Empires of the Void II

2-5 players, Competitive, Space Faring Ally Gathering

Designer: Ryan Laukat

Artwork: Ryan Laukat, Michael Leavenworth

Publisher: Red Raven Games

Release Year: 2018

Origin Story

I originally bought this one a couple years back because it looked just gorgeous. From the colors on the board and the artwork on the cards I was instantly sold. However, the first time I played it I really didn’t much care for it. It came off as overly complicated and fiddly. The setup time compounded that considering after I was done with the extremely lengthy setup, I was basically exhausted to the point I lost interest to really put much thought into the game itself.

Almost 2 years later I busted it back out and set it up and played it again. This time was a MUCH different experience. I found the gameplay not all that hard to comprehend and rather interesting to say the least. Read on to find out what changed and to see my overall thoughts on this one.

Overview of Gameplay

In Empires of the Void II up to five players will be competing to garner the most victory points by completing a variety of tasks. These tasks include: allying with planets, taking over planets, building structures, researching tech advances and a few other odds and ends such as particular empire card points. Now, to gain these points you will need to be not only efficient on how you operate but also be a bit lucky on the cards you draw. Right off the bat at the beginning of the game players will draw two of those empire cards and choose one to keep. These little babies flat out give you victory points if you can complete the task on the card, of course the task could be to take over a planet…..which is no easy feat.

So, let’s get down to it. On a players turn they will take the Commander token to show they are now the player in charge, which is this rather large acrylic cylindrical doohickey. Then they will move the Action token (which is the exact same size and shape as the commander token, just a diff color) to a different spot from the previous selection on the action selection spaces on the game board. Side note: these tokens are AMAZING stress relief tools. Placing them both in one hand and rolling them over each other is like the ultimate in relaxation, so, if you are looking for a board game AND stress relief, look no further!

The action spaces that you have to choose from are Move/Attack, Research and Build, Card Action/Diplomacy, Recruit and finally Scavenge. So, let’s say the previous player took the Move/Attack action and it’s your turn to be commander. You would have to place the commander stress relief token on one of the OTHER action spaces. Now here’s the catch, after the commander takes their turn, each other player can also take the same action in turn order. However, let’s say a player had run out of command points and could not take the action or they just did not want to take that same action. Well in that case they could either take a refresh action which refills their hand of cards, replenishes their money and their command points, all up to the maximum they have garnered thus far. OR, players could spend two command points at this stage and take ANY action they want.

After this little round of actions gets back around to the commander then they pass the stress rest and relaxation cylinder to the next starfarer and they choose a different action and play continues like this until the “Score” card is drawn from the action card deck. Once this happens all player will have to calculate their current scores and apply their points to the board score track. Each player also has a single use “colonization” card that they can play at any time before this happens to score immediately just in case they think they might score less during the score phase. This can happen, let’s say, if they control a number of planets at a certain point but are fearful they will be taken over by another player before the scoring phase happens. After this scoring phase which happens roughly at the halfway mark, players will continue to play until the action card deck is exhausted which triggers the end game. Scores will be calculated again and whoever has the highest score is the winner!

Components/Game Board

I’ve gotta say, I’m pretty impressed with the components! I mean those sweet little cylinder markers for tracking actions aside; the other plastic components are really nice. The colors are vivid and they have a kinda translucent look to them which makes me feel like they really are space age materials. The little space ship minis for each player are unique from one another and the dice have this cool blue/black swirl effect going on which lines up nicely with the colors of the board. The tokens to represent the allies are…just ok. They can get unruly when moving them around on the board, especially after a few rounds and there are a lot of them. Your main ship mini does have a base at the bottom which helps a bit to hold them, but enough of them towered up will spill over.

The game board is actually pretty nifty because it comes with some separate planet tiles that you select from the onset and set up in a random array. This keeps the game more variable, although I’ll discuss that more under “replayability”.  The cards are also really nicely done with a linen finish and NO warping! It just boggles my mind as almost everything warps where I play, except these little babes. There are some odds and ends cardboard tokens as well and these are of a pretty good quality, a decent thickness and heft to them.

The player boards look really nice BUT I WISH they were double layered. This game has quite a few tokens placed on your player board that will be removed or even added over the course of the game and it would just be the cat’s meow if there were indentations for those tokens. Overall though I don’t really have much to complain about with the gameboard or components, everything is very well done!

Box/Storage

Now, here is where the game let’s me down a bit. The box has the tiniest of little cardboard inserts in the very bottom which is little more than a cardboard prop. Some games can get away with not having a decent storage solution but this is for sure not one of them. There are SO MANY components in this game that need to be separate from one another that you will end up using bookoos of bags to store everything. After you get everything bagged up and get the board into the box…well I mean there just isn’t a bit of use from that cardboard insert. Granted it has some color on it so it looks nice (which tugs at me to keep it….which I have).

But there is a far more sinister aspect to not having a good storage solution for this game in particular, the setup and take down time. Literally would rate the game higher if these two diabolical aspects didn’t work against the game so boldly. You see, when you have TONS of components that all need to be bagged up separately because of a lack of a storage solution, you run into much longer set up times generally. However, with this game you also need to setup the variable planet tiles on the board WHICH then leads to what action cards you will use. So, you have to sort those out from the mammoth stack of cards. And that wouldn’t be all that bad except then you have to sort out the event cards from the action cards. Shuffle JUST the action cards for the planets that you are using, deal out three to each player, THEN find those event cards for the planets you are using and randomly pick only one event card for each planet, shuffle those in. THEN, break the deck in half, insert the score card and VOILA! Now, imagine the takedown after you are done playing. All those cards in a big discard pile that you have to sort out and put back with the rest of the matching planets cards that were not used for that game. A good storage insert wouldn’t really help with the card issue BUT it would totally help with the rest of the stuff such as all the different ally tiles and tokens.

Visual Appeal /Theme

But good golly, this artwork though!! The blues and purples on the board mix so elegantly with the colors used for the planets to differentiate them. The colors for the players and their board also stand out but at the same time look like they belong. The artwork is just incredible throughout especially on the action cards. It is very easy to see who is playing what color as each player board is adorned with the hues of their specific faction’s color, but in a natural looking way.

The theme is pretty space generic to be honest. Each faction has a few faction specific abilities and traits that can be unlocked via tech upgrades which makes each one just a sconce different but at the same time they are super easy to switch off and play without feeling like you have to learn something new. However, apart from that the only real differences between them are their colors and names of the race. You do get a little bit of theme with the action cards although more often then not you will glaze over what bit of theme is written there and shoot for the action itself. For example, one card might read, “I rescue a lost expedition in the deep forest”. But right below that you see that it costs 1 command point and then you have to roll a die and do a whole slew of other things to determine what happens. That’s all cool and fun honestly, but I have already forgotten that I was rescuing a lost expedition.

Rulebook

The rulebook is ok, not the best I’ve read and not the worst. I wish it was laid out a bit better and easier to find specific things I would be looking for. The way there are certain things that are in specific boxes of information that are scattered about actually made it MORE confusing for me. I would be skimming along reading through the paragraphs of information trying to find something about influence to no avail and then all of a sudden see that it was RIGHT THERE in front of me but in one of those separate boxes. I also wasn’t a fan of how the back of the book had all the explanations of the various tokens and abilities, not because it was there (super glad it is!) but because of the way it’s formatted. It’s hard as heck to skim through that and find what I’m looking for because everything all blends together.

The game also does come with three hard cardboard planks that detail the ally abilities on one side and the process for battles, which is crazy helpful! BUT, where are the action reference cards? I would LOVE to have some action reference cards to keep handy to make it easier for players to understand what each action does.  

Player Interaction/Fun Factor

This is an interesting game as it doesn’t really have a ton of player interaction so to speak, but it does have a bunch of player engagement. Now, there are battles that can and probably will happen from time to time and indeed if playing with less than five players there are these Regency tokens that are placed on a number of planets to basically force players to engage more. But, let’s say your group isn’t the “in your face” type and just wants to enjoy a nice jaunt through space trading with the locals? Well, in that case you might not interact all that much even though the battles really don’t lose players much of anything. Also, I would not recommend just letting players sit in control of planets as those are delish victory points waiting to happen……I digress.

ANYWAYS, player engagement, yes. Because each player can also take the same action the commander just took, this creates bookoos of engagement with players always watching their board state and plotting out the best methods of utilizing not only their turns, but every other players turns as well. This keeps the game rolling very smoothly and keeps the fun level up. On top of all that, it’s just flat out FUN when you remove those different building from your player board to unlock more money or cards or command points. The mechanic of spending stuff to build stuff which in turn makes you a bit stronger so you can spend MORE stuff to build MORE stuff to get even stronger just sends shivers down my spine of happiness.

Optimal Player Count/Replayability

I prefer a higher player count with this one and since everyone is always engaged during every players turn it really works out nicely. Not a huge fan of the lower player count because you have to use those regency tokens to basically make certain planets off limits. I suppose you could play without them and just do your own thing but goodness that would make for a rather uneventful 2 player game.

So, here’s another interesting thing about the game, it is SUPER HIGH in the variability aspect. With the planet selection and placement at the beginning (although I didn’t feel like the placement really made the game feel THAT different) you have a different variety of possible action cards that will be used each game. On top of that there are a plethora of event cards for each planet and you only use one of each planet in each game. So, expect to be surprised with a large variety of different events every game. I mentioned earlier how each race was a tiny bit different as well. This does add some flavor to each faction but to be honest the differences are so minute that I didn’t really FEEL like I was playing a completely different faction each time, other than their looks of course.

Positive Final Thoughts

LOVE the look, colors and artwork and it is by far my favorite thing about the game. The gameplay mechanic of building things to unlock things is also very fun and kept me engaged. The battling aspect was also pretty unique and not all that devastating if you lose but at the same time may not be the wisest choice, which I like. Love the variability and the event cards are just awesome. Oh yeah, those stress cylinders, I kinda want to take them to work with me.

Negative Final Thoughts

Not a fan of the stacking and moving around of the ally tokens. There just isn’t THAT much space on the board to manipulate these things especially once you get the control cubes and the other tokens on the board. The rulebook needs a little love and organization and would love to have some player reference action cards. The game NEEDS a storage solution for ease of setup and takedown as well. Also, I really liked how the one action had a bonus for the commander that takes it (draw an Empire card) but none of the other actions do. That’s one interesting mechanic that I wish was attached to the rest of the actions to add even more strategy.

The Bottom Line

I really like this one! When you combine all the colors and artwork with the variable setup and super fun player board faction buildup, you get a thought-provoking game that not only challenges your efficiency skills but also is a beauty to gaze at. I wish the theme was a bit stronger and the actions a bit deeper but otherwise this is a unique space game that I am happy to have in my collection!

The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction

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