Empires of the Void – A Written Review
Empires of the Void by Ryan Laukat – Published by Red Raven Games
“The galaxy is at war. The Pyrious Empire is struggling to maintain power, and a few young alien races see this as a long-awaited opportunity to become the next galactic superpower. Shipyards in every world are ramping up starship production, and arguments and accusations at the galactic council grow more and more heated. The tension across the light years is palpable. Even now, secret alliances are underway and the sentient races are quickly taking sides.”
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Empires of the Void, is a space themed war game of conquest and exploration for 2-4 players played across a large randomized hexagon map encompassing 15 planets for players to ally with or conquer. The game is played over 11 turns with 3 scoring phases (which occur at the beginning of round 5, the beginning of round 9 and after round 11 is finished). Empires of the Void has a very strong combat theme and players will clash with each other repeatedly in an effort to gain control of the planets that are the predominant source of victory points and money in the game.
Technologies will be researched, armadas of intergalactic warships will clash, and planets will be exploited for resources in an effort to become the next galactic superpower. Be wary of your opponents though, if they can ally with (instead of conquering) planets they will gain secret technologies and other bonuses that will decimate your best laid plans!
What’s In The Box
Empires of the Void comes in an 11 ½”x11 ½”x3” box and contains enough cardboard counters to make even the sternest grognard shed a tear of joy. It also ships with one of the most useless cardboard inserts I have ever laid my eyes upon. I have seen more useful inserts in Fantasy Flight games and this is the first insert I have ever given to my 3 year old son (on a positive note, it makes a great Hotwheel parking garage). This game harkens back to the old Avalon Hill days, where you purchased a case of Ziploc bags with your board game collection to separate all the bits, and oh what a lot of bits there are;
- 7 Board Hexagons
- 4 Starting World Tiles
- 6 Dice
- 72 cards (although the box lists 84 which is an error)
- 48 Starfighter Tokens
- 32 Centipede Ships
- 40 Starcruisers
- 12 Diplomatic Ships
- 12 Sunhammer War Ships
- 44 Ally/Enemy Tokens
- 37 Neutral Ships
- 14 Event Tokens
- 8 Infestation Tokens
- 12 Race Specific Planet Tokens
- 63 Victory Point Tokens
- 112 Credit Tokens
- 8 Player Boards representing the 8 races in the game
- 1 Galactic Council Board
- 78 Technology Tokens (19 for each player plus 2 race specific Tech’s)
- 1 Rulebook
There is definitely a generous helping of cardboard in this game and it is available for $60.00 MSRP.
Empires of the Void has so much cardboard in it that it comes with a letter of thanks from the logging industry. Each player starts with 66 identical cardboard tokens in their chosen color depicting space ships, purchasable technologies, and ally/enemy status of conquered planets. The cardboard is thankfully thick but the adhesive used is terrible. When I opened my copy of the game I was greeted with a half dozen tokens that looked like this…
…before they were even punched out. Additionally at least a dozen more tokens are starting to fray/peel back after just shy of a dozen plays and trust me when I say I do not let anyone handle my games with Ogre fingers unless they want to donate to the board game kitty. It’s unfortunate that I actually had to purchase some Elmer’s Wood glue for a board game that cost me $50.00. I am honestly hoping I just received a copy from an unlucky batch, like how Hasbro’s 2nd edition of Betrayal at House on the Hill had a bad early run with warping issues. Either way I hope this is looked into quickly.
The artwork on the tokens is decent but simplistic with all races having ships that look exactly the same and only one race has a unique ship of their own. The neutral ships are also fairly simplistic again nothing inherently terrible but nothing that screams painstakingly crafted artwork either. I might have set myself up for disappointment here though, since I heard the designer of the game was an artist I was expecting artwork with more style and a sense of the fantastic. Overall though the pieces differentiate easily on the game board and are functional.
The game comes with 72 white bordered cards with different sets of images on the back to quickly assist in organizing them into their respective draw piles. The cards themselves have a decent thickness thanks to a good laminate reminiscent of standard playing cards but just a tad thinner. They are standard size and shuffle easily for the most part. The artwork is kept to a minimum only appearing on the 15 neutral planet cards, and it is fairly hit or miss. The artwork has a cartoon style look ranging from “Space Ghost” (the Tan Lock and Ceeth) quality to something more akin to the early ‘80s cartoon “Silver Hawks” (The Weeble and Corra). The text on the cards is very legible thanks to a good choice of font mixed with intelligent background color choices for the most part but I am hesitant to give a thumbs up to the diplomacy cards being color blind friendly. The Diplomacy cards are designed as background color with a lighter version of said background color set as the text color which could be problematic for people with color vision issues.
The game board is made up of 7 none interlocking double sided hexagons (mirror image on both sides though so it appears to be more of an anti-warping or wear and tear foresight decision versus allowing additional planet randomization). All but one tile depicts two planets (the final tile depicts 3 planets and is always the center tile). The Hexagons are made out of a nice thick cardboard and each planet’s statistic bar is easy to read and they duplicate the information listed on the Neutral Planet Cards for ease of reference. These tiles are really well designed, I like the larger size of the tiles which is handy when they start to get crowded with a couple dozen ships from the players jockeying for control of the planets. The artwork does a good job of depicting an intergalactic war front with a slightly cartoonish flair.
The player boards are made from standard cardstock with good full color artwork on them. There is also some fictional writing on the back of each Player Board adding a little bit of theme to the game. The player boards are organized fairly well and are intuitive to use once a player is used to playing the game. The artwork has a cartoonish flair to it but it is done very well and fits the theme of the rest of the game fairly well. While I would have liked to see the player boards made out of the same material as the Galaxy Hexagons, they are functional as is (about the thickness of a greeting card).
The rulebook is 12 pages long, while it does have a few images from the game, it is almost entirely made up of text with a single gameplay example in the combat section of the rules. The rulebook is decent but there are a few rules ambiguities and issues needing clarification as well as 2 extremely minor errata issues. A few of the ambiguities are the fact that a player can actually discard Diplomacy cards without playing them (this is never mentioned in the book for or against and I actually played my first 5 games telling people the rules didn’t state you could discard cards when your hand was full). There are also a few issues where cards and Alien powers produce conflicts with the rules in the rulebook. We eventually house ruled that any card or power discrepancy trumped the rulebook as an exception to the rules (which actually appears to be the designers intent). Overall though for the most part the rules are laid out very well and the rules are pretty simple to understand. There isn’t an index but honestly the bulk of the rules are contained in 5 pages.
The final component is the included 6 dice. They are standard sized dice with the pips engraved into the dice adding to their longevity. Nothing overly fancy but definitely made of good quality materials.
Components And Presentation Verdict: 5.25/10 – The Map Hexagons are well made and the cards seem like they will last a long time, I definitely don’t see a need to sleeve these cards. The rulebook could have used some clarification of the rules though and I am truly dismayed about the quality of the games tokens. Tokens shouldn’t be peeling when I open the box for the first time or after a mere half dozen plays. Oddly enough though not all my tokens are peeling making me wonder if I had 2 bad sheets and the rest will last; only time will tell.
How Does It Play?
Empires of the void is a 4X game that focuses more on the exterminate and explore facet of space empire building games, lets call it a 3X game just to seem trendy. The early rounds of the game will play out with players researching technologies and building their space fleet while they slowly fan out and explore the worlds in the galaxy. Unfortunately like Smallworld the galaxy isn’t big enough for the players to sit on their laurels and the game quickly devolves into a land grab game of military conflict with some minor backstabbing by judicious use of Diplomacy cards. The game only has 3 scoring rounds so it has a seesaw feel as players prepare for the scoring round to approach and then burst out for a quick “land grabs” to score points changing the gameplay from a 4X to more of a Risk style game, but in a good way. By the halfway point of the game players will be at each others throats trying to gain and keep control of the worlds to score points.
But How Do The Components Work?
Diplomacy cards serve a couple different functions in Empires, each player starts with 2 and has a max hand of 3 until they research technologies to increase hand size to 5. The first and possibly most important use in the early stages of the game is to use diplomacy cards to have planets ally with players, but I am getting ahead of myself here. Planets can be in one of three states, neutral (no player controls them), enemy (conquered by a player and only provide money, victory points, and resources), or allied with a single player (planets can only ever ally with one player and alliance grants the allying player money, victory points, resources, a secret technology or bonus, and favor with the Galactic council). All planets in Empires are classified as having one of 5 “temperaments”, ranging from mysterious, to capitalistic, to scholarly, to militaristic, or finally peaceful. While these temperaments don’t have an effect on the game they do determine which Diplomacy cards need to be spent too form an alliance with that planet. To ally with a planet a player must move a Diplomatic ship to a neutral planet and then discard Diplomacy cards matching the temperament of that planets race, the more cards you discard the easier the 3D6 success roll to ally with the planet will be. If you discard only 1 diplomacy card you will need to roll a 17+ on 3D6, discard 2 for a 13+, 3 for an 8+, and finally 4 for a simple 4+ on 3D6. Additionally if you conquer a planet that is in the enemy state with another player, you can discard a Diplomacy card matching that planets Temperament to have it immediately ally with you without making a roll (beyond the original conquest roll(s).) Diplomacy cards also have various effects if they are “spent” ranging from discarding 3 Mysterious cards to make any planet in the game break off its alliance with the player allied with them, to spending two militaristic cards to gain an extra attack action on your turn.
Event cards keep track of how many turns are left in the game and add random effects and events to each round of the game. After the pre-phase purchasing round an Event card is drawn and its effect takes place immediately. Events can be Pirates attacking a world, wormholes opening up, or planets going into rebellion for example. There are 24 Event cards included in the game but only 9 will be randomly selected each game adding to the replay value of the game through a randomizing factor.
The 3 score cards are part of the event deck placed after the 4th, 8th and finally 11th event card in the event deck each game. Scoring rounds take place instead of an event card for that scoring round and always occur during the same rounds of every game. During a scoring round players will get Victory Points for having the highest galactic favor (only gained from allying with planets not conquering them), from planets controlled, and from a couple technologies that can be researched in the game. The majority of the points will usually come from planets controlled though and don’t forget you get 2 VP’s (or 3 if you are new earth) if you still control your starting world.
There are 15 world cards one for each world in the game. The cards list the name of the planets race, the races temperament for diplomacy actions, the resource controlling that planet gives you (resources are needed for researching technologies), any special bonus or technology allying with that planet grants you, how much money you get at the end of each round if you control that planet (the number over the green symbol), how many VP’s the planet grants you during scoring rounds (the number over the purple symbol), and finally how much galactic favor granted if you ally with that planet (the number over the blue symbol). For example “Corra” is a capitalistic race requiring you to spend Capitalistic Diplomacy cards to attempt an alliance, they produce “Artifacts” as a resource, allying with them allows you to be the only player who can build the “Fire Bug” ships, each turn they grant you one extra credit, during a scoring round they are worth 2 VP’s, and finally they grant 2 Galactic Favor to their ally during the scoring event phase.
The enemy and ally tokens (same token just double sided) are used as a reminder to each player who controls a planet and how they are controlling each planet. An enemy taken is placed if you conquered the planet showing you own the planet but they hate you and the ally side shows you befriended the planet through an alliance and they freely share their technologies with you.
The event tokens are used to show locations where event cards have stirred up trouble in the game or where certain changes have occurred such as a player building a space station on a planet.
The Galactic Council board is used as a simple reminder of the round structure and assists in helping players count up Galactic Favor (really unnecessary for anyone who can do very simple addition such as 2+2 is 4 galactic favor).
The game board hexagons show each planet, give a summary of what a player gains when they control a planet (mirrored information from the world cards) and depict the paths between each planet. There are also mines, ancient defenses, and asteroid fields that block paths to worlds until you research the technology that allows you to bypass them.
Each player gets an identical set of ship tokens in their chosen color before the game begins (yes this means no matter what race you pick you will have access to the exact same ships as your opponents unless you ally with neutral planets that grant you access to their ships). At the start of each game players can only build 2 of the 5 ships and must research technology to learn how to build the more powerful ships. A slight clarification there is one race included in the game that does have a 6th ship that only they can use but they are the exception to the rule.
The player boards list each races special abilities at the top of the board and how many credits they earn per round (all but 2 get 4 per round). The bottom half of each races board is identical depicting the ships and statistics of each ship in the game (but unless you ally with a planet you can only build 5 of the 10 ships). The ships are listed with their cost to build, their attack power (number or higher needed on a D6 to score a hit), and movement allowance. Finally all ships are listed in the order of initiative they act during a combat round. The ships furthest right (Sunhammer and Shooting Star) always attack first (barring technologies) and the ships furthest left always attack last in combat (if they survive long enough).
Each player has a home planet they place on their corner of the galaxy during the setup of the game board. The home planet is worth 2 victory points each scoring phase (not each round) to whoever controls them. Oddly enough though if an opponent conquers your home planet you still get credits each round and can still build spaceships their, which seems odd but it prevents a player from being completely eliminated from the game.
Every player has access to the same 19 technologies and has their own set of these 19 technologies (although 2 player races do get a unique 20th technology). Technologies are researched once per turn if a player is willing to spend money on them and they meet the requirements such as prior tech’s and resource production. For instance Sunhammers cannot be built until you discover the technology for Starcruisers which cannot be built until a player researches how to build Centipedes. Some technologies will also grant a player 1 VP if you have researched them prior to a scoring round occurring.
Finally we have the green money and the purple victory point tokens. Money is gained every round and as stated a few times already VPs are gained during scoring rounds but both can also be gained from event cards and from player special abilities.
Rulebook turn Summary.
Setup is fairly quick if you have all the games components separated into baggies.
1: Randomly create the gameboard based on how many players are playing making sure the hexagon with 3 planets is the center hexagon.
2: Shuffle Diplomacy cards and place them and the tokens within easy reach of each player.
3: Create the event deck using 9 randomly selected Event cards and the 3 scoring round cards.
4: Choose the starting player.
5: Starting with the first player each player chooses a race and takes a set of tokens in one of the 4 colors and starting credits (money).
6: Starting with the 1st player each player chooses a corner to place their starting planet.
7: Starting with the 3rd player each player has the option to rotate one of the Galaxy Hexagons next to their home world as long as it has not already been rotated by another player.
8: Each player draws 2 Diplomacy cards.
The game is now ready to begin
Each round is broken down into 4 Phases
Pre-Round Phase – All players simultaneously and in any order
- Build as many ships as they want as long as they have enough credits.
- Research technology – If they meet the requirements to build a technology (resources, prior techs, money). Only 1 technology can be built per round.
Event Phase – An event card is drawn or a scoring round occurs
Action Phase – Each player has 3 actions per turn, players can spend 1 action to perform one of the following
- Move: Players may move one ship up to its allotted movement
- Attack: players may attack a planet or an opponent’s ships.
Combat – When you initiate an attack, indicate the player you are attacking. (Spaces may have ships from multiple players.) All ships on both sides roll an attack in ship initiative order, from right to left on the player board (Sunhammers attack before Starcruisers for example). All ships roll one die and take one hit to destroy unless otherwise noted. For a ship to make a successful hit, you must roll at or above its attack number (the center number next to the ship). Casualties are taken after each initiative level has been rolled. Players choose which of their own ships to remove as casualties. To achieve a “win a battle” result, you must destroy all of an opponent’s ships on one space. If you are successfully win a battle involving a planet, put one of your enemy tokens on the planet and take the planet’s card.
Conquest – To conquer a neutral planet a player merely needs to score one combat success. Place an enemy token on the planet. If it was allied with another player place your enemy token on top of the ally token and take the planet card from the other player. If they manage to liberate the planet through conquest they take the card back and keep ally status.
- Culture: Draw one card from the Diplomacy deck up to your hand limit. Also not stated in the rules, you can still draw a card if you are at your hand limit and then choose to discard any card in your hand back down to your hand limit.
- Mine: Draw 1 credit (this is the only action which can only be performed once per turn).
- Diplomacy: Move a Diplomat ship to a neutral planet and then attempt a Diplomacy roll on 3D6 with a target number based on how many diplomacy cards you discard matching that planets temperament. If you succeed discard those cards, place an ally token on the planet, and then take the planets world card. If you fail the roll keep the Diplomacy cards and nothing happens.
End Of Turn Phase – Each player gains credits equal to their starting races credits plus any credits gained from planets controlled. Then the player 1 marker is handed to player 2 who becomes the new player 1 for the next turn.
Technologies can modify these rules somewhat , but generally play proceeds in this fashion, with scoring happening 3 times during the game. After the 3rd scoring round the game immediately ends and the player with the most VP’s is declared the winner.
A sample game might look something like this:
It’s the very first turn of the game and player A is playing the Pirate of Cidran. During the Pre-Phase they spend 1 credit to learn the technology “Centipede” which allows them to build these 5 attack and 2 movement basic spaceships. With the remaining 3 credits they purchase a Diplomat ending their pre-phase. All the other players end their turns and an Event Card is drawn producing “Derelict Ship at Weeble”, the first player who moves to Weeble and performs 1 successful attack will gain 3 credits.
It is now Player A’s turn they have 2 Capitalistic Diplomacy cards in their hand from a lucky pregame draw and are 2 spaces away from “Tan Fu” a capitalistic world that produces a resource, grants allies +1 move action per turn (on top of their 3 actions each turn), and provides 1 credit 1 Galactic Council point and 2 VP’s during the scoring Event. Player A moves their Diplomat ship to “Tan Fu” and announces an alliance attempt showing they have 2 Capitalistic cards they will attempt the roll with. Player A rolls 3D6 needing a 13+ and gets a 7 failing the diplomacy but keeping the 2 cards. Player A has spent 2 actions already, 1 to move to the planet and a 2nd to attempt Diplomacy, but they still have 1 Action Point left. Player announces they will attempt Diplomacy again using the same 2 cards this time scoring a 15 on 3D6! Player A places an ally token on “Tan Fu’ and then adds the world card to their side of the table. Player A now has an extra Move Action to spend and decides to move their Diplomat ship to “Beta Com” and ends their turn.
Simplicity Of The Rules: 7.0/10 – The rules for the game are about as complex as Risk or Dust! with a few added rules. The only problem is there are some ambiguities and omitted rules in the rulebook that will create confusion. I am sure the eventual reprint will see to remedying these issues but for those who have the first print run it might prove slightly frustrating. There is an updated FAQ that can be downloaded but it is not included in the purchased game.
Daddy Why’s This Guy Got A Sword In His Belly?
As a father of 2 future board gamers, a large concern of mine is how secure am I in letting my eldest son play and or rummage through a game box. Granted, BGG and board games themselves very clearly tell you a minimum age, they don’t tell you exactly why that minimum age was chosen. My hope is to arbitrarily tell you why I think this age range was chosen for this game and then hopefully give a few ideas I might have for a game to make it easier on the young ones. Finally I will close with what seems to be the “sweet spot” for number of players and if the game has solo rules I’ll comment on those too.
Empires of the Void lists as a game for 2-4 players ages 12 and up. The artwork has a very strong cartoon style to it which helps keep the visuals to a PG rating. If you are ok with your children watching Saturday morning cartoons they will be perfectly fine looking at the games images. The rules are not terribly complex; the main action basically allows each player to pick 3 out of 5 actions each turn. The game does require strategy though such as decisions about technologies (and when you need to just dump funds into the war effort), which planets to ally with, which planets to keep out of your opponents hands (if a player allies with the “Tan Lock” in the early game they will dominate the war front with the Black Hole Ships), and how to best capitalize on scoring rounds. If your child is comfortable with games like Risk, they could probably be graduated to Empires of the Void without too much difficulty. 8-9 seems like a perfect age to introduce them to Empires of the Void, as long as they are comfortable with aggressive games.
Family Friendliness Verdict: 8.0/10 – Empires is a fun, lighter, 4X style game that emphasizes aggressive play but can still be fun for a family to play together as long as the children are mature enough to handle direct conflict in games.
Empires plays about 30 minutes per player once everyone is comfortable with the rules (barring the occasional analysis paralysis player who will deliberate on technologies for 15 minutes per turn). Unfortunately it can have a runaway leader problem especially if a player starts with 2 matching Diplomacy cards for a planet they start next to. Additionally there is a strong luck mechanic in the game if one player gets a few bad rolls in the early stages they will fall behind drastically and never be able to catch up. This is mostly apparent in a 2 player game where the game can be “over” by the end of the 2nd scoring round. It is mitigated some in the 4 player game as most players will gang up on whoever is in the lead which should help even out the bad luck some. Empires plays best as a 4 player game and is OK as a 2 player game as long as lady luck doesn’t decide absolutely trounce one of the players. I actually had a 2 player game end 48 to 14 it wasn’t pretty.
* A nice halfway point between risk style games and behemoths like Twilight Imperium III
* Fairly simple game to teach
* Built in randomizers with the Event Deck and board layout will help to add to replay value
* Plenty of room for expansions
* No player elimination
* Fun game as long as you are not expecting “Eclipse” or “Twilight Imperium III” levels of strategy
* If you love lots of conflict
* Some balance issues
* Bad luck with the dice can shut a player down
* Rulebook needs some work especially with rule clarifications
* Lack of ship variety between races, it would have been nice for each player race to get at least 1 unique ship
* The quality of the cardboard tokens
* If you hate lots of conflict
* The randomness can produce a runaway leader especially if the event deck seems to be “picking on you” or if a player gets 2 matching Diplomacy cards for a planet they start near.
But Is It Fun?
Empires of the Void is a nice diversion from the usual heaviness of some 4X games. It does seem to cater to a more aggressive play style though. The rules are really simple to the point that anyone who has played Risk could easily learn to play this game. Granted there are technology trees but they are fairly simplistic and honestly only a few seem to chain into each other. Most games you will gain at most 8 of the 19 technologies unless everyone is playing extremely conservatively. Of those 8 a few are a no-brainer such as increased hand size, the ability to fly past asteroids and of course the ability to build at least Centipedes and Starcruisers. Although one game a player did try to swarm with the 1 credit Starfighters which while it was humorous when they occasionally took out Starcruisers, that player still came in 2nd to last in the VP standings at the end of the game.
The game does seem to be designed with future expansions in mind. While I admit I am disappointed that all races use the exact same ships, it does allow future expansions to easily incorporate new races. The designer could easily churn out an expansion with a new Hexagon or 2, a dozen Event cards, and a few new races and call it a day.
It’s not all gravy though, the game does have issues. Luck can play a huge role in this game, from a lucky start to just lucky alliance rolls. A player who misses a few key early alliance rolls will be behind the power curve really quickly. There is a free to download expansion at www.redravengames.com that might help a little with this, I have yet to actually use the Capital City expansion to see if it mitigates this issue enough, but it does look promising. Also some of the ally powers are unbalancing if a player is fortunate enough to gain them early in the game. During one game a player was able to ally with Tan Lock in the first couple of turns with a very lucky roll of 17. That player quickly started rolling out Black Hole ships each round and pretty much kept the board locked down with their movement speed of 6 and attack of 3. That game ended in a blow out victory by at least 20+ points ahead of 2nd place for them. Normally this wouldn’t happen but lucky hexagon placement gave them easy access while asteroids and mines kept the rest of us from taking the planet from him soon enough to stop his juggernaut war machine.
Finally the components are not as high quality as I would have liked. The rulebook could have used an editor. I think when designers demo their games they should occasionally hand players the rulebook and see if they can figure out the game from the rulebook. That would at least let them know where their might be ambiguities in the rules versus just teaching the game by word of mouth. Also I have to mention the quality of the tokens themselves. Apparently I am not the only one noticing a lack of quality control here. It is unfortunate that the tokens are starting to peel and for some buyers actually arrived damaged (I am one of these people). While I am sure the designer will offer restitution (and it appears he is doing so by offering replacements to those affected) it is a negative in an otherwise enjoyable game experience. I hope Ryan can get these quality control issues worked out because underneath the warts this is a fun game.
Overall Final Game Verdict: 7.0/10 – The game is enjoyable for what it is, a light 4X game that emphasizes combat and direct player opposition. If the quality control issues do get taken care of and future expansions add more to the game (more event cards, hexagons, and player races) I can easily see my rating for this game going up. Yes it is random, yes lady luck can be really cruel, but if you don’t mind luck in your games, give Empires of the Void a try.