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Subject: Unboxing Empires: Avoid the Void at your peril rss

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Gareth Davies
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Empires of the Void (EotV) is the first game designed by Ryan Laukat and, after a succesful funding project on Kickstarter, it has been published by Red Raven Games. EotV hit UK stores this week so I ordered a copy through Games Lore. Little more than 24 hours later I was knee-high in cardboard spaceships. Here are my first thoughts on this 4x-lite science-fiction game.


Ryan Laukat designed the game and did the art


Before I found myself up chit creek without the proverbial movement device, what grabbed my attention when I opened the packaging and lifted the game out of a sea of polystyrene was the box art. Four alien species, and a human, above a Star Wars-esque title set against a gas giant amid a swirling nebula. It wasn’t until I looked at the front page of the rulebook that I realised Ryan had produced the art as well as designed the game. In my last unboxing article, I raved about Josh Cappel’s fantastic graphics for Tiny Minstrel Games’ Belfort. Ryan’s work isn’t quite to the same standard (I’m not keen on the race art, but that’s just personal preference) but it gives EotV character. Many of us would love to successfully design our own game, let alone illustrate it. That Ryan’s done both is really impressive.


The tiles which make up the galaxy are beautiful


What I have no reservations about are the hexagonal tiles which make up the EotV’s galaxy. They are beautiful. The planets look great and the information written below each one is clear and concise. Each is set on the back drop of a galaxy filled with stars, moons, asteroid fields and even space monsters, the later two phenomena acting as barriers to space travel until certain technologies are researched. When all the pieces are pushed together, then linked with each player’s starting tile, the result is one fantastic looking setting. Set this out on your table top and people will clamour to play this game. From a technical point of view the cardboard tiles are reasonably thick and lie nice and flat on the table, so hopefully the only warping in EotV will be ships zipping between planets.



Instead of plastic pieces the game’s various ships are represented by cardboard tokens


Earlier I mentioned the mountain of cardboard which comes with the game. This is primarily because every ship from starfighters and diplomats, to cruisers and Sunhammers, are represented by cardboard tokens instead of plastic pieces. While the latter would have been more pleasing to the eye, it’s obviously the more expensive option. Personally I don’t mind the ships as they are. The art is nice and crisp and the tokens make it easy to distinguish between the different types of vessel and to quickly tell which player owns them. While I’m not so keen on each players ships looking exactly the same, I understand it from a practical point of view. I also get the feeling they’re a little less fiddly than plastic when in play, which helps with EotV’s not particularly epic 120 min play estimate.

Adding to Mount Cardboard are the sets of technology cards given to each player to track research. While the ability to unlock new tech is one of EotV’s strengths, I would have liked the game to ship with something a little bit easier to keep track of than a pile of tokens. Thankfully Red Raven Games has since produced a tech tree in a free expansion, Key to the Universe (a little bit more about this later).

One word of caution: Be careful when you punch the pieces out of the frames. While the stock is good, I found that the way in which the art has been applied isn’t particularly durable. Even though I took my time, a small number of pieces ripped and, on one occasion, I had to stick the design back on because it came off completely.


Players can gain access to unique ships if they ally with, rather than conquer, planets. The alien like ship is an infestor used by one of the playable races


Also included with the game are several unique ships which players gain access to when they ally with, rather than conquer, NPC planets. I love this part of the game. It gives players a distinct choice between attacking, which is quick, and diplomacy, which takes longer but is more rewarding. Taking a system by force gets you their victory points, credits (income) and trade good (used for technology) but not their special ability or influence (used for scoring at three points during the game). Take the time needed for diplomacy (by collecting sets of cards in order to make the required dice roll easier) and your new friends will share their technology. Occupy their home world and they’re hardly likely to hand those secrets over, so it works thematically too. This choice between aggression or diplomacy reminds me of a spiced-up Tasty Minstrel Games’ space deck-builder Eminent Domain.


The cards you get when you ally with a planet provide a helpful reference


Ally or conquer a planet and you receive a helpful reference card listing all its attributes. Interestingly, even if another player successfully invades one of your allies you remained aligned with that planet, allowing you to liberate it later in the game.

Each player also receives a sheet listing their races’ starting abilities, the turn order and the attributes of the various ships in EotV. There are eight races in the base game (more if you download the print and play expansion which has already been released) from the Mystics of Siri to the Nomads of Earth. It’s all fairly standard science-fiction fare and nothing particularly different from what has already been done in a dozen other games based on the theme. Then again EotV isn’t supposed to be epic space opera (see Twilight Imperium). It’s a quick game of space domination which still manages to pack in a surprising amount of depth.

One of the more interesting races, The Parasites of Sreech, adds variety by giving players a unique ship (The Infestor) and action (infest). Infesting a planet grants access to the planet’s special ability but no victory points, a new twist on the attack/diplomacy dilemma.


The player sheet for the Mystics of Siri


In contrast to the time and effort which has clearly gone into the game, EotV’s 11 page rulebook feels rushed. The game isn’t complicated but the rules could certainly use examples and accompanying pictures. Sections feel skimmed over and certain rules would benefit from further explanation. To be fair, a new rulebook has been created for the print and play expansion which addresses some of these issues, as well as adding new elements to the game. It’s nice to see a developer who has clearly listened and acted on players’ concerns.


The game has a idiosyncratic art style


EotV is currently sitting on my shelf waiting to be played. I doubt it will have to wait long. Sifting through mountains of cardboard and admiring the galaxy tiles and nicely designed ships has me in the mood for some space adventuring. Or perhaps that’s just what the mind-controlling Mystics of Siri want me to think.

This article orginally featured on Rook & Roll, a blog about boarding gaming in the UK. Please check it out at http://rookandrolluk.wordpress.com/
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JB
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Horrid Beast wrote:
Thanks for this. I find it odd though that you created this review without actually having got it to the table...


Fair point, but he did title it 'unboxing empires' and I appreciate the time taken to upload images & give a components run down.
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Dan
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I unboxed my copy and haven't played it yet either!

Well, I haven't played my copy. I learned this game a SaltCon game day, and promptly sought out my own copy. I opened and punched my copy, and now I'm just waiting for my next opportunity to play.

Fun game!
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Gareth Davies
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As the other poster said, it's just an unboxing rather than a review. I wouldn't do it for most games, just new releases.
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