Xia: Embers of a Forsaken Star
Some games are masterpieces of interlocking design: change one small thing and the whole construction will collapse. Others welcome tinkering; and Embers tinkers in several important ways with the base game of Xia.
There’s a new Fame Point track, which adds pink Event spaces alongside the existing yellow Title spots. As with Titles, the first time any player reaches such a space, it’s triggered, and an Event enters play. These make a change to the game universe, usually of limited duration: perhaps ships bought at Outlaw planets are now cheaper but give you an immediate bounty; or all spawn points are connected as though by wormholes (until they collapse); or there’s a race to visit as many Mission Points in a turn as possible, with a prize for the winner. This can introduce new ways to gain Fame Points, or just shake up the game.
New exploration tokens completely replace the ones in the base game. Now the possibilities are a cargo cube, an energy refill, extra movement, a “captain in need” who’ll pay to be transported to a particular space, or the dreaded ice damage – more on that later. Once you’ve resolved an exploration token, save it; you turn in pairs for a fame point or 2,000 credits.
One of the biggest problems of base Xia is that it’s too easy to get rich by trading: find a trading pair of planets close to each other, buy lots of cubes where they’re produced, sell them where they’re wanted, and dead-head back again. Now that’s been made slightly harder with the Economy Board: only a limited number, up to six, cubes will ever be available for purchase. When you bring in a planet’s import (e.g. you sell some cubes of Holo at Kemplar II), that allows its economy to run, and it’ll make more of its export (in this case Spice) that you or someone else can buy. If a resource is unavailable, it gets a 1,000 credit bounty placed on it, encouraging everyone to get some trade moving.
Overall this mechanic acts as a throttle on the trade system, encouraging players to do other things rather than having it as the only string to their bow, and making the decisions about what to trade when a little more interesting.
Eleven new sector tiles, added to the 21 in the base game, give you dead worlds (which can be mined for a limited supply of two-space Relic tiles, and you can trade those for fame, money or other benefits), anomalies (which move your ship, generally towards a hazard), and ice asteroids (which move around to obstruct navigation, but offer the chance to quarry the new resource Ember).
There’s also Nyr, a star orbited by its space station The Kiln: this is a neutral port for repairs and upgrades, but also the place where you trade in relics and sell Ember. Nyr is now placed as the first step of setup, before players add their own first tiles, so it’ll always be in play.
Ice damage, shown as blue crystals, can come from several sources including ice asteroids, dead worlds, and exploration tokens. It works like normal damage, but at the end of your turn it spreads into all adjacent spaces. But it is at least free to repair when you reach a port…
There are four new sorts of missions: Cargo requires you to get hold of cargo cubes and then deliver them somewhere, Private Eye asks for observations from a particular spot, Arms Dealer wants weapons deliverered to a particular spot, and Coerce requires you to attack a target, roughing them up but not destroying them.
Perhaps more importantly, whenever you touch a Mission space during your turn, you draw the top three cards, but keep them face down don’t examine them until the end of your turn – when you can choose from all the missions you’ve potentially gained that turn. This helps keep the game moving.
New Outfits and Mods
Mods are one-space enhancements that mostly improve existing items: the GTS boosts an engine, Piercer helps a blaster or missile get through shields, and the Enviro-Shield lets you automatically roll maximum when shielding environmental damage like an ice asteroid or power drain from a nebula. The Mission Computer lets you have multiple active missions. Take care to check the placement rules on all of these.
Meanwhile, the Cargo Pod and Armor Plating outfits get attached at the edge of your ship, taking up one space to give two back. (Cargo Pods can only hold cargo, while Armor Plating can only absorb damage – but if the connection to the cargo pod is ever damaged, the contents are lost.)
You no longer lose a turn when waiting to respawn; you just come back on your next turn. But the higher tier your ship, the more starting damage you’ll have to add to it.
Embers comes with components and a rulebook to support solo play. The NPC ships (Merchant, Enforcer and Scoundrel) are in play, but they now have behaviour cards to vary their actions and will earn their own fame points (either by doing their own thing or by interfering with you). You’re in a race to earn fame faster than tnem. There’s also a campaign mode, in which each game has a specific goal with rules tweaks to support it. Obviously this can’t replicate the fun of a truly multi-player game, and I wouldn’t buy the game purely for solo, but it’s a welcome bonus.
These changes can be made piecemeal, or all together: it won’t break the game if you leave out dead worlds or the new missions. But overall they add little tactical complexity (you’ll still have about as many options at any specific moment during play), while providing strategic depth (there are new ways to make money and fame).
One thing to watch out for: some rules and parts of rules are amended from the base game, and others aren’t. There’s a “consolidated rulebook” on BoardGameGeek which gives all the rules that apply to the expanded game, and none of the others, which is much easier to work with than flipping between the two official sets of rules.