The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Beyond the Sun

My quest to find my next minor addiction — enough to last a month or two of pandemic time — advanced with the arrival of Beyond the Sun. Pre-release buzz had been … well, I don’t know. I don’t follow buzz much. It had reached people who I do talk with, and those people thought this game was “in the sphere” so I ordered a copy and awaited its arrival.

As of now I’ve played two 2p games.

It’s traditional to narrow a game down to an elevator pitch. “<New game> is <Old Game X> + <Old Game Y>.” Good enough for movie pitches, easy to understand. Right now I can’t quite put together a pitch. My first thought was “This is like Caylus but instead of having the houses owner get a bonus when other people use it, you have apartment buildings and you can’t even use an action until you rent an apartment.”

Not helpful. I guess for my elevator pitch other half reminds me of Through the Ages in that you have a resource mat of discs that track how many resources (cubes) you can generate per turn. As you spend discs (either through automation technologies or putting them on systems) you can gather more cubes (or ore) with a single production action. The cubes are actually dice, but they aren’t rolled. You change their face to indicate if they are in supply, a person, or a ship of value 1-4.

So I guess my BTS elevator pitch is “It’s Caylus meets Through the Ages” (because of cube management) or “It’s Caylus meets Eclipse” (because of tech trees and space ships colonizing systems).

BTS (The game, not the K-Pop band) is vaguely worker placement, but you only have one worker. He moves around, but workers block each other, limited action spaces, etc etc. There is also a tech tree, those are the Caylus apartments. The base actions let you get people/ore/ships and move your ships to nearby systems. One action lets you research a new tech, which costs you a person for the rest of the game, and that may:

  • Open up more efficient actions
  • Provide an immediate bonus (people/ships/ore)
  • Let you bend a rule for the rest of the game

Or some combination.

A separate board has a small map of systems (each system is a card). Once a player has ships in a system they claim it (and get a bonus) until another player gets more force. This isn’t war, ships never destroy each other. Just area control.

One of the level 1 technologies also lets you colonize a system assuming you have the minimum number of ships (normally 3-5). Those ships are placed back into your supply, excess ships (from any player) are moved to deep space where they can move to another system. Colonizing a system gives you a bigger claiming bonus and a fair chunk of VPs.

The four “Level 1” techs are the same. A player can research the next level (there are 4) when they have all of they prerequisites (on the directed graph of a board). The player researching an unknown technology chooses the type of the technology (military/economic/commercial/scientific) and gets two possible technology cards of that type, and then selects one that is discovered. A new technology (for Levels II and III) also flips up a random event, with some of the event being the same in each game (unlocking new base action spaces) and some being from a deck.

So this means that for any given game the tech tree will look very different. The initial dealing of the four base technologies (one of each type) lead to a different places. For example, one of the Level I boxes has a direct connection to Level III (which still requires the research a level three action, so it will take a while).

A turn is simple: take an action, produce (either people, ore, or take a trading production, which lets you convert at various ratios) and possibly claim an achievement. There are four achievement cards in each game, and two of them are the same (Colonize four systems, claim your first Level IV technology).

When 4 achievements in total (3 in a 2p game) are claimed, you finish the round and have one more round and score.

After two games, my primary thought is that BtS does a great job hiding what the game is about. You have this main board that’s a complicated tech tree, and one achievement is “Get a Level IV tech” … if you are the first person to do that you get four points for the tech + four for being the first to achieve it.

An average colony gives you four points, uses two discs, and gets you the colonization bonus. Four colonies gets you the colony achievement, so four colonies is 24-ish VP. The average score appears to be around the high forties.

So — you win this game by colonizing systems. That’s fine, but it certainly appears to be the sub-game of the tech-tree, and not vice versa. Nothing wrong with that, but unexpected. In two games we’ve had a single Level IV tech researched, and it was in the final action of a game, so had no impact other than points. The strategy guide mentions colonies as a focus, but spends a few bullet points on “each game will be different based on which technologies show up and their configuration.”

Frankly, the technologies don’t differ much. They are mostly “gain resources” or “convert resources.” The level IVs do have more game changing rules, but are basically just special VP scoring things.

The gameplay differences are because one game may see many military techs and few commercial techs (or some variant) which would change the relative cost of various actions. This is because when a tech has two prerequisites, it may take the color of either prerequisite. So, the player unlocking a new tech square controls which type of tech gets the box, as well as any decisions the random event may have.

So, to summarize: Worker Placement. Limited resources (cubes and ores) that need to be managed. Getting a tech unlocks an action but locks a cube. Most techs just handle how you convert ore to cubes and move around an area control map. Winning the area control map gives VP and provides some help for … cube production

So …. BTS would not be out of place in a setting of medieval merchants. The card titles do give a sci-fi flavor. “Android technologies” makes getting people cubes easier, but after three hours of gameplay I realized that if I called this “the best disguised JASE I’d seen in a while” I’d only be mildly unfair.

That’s not to say its bad. I’ll certainly play again, but I’ll be sure to warn new players about the fact that the game will end while the tech tree is only 70% done(ish) and to focus on the area control points (when in doubt).

If there are great depths to be explored in this game, they are well hidden to me. I’m sure optimizing the various conversions based on the techs (and fighting to control tech-unlocking to be able to influence them) is a fine, subtle game.

But I’m pretty sure I don’t care. It could certainly be that BTS shines with four players. In a worker placement game that would make sense. But it is also clearly a fixed-fun game. Caylus was worker placement and management, but it also had the cool “walking the road” bailiff mechanism. Through the Ages has tech and claiming and production, but there’s no game changing cards here. Nothing in BTS just gives me that “ooh, shiny!” feeling. The elevator pitch is correct, but its not pitching a mega-hit, its pitching a movie that will make back its money, do fine in the box office, but will never win an Oscar or even be a cult classic. I knew after two plays of Caylus (or Eclipse, or TtA) that there was a great game I wanted to explore.

Rating Indifferent-plus for a few more plays, but I suspect that will be falling down to indifferent. There is also an advanced game (that gives more differentiation between players) and an expert game that means that you have a bit more insight into which techs are going to appear.

Production Values — The game looks fine, and the player mats are pre-assembled thick cardboard with notches to hold disks & dice in place against minor jostling. You can see for yourself in the one minute boxing video. (A great idea …. most videos spend a minute on begging for likes/subscriptions/virtual whuffie).

I did have a bit of trouble telling the blue and green apart at a distance (I’m not colorblind) but it was 9pm in a not-greatly lit room. The rules were mostly fine, with one exception on “how to unlock some of the basic action spaces (covered by ‘guild tiles’)” It turns out that the events that show up in each game do that, but it wasn’t clear at all during our first play.

Update — The advanced play mats differentiate the players a bit more than the basic game (here each player gets an A/B condition which — when they fulfill — gives them a benefit, in the base game each player gets a mild difference. An extra ore/ship/etc). My 3rd game with expert rules and advanced mats did not feel noticeably different, just more ‘stuff’.

Written by taogaming

November 7, 2020 at 10:42 am

Posted in Reviews

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