A Salvo of Space Expansions

The burning question: Portray a three-in-one review as a Bonus! or as Laziness?

In all honesty, I get bored reviewing expansions. As with the assembly of a cloak-seeking photon torpedo, it’s only fun once — which is why, across all of Star Trek’s many series and movies, they only did it the one time. The Federation could have obsoleted cloaking technology altogether, but one man had already boldly gone there before.

So today I’m going to rapidly launch a full three expansions reviews out my aft torpedo-tube, which is just one of the many phrases I use to refer to my bum. These are all expansions for games I enjoyed — Core Worlds, Space Cadets: Dice Duel, and Among the Stars — and as happy coincidence would have it, they’re all set in outer space. They’re also all published by Stronghold Games, but that’s not quite as interesting as the first coincidence.

Here we go:

Page One — Core Worlds: Revolution
Page Two — Space Cadets: Dice Duel: Die Fighter
Page Three — Among the Stars: The Ambassadors

Pictured: a revolution. A TECHNOLOGICAL revolution. What did you think the game was about, a popular revolution? A social revolution? A barbarian-horde-attacking-an-old-empire revolution? Psh.

I think it’s safe to say that Core Worlds is one of my favorite deck-building games ever made. Where far too many of the genre’s most popular contenders run on autopilot, Core Worlds was willing to throw off the shackles of their stagnant imperial standards and forge an identity of its own. It made you purchase your cards multiple times, think about long-term strategies yet adopt turn-by-turn flexibility, and, no easy feat for a deck-building game, it told a pretty cool story about a space race among barbarian factions to topple an empire.

Its first expansion, Galactic Orders, was indispensable, imbuing nearly every card purchase with extra impact by cementing your alliance with one of the empire’s six guilds, but balancing out your new powers with events that would appear out of the inky blackness of space to mess with your plans. I can’t even distinguish where Galactic Orders begins and Core Worlds ends because I’ve been playing with them mixed together for so long.

Not tweaked in that way, Geoff, you perv.

Now even your planets can be tweaked into extra usefulness.

First thing’s first, Revolution isn’t another Galactic Orders; but then again (and in spite of its title), it isn’t trying to be. It’s a smaller set, more interested in its two major additions than in redefining every card in the game the way its predecessor did.

The first of these additions was hinted at in Galactic Orders by the capital city that begins the game squatting on your home world, and consists of advancement cards that attach to your previously-conquered worlds to provide extra points, energy income, and sometimes other bonuses or downsides. These appear on the board in much the same way as event cards, going into their own pile rather than cluttering up the card offer. If the original game’s choice-tree had two major branches, split between hiring troops and then using them to conquer planets, there’s now a third branch that deals with improving what you’ve already seized.

There are some great early options, like the Virtual Battlefield that decreases the cost of your tactics cards and the Quantum Observatory that lets you draw an extra card at the start of the turn before deciding one to discard. Later choices include an Atmospheric Distorter that lets you ignore one particularly inopportune event, the Cult of the Divine Emperor to beef up your starting hero, and a Galactic Renaissance that transforms all your advancements into points-generators. Some offer tradeoffs, like how the high-value Sky City forces a random discard and the Industrial Megalopolis gives you lots of points and energy at the cost of paving over an entire planet to make room.

Advancements are a good addition precisely because they offer an interesting new choice without taking up too much space. There’s only one visible for purchase at any given time, so the card offer isn’t flooded with too many items to consider. And even the advancements that best fit your empire’s mold are often tricky to pick up, coming at the expense of other pursuits. It strikes a positive balance, often considerable but rarely making for an outright best move.

Being all heroic and tactical.

The hero tactics are… well, there they are.

Revolution’s other major addition is a transformation of the utility of “hero” cards. Rather than just being a different keyword like “vehicle” or “starfighter,” every hero in the game, from your lowly starting champion to every unique hero you can hire as you journey from sector to sector, is now given three “heroic tactics” cards. Beginning with your starting hero’s three cards, these are placed into their own second deck. Whenever you draft a new hero, you’re given the option of shuffling their heroic tactics cards into it. Playing a hero will draw a card from your hero deck, though only if the card you would draw matches the hero you deployed.

To illustrate, this change means the Promethean Cyborg is not only good at improving your ground strength during an invasion; now it can also make use of Accelerated Procurement to draft two cards simultaneously, depriving your opponents of juicy targets, or use Cull the Weak to permanently thin out your discard pile. Which sounds amazing! However, the tradeoff is that adding these new heroes will dilute your second deck, introducing the possibility that your heroes and your hero deck won’t align quite properly, not triggering those powerful card draws often enough.

I can see the appeal of the heroes, though my group found this part a bit fiddly. Core Worlds is already one of the longer and more involved deck-building games out there, with lots of little things to track at any given moment, and managing two decks at once — as simple as that second deck is — occasionally became more of a chore than we would have liked. Where the advancements added an interesting option but not much complexity, the hero decks are all too happy to add more to manage.

All in all, whether you’re looking for “more to manage” may well determine whether the hero decks are a good fit, and the advancements make for a solid addition on their own.

Posted on December 4, 2014, in Board Game and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Three reviews in one — what a deal! And interesting thoughts too. I think it’s especially interesting that you regard the increase in complexity in Core Worlds (which was already somewhat complicated) and Dice Duel (which embraces simplicity) as negative, whereas the additional complexity in Among the Stars is a good thing. And I think I agree that different games have different strengths and ought to play to them. For instance, I think The Ambassadors fleshes out Among the Stars, but I can’t imagine wanting anything added to Dice Duel, not that I’ve played it with Die Fighter.

  1. Pingback: Best Week 2014, Staff Mutiny! | SPACE-BIFF!

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