Beyond the Sun
- Designer: Dennis K. Chan
- Publisher: Rio Grande Games
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 14+
- Time: 90-120 mins
- Times played: 3, with review copy provided by publisher
Says the rulebook: “Beyond the Sun is a space civilization game in which players collectively decide the technological progress of humankind at the dawn of the Spacefaring Era, while competing against each other to be the leading faction in economic development, science, and galactic influence. The game is played over a variable number of rounds until a number of game-end achievements are collectively claimed by the players. The winner is the faction with the most victory points, which are obtained by researching technologies, improving their economy, controlling and colonizing systems, and completing various achievements and events throughout the game.”
The game has a large technology board which shows a four-level tech tree on it. The 19 spaces on the tree are filled in by Technology cards (46 total in the box). There is also a much smaller exploration board which has spaces for four habitable planetary systems (which are found on system cards).
Each player gets a mat for their faction. This is used to keep track of your population and your ore (the two types of currency in the game) as well as a description of any special/unique abilities granted to your faction. The player’s resources are marked with a set of dice; and the face which is showing determines what that die represents.
On a turn, a player must move their action pawn to an empty action space (that it is allowed to be on), then takes that action. At the start of the game, you only have access to the Basic Spacefaring actions on the very left of the board. However, as you research new technologies, you will be able to access action spaces on tech cards in the tech tree. You must be able to pay any costs associated with the action, and then you get the benefits of the action as shown on the board/technology card.
Next, you conduct your production phase, either producing ore, growing your population, or trading one of those resources for another. There are tracks for population and ore at the bottom of your player board. The amount created depends on how many spaces are visible (food tokens cover population icons and gear tokens cover ore icons). Population is generated by removing dice from the array above and placing them on the population side. Ore is taken from the supply. If you choose to trade, you simply follow the formulas seen at the bottom of the player board. Finally, you can claim up to one achievement, if possible. At the start of the game, 2 basic and 2 advanced achievement cards are set up next to the board; if you meet the criteria for any, you place your marker on the leftmost (most valuable) available slot. You may only claim each achievement once, and you must claim it if you meet the criteria – this is important for endgame triggering.
As players take actions, they research new technologies that come in four levels. Each technology is one of four types (scientific, economic, military, commercial), and higher-level technologies must match one of the types of tech that lead into it. Each time you research a new technology, you take the appropriate deck of cards and flip over cards until 2 are found that match the chosen technology type. The player then chooses between these two cards to place one on the board. The revealed and unchosen cards are placed on the bottom of the deck (but the deck itself is not shuffled). This card may give an immediate one time bonus. You must place one of your population cubes next to this card to show that you have access to it later in the game. Other players could also later research this technology, and when they do, they will also place their population cube next to the card. The first person to research a Level II or Level III space also gets to deal with an Event card – these are generally good for the active player and sometimes give a benefit to all players.
Thus, players create their own technology tree in each game, using these actions to increase their military strength and to jump to different habitable exoplanetary systems. This is done using the spaceship sides of the dice and the smaller system board. As you gain control of systems on this board (by having the highest amount of ship strength), you mark control using either a food or a gear marker from your board – this will increase your production levels. If you control a system, you can also choose to colonize it which then lets you take the card, place an extra production marker on it, and get some extra benefits shown on the card.
The game end is triggered when there are at least 4 total achievement discs placed amongst the four achievement cards. You finish the current round and then play one more full round. Players may still claim achievements so long as there is space on the achievement cards. Note that you are still limited to only claiming one achievement per round. The rules suggest that there will be around 15 rounds in an average game; but the actual number will depend entirely upon the way that the players make their achievements.
Scores are then tallied. You score points for 11 different things: for each technology that you have researched, points from System cards gained through colonization, the automation track on their board, Event cards and claimed Achievement spaces on Achievement cards. The full list can be found on the player aid. The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the highest current production level.
My thoughts on the game
I once joked that Beyond the Sun is “Tech tree- the game”. And, while that’s kinda funny, it’s also kinda true. Here, the tech tree is the entire board, not just one facet of a civilization game. This flips the script on the usual situation – normally there is some giant board representing vast amounts of space where armies fight against each other for control; the tech tree is either on a smaller secondary board or maybe on the player’s mat. Here, it’s the other way around, and the tech tree is the centerpiece of the game. Interestingly, for me – the two boards have an equal effect on the game, and I would have been just as happy for each to have the same amount of board space.
The game is a combination of engine building / resource management / worker placement. The tech tree is quite variable, and the direction of its growth can affect how the game plays. As players often have the choice between two different tech colors as they explore further down the tree, the abilities and actions available in a particular game can vary widely. There is a nice push-pull here in that a player might want to concentrate on the tech tree in order to get the sorts of actions needed for their strategy; but this means less time spent on the planet system board, and there are a lot of points to be had from those system cards. Thus far, in my games, I don’t think that either side dominates the other – I have seen players win by focusing on each – so the key here is in the balance; I don’t think you can win by completely ignoring one half of the game, you have to figure out how to do enough on each. Though I haven’t succeeded at it, this might be a game where it’s best to zag when everyone else is zigging. If there is a lot of fighting for systems, then work on the tech tree. Getting the event card and 3 points for a level 3 tech is still a decent payoff, and without competition, it might be a better bang for your buck. Of course, the one niggly thing about this (for me, at least) is that the event cards sometimes give just the active player a benefit, and sometimes they give all players a benefit. It’s just better to be lucky in these cases…
As you go, your “engine” is in the population and ore production. As you are more successful in automation and system colonization, you are able to generate more people and ore which in turns allows you to do more things. Though you only have one pawn, there is definitely a sense of worker placement here – it’s amazing how often you are blocked by an opponent from the action that you want. Trying to figure out the timing so that you can access the action spaces you want at the times that you want is key in this game.
The rules have everything in them – but I will repeat my usual dislike for rulesets that are separated into multiple pieces. Here, there is a nice 24 page rulebook with lots of info, examples, clarifications. Strangely, the setup for a regular 4p game is hidden in a small 4p pamphlet, which I ignored in my first play because the cover title of this pamphlet is “Expert Variant: Technology Tableau”, so I thought I didn’t need it. It made for a frustrating first 20 minutes of the first game until we realized that we were missing ALL of the setup instructions. I’m just not sure why this wouldn’t have been included in the rulebook itself. Our first game also ended wrong as we missed the one line in the setup where a game with less than 4 players ends with 3 achievement tokens (not 4 as stated pretty much everywhere else in the rules).
My first game took about 120 minutes for 3 players and succeeding games are down now to about 30 min/player. That is still slightly longer than I want for this kind of game, but manageable. There are a lot of things to think about in this game, and two different boards to concentrate energy on. Thus far, each game has been different in strategy for me, and I hope that this is due to my response to the way the tech tree has developed. It has at least made each play a slightly different challenge. We have yet to play the advanced player sides, but I think that whenever this game hits the table again, we’ll have to move onto those variants as it doesn’t feel like there’s much left that I want to explore in the basic game after three plays.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (3 plays, 1 as a prototype): Ken Hill of Rio Grande Games showed me this game in January of 2019, and an odd thing happened – I put it on my short list of games to watch for. When I heard it was released – and knowing that playing it first was going to be much harder in the midst of pandemic – I ordered a copy. And so far it’s held up quite well; I really look forward to playing it more. I haven’t had a chance to try many 2020 releases yet, but among those I’ve played Beyond the Sun is my favorite of the lot, and at worst I’m sure I’ll get my money’s worth out of it.
Mitchell T: The first two times I played this (2 player) I was abundantly enthusiastic. I loved the idea of the interactivity of the tech tree and the planetary systems. It seemed to me that the variety inherent in the tech tree would provide lots of exploration. However by the fourth and fifth game, we found that the tech tree paths really didn’t vary that much and it wasn’t at all hard to catch up to a technology that you felt you really needed. I loved the interesting resource recycling system. My wife and I ultimately felt that we had seen all the game had to offer (after about 8 plays) and I wound up trading it. My guess is that three players is the sweet spot because the area control dynamics on the planet board will be much more interesting. So yes, we did like the game, but not enough to keep it in the rotation.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. John P, Joe H, Craig M., Lorna, Mitchell T., Dale
- Neutral. James Nathan
- Not for me…