Nexus 5X review: Speedy Stellaris is a delight for game nights

Whatboy’s board game-inspired take on 4X is a strong one
Whatboy Games / Paradox Arc

Friend groups with an interest in board game-style strategy titles have already been blessed by the release of Solium Infernum earlier this year, giving them a hellish spin on Game of Thrones, but Whatboy Games and Paradox Arc have something in store for those who’d rather conquer the stars than a demonic realm with Nexus 5X, formerly known as Stellaris Nexus.

Name change aside, Nexus 5X essentially condenses a match of Stellaris into a board game format that will take around an hour to play through. You and up to five competitors start with a single planet and a few ships under your control after choosing a faction and a specific leader from that faction. Each of these provides different bonuses and unique mechanics, which lead to different playstyles. However, your leaders don’t lock you into one specific way of playing either – to be successful, you’ll need to stay flexible as you expand your space empire.

Winning a game of Nexus 5X is all about amassing victory points, which can be done in several ways. Every couple of turns, the galactic congress meets up and all players decide the goals that can be scored until the next meeting together by vote – these are objectives like controlling the most planets, having researched the most tech, having discovered the most anomalies, and so on. Whoever is on top of the chosen ranking when the next congress rolls around scores some victory points and then the next competition is voted on. Naturally, diplomatic – or intrigue – skills come in handy here, as you might convince one or two of your “friends” to vote against their own interests. Congress also enacts laws, which can have positive or negative impacts on everyone. Again, this is ripe ground for cooperating with players and gaining a little advantage – or annoying someone in particular, such as the person in the lead. That’s a classic.

Nexus 5X screenshot of the council voting.
Congress votes on different objectives, giving you plenty of room to play politics. / Whatboy Games / Paradox Arc

Aside from these objectives, there is one permanent source of points on the board: the world of Nexus. Being in control of Nexus before congress meets nets you points, making it an attractive target for militarily-minded players – however, the one sitting on Nexus is usually enemy number one for all others around the table, so it’s still a risk.

This being a strategy game, there are several types of resources at your disposal, which you can use to construct buildings, starbases, and fleets, in addition to researching technologies, moving ships, initiating espionage, and more. Actions like construction and research are represented by a deck of cards you draw from and each action you take during your turn will cost you more resources, so thinking about priorities and planning out your turns will help you be more efficient.

As you play your leader will level up, providing you with more of their unique bonuses – often offering you the choice between a few options as part of their skill tree. This adds to replayability, allowing you to see different facets of the same leaders, in addition to outright picking other factions or characters.

Nexus 5X screenshot of the galactic map.
Cards, known as Edicts in the game, represent the actions you can take on your turn. / Whatboy Games / Paradox Arc

That all sounds fairly complicated, but it really isn’t – thanks to the simple card system (if you don’t pull a Research card, for example, you won’t have to worry about it this turn) and resources, the amount of actions you can take each turn is actually quite limited, so it’s not overwhelming. Instead, this game is all about planning ahead, setting yourself up for success when congress proclaims goals you have a shot at winning. That social element is not to be underestimated – convincing others to take action, such as fighting the one controlling Nexus, trading with you, or agreeing to diplomatic pacts, is a major part of the game. That goes for public, over-the-table deals as well as backroom agreements and secret conspiracies – you see why this game is best played with a group of friends.

All this is skillfully woven into quick-paced 4X gameplay that has just the right amount of depth to be engaging on its own without being too difficult to learn – in fact, you can learn the ropes in just a single session. The game’s single-player campaign against the AI is a fun tutorial to help you grasp the mechanical basics, but it’s not the heart of Nexus 5X. That’s clearly the multiplayer aspect.

Though the AI can be used for skirmishes as well, I wouldn’t recommend the game to someone looking for a title to play by themselves – I mean, the actual Stellaris is still right there. That said, even if you can’t motivate your friends to play with you, Nexus 5X has some great chat tools to make playing with strangers a good experience, including secret backroom chats to plan some backstabbing.

Nexus 5X screenshot of fleet combat.
What would galactic conquest be without some epic fleet battles? / Whatboy Games / Paradox Arc

My only larger gripe with Nexus 5X is the drag-based control scheme for fleets, which is a lot more confusing than simply selecting them and clicking on a target, as well as the way information is presented. It can be difficult to find what you’re looking for at times.

Despite those minor gripes, Nexus 5X is a fantastic turn-based strategy game to play on a game night: It’s easy to get into, has strategic depth, and an important social element that will make you hate your friends – at least for the duration of the game.

Score: 8/10

Version tested: PC.

Published |Modified
Marco Wutz


Marco Wutz is a writer from Parkstetten, Germany. He has a degree in Ancient History and a particular love for real-time and turn-based strategy games like StarCraft, Age of Empires, Total War, Age of Wonders, Crusader Kings, and Civilization as well as a soft spot for Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail. He began covering StarCraft 2 as a writer in 2011 for the largest German community around the game and hosted a live tournament on a stage at gamescom 2014 before he went on to work for Bonjwa, one of the country's biggest Twitch channels. He branched out to write in English in 2015 by joining, the global center of the StarCraft scene run by Team Liquid, which was nominated as the Best Coverage Website of the Year at the Esports Industry Awards in 2017. He worked as a translator on The Crusader Stands Watch, a biography in memory of Dennis "INTERNETHULK" Hawelka, and provided live coverage of many StarCraft 2 events on the social channels of as well as DreamHack, the world's largest gaming festival. From there, he transitioned into writing about the games industry in general after his graduation, joining GLHF, a content agency specializing in video games coverage for media partners across the globe, in 2021. He has also written for NGL.ONE, kicker, ComputerBild, USA Today's ForTheWin, The Sun, Men's Journal, and Parade. Email: