Have you ever wanted to escape your life, set off into the unknown and discover a whole new galaxy? A place where space monsters lurk between planets and aliens can conspire against you? Empires of the Void II might just be for you.
Ryan Laukat, the one man band who both designs and illustrates his games, brings a sandbox style, space game with plenty of replay-ability and a follow action mechanism that means downtime is extremely short. Your aim? To conquer and colonise a brand new galaxy, with glory and prestige to be found in a multitude of ways.
Empires of the Void II - Gameplay
Each player starts with their very own worldship, all unique to that faction, one star sloop (a smaller starship) and one star farer. You also start with a hand of three cards from a power deck specifically created for that game, with a mix of planet cards, events, actions and missions thrown in together.
The basics here are simple – each time you are the active player, you have five main actions to choose from. Move and attack, research and build, play a card for its action, recruit, or scavenge. Once you’ve decided, the other players can choose whether to follow you in that action and perform it themselves, or refresh and gather action points, money and cards ready for their next turn. Knowing when to follow, and when to refresh, is one of the most important elements of gameplay.
The cards you’ve been dealt will help steer your course through the galaxy, but they in no way dictate play for you. Working as multi-use cards, the power cards have a number and either an action, a delivery or a mission for you to complete. The power number is important, as you can play a card in order to tip the balance in your favour during attacks, but you may want to keep that amazing card in hand in order to gain points, influence on planets, or fulfil a mission.
Empire cards, smaller cards with objectives on them, also offer scoring opportunities if you are able to meet the requirements and will bring in a varying number of points.
And then there are the events. As you work your way through the deck, you will discover it has been seeded with event cards that apply to each planet on the board available for habitation. The rule book tells you which cards to choose for your first game, with such adventures and perils as Deep Fungus, Prison Break and Pirate Outpost all on offer. If you’re a more experienced player, you can pick a card for each planet randomly, or make a choice based on the kind of game you want to have.
Which route to take - dart around the board collecting goods and placing control to build up your presence on your board? Go straight on the attack and begin to conquer planets? Play the more subtle and delicate game of seeding influence throughout the worlds and bringing alien allies on board to work with you? It’s all on offer here.
The replay-ability within Empires of the Void II is one of its greatest assets. Each game will be different, whether it's the choices made by the players or the event cards and planets appearing on the board. Empires of the Void works as well with two players as it does with more, as a clever AI system is employed and certain planets are made difficult to conquer by a faction known as the Sarkeen Regency. This brings even two players into a fair amount of contact with each other, without the board ever feeling too tight or crowded.
However, the real beauty of the game comes with more players, as influences and control changes and missions are fulfilled, everyone aiming for prime position before one of the two scoring phases.
With quick turns and very little downtime thanks to the other players having the option to follow the active player in the action chosen, Empires of the Void is a game that keeps player's attention squarely focused on the board, despite the weighty decisions to be made and the possible length of the game. With two players who know the game, it can be played in 90 minutes but with more players, it’s going to hit the two-hour mark. However, it’s two hours of interesting, visually stunning gameplay.
It’s impossible to discuss a Ryan Laukat game without mentioning the artwork. We find his signature style here, with bright planets that pop, a mixture of weird and wonderful characters and delightful touches such as the individual world ships and unique player units.
It’s in the variability that a negative can be mentioned. Some players may find this game has too many moving parts. Set-up certainly isn’t quick, but it can be accelerated with some basic organisation of components ready for the first game.
There are a few niggly features that could turn players off and design decisions that don’t quite hit the mark. We found that little things such as units falling off our world ships (they’re carried on the base, a great touch when it works, but not so much when you’re a clumsy gamer) and tokens getting knocked or shifted can make the gameplay slightly less smooth than it could be. But, to be fair, when you’re having to criticise the amount of replay-ability or the sheer vastness of the game, it can’t be too bad, can it?
Final Thoughts on Empires of the Void II
Empires of the Void sets out on a strong mission; to bring a fun, sandbox style gaming experience within an engaging, bright and attractive universe, topped off with a shed-load of variation and a classy package to boot. Does it achieve this? Absolutely.
The theme is well implemented and the wealth of story and depth of universe building to be found here is quite something. The game stands up well in a category of games that holds other strong contenders, including Xia: Legends of a Drift System and Firefly. If you like your games big, scopey and with plenty of opportunity to chart your own course, then this is one to look at.