Andy's Page About Homeworlds
I Love Homeworlds!
I really like John
I think it's one of the very best Icehouse games we currently
have. It's elegant and exciting, it looks great on the table,
it's different every time, the theme rocks, and it makes excellent
use of the pyramids. One of my criteria for a perfect Icehouse
game is that it offer deep strategy while using little or no
equipment other than the pyramids, especially including using
the table itself as a featureless gameboard. Homeworlds is a
perfect Icehouse game.
When I wrote the Author's Notes for The
Empty City, I listed my 5 favorite Icehouse games as
Zarcana, and Volcano.
I gave honorable mentions to Zendo
and Homeworlds. But I've played a lot of games since I wrote
that list, and these days, my very favorite Icehouse game is
Binary Homeworlds. (I'm also
pretty into Martian
NOTE: This scene never actually happens
in a game of Homeworlds. Attacking allows you to take control
of enemy spaceships, rather than blasting them into pieces. (Ships
in Homeworlds are only destoryed due to Catastrophes.) I originally
drew this picture for the predecessor game IceTraders,
in which such attacks are possible.
True "Space Chess"
Science Fiction shows have often attempted to depict the "Chess
of the Future." Consider Mr. Spock's 3-D chess set, or the
Next Generation's use of Terrace as a futuristic-looking chess-style
game. Even that holographic battle-chess game seen in the first
Star Wars movie (the game which C-3PO was advised to "let
the Wookie win") was played with soldier-like pieces on
a grid-style board.
Meanwhile, in the world of real board games, the idea of a
"space chess" set has previously been realized only
by replacing the kings, queens, pawns, bishops, knights, and
rooks on a traditional chessboard with spaceships of various
kinds. Other space themed games I've played have relied on complex
gameboards and even more complex sets of cards, tokens, and components.
While some such games (most notably Cosmic Encounter) are wonderful
and entertaining, they don't fill the niche of a true space chess
Homeworlds does. Where Chess is an abstract pure strategy
game representing medieval warfare between kings, Homeworlds
is an abstract pure strategy game representing interstellar warfare
between planets. In both games, complicated forces have been
reduced to elegant icons, but where Chess is played on a restrictive,
64-square grid, Homeworlds creates a free-form, dynamic space-map
out of any plain surface.
Whereas Chess was a game played by Renaissance Kings, Homeworlds
is a game for Starship Captains.
with 2 players is a very different game from that with 3 or more.
The differences are significant enough that we've decided to
emphasize the distinction by referring to our modified
2 player version as Binary Homeworlds.
The designer considered the Good/Evil elements integral to
the original game, and was originally worried that the 2 player
version would be comparatively uninteresting, since those rules
had no meaning in a 2 player game of Homeworlds.
However, after playing close to 100 games of Homeworlds during
the course of the past year, mostly with just 2 players, I've
come to conclude that John was backwards in his worries. To me,
Binary Homeworlds is the superior game. The Good & Evil rules
which allow 3 or more to play also add complexities that change
the game from one of pure strategy to one of strategy + diplomacy
+ bluffing skill. And while those added elements are interesting,
such games have not been anywhere near as compelling for me as
the raw strategic challenge of Binary Homeworlds.
I now see Binary Homeworlds as the basic game, with the Good/Evil
rules being optional add-ons. Much like Magic:
The Gathering and Cosmic
Coasters, extra rules have been devised to make the game
playable by more than 2... but the pure head-to-head action of
the basic game is what really rocks.
Ultimately, I find that Binary Homeworlds provides more replay
value than regular Homeworlds because the results are always
satisfying. In Binary Homeworlds, there's no luck factor to mess
up your plans, no diplomatic failings to bring you down, and
no hidden information you need to keep secret to succeed. Just
as in the
game which inspired the Good/Evil mechanism, you can lose
regular Homeworlds for no reason other than being a bad liar...
but in a Binary Homeworlds tournament,
it's all about your skill as an imaginary admiral of the space
Aside from ignoring the Good/Evil rules, the only other difference
between regular Homeworlds and Binary Homeworlds is in the number
of Icehouse pieces used. Because controlling the limited economics
of the game is what Homeworlds is really all about, we've found
it better to limit the available number of pieces in the global
stash to 3 of each size of each color. (I also recommended using
4 of each size & color when you have 3 players.)
Homeworlds Carrying Cases
I've been carrying an Icehouse set of one sort or another
everywhere I go pretty much ever since we invented them. At first,
it was a wood set in a drawstring bag. More recently, it's been
a 5.3 stash set (5 colors plus 5 small blacks, for Volcano) in
a hemp drawstring bag. Now what I usually carry around is an
boxed set loaded with extras (two more stashes (green &
orange) plus PwP,
cards, extra catalogs, ICE-7s,
Guide to Icehouse).
But I also have a very special Icehouse set which I keep in
my bag whenever I think I might get to play Binary Homeworlds.
It's a limited-sized Icehouse set intended only for that purpose,
which I carry in a really-cool black plastic case I got with
a Mag-Lite flashlight once.
how perfect it is? It's just the right size to hold the 36 piece
set, and you can use it to organize the global stash during a
There's also room inside for a set of Homeworlds
cards, which are handy even when you're playing just with
2. That little swatch of space goes a long way towards reminding
you of the game's theme (particularly if you're playing on a
black table) and of course, they indicate which systems are the
Homeworlds. I also keep a Homeworlds reference card (from ICE-7)
on the table when we play... it's really nice when someone asks
what you're playing to have a rules summary so concise to let
them look at! We also use it to mark which player's turn it currently
My Travel-Sized Binary Homeworlds Carrying
I made an even more compact travel set by cutting down a set
of pyramids, as shown in this
video I made about it. (And speaking of videos about Homeworlds,
don't miss this one I call The
first published the rules for Homeworlds in Playing with
Pyramids in 2002, immediately after John finished designing
In 2007, we
published the rules again in a booklet called 3HOUSE.
I strongly recommend starting with the 3HOUSE version. It includes
a lot more diagrams (like the one shown here), strategy info,
nomenclature, tips, etc, which we've figured out in the last
My Bank Board
the pieces in the Bank need to be kept separate from those in
play, I like to set up the Bank in an off-board rack of some
kind. The opened Maglite case works great for this, as shown
above, as does a Volcano
Board, also seen in use in a photo above. A Volcano board
is even nicer for this if you mask off the unneeded spaces with
but for the ultimate Homeworlds Bank Board I got a few of these
special 3x4 boards custom made by Kadon Enterprises. (BTW, this
board helped inspire my game Twin
We made these available for sale: Buy
My Starfield Playmat
Setting aside things like that light table at the Icehouse
Lounge (in Vegas) or that black window ledge at the La
Canna Coffeeshop (in Amsterdam),
my favorite surface for a game of Homeworlds is this round starfield
playmat which I created by cutting a 2' circle out of black felt
and splattering it with drops of white paint.
Making one of these playmats is a fun craft project and is
the best way to get one since I doubt we'll ever follow through
boxed set concept I described a few years ago (before the
After trying out numerous different permutations, I now usually
start with a Large Green ship and a Blue/Red star system. Here's
- I like having my initial Growth power in ship form so that
I can sacrifice it later in the game.
- Yellow isn't needed until later and there's no particular
benefit in having Yellow in your home star, so I never start
- Red is very useful to have in the star system, since it provides
what I call a Planetary Defense System.
- The best choice for size combo is what I call the Banker,
which is Small/Medium. I actually think it's so much better that
I recommend stronger players forgo that choice. My second choice
is what I call Goldilocks, which is Small/Large. I use the Fortress,
Medium/Large, only when I'm stuck with that choice.
- As for which color I choose for which piece in my star system,
I don't give it much thought unless I'm the second to build,
in which case I try to make sure my choices don't use up too
many of a particular size of color. I hate getting frozen out
of the red or blue economy because I unnecessarily used a vital
ship option as part of my star.
The first guy I've played a lot of Homeworlds with is my friend
We play Homeworlds whenever we get together, which isn't as often
as we'd like, since he lives a thousand miles away from me. But
we've played everywhere from the
Grassy Knoll to the
Coffeeshops of Amsterdam (such as the Bluebird)
and even the
Icehouse Lounge in Las Vegas. I'm still eager to play again
whenever we get together.
We've even played by email. Here's a detailed account of our
first such game:
of Binary Homeworlds Tournaments
During the first 4 Big Experiments, tournaments were held
for either standard Homeworlds or its predecessor, IceTraders.
I don't have any records on those games. I care only about Binary
2011 Binary Homeworlds Champion: This
year we had 4 players, but it quickly became two finalists, Andy
and Joshua Kronengold. They fought an intense game which ended
in a draw. Josh handily won the rematch.
2010 Binary Homeworlds Champion: Only
one challenger took on the 5 time champ, but he won! Andy cursed
himself for saying "Sure, let's just make it one winner-take-all
game" but that's what he said, and he lost!
2009 Binary Homeworlds Champion: This
tournament was run using chess clocks.
Winner: Andrew Looney
2008 Binary Homeworlds Champion: The
5th Binary Homeworlds tournament was held at Big Experiment #9
in 2008, again in the Floating Tournament format, but without
a final game, the results being based simply on overall score.
Winner: Andrew Looney
2007 Binary Homeworlds Champion: The
4th Binary Homeworlds tournament was held at Big
Experiment #8 in 2007, again in the Floating Tournament format.
The finalsts were Dayle Hodge and Andrew Looney. Andy had lost
to Dayle twice during their prelim games, but emerged victorious
from the Finals.
Winner: Andrew Looney
2006 Binary Homeworlds Champion: The
3nd Binary Homeworlds tournament was held at Big Experiment #7
in 2006 and while the participants were few, the competition
was fierce. The finalsts were Jesse
Welton and Andrew Looney, and after an epic 3+ hour game,
Andy was the winner.
Winner: Andrew Looney
2005 Binary Homeworlds Champion: The
2nd Binary Homeworlds tournament was held at Big Experiment #6
in 2005 and was far more successful due to the all-weekend-long
tournament format devised by Liam
(see below). We had 10 participants who played 17 games at random
times throughout the weekend, and on Sunday afternoon the top
two players had an exciting showdown. Those players were Jesse
Welton, with a score of 6 (3 first-contact wins) and Andy Looney,
also with a score of 6 (4 first-contact wins, 1 repeat win, and
Winner: Andrew Looney
2004 Binary Homeworlds Champion: The
1st Binary Homeworlds tournament was held at Origins in 2004,
and was run using a system of timer rules (see below) which I
suggested we try and which didn't work out at all well. A three
way tie resulted between myself, Russell, and Spanky Bob, and
thus went into overtime. The final medallion wasn't awarded until
months later, when the final tie-breaker game was played at Dragon*Con.
You play whenever you can arrange a match against anyone you
want to challenge. If you win, your score goes up by 1 point.
If you lose, it goes down by 1 point. Also, an extra point is
given to the victor if this is the first time these 2 have played
together. When it's time for the finals, the two players with
the highest overall scores play a final, winner-take-all battle
for the championship.
Obsolete Timer rules:
As noted above, I no longer advocate these rules. However,
for history's sake, I'm not deleting them (But I am just making
the text really tiny). They might still be useful for helping
decide who is ahead when a game is unexpectedly stopped and not
likely to be resumed.
- I suggest 30 minutes for each round. Of course,
the timer will be kept hidden from all players.
- Make a note of who went first. After the
timer rings, the game continues until all players have taken
an equal number of turns.
- When the game is stopped, determine the winner
- If all players but one have seen half of
their Homeworld's star get destroyed, then the player with an
intact star is the winner.
- Failing that, if one player has more large
ships than any other player, that player wins.
- In the event of a tie for large ships, the
player who fully controls the largest number of star systems
- If there's a tie for that too, the player
with the most ships total is the winner.
- If it's still a tie, count up the pips on
all of the ships each player controls. Highest score wins.
- If none of that results in a clear winner,
call the game a tie and give each player a partial win.
Using Xeno Colors
The Rainbow Treehouse
set provides the standard colors normally used for Homeworlds,
however it can also be played with a 3HOUSE set made with Xeno
colors. Here's the color translation we use:
- Cyan = Green
- Orange = Red
- Purple = Blue
- Clear = Yellow
In addition to appearing in 3HOUSE
with Pyramids, the complete rules to Homeworlds
can be found on John