Here’s an experience we’ve all definitely had: It’s a Monday and your co-workers are gathering around the water cooler discussing the games they played over the weekend. “I can’t get enough of this new 4X game,” one of them declares. Excited by talk of video games, you make an effort to break into the conversation by asking “What is a 4X game?” But it backfires! Everyone stares at you, jaws on the floor, smoke coming out of their ears, etc., etc. Way to go, you.
(Let’s quickly acknowledge I haven’t spoken to humans face to face in a long time, nor have I been in an office setting since early 2020. Regardless, I’m like 90% sure that’s how most water cooler conversations go.)
To avoid this profoundly embarrassing situation in the future, let’s brush up on our strategy game history, shall we?
4X is a kind of strategy game wherein the player has extensive control over their empire: War, research, agriculture, and government, oh my! Back in the early 1990’s these kinds of games were really starting to catch on. You’ve probably heard of the long running franchise, Civilization, which has sold well over 33 million copies to date. This unique brand of strategy game has a “one more turn” vibe to it, leading many players to be glued to their screens well into the early hours of the morning.
In 1993 Computer Gaming World magazine received a copy of Master of Orion to preview, and the task was given to their on-staff strategy game guru, Alan Emrich. Alan would describe the flow of games like Civilization and Master of Orion as such: Players eXplore the map, eXploit the resources, eXpand their empire, and eXterminate their enemies. If my pointed capitalization and bolding of the letters didn’t give it away, this gameplay loop is where the term 4X comes from. In his preview Alan gave Master of Orion a rating of “XXXX,” and soon after publishers began using 4X to label their games of this nature.
Watch the video above to learn more about this particular kind of 4X strategy games so that your next trip to the water cooler doesn’t end in you being laughed out of the kitchen. Seriously, you’re making things super awkward here.