4X is a genre of strategy-based video and board games in which players control an empire and "explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate". The term was coined by Alan Emrich in his September 1993 preview of Master of Orion for Computer Gaming World. Since then, others have adopted the term to describe games of similar scope and design.
4X computer games are noted for their deep, complex gameplay. Emphasis is placed upon economic and technological development, as well as a range of non-military routes to supremacy. Games can take a long time to complete since the amount of micromanagement needed to sustain an empire increases as the empire grows. 4X games are sometimes criticized for becoming tedious for these reasons, and several games have attempted to address these concerns by limiting micromanagement, with varying degrees of success.
The earliest 4X games borrowed ideas from board games and 1970s text-based computer games. The first 4X computer games were turn-based, but real-time 4X games are not uncommon. Many 4X computer games were published in the mid-1990s, but were later outsold by other types of strategy games. Sid Meier's Civilization is an important example from this formative era, and popularized the level of detail that later became a staple of the genre. In the new millennium, several 4X releases have become critically and commercially successful.
In the board (and card) game domain, 4X is less of a distinct genre, in part because of the practical constraints of components and playing time. The Civilization board game that gave rise to Sid Meier's Civilization computer game, for instance, has no exploration and no extermination. Unless extermination is targeted at non-player entities, it tends to be either nearly impossible (because of play balance mechanisms, since player elimination is usually considered an undesirable feature) or certainly unachievable (because victory conditions are triggered before extermination can be completed) in board games.