Review of Empires of the Void II
- Designer: Ryan Laukat
- Publisher: Red Raven Games
- Players: 2 – 5
- Ages: 13+
- Time: 90-180 minutes
- Times Played: 2
I’ve always been a big fan of the space opera genre—often sprawling 4x-style games with lots of theme and player interaction. Some of my best gaming memories are day-long Twilight Imperium mini-cons, making the perfect shot in Ascending Empires, and cleverly hiding a rebel base against my eight-year old son in Star Wars Rebellion. When I heard that Ryan Laukat was Kickstarting a second edition of Empires of the Void, I jumped in. I very rarely Kickstart games, and I had never played the first edition, but had respected many of Ryan’s other designs and was interested enough to take the plunge.
The big idea
Empires of the Void II aims to be a sort of story-driven, mildly confrontational space game. For each planet in the game there is lots of flavor text, unique units, unique missions, lots of non-player-character-style interactions, and a sense of completeness. The contrast is your typical 4X game in which planets are basically resource generators with flavor text. Players move around completing missions, gaining influence with planets, conquering them, and confronting other players, to gain dominance in this region of space. You can choose to take any number of paths (trader, friend of the oppressed, ruthless conqueror, etc), and build that story in a rich quasi-historical framework. Rather than smashing giant fleets against each other or crafting the perfect dreadnaught, here you build a joint story about the travails and opportunities available in virgin space. It’s fun.
Empires of the Void II is a victory-point based game built around a lead-follow action-selection mechanism similar to Puerto Rico or Glory to Rome. Players take the role of one of five space-faring factions seeking dominance over the fringe of the galaxy—the eponymous “void.” Players alternate being the active player who chooses from an action track on the board. The other players then follow by performing the same action or “refresh” by either collecting income and drawing “power” cards up to their hand limit or spending command tokens to take any action. If the action space chosen by the active player has credits on it, they take those credits.
In brief, the actions available to the players are:
- Move and attack: This lets you move a group of your units from one region to an adjacent region, with each move costing a command token. The group may pick up units as it goes, but dropping off units ends the movement. Enemy units do not stop movement. The map has hazards such as asteroids which require succeeding on a die roll to pass. At the end of movement, if the location has a control box with no cube on it, the player may take control by placing a cube. If an opponent has a cube, with no units, the player may replace their control cube with one of their own. If that player has units or bases on the space, a battle occurs. If there is no control box, such as the orbital space around planets, the player may choose to attack other players’ units in the space, but doesn’t have to. Combat is simple and quick, involving dice and up to several units’ intrinsic power. Inhabited planets are defended by the “natives” if no other player’s control unit is in the region’s control box. Another player handles combat for the native, and draws the top power card from the deck facedown as the native’s card. If you have influence tokens on an inhabited planet, they are lost if you attack, whether or not you win.
- Research and Build: Players research technology by placing goods on the building tracks on their player board, similar to research in Eclipse. Each kind of good can only be placed on one track, and once placed they provide a benefit such as reducing the cost of buildings, increasing income, and increasing the amount of command available. Each player also has six special technologies available which provide specific benefits Buildings are bought with credits, at a cost that increases as each type of building is built. Each building can be placed on the player’s worldship or planets they control. Bases provide power and dice in combats and increase the player’s hand limit, academies provide additional command, and cities increase income.
- Diplomacy or Card Action: Players may discard power cards and roll a die. If the die roll is less than or equal to the total on the power cards, the player may place an influence token in any system. This is a relatively inefficient way of gaining influence on planets, as many action cards can be played to gain influence at a lower cost. If a player has more influence than every other player on a planet, they are allied with it. Allies receive victory points during scoring, and can recruit units from the planet.
- Recruit units: Players can pay for units and place them on their worldship or regions with their influence and at least one building. The active player gets a bonus.
- Scavenge: If the active player chooses scavenge, they perform the refresh action. Each other player can then refresh or do any action by paying one command (this usually takes two command). Refreshing means resetting command, collecting income, and drawing power cards up to the hand limit. There are a number of event cards that may be drawn when drawing cards. Event cards take place immediately, and the player then continues to draw up to their hand limit.
Scoring takes place twice. The most points wins, with several tiebreakers.
I like it. I love the genre, and Empires of the Void II takes a fresh approach to the space-opera narrative. The story-driven, sandbox approach offers a chance to jointly craft a narrative about this region of space, in what feels more like a role-playing activity at the civilization level than any comparable game in this space. The best comparison I have is probably Star Wars Rebellion, but there the full force of the Star Wars Universe provides narrative background, and this game provides a similar feel while being self-contained. That’s an achievement.
I have a couple minor complaints. First, to accomplish the rich narrative the game offers, it is a bit fiddly. There are lots of pieces, lots to setup, lots to keep track of, and so on. The price of narrative complexity here is gameplay complexity, to some degree. With more plays this might settle down. Second, unless you invest yourself in the role-playing narrative, it can lack tension. You move your worldship around, do this mission, do that mission, upgrade this, upgrade that. If you have a hard time seeing yourself as the Oracles of Zun who just freed the planet of Tan Fu from its alien oppressors, before establishing a series of academies across the galaxy, it won’t be as much fun.
In all, this is an ambitious, well-designed, utterly gorgeous game that represents a major achievement from a small publisher. Kickstarter came through, and I’m pleased to have EotVII in my collection.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Jeff Lingwall
- Not for me… James Nathan