This is had been an unplayed expansion on my shelf for far too long. My gut feeling had been that it was that it would be just too much to throw at people without having played more of the base game first. I think that’s wrong now. The stuff that is added in the first half of these expansion rules really doesn’t slow things down at all. We intentionally went for a monster game and it still didn’t last too much longer than the expected four hours.
Here’s my take on the expansion bits based on the actual play:
New Homeworlds and More Money — It seems like you’re rolling in to dough, but you can never have enough of it. The main thing is it opens up more technologies sooner and it seems to shorten the initial economy development phase somewhat.
Ship Experience and Military Academies — This rule is golden. It creates an incentive for combat just for the sake of combat. Your counter stacks…? They can get the equivalent of another level of Attack Technology just for having painted some kill markers on the side of the vessels. It’s crazy, but this rule makes you care about every die roll in the combat sequence in a visceral way. Epic. Wouldn’t want to play Space Empires 4X without this rule ever!
Alien Technology Cards — These are a nice incentive to colonize deep space, but by the time you’re in total war mode you’re not liable to care about these unless they just so happen to be a perfect fit for your situation.
Empire Advantages — These really shake up the game. Every empire is now different. This adds a real layer of mystery to the game as you’ll see your opponent doing things that just don’t make sense. This creates strategies like that surrounding the cracking of the enigma code– you intentionally hold back on using your full abilities in order to maximize the strategic effect when they’re finally revealed. The secret method cannot be balanced… but it is just plain awesome from a gameplay standpoint.
We did not get to use boarding ships, titans, reaction movement, or fast battlecruisers, so there is still a lot more to do with this particular combination of rules. (My heart is set on playing with transports and infantry… but that might have to wait. We are not yet tempted by either research centers or unique ships, but that day may yet dawn!)
Our game opened up with my son burning through scouts to explore deep space. He uncovered two alien planets out there and set about getting ready to colonize them. I set up merchant pipelines in my home system, gaining an extra nine points of income each turn and providing a “road” to get fleets from my homeworld out quicker. When I sent an exploration cruiser into deep space, it uncovered a Doomsday Machine which ate both it and the new miner unit I’d sent out with him. Doh!
Temporarily disgusted with the exploration segment of the game, I committed my stack of six destroyers to attacking my son’s home systems. Deep space consumed my two scouts, so I had to build a stack of exploration cruisers to get over that last unexplored hex. We arrived in his space and we confidently attacked one of my son’s fleets. He had four raiders! And boy, let me tell you his dice were hot. I was sure six destroyers and three cruisers would blow them away, but he wiped us out with a loss of only one ship.
Nothing was going right for me so far! My son attacked the alien world Gath with a fleet of three fully loaded carriers. Two of his fighter stacks went to Veteran status. The Doomsday Machine had followed my fleet into his sector and attacked this fleet again, causing another fighter stack to go to Veteran. I looked completely outmatched here!
I moved a followup stack of six destroyers into my son’s home systems. The now battle-hardened Raider fleet attacked it… but my six destroyers revealed that they had a cloaking device! Yeah, I had just uselessly burned through two production turns worth of units to no effect and blooded my son’s forces… but everything suddenly looked different.
I wasn’t sure what to build at this point. I decided to make destroyers with scanners and scouts with point defense. This was to counter what my son had specifically revealed, but I don’t think I had enough materiel to defeat him in battle. My plan was to fight some, but mostly burn down colonies and then wage a war of attrition.
My stack of six destroyers moved in to attack an unguarded system. We only scored one measly hit against it! We continued to move into his home system space when his raider showed up to defend the planet from bombardment. The next planet we went after was a complete blowout, though! Six cloaked destroyers can do a lot of property damage if left unchecked.
My son now had to buy both ship size and scanner technology in order to counter my attack. This didn’t leave a lot of money for new ships. Also… my destroyers were now past my son’s main battle fleets. What to do!?
Well, my destroyers went in and took out another colony. I then moved towards another set of three unguarded planets thinking I could have my pick. Then I realized… with my movement technology level, I could actually jump to my son’s home system on the final turn of the round. My son wasn’t expecting that! The destroyers blew up the four ship yards there with a loss of two units. They then bombarded the planet… scoring four hits out of four.
This was check mate. It was late during the last hour or so of the game, and I’d asked a couple of times if we should put off finishing it the next day. The action was so intense, that was just plain out of the question.
Oh, and I found out what my son’s empire advantage was at the end: he could update a ship stack’s technology by simply stopping them for a turn. If he had used that offensively I think he could hurt me pretty bad. As it stands, scouts, destroyers, and cruisers that can cloak in addition to their usual abilities is insanely powerful. Especially when you don’t know it’s coming!