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Subject: A faultless expansion - Embers perfects Xia rss

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Jonathan Rowe
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Spalding
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The new expansion to XIA: LEGEND OF A DRIFT SYSTEM is here at last. Xia is an excellent space exploration, piracy and trade game with an expanding solar system of interlocking tiles and a cute progression of space ships getting bigger and quirkier as you upgrade.

But it’s not a damn-near perfect game, not as it stands. Xia had a few criticisms: the trading strategy became unbalanced if planets producing complimentary resource cubes were too close to each other, whereas combat felt underpowered because shields were so effective. Most significantly, this is a game where you roll dice for everything and rolling dice for movement allowed for maddening longueurs as you limp through space, rolling 1 every time you activate your engines.

The kickstarter expansion EMBERS OF A FORSAKEN STAR comes to correct all that – and in style! Here are new space tiles that offer a phantasmagorical expansion to the space fantasy offered in the original. Now the star Xia, in its strange drift across the galaxy, is passing by the Nyr system. But Nyr is dying – shrunk to a ghastly blue dwarf surrounded by dead worlds, ice comets and ice asteroids and gravitational anomalies (including a nascent black hole!). The population has retreated to the Kiln, a space station orbiting Nyr, and the new resource of Ember cubes that can be quarried in the ice of the dying star can be sold here at a profit. But hurry: the apocalypse is coming in the form of the mother of all ice comets that will emerge from Nyr and smash through worlds that lie in its path.

I have to say that this expansion is simply brilliant. Every new tile has had so much thought and imagination lavished upon it. The mechanics for gravity wells, ice comets, dead worlds and Ember quarrying are simple, elegant and add so much to the game. I particularly enjoy using gravity wells to ‘slingshot’ my movement further into space. As well as new Titles to earn, there are now Event cards that introduce rule changes across the system: all planetary shields fail, economies collapse, a space Grand Prix is declared or the dread comet Rikishi erupts out of Nyr bringing destruction in its wake.

More than that, the new economy rules artfully alter the old trading system so that you cannot keep going back to the same planet and stocking up on cubes of holo, plasma, spice, terra or cyber. You need to sow as well as reap, delivering good to worlds that need them in order to stimulate production. This sounds complex, but the mechanic is startling in its simplicity and deep in its implications for winning (or denying someone a victory). In a nutshell, there's a limited amount of each resource available to buy at any time, but when you sell a resource, the consumer planet generates more cubes of the resource type you can buy there. If a resource is completely tapped out and you stimulate new cubes to appear on the market, you claim a 1,000 credit reward. Among other implications, this raises the importance of injecting fresh resources into the economy through harvesting, mining or salvage (which used to be rather second-rate strategies in the original game) and the option to buy enviro-shields (see below) makes this course of action safer as well..

Beyond the simple upgrades for your ship, there are now extra cargopods, navigational computers, targeting systems and environmental shields. Sick of getting burned by nebula or asteroids? Get an environmental shielding module that lets your shield get maximum effectiveness without needing to roll. Fed up of unlucky movement rolls? Get the GTS module that adds +2 to movement (so long as you don’t exceed you dice’s maximum). Fancy a bit of the old ultra-violence? Add ‘piercers’ to your blasters to reduce shields’ effectiveness by -4. Sick of being picked on by pirates? Add extra armour spaces to your hold to carry those damage tokens. These 'mods' make it worthwhile to continue with lower-tier ships for longer as well as enabling you to bespoke your ship in line with your strategy (more cargo space, better weapons, shields for deep space mining, better engines, more Mission cards).

All this and new ships, a new NPC (the mercenary Sellsword), new missions and the mysterious Relics that can be dug out of dead worlds and sifted at the Kiln for valuable traces. And did I mention ice? It’s a new type of damage that can be removed for free on any planet but which spreads through your ship every turn in space. Awesome!

I can’t praise this expansion highly enough. Along with the rules tweaks to the base game (such as improving how Mission cards are gathered and how destroyed ships respawn), everything in here makes Xia faster, more fun, more varied, less clumsy and more thematic. For instruction, compare this to Firefly, where every expansion made an initially appealing game slower, more cumbersome, more difficult and less charming. This cements Xia’s status as the ultimate sandbox space opera board game at the moment.

Can’t wait to play again. Maybe solo. Yes, a solo campaign is included.
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Phil Dennis
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This matches my views on the expansion. It really does feel as it has been a labour of love in its design and production. Kickstarters were kept so well informed throughout the process and it was fascinating learning about the minutiae of creating a game.
XIA was a very good game but now it has moved up to a great game. So far I have only played solo and it is a fascinating experience. Roll on Saturday when we can try it 3 player. I just hope the table is big enough!
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