Tiny Epic Galaxies – Beyond the Black: Preview

In this very special preview, Fairway takes TIGR to another galaxy and as he explores the new expansion to Scott Almes’s Tiny Epic Galaxy, Beyond the Black.  See if Fairway is able to hire a trustworthy pilot to return him safely while he boldly goes… exploring.

Hey? Where are we? Cool!

Well, intrepid explorers, there’s no turning back. In the first expansion of the Tiny Epic Galaxies game, Scott Almes adds two new game play mechanics to the already fantastic universe: press your luck exploration of unexplored space and customized ships with unique pilots.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. This is just what an expansion should be. It does not dramatically impact the fundamental game, but provides new avenues to both resources and paths to victory.
  2. Upgrading your available ships with a pilot is great addition to the game which allows for more strategic rocket placement decisions
  3. Press your luck exploration is an alluring alternative for risk tolerant players looking to achieve success through culture and risk-taking.

Game Play ^

The core game with the Beyond the Black plays almost exactly the same. I won’t rehash all of the standard rules, but instead, focus on what’s new.

New Components. ^

Beyond the Black comes equipped for up to five players. There are new player-specific components: four new rocket models and a hangar.  The rockets represent the newly available ship upgrades. The hanger is used to keep track of them and any hired pilots. As players higher pilots (discussed below), they will add the pilot card to their hanger in one of the four slots and then one of the games’ standard ships with an upgraded ship.

These pilots are represented in a deck of thirty pilot cards. Each pilot card contains special abilities that let players upgrade their ships when they’re hired. During a turn, players can use the new “higher pilot” option to spend their die rolls to pick up an upgraded ship (discussed below).

The game also adds new  “secret missions” and the “planet” decks.  The secret missions now include rewards for hiring pilots and conducting exploration.  On the planet front, most significantly, some of the new planets let you pick up either culture or energy.

The expansion finally includes a new “exploration deck” and large format “exploration mat.”  The exploration mat acts like another like planets in the standard game: players land ships on it, collect culture (yay!) and perform the new “explore” action.  The circular exploration deck contains the fruits (both good and bad) of the new exploration action.

Changes to the game play ^

Fundamentally, this expansion adds two new actions:

  1. Hire Pilots
  2. Explore Unknown Space

Hiring Pilots.  In game, available pilots are set out in an face up row. On a player’s turn, now, they can allocate their dice so as to higher one of those available pilots. Which symbols (and how many dice) are required to hire a pilot depends on two things: which ship you are trying to hire for and whether a particular pilot is trained for that ship.

Whether a pilot can fly a particular ship is determined by the pilot’s card. Each pilot card indicates the ships he or she can pilot on the left hand side.

Each hanger shows you the necessary symbols to hire a pilot for that ship.  For example, a pilot trained for a ship in the first hangar will require either two economy or two diplomacy, whereas a pilot trained for a ship in the second hangar will require either two energy or two culture.  However, you can also use any three matching values to hire a pilot for any of your available hangers.

Once a pilot is hired, those dice are used, the pilot is placed in the correct hangar, and the corresponding advanced ship replaces the standard ship. The pilot’s special ability is then always active for that ship only.  Also note that other players can still follow the individually selected dice, like normal, even if the person assigns them to use for the higher pilot action.

A hired pilots also score one victory point at the end of the game.

Exploring space.  The other major change is that players can explore “unexplored space” by landing their ship on the exploration mat.  Like landing on a planet, a ship is moved here using a Move Ship action. Any number of ships can occupy  Special note for those having trouble with culture in the standard version, ships on the Exploration mat will earn culture too.

To explore, players reveal cards from the exploration deck.  The exploration deck contains two different types of cards: green positive effect and red negative effect cards.  During exploration players have two choices:

  1. Reveal a new exploration card.  If the revealed card is a green card, the player can take it (ending exploration for that turn) or reveal another until three cards are face up. But if the revealed card is a red card, the player must take that card, which also ends exploration for that turn.
  2. Take the face up most recently revealed.

Players will always take a some exploration card back to their hangar. When they do so, the effects on the card are immediately resolved.  For some of the red negative cards, your ship may also be “trapped” until you’re able to remove them.

Finally, each of the exploration cards also includes one or more exploration badges. There are four different types of badges. These do not earn points by themselves. However, players will score points for gathering the most (two points) and second most (one point) of a particular symbol. This means there is up to 12 points available for the explorer types.

On the green ^

Beyond the Black is everything you’d expect in a great expansion: it adds some neat options to the game without disrupting the game play of an already great game.

Pilots.  The variety of pilots is great. They’re well-illustrated and show a good amount of diversity in both their characters and their abilities. The fact that these provide benefits makes the decisions about which ship to use when slightly less mechanical–it now makes a difference. The addition of upgraded ships and pilots is probably the single best change in the game.

Scoring opportunities.  Beyond the Black adds a few additional paths to victory. In our plays, it’s not clear that you can just pursue an exploration-to-victory. You do need the planets, and you do need to balance your curiosity against the pragmatic object of still building your galaxy.  There is definitely an early allure to allocating your own ship to go exploring. All of this is good–the expansion adds to the game without breaking it.

Culture is more prevalent.  There was definitely an effort to make culture more common. Culture is used whenever players want to “follow” another player’s actions. In the standard game, culture can sometimes be hard to come by. This expansion adds more culture-generating options, including via the exploration mat.

Where it comes up short ^

Four negative effects require that ships escape by completing planet-like tracks that require either economy or diplomacy to escape.

Even though I like this expansion a lot, I do have some concerns with exploration. Thematically, the press-your-luck exploration makes good sense–it brings a sense of danger and uncertainty to the game. In this sense, it does vary the predictability of the results of the base game: you always know what you’re getting into when you take an action or activate your dice.  But, for me, the rewards of exploration didn’t outweigh the potential risks. About a third of the cards are red negative effects. Clusters of reds together will all but guarantee players don’t explore.

During our game plays, exploration was treated as a once-bitten-twice-shy situation. Players were willing to explore until it did them harm. Thereafter, they were more willing to let other players give it a go and follow only when someone blazed the trail first. It also meant few people pressed on beyond the first green circle. I think this may reduce its use as players become more seasoned. This is very much unlike how useful the advanced ships are, which seem to be worth the investment.

In the hole ^

Fans of Tiny Epic Galaxies are going to eat this up. It’s a terrific and thematic expansion to an already terrific game. Beyond the Black does exactly what you want from an expansion: it adds to the game without taking away from it. The expansion’s new game play doesn’t impose itself on players at all, but offers alluring new options. I believe the expansion find a good balance for fans of the original game while offering something for those willing to try something a bit different.

Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black is in the hole for a Birdie. ^

Bonus pic:

Bonus shot of the absolutely fantastic dice from the original game. I had to include it. They’re just so great.

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