Designed by Vangelis Bagiartakis and Varnavas Timotheou, and published by Hegemonic Project Games, Hegemony: Lead your Class to Victory is a heavy asymmetric economic simulation about class politics. Players taken on the roles of the Working Class, Middle Class, Capitalist Class or the State in a modern nation. The classes have different actions and different means of scoring but the game is highly interactive as each players' actions impact the others in a number of different ways. Modern economics and politics is fertile ground as a theme for a board game but I've never previously found one that quite delivered, either in terms of creating a sense that political action has meaningful consequences for the course of a nation or in exploring the forces that motivate competing political interests. Some politics games simulate the motions of political debate but often abstract away any actual policy. Article 27 (Stronghold Games) modelled the shifting alliances and dirty deals of competing interests, but your agenda is determined for you in advance and the only meaning tied to the policy tokens being fought over are the victory points they represent. Die Macher (Spielworxx) focuses on horse-race politics but it comes off a little dry. What the parties really represent for the governance of the nation is secondary to winning power. More recently, SHASN (Memesys Culture Lab) employed dilemmas, to some success, to connect the flavour of real-world concerns to its area-control bones. However, this quickly descends into a game of guessing how to respond to acquire the resources you need rather than meaningfully engaging with the policy proposal on the table.
Hegemony: Lead your Class to Victory is an economic simulation first and foremost. All of the politics relates directly to economic policy so players' political motivations flow directly out of their material economic needs. Capitalists will be seeking to produce goods for the lowest cost and sell for as much as possible. The Working Class will be trying to achieve full employment, maximise their wages, and consume goods and services to raise their prosperity. The Middle Class acts as a balance between the two; concerned with personal prosperity, both earning company salaries and running their own small businesses. Meanwhile, the State is focused on balancing its legitimacy amongst the competing classes, as well as trying to remain solvent. In terms of Hegemony’s political side, you will also be scoring victory points from proposing and supporting bills but your primary reason for doing so will be the immediate impact that the change will have upon the availability of jobs or workers, the minimum wage, your tax burden or the cost of goods and services. The different classes will have natural policy preferences but these can change depending on the board state. The detailed economic simulation provides analytical players with plenty of depth to dive into, both at and away from the table. The strength of theme, and well-defined adversarial roles, will encourage negotiation, playful table-talk and role-play.
Hegemony is as asymmetrical as Root (Leder Games) and is at least as interactive. This means that it is highly engaging in play but it does also mean that the teach takes the better part of an hour as players have to have a reasonable understanding of all of the roles. Actions are generally card driven, but players also have about a dozen other actions, explained on their player aids, which they can do in place of, or in addition to, the action on the cards. There is a lot for a new player to wrap their head around, especially for euro-gamers more accustomed to seeing all of their options laid out on a player board, roundel et al. Even set up can take more than half an hour; this game is a table hog! You won't want to play on a table smaller than about 6ft x 3ft, and even then you won't have much spare room for drinks and snacks...
Once set up and the rules explanation is out of the way, the time flies by with players all taking a keen interest in each other’s turns. Hegemony's thematic rules all make a lot of intuitive sense so usually only need explaining once to be internalised. It feels ridiculous to describe a four-player game that can last as long as five hours and requires a 6ft table as 'streamlined', but considering all of the concepts that it packs into the box it does feel streamlined. The company cards alone carry on them the concepts of wage and price competition, skilled vs unskilled labour, employment contracts, class competition, capital investment and automation. They carry all this in a very readable and aesthetically pleasing way. The biggest weakness of the game is in its asymmetrical scoring curves: Working Class tends to lead earlier, Capitalists tend to generate an engine that pays off in the latter rounds. This can make appraising who is truly in the lead quite a challenge. After repeated playthroughs, a group will no doubt begin to learn the different ways each faction scores. However, greater symmetry here would really help bring tactical choice and informed counterplay to the fore. It would also make it feasible to, say, play a truncated three-round version of the game, which sadly is not viable due to the asymmetric scoring.
If you have a group of three to four players that will be able to commit the time and table space to Hegemony then it comes highly recommended. There is depth and variety in the box and it achieves what it sets out to do. Simulation, table talk and thoughtful theming make this a memorable experience: each play generates stories over the course of its five rounds which will leave Hegemony on the brain for days after you’ve packed the game away. The asymmetrical classes, combined with the way each game can play out quite differently depending on card draws and policy decisions will leave you itching to play Hegemony again and again. The base game is sure to provide a dedicated group dozens of playthroughs before they feel that more is needed but the ‘Crisis and Control’ expansion, included in the Kickstarter ‘Expanded’ edition, provides a number of small but interesting additions – from alternate events, more unexpected consequences for government debt defaults and automata factions. Of course, if you’re planning to play this solo or at fewer than three players then the expansion will be a must. For anyone else, I do expect it will be some years’ of regular play before you and your group feels that any more content is required to make Hegemony an unforgettable experience.
(Review by Edmund Ward)