This expansion really make Space Empires 4X an order of magnitude more fun.
The super sized terrain tiles…? They’re just flat out gorgeous. And it’s so much easier to read the board. Also, the names of the planets remain visible for the duration of the entire game now. Heck, you’ll go explore deep space now just for the chance to place another one of these onto the game board…!
Now… about those replicators. This is the all-new all-different fifth-player faction, the Cylon/Borg/Terminator faction. I only have a passing familiarity with the rules for these, but I have to say… watching someone else run these things, their in-game behavior really is completely alien compared to the standard player factions.
They can explore their home space in half the time. They have this huge incentive to explore deep space, too. They don’t have much to think about everyone else is shopping for tech and ships. But during the movement and combat phases, they will spend a lot of effort battling against the unknown. They are denied the usual exploration tech, so it’s interesting to watch them get eaten alive by Danger!, Black Holes, and Doomsday Machines. The Minerals and Space Wrecks they collect are well worth the loss in scouts, though.
The big downside to them is that you’ve got all this crazy technology for the standard Empire factions… and then with the Replicators in play, they have this gigantic disincentive for using any of it!
The game-play here feels more or less like the solitaire games from the original base set. You commit to a fairly narrow production strategy and then wait for the bad guys to come to you. The strategy notes do suggest throwing a series of technological curve balls to keep the Replicators off balance… which sounds more fun. I didn’t do that in my game, though, because I drew Giant Race for my empire advantage, which made Attack-2 Defense-2 Move-2 Destroyer stacks my preferred weapon. (Though springing for that extra move and defense maybe hurt me more than it helped when the toasters turned it into research points.)
The main thing that I’d do differently based on this first experience with the new faction is that I’d probably invest in more space exploration earlier than what I did. The Replicators look intimidating, but they do need to wait a while before they throw a punch. Exploring the edges of the board is tempting. Raids are (unfortunately) less tempting because you need a specially equipped transport to fully burn down a Replicator colony. On the other hand, beating up their ships before they can combine to become dangerous seems like a very good thing. So while you don’t have the option of doing something crazy that seriously dents their production, they does seem to be plenty of good reason to go fight them early on.
Given the number of things I’m puzzling over here, I have to say… the new faction is probably working exactly like it was intended to… and has fewer of the problems than I expected to see. So if you have an opponent that would rather play the robots than a “real” Space Empires empire, don’t fret. You’re still going to get to do each of the four X’s that make up the game.
Besides, turn ten where the Replicators start losing entire worlds due to pure exhaustion is right around the corner!