Beyond the Black (eye)
I have been on occasion made familiar with the phrase “good things come to those who wait”. It’s one of those things that your parents teach you when you’re overly eager to stuff your face or go and play games or something. And admittedly, there is some truth in it. Sometimes anyway. There is nothing worse than waiting a really long time for something and finding it a huge disappointment.
Like Marriage… (if my wife ends up reading this, I totally don’t mean it. I don’t want to sleep in the bath again).
The reason I bring it up now, is the subject of my review today: Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black.
Before I get too much in to Beyond the Black, I guess I’d better explain the opening comment. I’m sure you’ve all been there: picture the scene… you play a fantastic, nay potentially life changing game (maybe that’s a little overkill, but allow me some artistic license) and are seldom able to get it to the table. It’s like having a beautiful car and leaving it in the garage. Then, an upgrade comes along! Success! Now, you have a reason to get the car out, or the game to the table again, because you know, it has to be played to be reviewed and shared with the world right?
Tiny Epic Galaxies is a fantastic game that I would love to play more but for such a tiny game, it can run a little long. I thought that when Beyond the Black graced my doorstep that I could coerce my gaming buddies and my wife (the best gaming buddy ever, still not sleeping in the bath) to have a go with me. So, I tried to get some training in before tackling what looked to be a tiny, but epic expansion. I should have known better. 6 aborted games later, I finally; FINALLY got to have a go.
It’s Tiny and Epic… and too long for this review
For those of you that are unfamiliar with Tiny Epic Galaxies, it is the best and potentially most simple colonisation game that I have ever played. Throw in some worker placement elements and some random luck elements from having dice and you’re in for a treat. I’d love to do a full review, but it has been out for some time, so I’ll need to send you off to go and find another review, like here perhaps. Promise to come back when you’re done though? Thanks.
So, if the base game is so epic, then what exactly does Beyond the Black bring to the table?
They shoot, we score!
Good question! Glad you asked. The biggest (OK, it’s still tiny) thing in Beyond the Black which has enhanced the game 500% is… a scoreboard. Yep, that’s it. First and foremost, one of the most annoying things about Tiny Epic Galaxies is that you had to shout your score at your friends whenever your scored more points. It’s a fantastic opportunity to annoy them if you’re so inclined (and I so am) but still, it feels a little bit clunky while you’re playing. So, when Gamelyn Games and Scott Almes (that man really gets about!) decided to release Beyond the Black, they included some tiny tokens and a scoreboard. I, for one and so grateful they did though.
They were also gracious enough to include 12 new planets to colonise or milk for bonuses, and 8 new secret mission cards to bolster the already epic base game. However, that’s the tip of the iceberg as far as shiny new stuff is concerned.
Star Trekkin’ across the Universe
Each player will get a new board which for all intents and purposes is a hangar for the new ships that they have included in Beyond the Black. Now, the ships themselves don’t really make a huge amount of difference to your game, even though they are pleasing to the eye and break the monotony of the “old” ships; but what does make the biggest difference in the game are the pilots which fly them.
Beyond the Black comes with 30 (yes 30!) pilots for you to destroy your friends with.
On your turn, you can use a pair of dice to employ a pilot to fly a certain ship for you. Most pilots can only fly one or 2 different types of ship, but some select ones can fly all of them. Once they have been employed, you need to swap out your normal ship for one of the new fancy ones. And one which clearly definitely wasn’t modelled on the Starship Enterprise. This is a visual reminder to use on of the crazily powerful bonuses which each pilot has.
I chose some at random on the assumption that you already know how to play Tiny Epic Galaxies, but here they are:
The Overseer can use either diplomacy or economics to progress along the colony track. The Maestro can produce either energy or culture when they’re in your home galaxy. The Peace Keeper is truly adept at disturbing the peace because no other player may pass their ship on the colony track of a planet. Those are the pretty selfish ones. The Leech can steal one culture from each player on specific planet when they land there which I think could cause a few issues on its own.
But the pilots are not the only fantastic additions which have been brought on by Beyond the Black, now you can also explore “Unexplored Space”… which sounds a little bit odd now I come to think of it. If you’re exploring it, then surely it’s now explored space? Come on Beyond the Black, I’m not meant to be thinking philosophically about this, but if space is explored and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a noise?
Exploring unexplored space (I’m not going to give in this time) is a tremendously interesting “push your luck” mechanic that has been added to Beyond the Black. The unexplored space space (that set my grammar senses crazy) is another worker placement spot you can send your ship or piloted ship to, and consists of a pile of round cards. You can draw up to 3, and some are good and some are bad. You can draw a card and keep it, or you can keep going and hope for the best leaving up to 3 cards face up next to the worker placement spot. These can net you some pretty helpful bonuses though like additional energy and culture, or straight up victory points, but these are only the good ones. If you draw a dangerous one, then you can’t do any more searching and you’re at the whim of that section of space. You can end up losing resources and some you even have to colonise to get rid of, and that’s going to eat up your turns pretty quickly.
Exploring space, and also some pilots have these symbols on them. These are another way to score points in the end game as the player which has the most of each symbols gets another 2 VP. In a particularly close game, there’s the potential for these to steal you the win.
Beyond the Blurb
So that is the basics of what Beyond the Black adds to Tiny Epic Galaxies…. In a nutshell, a whole lot. But the eternal question is: is it worth it?
I have been a lover of Tiny Epic Galaxies for a long time. It was the first worker placement type game I ever bought myself and it’s one that I still thoroughly enjoy playing to this day; even given the multitude of games that I now own.
Beyond the Black is not so much a breath of fresh air for TEG as it is an arctic blast of potentially world ending proportions. Like I may have hinted at already, TEG is a fantastic (and I’m talking 9.5 out of 10 fantastic) game already but Beyond the Black actually brings something extra to that already fantastic game.
Obviously, the extra planets and the extra secret missions would have been good from an expansion point of view; more stuff is always great to shake up a game a little. But, with the addition of the pilots and the unexplored space it makes it another beast entirely.
The biggest thing that Beyond the Black adds to TEG is Options. You now have a lot of ways to potentially win. Instead of going off and colonizing the galaxy, you could net your bonuses from exploring deep space. Worried that your gaming buddies are going to out colonise you? Fine, employ the saboteur as a pilot and send them back a few steps. Beyond the Black just makes it feel that you’re not quite as penned in as you sometimes could get with its forbearer.
It’s going long
So, are there any downsides to Beyond the Black? Well, I have not come across the perfect game yet. I’m working on it, and I’m playing games like a madman looking for it, but it’s not there yet. That being said, the only downside that I have, will not be a problem for some. TEG could already play a little bit long. It’s a full 60 minutes plus considering it comes in a small box. Beyond the Black can easily double that though. Luckily, with the fact that you can still follow the actions of your fellow gamers, there’s not a whole lot of downtime and once you’re in the flow you can usually bash through your turns in quite short order.
The final frontier?
As to my final thoughts about Beyond the Black, I think it is a cracking expansion to what was already a shockingly good game. I played it with someone who had not played TEG properly before and they said that they could not play it without again. It would feel like a step backwards and that the game would feel lacking without it. I have to agree to a point. Beyond the Black will be a Marmite for the people I play with. If I’m playing with my gaming buddies, who play meaty games and enjoy them, then Beyond the Black is a no-brainer. If I’m playing with my wife though, or someone less au fait with more meaty games then it would definitely stay in the box.
I suppose that all in all the proof is in the pudding though, and while I have been sat here writing about how good I think Beyond the Black actually is, I’ve been getting progressively more excited about playing it again. Right! Best start texting my gaming buddies!
The only worry I have about Beyond the Black is definitely a personal one; that I may not be able to get it to the table as often as I’d like, but considering how sweet it is to get TEG to the table on the occasions it happens then Beyond the Black is going to have to be as eagerly anticipated.
Marks out of 10 then? Tiny Epic Galaxies didn’t really need much improving. It was a fantastic game already, but Beyond the Black has smashed it out of the park and made a fantastic game even better. As an expansion, I’d give it a 9 out of 10, but given how well it integrates with the base game I’d have to give it a well earned, enterprise stealing, space exploring….. 9.8 out of 10. That’s my highest rating to date.
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.