ways to diversify as you will suffer heavier drawbacks than the other classes.
The state tries to play to the whims of all the other classes to keep the legitimacy tracks for each in check. You will be trying to appease each of the classes evenly and trying to deal with societal issues that arise.
Each class has their own unique decks to work with, unique actions, basic actions, and free actions that they are playing with. Basic actions can only be played at the cost of discarding a card. These all relate to the theme of the class you are playing as. How each class interacts with the main board is completely different and interacts with the other classes in different ways. And whilst this makes it a hard game to learn and teach, it also makes it very intricate and interesting. I have never rated a game 5/5 in the player interaction category before. Spoiler alert, Hegemony will be the first to achieve that for me.
Politics Is … Good Now?
As much as the theme doesn’t really captivate me (as I am sure many will feel the same) I really enjoy Hegemony. The theme is a bit of a double-edged sword for me. I am not interested in politics at all, I mean, I am one of the 6 people in the entire country who votes for the Green Party. BUT the very fact that I have never come across a board game so entrenched in the political theme before, makes it really appealing.
The thing that sells me on this game the most though is how thematic it is. Theme is something that most games fail to deliver on. Don’t get me wrong Abyss has an incredible art design and production value behind it for example, but you never feel like you are enlisting the help of the council or allying yourself with different anthropomorphic underwater species. You are just taking cards and set collecting. In Hegemony, every action you take with each of the classes you can play as feel exactly like what that class would do in real life. The only other game that has ever had me mirroring its theme in its mechanics this well is Distilled – a game about brewing spirits.
I also enjoy the asymmetry in this game. I think every class has been balanced really well. And I particularly enjoy that Hegemony employs asymmetric play in a different way to most other games. Most games give every player the same set of actions but give each player something unique or change costs a little. For example, Spirit Island gives every player a unique starting hand and variability in the actions they can take. Or Mansions of Madness sees each player character start with different base stats etc. This game gives everyone their own class to play as, and the actions they take interact with the main board in different ways. This to me is such a fascinating aspect of the game. Merchant’s Cove is notoriously famous for each player getting their own asymmetric board to play their own unique mechanisms on, but the way in which every character interacts with the main board is the exact same. Hegemony is unique in this way; I haven’t come across another game that pulls that off. Or even attempt to.
I also need to give some big props to the component quality and rule book. Besides one issue I had (explained further on) everything was fantastic. I love a well written and easy to follow rule book. I appreciate them so much more when it comes to bigger games like Hegemony, but the rule book really is excellent. Every question or rule query I had was easily and quickly answered. The giant double-sided player aid for each class are also well written and very useful.
Where Is The Communism?
I don’t actually have many negatives for Hegemony. There was not much that I inherently didn’t like about the game myself, but I feel like the game comes with some potential caveats. Some potential grey zones to keep in mind.
As much as this game is really well designed, you cannot dance around the fact that this game is unabashedly a board game about politics. As much as it appealed to me, as I enjoy trying games with different themes, it was so hard to find people who wanted to play the game with me. Coupling this with the fact that Hegemony is a big, chunky, heavy game, which also puts some gamers off. This leaves the game in an unusual space that appeals to a small niche of gamers.
If you are potentially looking at this game because you enjoy asymmetrical games, you need to know your player count. If you want to play as the State, then you will need to play this game at 4-players. If you want to play as the Middle Class, then you will need to play the game at 3 or 4-player. And that also goes on top of needing to learn how to play the game with that rule set and play style.
At the end of each round, there is a kind of voting system that takes place. This is to potentially change the policies in place; if a player has ‘proposed’ a change during the round. There are a number of different policies that can be affected. These include changing the size of the public sector, the price of healthcare, tax rates, foreign trade prices etc. Each class will want to effect these in different ways to benefit from them. To simulate the voting process, cubes are placed into a bag and pulled at random after each class votes for or against the policy change. The winners’ cubes are removed, the losers are returned to the bag. This was good in theory, but I found that the Capitalist class had far more ways to influence the voting system than other classes. This resulted in other players interacting with the voting system less than what might have been intended.
The one fully negative I have for the game is the poor quality in card stock. The production quality for this game is stella in all departments except the card stock. The player aids have a matte finish to them, which is great. But so do the cards, this is not great. I struggled so much to fan the cards out in my hand or scan through the decks due to them not having any kind of gloss finish to them. This seemed to be just a me issue however, but it did really frustrate me.
There is also one thing that disrupts my OCD. The working class has spaces on their board to place worker of each colour (type) in order to signify a union is formed for them. Food production workplaces are green, workers that are skilled in this field are green. Educational workplaces are orange, workers that are skilled in this field are orange. This is concurrent with all places of work besides healthcare. Healthcare workplaces are red, workers skilled in this field are white. WHY!?
Hegemony is a complicated game. Which in turn makes it complicated to review. There are a lot of little intricacies to the game that I love. The politics is an interesting theme, but it is a hard sell to people. With how well the mechanics marry to the theme though, I really can not imagine the game with a different theme. Not one that would work half as well anyway.
You should have realistic expectations to the size of the game though. This game is huge. I have never had a game that filled my entire table before, or one that I struggled to fit into photos. Hegemony requires a massive amount of space to play at any player count. And that comes from someone who can fit Ark Nova on their table easily!
Its pretty hard to even explain what genre of game it is too as it mixes plenty of different genres into something rather unique. What I can say however is that Hegemony is without a doubt going to be quite unlike anything else in your game collection, and I without a doubt recommend it. But again, it is for a pretty niche type of gamer. If you enjoy heavier games and are not put off by theme, then this game could easily be the perfect game for you and your group.