Empires of the Void Review

I would like to thank my guest reviewer Chris C. for his thoughts on Empires of the Void!

In Empires of the Void, 2-4 players control alien races competing to wrest control of the galaxy from the crumbling Pyrious Empire.  Each race builds a fleet of ships while expanding its civilization’s
influence farther into interstellar space and researching new technologies.  Competition over high-value planets is fierce, and inevitably these budding empires come crashing together in space
combat.  In the end, the race which has best managed expanding its empire’s scope, diplomatic ties and technological expertise will win.

To long-time gamers, this will all sound pretty familiar.  Empires of the Void is a great example of a classic genre called “4X” games: players explore, expand, exploit and exterminate.  The granddaddy of space-themed 4X games is Twilight Imperium, an epic game of interstellar conquest.  While Twilight Imperium is a masterpiece, many gamers have a hard time getting it to the table because of its 4+ hour play time and complicated rules.  In the last two years, there have been several attempts to put out new games that capture the Twilight Imperium experience in a more reasonable play time and with a simpler rule set.

Empires of the Void does an excellent job of integrating and re-imagining many of the classic elements of the 4X genre into a new game.  Players start with only their race’s home world, and must build a fleet and expand into neighboring systems to gather more resources. Each race has unique abilities, and I found these to be interesting and fairly balanced while still clearly distinguishing each race and suggesting a particular play style.  The expanding civilizations quickly collide, and neighbors must fight or negotiate over planets between them.  Diplomacy is important here - two players wasting resources battling over their shared space will quickly find themselves at a disadvantage to the other races.  With a small number of high-value planets at the center of the board, though, peace can not last forever.  Managing your resources carefully and building an effective fleet is essential.

The artwork on the board is well done
The game also adds a number of unique and fun mechanisms to the standard 4X formula.  A novel turn structure keeps the game moving at a brisk pace.  Each turn begins with a building phase where players construct ships and research new technologies simultaneously.  Then a card is drawn triggering an event - perhaps space pirates invade a planet or a wormhole is discovered linking two distant parts of the board.  After the event, each player gets an action phase in turn order to move their ships, conquer planets and attack other civilizations.

The game takes place over 11 rounds.  In the 5th and 8th rounds, the event is replaced with a scoring phase where players earn victory points for their planets, technologies and “influence” (explained momentarily).  There is also a final scoring round after the 11th turn.  An upcoming scoring round tends to spell conflict as players try to grab points from each other.  I loved the way this prevented anyone from getting too comfortable and kept things moving.

Diplomacy plays a central role in expanding your empire and winning in Empires of the Void.  There are two distinct ways to take control of a planet.  A player may conquer a planet by attacking it.  This provides access to the planet’s resources and victory points.   Alternatively, a player may attempt to ally with a planet by sending a diplomat and playing diplomacy cards corresponding to the type of race that lives there (planets may be peaceful, scholarly, mysterious, militaristic or capitalistic).  Each planet has a unique special ability that is available only to its ally (for example, access to unique ships or technologies) and allied planets contribute to a player’s “influence” total, giving them a chance to control the galactic council for additional points in scoring rounds.  Allied planets also provide  resources and points like conquered planets, but diplomacy is a bit harder than simply taking over a planet.

Empires of the Void features bright artwork and nice components.  Each civilization has a beautiful player board with a large colorful illustration of that race.  The player boards also have helpful reminders about the turn structure, the available actions, and the cost of each ship and the required corresponding technologies.  The modular board is large and attractive, always getting lots of attention at my game club.  There are many types of ships, represented by thick cardboard pieces with nice illustrations.

Very colorful components, all around
The game does have a few flaws.  While the rulebook is easy to read, it has a few errors and doesn’t explain every situation that can come up during the game.  We found ourselves checking the internet for clarifications several times in our first two games, though the rules are mostly simple and straightforward.  Some of the event cards can be particularly brutal, possibly taking away control of a crucial planet in the early game.  In my group, we’ve taken the worst ones out.  Additionally, it’s very possible for players to fall behind a bit in the early game and have trouble catching up due to bad die rolls.  On the bright side, the designers have put a free promo up on their website that addresses this problem by giving players a way to slightly modify some rolls.  We like this promo a lot and always use it now, though it can extend the game length a little since players will be able to set up bigger civilizations more quickly.  Also, while the board position is randomized in each game, all of the tiles are used every time - I wish they had included more map pieces for added replayability.

So where does Empires of the Void fit into the world of new space-themed 4X games?  In my opinion, this game does a better job of capturing the epic feel of Twilight Imperium than its two main
competitors, Eclipse and Space Empires 4X.  Eclipse is an excellent and very popular new game, but it feels more like an economic optimization game than Empires of the Void or Twilight Imperium.  Diplomacy plays a less central role in Eclipse, and players aren’t forced to deal with each other as quickly or directly.  Space Empires 4X is more of a gritty war game than Empires of the Void.  It does an excellent job of setting up epic space battles, but it plays best as a 2-player direct conflict game and lacks the unique alien races and bright artwork of Empires of the Void.  Each of these games is
excellent and each excels at a particular aspect of the space conquest genre, but Empires of the Void does the best job of condensing the full range of possibilities that exist in bigger games like Twilight Imperium into a 2-hour play time.

I highly recommend Empires of the Void.  It’s great both as an introduction to 4X games and for hardened space-combat vets that are looking to get their fix in a shorter game.  As with any game that
features direct conflict, play it with folks who won’t take it personally when their prized planets are snatched out from under them.  The game has beautiful art, is easy to learn and adds several neat
mechanics to the genre.  If building an intergalactic space empire and conquering alien worlds sounds like fun to you, pick this one up today.

If you are interested in Empires of the Void, you might also want to check out Civilization, Galaxy's Edge, and Risk 2210 AD.

I would like to thank Red Raven Games for providing us with a review copy of Empires of the Void.

1 comment:

  1. The game has been extensively revised by the designer. He asks you to "bag" certain game components and print and add new ones, having to do with city production centers.
    That seems to me to be a radical redesign of the game. There were hints at GEN CON 2015 that a new 2nd edition of the game may be released.