Designers: Vangelis Bagiartakis, Panagiotis Zinoviadis
Publisher: Stronghold/Artipia Games (2014)
Among The Stars first expansion, The Ambassadors, felt like a huge addition to the game that really filled out the design and provided for a satisfying feeling of completeness. It felt like a strong follow-up to a solid first album, like the first time you heard “Paranoid” after falling in love with “Black Sabbath”. Expanding The Alliance finds its way as a compilation of unreleased tracks, remixes, and rare compositions that serve as a love letter to the serious fans. It’s a thank you of sorts, packed full of past stretch goals and promos that were jammed into Artipia’s previous kickstarter campaigns and now seeing mass release via their union with Stronghold Games.
Expanding The Alliance is jammed packed with new content. No one could accuse these guys of skimping out. There are 23 new Special Locations, 2 new Conflict Sets, 6 new Objectives, 3 new Races, 8 new Ambassadors, a mini Alliance Inspection expansion, and components for the 5th and 6th players. That’s an enormous ship manifest that you can quickly see is all about expanding the variety of existing mechanisms present in Among The Stars. Variety is a key attribute in any design and this helps to ensure you will have enough locations and cards to rarely run into the same setup twice. It’s as if you shoved 3 or 4 Dominion expansions into a single boxed and then force fed them to the core set like Malcolm McDowell having his eyes stretched open and mind set ablaze with thousands of spastic images.
The Ambassadorial Shuttle is one of my favorite new cards. Nothing is more satisfying than twisting the knife into your opponent’s kidney.
This title can really be broken down into the choice cuts and the leftovers which will appeal to a smaller select few. The most prolific and beneficial aspect of the expansion is without a doubt the new Special Locations. Much like the new locations found in The Ambassadors release, these new cards offer abilities and effects that are a small step into a realm of increased complexity and awareness. This is necessary to engender more freedom and creativity as the designers have really upped their game, offering distinct and colorful powers that will immediately grab you by the scruff. Several locations have two different types (colors) and may count as either for combos/scoring effects. Casino is also an excellent addition that has you rolling a die and gambling for additional victory points. My favorite location however is Ambassadorial Shuttle, which has you placing the location in another player’s station but does not allow them to build any future locations adjacent to it. This can absolutely wreck a huge scoring combo a player is building and mess with their layout but it requires you be aware of your opponent’s strategy and monitor their approach. When you’re passed a hand that includes Ambassadorial Shuttle your stomach clenches like it’s rebelling against your choice of devouring that leftover spam that’s been sitting in the fridge for several weeks as you’re not sure whether you should play the card or risk giving an opponent the opportunity.
The additional Objectives are another stellar facet of this release. Since they are used every game and the options somewhat limited compared to location types and Race choices, they are one of the elements that could use an injection of variety and I’m very glad to see it. The new goals are not only varied but quite interesting. Energy Efficient has you looking to use the fewest Reactors while Reach For The Stars has you trying to build the location farthest from your Main Reactor. These are slick and very enjoyable objectives that give you a gentle nudge and ample incentive to mix things up and try new things. This quality of pushing play into divergent and unconventional strategy is the single best attribute of the Among The Star expansion content as a whole.
Much like those rare track/B-side compilation discs, there are a number of things which may not be of significant interest to the average buyer but are worth inclusion for completionists and the odd diversion. The new Races for instance are solid and a nice addition, but not completely needed at this point due to the huge buffet already on offer. The additional Ambassadors are solid for the most part, but add variety to a mechanic that arrived flush with options. There’s also a selection of 4 promo ambassadors all derived from prominent reviewers that you will either love or hate. They trigger off events wholly unrelated to the game itself such as Tom Vasel offering additional victory points for owning a large collection of board games or the Rahdo Ambassador which gives a point every time someone passes by behind you. I find these quirky additions fun and really enjoy them, but many players scoff even in a casual environment and don’t want them included.
The Nyxtos are one of the more interesting new races, allowing for a stiff take that to each of your opponent’s.
The two new Conflict Sets and the Alliance Inspection are both interesting and worth contemplating but are more often than not excluded from the experience. Conflict Sets in particular target adding more interaction to the game, which is a completely worthy cause, but I’ve found the new expansion locations in The Ambassadors and Expanding The Alliance provide for plenty of interaction without adding the more overt take that element of Conflict cards. The Alliance Inspection mini expansion is neat as it offers a unique personal goal to target each Year (round), but they can sometimes be very swingy and tip the score unfavorably based on luck as opposed to heightened awareness of acumen. They don’t fail but they are very hit and miss and I find them often not worth throwing in unless you’re specifically looking to change up the game a bit.
Relocation is an intriguing Conflict set. I wish it hit my table more often.
The 5 and 6 player components are a nice addition as it satisfies the request of many Among The Stars fans who were wanting to up the size of their table. While I’m glad they’re included, they are something that I probably will rarely touch. One key element of drafting games is simultaneous play and little to no downtime, which is somewhat gutted in a larger group as more players cause the game to bog down. You have to worry about adjusting the score for more participants, be more aware of all the different space station setups on the table, and have less say in what your opponent’s are drafting. All of these make AtS a 4 player game for me and for, I imagine, the majority of players.
Just like when I picked up Slayer’s Soundtrack to the Apocalypse in 2007 my expectations for a compilation of extras weren’t at their utmost, although I was quietly optimistic. With that frame of mind Expanding The Alliance succeeds on multiple fronts as it provides for a slew of interesting Locations and Objectives that I would never do without. If I had to choose I would without a doubt grab The Ambassadors first, although you’d have a hard time prying Expanding The Alliance from my iron grasp.