Homeworlds is an epic space opera in the form of a chess-like game played with colorful pyramid pieces. Each player is a galactic overlord, building and maneuvering an interstellar space fleet. Capital starships are sacrificed, worlds are vaporized, and lives are expendable. Only your Homeworld matters.
Stack up the pyramids, sorted by size and color, and place them to the side of the playing area. This is the Bank.
Once in play, standing pieces are stars that mark star systems. Pieces lying down are ships. Your ships point away from you.
On your turn
- First turn: choose three pieces from the bank to form two stars and your first ship. This is your homeworld system.
- Other turns: choose one of the three options below.
- Basic action: Chose one of your ships and empower it with the technology (color) of a star or any one of your ships in that system.
- Sacrifice: Choose one of your ships and return it to the bank. Then empower some of your other ships with the technology of the sacrificed ship. The maximum number of ships you can empower this way depends on the sacrificed ship's size: small=1, medium=2, large=3.
- Pass: Take no action.
Besides player actions, few extra things can happen on a turn
- Catastrophe: If four or more pieces of the same color are in the same system, you may return them to the bank as a free turn action.
- Forgetting: If a system other than a homeworld has no ships, its star is immediately returned to the bank. This can happen if the last ship moves away, is sacrificed, or is destroyed in a catastrophe.
- Super nova: If a system's last star is destroyed in a catastrophe, all remaining ships are immediately returned to the bank.
- Red=Capture. Take control of an enemy ship in the same system that is the same size or smaller than your empowered ship.
- Yellow=Move. Move the empowered ship to a system connected to its current system. (Two systems are connected if they don't have any star sizes in common.) Alternatively, move your empowered ship to a new system, using any connected piece from the bank as a star.
- Green=Build. Take the smallest bank piece in the empowered ship's color and add it as a ship to the empowered ship's system.
- Blue=Trade. Exchange the empowered ship with any piece of the same size from the bank.
You win if your opponent controls no ships in their homeworld at the end of either player's turn. If both players lose homeworld control on the same turn, the game is a draw.
Fundamentals of space travel
Homeworlds is played without a board. Instead, the pieces that are in play are placed in clusters called "star systems." Each star system has at least one star and may be occupied by any number of ships controlled by either or both players.
- Stars are marked on the playing field with upright pyramids (seen as squares from above).
- The playing field is a "star map" that displays only the star systems currently being visited by spaceships.
- Most systems have one star. Such a star is a "basic star."
- Spaceships are represented by non-vertical pyramids (seen as triangles from above).
- The direction in which ships point indicates who controls them. Your ships always point away from you.
- When a ship Discovers a new star system, the star is added to the star map, and when the last ship leaves the system, the star piece is immediately returned to the Bank.
- You can move a ship from one star system to another ONLY if the stars are of different sizes.
- Differently-sized star systems are connected, but same-sized stars are not. (Why? It’s just the way the wormhole technology works...)
- A Binary Star (a system with two stars) is only connected to a basic star if that star is a size not included in the Binary Star.
- A Binary Star is only connected to another Binary Star if they have NO star sizes in common. (Since there are only three piece sizes, a Binary Star can only connect to another Binary Star if at least one of the Binary Stars has two stars that are the same size.)
The first turn
The game begins with a setup round, during which the players choose their initial pieces.
- To begin, create your Homeworld made of two upright pyramids in your choice of sizes and colors. Put them together to form a Binary Star.
- Now take a Large spaceship (of any color) and place it by your Homeworld.
The decisions you make during setup will greatly affect the entire game. If this is your first game, we suggest both players start with a Large Green ship, with one player starting with a Large Blue/Small Red Homeworld and the other player starting with a Medium Red/Small Blue Homeworld.
During each turn, you may
- perform one Basic action,
- OR you may Sacrifice one of your ships, putting it back into the Bank in order to gain one or more Sacrifice actions,
- OR you can choose to pass. (This is rarely useful, but doing nothing may be a player’s best option during certain endgame situations.)
Also, at any time during your turn, you may invoke the Catastrophe option (described later) for any Overpopulation situation on the star map.
You may perform your Basic action with any ship you control, in its system, using any power you can access in that system.
The number of Sacrifice actions you get is equal to the pip count of the ship you Sacrificed. You get that many actions, of that ship's color; each action can be used, independently of the other actions, in any system where you still control a ship, regardless of which colors you have access to in said system.
A ship of ANY COLOR can use any power that it has access to. Color access is provided by any of the following:
- Star: Color of a system's star,
- Ship: Color of a ship YOU control there,
- Sacrifice: Color of a ship you have sacrificed (also see: Sacrifice action).
Each color provides a different power.
- Green = Build (The green Colonists construct the starships.)
- Yellow = Move, i.e., Travel or Discovery (The yellow Navigators grok the wormholes.)
- Red = Capture (The red Warriors wield the weapons.)
- Blue = Trade (The blue Ice-Traders offer exchanges.)
Build a new ship by taking a piece from the Bank and placing it next to one of your existing ships.
- Same Color: The color of your new ship must be the same as one of the ships you control in the system where the new ship is being Built.
- Smallest Size: The ship you Build must be the smallest size of that color currently available in the Bank.
Move a ship from the system it's in to any other connected system (existing or newly Discovered).
- Travel: Move to any connected system whether it is currently populated with your ships, your opponent's ships, or both.
- Discovery: Take a piece of your choice from the Bank, add it to the field as a star, then move your ship to that star.
- Abandonment: Return a basic star to the Bank immediately if zero ships are located there. (The stars of Homeworlds are not returned to the bank, explained below.)
Capture an enemy ship by turning the piece around so that it points away from you. (Traditionally, this power was referred to as "attacking", and many players may continue to use that term, but it’s more accurate to say "Capture" since the goal of the attack is to seize the ship, not destroy it. Starships are valuable.)
- Size Matters: You can only Capture a ship if it’s the same size as, or smaller than, the biggest ship YOU control in that system.
But note that a Small Red CAN be used to Capture a larger ship — you just need to have your own larger ship (of any color) in that system, which can attack the enemy's ship using the power of your Small Red.
- Example: Suppose you have a Small Red and a Medium Yellow, and the other player has a Medium Red in the same system.
Your Small Red is not big enough to Capture the Medium Red, and your Medium Yellow cannot attack on its own (except when the star is Red). But together they can prevail, because the Medium Yellow can "borrow" (has access to) the power of the Small Red.
Trade one of your ships with a differently colored piece of the same size from the Bank. You can only Trade exact size for exact size; if the size you want is not available, you cannot Trade.
When a star is not occupied by any ship at all, it is called abandoned. An abandoned star that's not part of a Homeworld is returned to the Bank immediately. This can happen when:
- you move out of a system with the last ship.
- when you sacrifice the last ship in a system.
- after a Catastrophe.
If you have actions remaining in your turn, then the stars that are returned to the Bank can be immediately used in the rest of your turn.
Overpopulation and Catastrophe
Too much of one color in one system can trigger a disaster called a Catastrophe. Overpopulation exists any time a single system contains four or more pieces of the same color — including ships on both sides AND the star system itself.
At any point during your turn, if you notice an Overpopulated star system, you have the OPTION to declare a Catastrophe in that system (even if you don’t have a ship there). If called, all pieces of the Overpopulated color are returned to the Bank. If this includes the star itself, then ALL ships at that location are destroyed (unless the star was half of a Binary Star, in which case it becomes a single-star system, but still a Homeworld). If a Catastrophe leaves a basic star unoccupied, the piece is immediately returned to the Bank.
How to win
A player is eliminated if, at the end of either player's turn, they do not control a ship at their own Homeworld (or if both stars of their Homeworld have been destroyed). You win by eliminating your opponent without being eliminated yourself.
There are three paths to victory (not including resignation by the other player):
- Direct Assault: Use Red to take control of all enemy ships at the enemy's Homeworld.
- Fleet Catastrophe: Destroy all enemy ships at their Homeworld by causing a Catastrophe.
- Star Demolition: Cause two Catastrophes, each destroying half of the Homeworld.
It’s OK to momentarily abandon your Homeworld as long as you have a ship there again by the end of your turn. However, you are eliminated from the game if both stars in your Homeworld are destroyed, or if you don’t control any ships at your Homeworld when your turn is over. Note that Homeworlds are different from basic stars and thus are not returned to the Bank if the star is temporarily abandoned. (Even if you send your whole fleet away for a brief time, Earth is still the Earth and you don’t remove it from the active star map the way you do with basic stars.)
Deadlocks and draws
There are two ways in which the game can end in a tie.
- If one player eliminates the other, but in the process, leaves their own Homeworld abandoned, it's a draw (both players simultaneously win and lose).
- If both players conclude that they’ve reached an impasse (if, for example, they both feel that their only acceptable action is to re-capture the same ship the other player just Captured), the game is deadlocked and ends in a draw.
- With permission from Looney Labs, this article is adapted from their rules published in Pyramid Quartet (2020).