Ignore This Expansion At Your Own Peril - Key To the Universe Review

Right, well you've hopefully by now already read my review on Empires of the Void. And if not. . . . . . . WHY NOT? Go and read it now!

Those who have been keeping up to date with my geeklists and podcasts will remember that I put this at my No 1 for Essential Expansions so there's a bit of a spoiler for you there. But I'm here to explain why that's the case.

"It's Print and Play so there's no fancy box cover!"


Designer: Ryan Laukat (2012)
Publisher: Red Raven Games
# of Players: 2-4
Ages: 12+
Play Time: 120+ minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 1235/7.11 (base game)
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: n/a
Category: Print & Play Expansion
  
You Need The Red Key

This expansion is official, however it was never fully published as a boxed expansion. Instead it is a Print & Play expansion which has to be obtained from the main publisher website or from BGG. This puts some people off, but rest assured there really isn't much that you have to print and if you work in an office, well nick their laser printer like I did! It also would pay you to acquire a cheap laminator for about £15 and cover the sheets you print as this not only looks good, but keeps them in good condition so that you don't have to find yourself re-printing anything.

The purpose of the expansion was to streamline and improve on areas of Empires of the Void that were regarded as general criticisms or balancing issues. It is actually recommended by the designer that you play with this expansion included as your first game, to which I agree wholeheartedly and you'll see why eventually. In total you have to print out the following, which not including the rulebook and races, takes only about 7 sheets of paper:

Secondary Action Boards x 4
New Races x 4 (optional)
Technology Trees x 4
Rulebook (20+ pages, but can obtained in PDF form)
Objective Board

No Silicon Heaven? But Where Do All The Tokens Go?

When you opened the original game, the sheer amount of tokens was overwhelming to say the least. So what's the best solution? Get rid of them! Yeah pretty much, the first part of the new rulebook details what should be removed from the original game on a permanent basis. For starters say goodbye to all of those fiddly technology tree tokens as we now have a flow chart sheet with added technologies to keep track of those. HUGE improvement off the bat - trust me, you might shed a tear for those nice looking tokens, but believe me when you're playing the game, you won't miss them.

"SOOOOO much easier to manage!"

There are also some event cards which were regarded as unbalanced which are removed and the number of ship tokens for each player including the foreign alien ships are trimmed down also, presumably to eliminate spam tactics. It makes the events less swingy and makes you balance out your fleet for a more interesting space battle.

By the time you've removed the eroneus components you'll have a nice big bag full of bits you won't need any more. It's a shame that we paid for those parts that we're not going to use any more, but if it improves the gameplay, it's a price worth paying.

I Can See Clearly Now, The Rules Have Gone!

The old rulebook was a big criticism I pointed out in the old game. Now we have a new 20+ page rulebook that can be stored on your Ipad as a PDF as well which is very handy. It's set out much more clearer with more diagrams and a more intuitive layout. It's not perfect however and still has some parts where you might need to re-read it once or twice to fully comprehend it (particularly the rules on what you can do to opposing planets with ally or enemy tokens on it), but it's a solid improvement and easier for new players to pick up.

20 pages isn't as long as you think though as the font is very large so it won't take you long to read, but it certainly will be easier to read particularly on an electronic device.

"Setting up the game just got a lot easier!"

Actions, Actions And More Actions

To make the turns more diverse and interesting, a new secondary action board has been provided as well which comprises of several elements. Firstly you have a list of new actions that can be taken once a turn after everyone has done their primary actions from the base game. Some are repeats of base actions like Attack and Move, but some new ones have been included such as Enslave which gets you additional income from a conquered planet and Smuggle which lets you gain a technology from any planet where your Diplomat ship is present. In addition you can purchase Ambassadors and Photon Bombs which increase in cost the more you get, but increase your odds for conquering and diplomacy rolls. I rarely see these being purchased however which is a shame, we could be under-estimating them though, I'll have to try a game where I go for these over diplomacy cards and see what happens.

All of these actions are worth taking in their own right depending on your strategy or style of play so none go to waste and it's great to have more choices in your turn as you can now build up more of your empire by the time the game has finished. It does extend the game length a little bit however as you have to effectively do another action round each phase, but only the most AP prone of players should really drastically affect proceedings here. Be prepared for this to maybe take up most of a typical game night if playing with 4 players who are new.

"Fairly intuitive, though I find myself leaving the repair bay out for ease of teaching"

There is also a repair bay where damaged ships can be repaired and sent back out. I have yet to introduce this rule personally as it seems unnecessary and I like to keep the game simple, but if you want an additional thematic element, there's no harm in it.

A Wider Starting Roster And Plan Of Action

Additional race boards can be printed out as well and everyone loves more variety in the game. The new races feel very different to the old ones and have their unique merits. Added to the original races, there's now plenty of choice available and I've not noticed any balancing issues from repeated plays.

"Didn't Luke Skywalker take out that Astra guy on Hoth?"

Finally we have a new objective board. These contain special public achievements that all players can go for to gain more victory points almost a bit like the public objectives from Twilight Imperium 3. These are great to include as now you have additional paths to victory, but if you want to keep the game simple for new players, feel free to leave them out for the first game.

"It's not uncommon for every one of these objectives to be completed by the end"

Verdict

This is a short review, as there's only so much to talk about in the expansion, but this is a perfect example of "a little goes a long way". Each change fixes a streamlining issue, a balancing problem or speeds up the flow of play. Nothing here goes to waste and makes the game that much more enjoyable. That's not to say that the original game wasn't fun, but it had its problems. I hated having to mess around with technology tokens with no reference guide to fall back, that was my biggest issue.

It's a shame to have to set aside that many tokens, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices to improve a game. This expansion is always taught to new players but because parts of it are modular you can opt to leave out some to simplify the first game.

Adding more options each turn can lead to an extension in game length, but again, leave out the secondary board if you want, it's entirely up to you and it's a level of customization that's welcomed. Personally I always include it as that extra action makes a difference in your plans.

I put this at No 1 on my Essential Expansions list, because it really is that essential. If you want to get the full enjoyment out of Empires of the Void, you need to make the effort to introduce this in. Yes you have to print out a few things, but it's not going to stretch your printing budget and you don't have to laminate the new charts/boards, but laminating is cheap and can be used on other games as well.

You Will Like This Expansion If:

  • You wish to make Empires of the Void as good a game as it can be
  • You hated the fiddly nature of the tokens from the base game.
  • You already like Empires of the Void, but feel it needs more to make it a fuller experience

You Won't Like This Expansion If:

  • You don't like the idea of going through the hassle of printing and laminating your own components
  • You loved all the cool tokens from the original game and hate to see a load of them bagged away
  • You do not wish to extend the game length from its current state.

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