I love everything about this expansion. I wonder sometimes if it’s maybe just a little bit too much for mere mortals, but we are so engrossed by it at my house that we don’t have time to really think that point all the way through.
We replayed the “Extra Large 2-player” scenario because I really did not feel like I’d gotten what I wanted from the exploration sequence last time. (My initial fleet got eaten by a Doomsday Machine before I could do anything with it.) We kept the amount of rules at the level of just the base set with the first half of the expansion. (It’s not quite time to move on to ground combat, nebula mining, and unique ships.)
But I did it. I kept my three scouts alive, bought the following items in the opening:
This turned out to be the perfect exploration fleet. With nine ships it was enough to get a fleet size bonus in combat against the alien worlds’ defenders. Also, with three exploration cruisers it could find stuff quickly. Being able to check out three neighboring deep space hexes at once was epic. I tried sending a second fleet out on the opposite side of the board with just one exploration cruiser, but it was so slow I gave up on it after the second hex.
Attacking those alien worlds allowed my fleet to gain valuable experience. My scouts and exploration cruisers became veterans, gaining a +1 bonus when attacking skilled vessels. My battle cruisers? They made it to elite status… which cut their considerable maintenance cost in half in addition to providing them with +1 to-hit less experienced vessels and a -1 to be hit by skilled ships. They could not be targeted by green vessels at all!
Meanwhile, by colonizing four alien worlds, I picked up the following technologies:
Anyone tempted to ignore the smaller ships in the game has yet another reason here to keep them in production late in the game. I had actually committed to a “big ships” strategy, but with breaks like these I had plenty of reason to keep my three dreadnoughts well supplied with a mix of escorts. Lower maintenance cost for light ships and elite units reduces a significant amount of economic drag from keeping a large fleet in operation. But heavy cruisers that cost the same as destroyers but which fight like battlecruisers…? That’s a game changer!
Fighting is its own reward in this game. The combination of crew experience and alien technology serve to make every single counter stack it’s own unique thing. That’s without breaking out the rules were you can design your own units– in a game where every ship type already has its own unique character which can be altered by having multiple combinations of technology in play for it at once on a counter by counter basis.
Exploring is awesome. Fighting is awesome. Developing your fleet is awesome. But again… is the fully tricked out game too much?
I’m watching my son play on the other side of the board. You’re talking four and five hour games here and not only do I not have to twist his arm to get him to play, he’ll even ask to play twice in one weekend. Where are his hangups right now…? Last game he let his massive carrier fleet just sit around for several turns. They had so much maintenance cost, when I slipped some raiders past his front lines, he only had enough money to buy one scanner equipped destroyer to do anything about it. And he was too slow to actually be able to counter it!
After seeing what I could do with a stack of six destroyers two games in a row, my son decided to go all-in with a destroyer strategy. He scrapped his scouts to save maintenance costs. He built massive numbers of ship yards. But he had two big misconceptions that ruined his game. One, he didn’t realize that shipyard tech could increase his production capacity without him having to buy more shipyards. Two, he didn’t realize that destroyers could only carry Attack-1 and Defense-1. (He’d bought Attack-3 and Defense-3 in the hopes of creating the most awesome destroyer units ever seen!)
Rules misconceptions aside… my son just gets distracted by the economy and the fleet design aspects of the game without really understanding how to go throw a punch at a competing space empire. He doesn’t understand that the thing that made my destroyer fleets so effective was their ability to be in the right place at the right time. He doesn’t understand that he has to seize the initiative. He doesn’t understand that you have to take risks… and that these fleets have to be put to work before they’re ready.
Fortunately the game is easily balanced between players of differing skill levels. I didn’t use my empire advantage this time– mostly because I got accused of winning the last one due to a lucky card draw. I could easily have let my son play two or three of them and still had fair chance of winning, though. And he sure was shocked when he found out what the ability was that I didn’t use this time…!