The Expanse-ion

spacehat

I liked The Expanse. Quite a bit, actually. Now it has an expanse-ion called Doors and Corners. And although expanse-ions aren’t always as interesting to review — especially when they’re a pile of modules that you can add or ignore as you please — this is my comprehensive take on every single tidbit. Think of it like six micro-reviews, beginning with:

New Board: It’s more colorful, but the extra pop unfortunately makes the resource nodes a little harder to see. Then again, it’s more colorful. Final Score: That random spy from near the end of the first season of the TV series. You know, the guy played by the actor who was also Adam Jensen from the new Deus Ex games. As in, I could take it or leave it.

Variable Setup: Here’s my question: Why? I guess if you’re bored of the initial game’s setup, this lets you tinker with that. But the board state can change its mind so quickly and so radically that I don’t really see the appeal. Final Score: Dumb Jim Holden.

Also, I don't think that's its actual molecular model.

The protomolecule is bananas nutbread lightningpants.

Protomolecule: Here it is. The big one.

This didn’t occur to me until this expanse-ion rectified the issue, but the base game didn’t really treat the protomolecule with proper reverence. Everything in the books and TV series happens because of it, in relation to it, in orbit of it, yet the game reduced the protomolecule to a tech card. The game’s most powerful tech card, in the right situation, but a tech card nonetheless. Where’s the horror? The awe? The [deleted for spoiler reasons, but I’ve gotta tell you, that part is so much better in the book]? This addition puts the “Holy shit” back into the protomolecule. And it does it by plopping a standee onto the board.

But what a standee. It’s placed onto any base in the solar system. When a scoring round happens, that base is worth loads of extra points. Exactly like the protomolecule research labs in the books, right?

Well, even more so. If there’s a tie for control of that base, either in first or second place, the protomolecule does as protomolecules are wont by blowing the crap out of that base forever. And when I say “forever,” I mean for the next hour or two, because that base is wiped clean out of the game. The future destination of the protomolecule is reassigned and the race to control it begins anew.

This is a brilliant addition. It’s effortlessly reminiscent of the source material, chasing the protomolecule across Phoebe, Eros, Thoth, Tycho, and anywhere else the crap washes up. Political flashpoints and feuds follow in its wake. And destruction. Exactly as it should be.

Final Score: Protomolecule, obviously.

Mean techs.

The new tech cards add, um, new techs.

New Techs: One of my few significant complaints with the base game was its lack of customization. Mars always developed its navy in the same way, the U.N. deployed diplomats and tiebreakers, the O.P.A. farted around with wimpy junk ships, and ProtoGen got up in everybody’s business with weaselly manipulations.

The new tech cards solve that while still letting each faction play to their strengths. Rather than drawing one with each upgrade level, you draw two of that level’s three options and pick which will become a new faction trait. Mars, for example, retains its opportunities to blow up enemy ships, but can also win all orbital ties, block opponents from selecting undesirable action cards, or avoid taking fleet damage. O.P.A. junk ships operate in new ways, whether by exploding enemy ships or appearing wherever a battle has occurred, while ProtoGen becomes even more weaselly, and is even prompted to choose between different ways to weaponize the protomolecule.

There’s some jankiness there, mostly with one U.N. tech that can be obsoleted by a later pick, but by and large this is the expanse-ion’s no-brainer.

Final Score: The flexibility and poise of Chrisjen Avasarala.

"...at the EXPANSE of the game's original decision space." Spared you a pun there.

Resource tokens add flexibility at the expense of the game’s original decision space.

Resource Tokens: If you’ve played the base game, at some point you’ve squinted at the board’s microscopic resource nodes. There are four flavors, tech and minerals and water and food, and each faction is chasing two of them. Control of a desirable node means an extra point. Simple.

Well, this addition takes that race for extra points and transforms it into an entirely new system. You earn a token rather than a point, which can be used for — well, a whole bunch of stuff. You can increase a wimpy action card’s APs to allow for extra actions, negate a card’s purchase cost in victory points, tinker with your faction’s influence rating, or hold them for final scoring. I’d say “That’s it!”, except this changes quite a bit about the game. And in some ways not for the better.

First, the good. Because you can grab expensive cards or mitigate low-AP offerings, there isn’t as much chance to worry about. You’re less likely to have a turn where the card offer looks like the buffet at an Overeaters Anonymous convention, grazed down to the carrot spears.

On the other hand, that’s one of The Expanse’s central conundrums, and resource tokens all but eliminate it. Being forced to pick between an okay card and a great card that happens to cost one or two victory points is a major choice. If you can simply drop a resource token to make that okay card amazing, or forget the great card’s cost, then the decision is robbed of its sting entirely.

In other words, resource tokens both add flexibility and reduce one of the game’s most important decisions. Final Score: All the pluses and minuses of Alex Kamal as a sexual partner.

Everybody now: ooooohhhh

I forgot to take a picture of the leaders, so here’s a wide-angle shot instead.

Leaders: This is effectively two modules rolled into one. Leaders are jerks who behave and travel like fleets and add influence, effectively making them a twofer action that you can take once per turn. These are paired with power plays, tokens that let you gain points based on whichever sector your leader is in, but only playable a few times per game.

And where The Expanse-ion’s scoring was always prone to swings — and liable to run longer than it should — this pairing is, honestly, a bit much. It encourages you to adopt two behaviors that prolong the game, first by trying to maximize your points in each of the inner, belt, and outer planets at some point, and second by skipping turns for the sake of power plays. The result is a longer game that has a weird merry-go-roundness to it, and doesn’t necessarily gel with either the base game’s struggle for scoring regions and resource nodes, or the expanse-ded focus on the protomolecule space.

Final Score: As reasonable and levelheaded as Captain Ashford.

 

(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

A complimentary copy was provided.

Posted on April 13, 2019, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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