Last July I profiled Space Base, a great gateway game which really should have gotten more attention. It seems to have done well enough that AEG Games quickly greenlighted an expansion, The Emergence of Shy Pluto, which arrived in stores last week.
Now stay with me here: if Space Base were Terraforming Mars then The Emergence of Shy Pluto would be Prelude.
In other words: the new expansion for Space Base helps gives players ways to boost more quickly toward victory using a variety of mechanisms which I will divulge later in this article.
Why the coyness? Because designer John D. Clair decided to roll out these mechanisms in a non-legacy campaign style where you unlock new stuff bit by bit. So for now I’ll confine myself to non-spoilery commentary and then, after what I hope is a blatant spoiler warning, I’ll continue with specific analysis.
Here is what I found when I opened the box:
What can we deduce from these contents, Watson? The first seven pages of the rulebook told me nothing I didn’t know already, basically laying out guidelines for handling the Story Cards and Discovery Cards. The surest inference was that the Discovery Card deck contained a whole bunch of new ships, which is a Good Thing because the base game’s design space still had plenty of uncharted territory. The first thing that sprang to mind with the clear dice was “sixth, seventh player expansion”–but there were no extra player-boards and there was no way they could fit into those Mystery Boxes…or could they? What if they were printed on cloth? Hm? Naaah, probably not. Maybe players would be able to roll four (or six) dice and choose which ones they wanted to use? Or could there be dice-drafting?
As for the Mystery Boxes, I felt sure there were new types of piece inside, maybe wrapped up so they wouldn’t rattle (darn you AEG).
Having extracted all we could from the contents, my group cracked open the Story Cards and started the first game. We played through the campaign over two sessions and five games to unlock everything. The first couple of unlocks were luck-dependent, which was a little frustrating, but we managed to contain our impulse to cheat around it. In the BGG forums, Clair has gone on record as saying it’s fine to just rip everything open and read everything at once if that’s the way you want to go, but I would say that would be a bit too much to digest all at once, actually, but ymmv.
The Emergence of Shy Pluto is definitely a boon for players who have plumbed the depths of the base game and are looking to switch things up. New players should hold off for a few games before adding it in.
And now…unless you’re the kind who peeks at the last page before finishing the book…
SPOILER ALERT! Attention: révélations! Achtung! Die Spoiler!
Okay, is it just us now? Cool.
There are five batches of new stuff in Shy Pluto. The first three add ship cards with new powers; the last two introduce new dice and token mechanics as well as new ships which riff off of them and are more of a departure.
The new ships of batches #1 and #3 are the sort of thing that Space Base veterans will welcome as adding neat little tweaks to existing powers:
Batch #2 introduces ships which let you take an extra turn where no one else gets to leech off your dice. This is where the clear dice come in: you roll them instead of the blue dice. But since the clear dice are identical to the blue dice, I don’t see why they’re needed at all. Players could simply roll the regular dice a second time. I don’t get it. Even the icon for the action shows solid-coloured dice, not clear ones. Seems like they could have foregone the clear dice and lowered the price point–but maybe they have something in mind for a future expansion.
Batch #4 introduces The World Eater–a nasty looking living planetoid–who comes with six little pink dice and a big eeeeevil-looking black die. There are also some circular Patrol Ship tokens, and everyone starts with two.
Now on your turn you have to roll the black die. If World Eater comes up (two times out of six) then before anyone gets any rewards you have to roll the pink dice, each of which has five blank sides and a sixth side with something on it. Spend a patrol ship and you gain whatever comes up on the pink dice; don’t spend a patrol ship and you lose whatever comes up. If at least one person spends a ship token, the World Eater takes one damage; if you land thirteen blows the beast dies and you don’t have to deal with it again for that game.Naturally, there are also new ships which generate new patrol ships–and if you don’t buy any, prepare to suffer.
We all wondered whether this World Eater thingy was going to come back from the dead next game, and whether this represented a permanent change in the game, adding a veneer of semi-cooperation, and did we like the idea or not. It certainly made the game longer, as you might imagine–it’s three steps up two steps back until you start to produce ship tokens, which it’s not too hard to do, but does it make the game better? We decided to reserve judgment until after unlocking everything.
The next module, however, turned out to be the last one. To our relief, the World Eater’s death turned out to be permanent. No more Sisyphean boulder-pushing. Instead, the second Mystery Box contained a dice bag, a whole bunch of little red dice, and a new tile which turned out to be a dice “market”. Instead of using ship tokens to defend, you now could spend them on your turn to buy the little dice, which become your personal property–you roll them on your opponents’ turns and with two or three players you roll them on your turn, too. The pink dice became the starting dice in the market, and as they’re bought they’re replaced with the red ones, the unbought ones sliding over and becoming cheaper. The more you buy the more likely you’ll get at least something every turn.
These dice, too, are blank on five faces and have a reward on the sixth, and some of them are mighty sweet–4 points! 6 gold! 3 income! They definitely speed up the game and add another path to victory, but all the dice-chucking definitely makes things feel more luck-dependent, and it’s a bit hard to watch someone win when you’ve worked hard to make a good engine only to find some lucky bastard rack up four points every turn.
There is no question but that Shy Pluto does what an expansion should: add more variety and strategic choices while not straying too far from what makes the base game enjoyable. The choice of a campaign format makes sense in terms of making it easier to learn the powers of the new ships and mechanics. Far from being a bandwagon-jumping move, it reminds me of the Programmed Instruction format of old Avalon Hill games, with a storyline attached.
That storyline, mind you, is pretty thin–although the illustrations in the new rule booklet and World Eater card are pretty darned cute. For some reason it doesn’t bother me, though–probably because the theme is pretty pasted-on anyway, and is not intrusive either graphically or in gameplay.
Would I play with the expansion every time? I’m not sure. Definitely not with people playing for the first time. I know I would like play with the World Eater module once in a while because it changes the dynamics, as frustrating as that could sometimes feel. I’m curious what those of you out there who’ve played it feel. Let us know!