In the future the earth is in turmoil, nuclear war, civil unrest, climate change and ever decreasing resources force humanity to look outwards towards the stars. Now with the advent of hyper spacecraft travel we can colonise the galaxy and try to get humanity back from the brink of defeat. This is the story set up for Beyond The Sun from Rio Grande Games and the beginning of the rule book reads like an excellent Sci-Fi novel.
So does this game bring all the excitement of space travel into the unknown or is it like a spreadsheet in a physics lesson? Read on to find out.
Prepare For Lift Off
Before I go into the review properly, I would like to point out how brilliant the rule book is. From the basic premise of the game, to the flow of gameplay, set up, scoring and rule / card clarifications, the rule book provides everything you need to understand and play this game.
The actual set up of Beyond The Sun takes a while with all of the components needing to be placed on the player mats in the correct locations and orientation, all of the event cards need to be sorted and placed and the technology cards need to be organised. It does take a while to set up and can seem like a daunting task. Luckily the game includes an additional set up sheet with step by step (scarily 21 steps) instructions for getting the game ready.
A Dry Euro
On first glance you would be forgiven for thinking this is a heavy ‘euro’ style game with the theme tagged on and in some ways you would be correct but in many others you couldn’t be more wrong. Yes it is a ‘euro’ with its worker placement mechanisms and yes it does look a little boring before you start to play. However, combined with the worker placement mechanism is a wonderful tech tree and an exploration board, and the look makes more and more sense as you play the game.
All players in Beyond The Sun have only one worker and on your turn you place that worker on a new space. You then activate whatever that action is, then collect resources, check if you have reached any of the requirements for the achievements and then it is the next players turn. The game continues like this until four achievements have been claimed (in total by any players, for a two player game the requirement is three achievements) when one further round will be played before final scoring.
Turns are quick, I haven’t experienced any players having analysis paralysis whilst playing this game and I think that is because each turn you not only take an action but you also collect your precious resources. This is a clever trick that I wish more games would use as it means you don’t feel like you are wasting a turn collecting them and can instead concentrate on your overall gameplan.
Beyond The Sun has three resources, Supply, Population & Ore. Ore is simple enough to explain and if you choose to collect this resource you receive the amount that is uncovered on your player mat, so at the beginning of the game you would just receive one. Supply and Population are linked. You can only get Population if you have the Supplies available on the columns you have unlocked.
At the beginning of the game you only have column A unlocked so can only take Supplies for Population from there. But you also use the Supplies for your spaceships and you will soon find that you run out of Supply in the early columns very quickly. You unlock more columns by moving the discs from your player mat when you control / colonize planets and by receiving automation bonuses for researching different technologies.
Components Vs Playability
Initially, the Beyond The Sun board will look a little boring and uninspired but that is for good reason. As you research new technologies you will be placing your population cube next to the new technology and that then becomes a space you can use your worker for in a later round. So over the course of the game the board will go from a plain area with little colour to a tech tree with colour everywhere you look. I am glad all of the technology cards are white as it helps your population cubes stand out and you are much less likely to make a mistake in taking an action that you haven’t yet researched.
Special mention to the Dice / Cubes that represent not only your Supply, but also your Population and four levels of spaceship. I also really like the discs that are either Food Production, Ore Production, or Achievements. The player mats are very easy to read and understand and they are dual layered so that all of your components stay nice and still even if you knock the table.
Although the game includes a lot of different actions you can take, they are all variations on a few core concepts which are Research a Technology, Gain Additional Resources, Create Ships, Jump Ships (move them), and Colonise Planets.
Researching a Technology requires you to have researched the previous technology on the path of the tree and then you turn over the event card read it aloud and take any bonuses from it. You then go through that levels cards until you find two technologies that match the previous cards colour (there are four different colours representing Scientific Blue, Economic Green, Military Red and Commercial Yellow). You place that card on the tree in place of the event and place your population cube next to it. You take any immediate bonuses from the card and then in future turns that card may be available as a new option for your worker to be placed.
Creating and Jumping ships takes us over to the Exploration Board and this is where most of the player conflict will occur.
It’s A Fight But Not As We Know It
When a new ship is created it is placed on Sol (unless you have reached and also control the Shipyard System in which case you can place it here if you choose to). Then as you Jump you move your ships around the board and place them around the new planets. If you have the highest military power (the total value of your ships combined) then you control that planet and place either a food or ore disc (from your player mat) onto the planet and take any bonus for doing so. If an opponent ever has more military power than you then you lose control and take back your disc and place it back on your player mat. The other player will then place one of their discs and take the bonus.
Each planet in Beyond The Sun has a colonise level in the bottom left hand corner of the card. You can colonise a planet if you chose that action and your military power (around the planet) is at least the same number. You then convert the ships used to match the colonise level back into supply on your player mat, place any other ships (yours and your opponents) into deep space, and take the planet card and place it in front of you. You now place another food or ore disc onto this planet and finally check to see if there is any one time or continuous bonus for colonising it.
Colonising planets provides a massive score boost and is more often than not linked to several of the game ending achievements. You cannot ignore this action as the point bonuses are significant.
The conflict between players is really well thought out and makes sense thematically that different organisations would want to be in control of the planets to reap the rewards. No actual fighting takes place instead it is an arms race and the player with the smallest military will back away to fight another day.
So how do you score points in Beyond The Sun? The question should be how do you not score points in this game? You will receive points for your researched technologies, colonised planets, achievements, controlled planets, level four technologies provide big scoring opportunities, the automation track (where you place ore / food discs for automation bonuses) on your player mat, sol & deep space score 1 point for the player/s who has the largest military there, and some of the event cards provide scoring opportunities too.
The player with the most points wins the game. In the event of a tie the player with the fewest ore / food discs still on the production track wins, if it is still a tie you check for the highest population cubes, then the most ore crystals. In the unlikely event that players are still tied they share the victory.
Who Is This Game For
The old phrase ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’ has never been more apt than with this game. On first glance, Beyond The Sun looks like a dry boring ‘euro’ game with little charm but as soon as you start playing and the board becomes more and more completed with researched technologies and you have ships flying all over the exploration board you will be entranced with its genius design.
The turns are so quick and you always get stronger options as the game progresses. There are multiple paths to victory and so many ways to score points. Not everyone will like how abruptly the game end conditions can be met but I love it as it keeps you on your toes the whole game and makes you watch the other players to see what achievements they are aiming for.
Beyond The Sun is a little bit of a table hog and it can be very difficult to read all of the cards if you are playing a four player game. Ideally everyone needs to be sitting directly in front of the board to get the most out of the game.
For me this game sits perfectly at the two player count. The game lasts about 45 to 60 minutes and it feels like a real battle of wits as you try to work out what your opponent is going to do next. Very rarely does the worker placement become a problem or block your opponent and that is good because all of the conflict comes from the exploration board. There is something so satisfying about kicking out an opponent from a planet and taking control as you have a larger military presence in that system.
I haven’t even mentioned how much variety there is between games due to the number of different planets and technologies, the different player boards, advanced player boards with unique player powers and so on.
If you like ‘euro’ style games then get this game, if you like tech trees and progressively better turns then get this game, if you like space themed games then get this game, basically I recommend this game to most people that like games. Easily one of my favourite games I have played this year and I have played a lot of great games this year.