The 4X video game genre is a sub-genre of the strategy genre. The name comes from the 4 "X"'s that comprise a summary of the genre's gameplay:
- X-Plore: Look around and find interesting things.
- X-Pand: Build more cities/colonies/space stations on the territory you just found.
- X-Ploit: Improve the cities/colonies/space stations through various means, making the most of the resources you have acquired.
- X-Terminate: Use those resources to kill everyone who isn't you and take their stuff.
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- As noted below, Avalon Hill's Civilization served as an inspiration for Sid Meier's video game of the same name.
- Fantasy Flight Games brought out a board game version of Sid Meier's Civilization in 2010, designed by Kevin Wilson. The game remains mostly faithful to its PC counterpart, with production, research, combat, multiple victory conditions and a hidden map to explore, while condensing the whole experience to around 4 hours.
- Twilight Imperium is basically Master of Orion as a boardgame.
- Empires of the Void is another Space 4X boardgame, though as one reviewer points out, it lacks the eXploration component because the entire map is visible from the beginning of the game.
- Age of Empires is a Real-Time Strategy variation.
- Age of Wonders, a Spiritual Successor to Master of Magic.
- Ascendancy was a game that let you control your species from the individual-planet-level project to managing the entire empire of star systems. It featured no less than twenty-one species, each with a different special ability - and humans aren't one of them.
- Aurora (4X) is a freeware 4X space game, and is considered the Dwarf Fortress of 4X games. it is notable for its expansiveness and unintuitive user interface (like Dwarf Fortress) and may be one of the most complicated space 4X games ever created. The game is more like a series of spreadsheets and drop-down lists than an actual game. Planets are generated with tectonics and ecosystems, ships must be carefully crafted with much thought put into the targeting and guidance systems as well as a whole plethora of minute details, armies and civilizations can be determined down to the individual person, needless to say this game is VERY detailed. It's available here.
- The Civilization series invented, refined or codified most of the tropes of this genre. It allows the player to shepherd a civilization through Earth's history. It was originally based on a board game by Avalon Hill that allowed you to play from the Stone Age to the Roman Empire era.
- Colonization is Civilization in America! Though it has some significant differences: no tech tree, and most units are very, very specialized. Also, Wonders are replaced by "Founding Fathers" (plus Pocahontas.)
- Civilization: Call to Power is an in-name-only Civilization game/spin-off which features similar gameplay to Civilization II along with its own unique gameplay features. It also had units which didn't appear in the Civilization series proper, such as lawyers and mecha, until much later.
- Civilization: Beyond Earth, spin-off of Civilization V and Spiritual Successor to Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri.
- Crusader Kings
- Deadlock and its successor Deadlock II had different races fighting over a series of planets within a "Dark Cloud". The original game had only one planet; in the sequel, the races discovered that there was actually a series of planets further in, all formerly owned by a mysterious ancient race. The plot revolved around finding the technologies and temples left behind by this ancient race.
- Distant Worlds
- Elemental - War of Magic, a Spiritual Successor to Master of Magic.
- Endless Legend
- Endless Space
- The Dominions trilogy revolves around various entities attempting to achieve godhood through the expedient method of wiping out all competition.
- Europa Universalis
- Free Civ is a very customizable Civilization clone.
- Galactic Civilizations and its sequel, GalCiv 2.
- Gihrenís Greed is a 4X game based on Gundam, specifically the Universal Century continuity.
- Haegemonia: Legions of Iron: Spiritual Successor to Imperium Galactica II and borrows heavily from Master of Orion and Homeworld.
- Imperium Galactica and its sequel.
- King of Dragon Pass is a strange example including lots of RPG and Visual Novel elements.
- Light of Altair, a welcoming, simplified indie title.
- Master of Magic, a fantasy-themed spinoff of Master of Orion, below.
- The term "4X" was coined in a review of the first installment of the Master of Orion series. Master of Orion 3 riffed off this by including "The X's" as actual MacGuffins within the game, including a semi-mythical "5th X".
- Neptune's Pride and its sequel, Triton, are browser-based free-to-play 4X games. They're played in real time, but very slowly, with travel times between stars measured in hours and resources paid out once per day. A typical game lasts from a few weeks to a month or more.
- Pandora First Contact is a 4x game, made as a spiritual successor to Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri
- Rise of Nations, created when its developers realized they wanted a Real Time Civilization game.* It's an RTS with a "Risk"-Style Map, but covers a lot of the same ground.
- Shores of Hazeron is a MMO 4X played from the first person perspective.
- Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri is the spiritual "sequel" to Civilization IN SPACE!. The game's tagline is "Explore. Discover. Build. Conquer." They even managed to integrate that into the gameplay on a second level: Technologies are divided into types (Explore=scout/exploration/environmental technologies, Discover=pure science, Build=industrial technologies, Conquer=military tech) and a player can have the AI "Governor" of any given base focus on one or more tracks if he/she doesn't care for micromanaging.
- This game is also a bit rare among 4Xs for having a general plot. Through quotes when you construct structures, research technologies, and complete projects(Wonders), a loosely connected story is told, and a Canon game progression is hinted at.
- Sid Meiers Starships is a turn-based strategy with the player controlling a fleet of ships exploring space.
- Sins of a Solar Empire is a spacegoing Real-Time Strategy game with shades of 4X.
- Spaceward Ho! is an interstellar 4X game with a Western theme.
- Space Empires, a series of highly-customizable 4X games with such an extensive system of micromanagement as to make the micromanagement need in the Civ games pale in comparison.
- Spore plays like one of these during the Tribal and Civilization Stages of the game.
- Starbase Orion started off as an iOS port for Master of Orion but has evolved since then.
- Star*Drive is a realtime example.
- Star Ruler is another Real-Time Strategy take.
- Star Ruler 2 refines the 4X mechanics of the first game
- Sword of the Stars: Turn-based on the strategic level, real-time on the tactical level. The intro even mentions two of the "x"s by name (and uses "conquer" instead of the last).
- The Tone Rebellion, a unique Real-Time Strategy with 4X elements.
- Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun
- Warlock: Master Of The Arcane
- The X-Universe series is a real time space simulation like Elite that revolves around Mega Corp. management. The series' motto: "Trade. Fight. Build. Think."
- X-COM: UFO Defense combines 4X base-building and Real Time with Pause interception missions with turn-based tactical battles. Terror from the Deep and Apocalypse follow in this trend (though Apocalypse modifies it significantly); Interceptor, Enforcer and the 2K Marin version abandon this.
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown returns to the tradition.
- The board/computer game Empire that is the source of the Wopuld family's wealth in Iain Banks' The Steep Approach to Garbadale is a particularly complicated one of these. A similar game, Despot, features in his earlier novel Complicity. The author is a confirmed fan of the genre; he's gone on record saying Civilization is one of his favorite games of all time.
- The Solar Empires series of video games in Austin Grossman's You are 4X games (among other things.) The term itself is dropped in the text.