The Expanse

No Fur coat, all knickers. That’s the expanse. First and foremost let’s talk about the flimsy elephant in the room. This is a terribly produced game. The gameplay is fine and dandy but if it had have been printed on the back of a corn flakes box it would have been a superior product. The artwork is dull. The board and cards are too dark. The text too small and the card stock only adequate. I’m not usually one to sleeve a game but it’s essential in this case. One game in and the whole thing will look like it was played in a doctor’s surgery for ten years. I also laminated the player boards. Which are also way too small. The ship tokens are a joke. Tiddly winks would have been superior. If you buy this game you will be disappointed by the build. At €55 or so it should be WAY WAY better. Shame on Wiz Kids you could have ruined a good game. You didn’t but this game demands to be pimped out, something I’ll write about in a further post. Okay rant over.

So it’s not a looker but it does have bags of personality. The game is an area control affair. The functional map is split into three sectors. The inner planets (Earth and Mars). The belt (asteroid belt) and the outer planets Jupiter and Saturn. Each of these locations house one or more space stations. Space stations are where you place your limited influence cubes and try to out influence others come the scoring round.

There are a number of mechanics from other games in here. All of them good. A card conveyor belt like Through the Ages. Dual use event and action point cards like Twilight Struggle. Score round activation cards again like the mighty TS and a few things I haven’t seen like secret bonus scoring and card initiative.

The game itself is really quite simple. You control one of the games factions, Earth, Mars, the OPA or Protegen. If you’re not familiar with the setting I highly recommend the books and the TV Series. This is hard science fiction no teleporters, artificial gravity or warp drives. It’s all believable tech from 200 years hence.

The game is card driven. You can pick from a list of five shared cards on the conveyor. The first card is free to pick the rest cost between one and two control points (CP). CP acts as both the in game currency and your current score. I’ve always liked this way of doing things. When you pick a card you either use it’s event (if it’s applicable to your faction) or use it for it’s action points then a faction that can use that event and is next in line in initiative has the option of kicking it off. This is very similar to Twilight Struggle where as the Americans you played a Russian card for the action points but the Russian player got to use the event. With four players it makes for a very interesting set of choices. Being high up on the initiative track means you get first refusal of an event if it works for your faction but taking the action pushes you to the bottom of the initiate queue. It’s a cracking mechanic

Each player starts with a limited amount of ships which can move between orbitals that have one or more stations near them. They can place influence cubes on stations in these space stations and build new ships at their home station. That’s it. That’s all the basic actions you can do. Surprisingly there’s no fighting action everything else has to be achieved through card events.

The deck is preconfigured into three sets of cards each with two scoring cards mixed in, so a scoring round is in the post in few rounds and again and again until the sixth arrives and it’s game over. Pulling the scoring card from the conveyor of cards let’s you secretly choose one of the sectors (inner, belt, outer) as the bonus sector. These sectors when scored give extra CP. There are six bonus sector tokens two for each sector. When you pull a scoring card you pick and burn it, so pretty much every sector gets scored twice. Everyone else gets to play their turn before scoring happens btw. The bonuses increase each scoring round so towards the end it’s a race to control the most lucrative sector before the end game.

Each faction plays out a little differently, outside of not all the events being applicable to them. Each has got a special ability and each scoring round they acquire a new one. I particularly liked protogen who gets to deploy the protomolecule late in the game in two locations and wipe out nearly all life in those spots. It’s going to take multiple plays to see how each faction plays. They certainly seem true to the books. Earth being all about diplomacy and influence, Mars able military. OPA about terrorism and protogen all evil scientisty.

Holden and his crew also feature in their coming to the aid of the worse off player with some special abilities. This is another fantastic mechanic and adds to the excellent theme.

If you can get past the component build this is a cracking game. One of the best I’ve played in a long time. I highly recommend giving it a go. After one game which played out in two hours or so with the full four players I was gagging to play again.

Bad components. Great game. Stick on the sound track and get gaming

Huzzah!

Vic

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