Publisher: Board Not Bored Games
Carl Sagan would be proud
In October 1999, the world's human population reached a total of six billion. This is where this game - the first game from David Coutts - starts. The Earth cannot sustain much more than its present population with current technology, so it is time to move out and colonize the solar system.
Players each represent one faction of the total population of the Earth. Each faction wants to gain the greatest control of the solar system, by being in as many places as possible and by having the greatest population there. This is how you win the game.
There are also neutral factions, controlled by the trailing player, whose job it is to migrate to already-settled worlds and take up valuable space that would otherwise have gone to a human opponent. Each planet (more correctly, each region in and around a planet's orbit) can only support a certain maximum population, so it is important to get to a planet first so that your population can grow exponentially (doubling each turn), leaving less room for other factions to grow.
There is a deck of cards which provides the means for settling other planets. You reach a planet by sending out colonies from a planet where you are (everyone starts on Earth), through playing a 'new colony' card. The game distinguishes between colonies - sent to planets uninhabited by you - and migrants - sent to planets inhabited by others. Sometimes you can send both to the one planet. A few of the colony or migrant cards must be played on opponents or on a neutral faction, which gives you a few victory points as payment for your altruism.
The other cards in the deck are generally of the counter-card form, putting new colonies in jeopardy, or cancelling an automatic doubling of a faction's population. The remaining cards do beneficial things such as giving you or another player an extra doubling (which allows you to exceed the planet's normal population limit) or allowing you to make a discovery, which will accelerate your travel to a certain planet and give you bonuses at the end of the game.
The game ends when all ten planets (the Asteroid Belt is considered the same as a planet in terms of settlement) are occupied, or when the population on Earth or in the Asteroid Belt reaches 1024 billion. At this stage, a final scoring happens which pays out the most points to the faction with the most population on each planet. On the planet that matches their Secret Agenda card (dealt at the start and only revealed now), that player's points are doubled. Discovery cards held at the end double scores in a similar way.
That about covers the basic game. But, like most games, there is an advanced version, making use of three extra tracks which work much like the population tracks on planets except that there is no automatic advancement each turn. These tracks represent the faction's world view, that the important things in life are wealth, happiness, or holism. Each of the cards in the deck carries one of two symbols, representing wealth or happiness. Rather than play the card for its usual meaning, you can play it for the symbol, and advance your marker on one of the two matching tracks. You can also play two cards with different symbols to advance your marker on the third 'holistic' track. Being ahead on a track gives you power over the player order for the round (which is otherwise determined by the high-tech system of pulling chips out of a cup). These tracks also score in the same way that planets do at the end of the game.
How does 6 Billion play? Well enough. There is a lot to keep track of, and decisions to be made. It is quite possible to play the game with little or no conflict between players (though the option is there for those who play that way); the interaction between players is subtle, especially with respect to population growth and limits. Sending a neutral faction into your opponent's favourite planet can really stunt your opponent's lead.
My complaints about the game are largely cosmetic. The board is initially difficult to read, although I believe the graphic design was intentionally 'futuristic'. The colours of the chips - including red, pink, and orange - I find quite tough to tell apart. They are just poker chips though, and could easily be replaced by other colours. The game occasionally seems tedious, but this is unavoidable when you have to keep track of ten or more tokens, and the same has been said of Ursuppe and Civilization.
6 Billion is a novel idea, and slightly predates the recent flurry of space games (Die Sternenfahrer von Catan, Andromeda, Spacebeans). I really got a feeling that I was advancing humanity as I settled my first billion people on Mars. I recommend this game to people who prefer something meatier than family games, but not something so tough that you feel exhausted by the end of it.