The Expanse Review - The Syfy Series cubed
- Game Type: Domination
- Number of Players: 2-4
- Mechanics: Action Points, Area Control, Variable Player Powers
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Release: October 2017
- Publisher: Wizkids
- MSRP: $49.99
The game is based on the popular SyFy series of the same name and is essentially Dominant Species Lite, Zero Gravity Edition. Dominant Species, is a game of domination that makes you begrudgingly choose between a dozen or more options at a time, all of which are usually potent and desirable. The Expanse cuts that number of choices down by about half and makes this game a more manageable choice for when you want to gather your friends and stare at piles of tiny wooden cubes together. Turn order is heavily leveraged, sabotage frequently comes into play often and you’ll hear “no wait” or “can I take that back?” at least a dozen times in a play-through. Because The Expanse has a somewhat reduced level of complexity, a game for players who haven’t played before (but have read the rules) should take about 2 hours.
The game starts with a quick shuffle of the cards, removing some cards that are only available in 2P, 3P or 4P games and then setting up the board in a predetermined order. 5 Event Cards are placed randomly on the side of the board. These cards can cost CP (read: VP) to play, depending on their position on the board. Players each pick a Faction Card and accompanying Technology Cards that all have unique abilities. Players then roll to see what the turn order and initiative order will be. Initiative is not actually used as a tie-breaker in this case, which is somewhat counter-intuitive, instead it is used only to determine who gets first pick if an Event Card is salvaged for Action Points. I’ll explain that more in a few sentences. Player one gets to choose one of the 5 event cards that were randomly selected and set out at the start of the game. That player, if they have enough CP to purchase the card, can then either play the event if their faction is one of those listed on that specific event, or they can scrap the card for Action Points. If you do this, however, another player gets to play the Event Card for free (given their faction matches the card), and the order in which that is offered is done by the Initiative track, as mentioned above. Any player who purchases a card or inherits that card may also pay one additional CP to keep it, to play as a last ditch effort during scoring rounds, or at the beginning of their turn for no cost. Action Points are used for moving or rebuilding your fleets, placing influence cubes on the board, or triggering various faction abilities. Having the most influence on not only a bunch of planets but the right planets is the constant struggle of the game. Whenever the 6th scoring round appears, the game is immediately scored and ends with the player with the most CP takeing the cake.
The rules are straightforward, but well done. There were only a few instances where a rule needed to be double-checked via the internet. The cases that come to mind are two special cards which are free upfront, and allow you to essentially play two cards going forward. It wasn’t clear how that card interacted. Also, and this may not be any reflection of the rules but our understanding of them, it was unclear at first how the Initiative track was used and altered. Poor Dean spent a game stuck at the bottom and wasn’t getting any of the trickled down Event Cards.
The theme of The Expanse is based off of a popular series of sci-fi novels by James S. A. Corey, featuring at least 14 titles to date. The books were adapted to a TV series on Syfy, which you can watch for free at the moment if you have access to an Amazon Prime membership. This board game is an adaptation of the TV series which is an adaptation of the books (very meta), showing screenshots of some of the actors on certain Event Cards. Players represent the main factions from the show with unique abilities consistent with their portrayal on screen.
Set-up time is only slightly increased with more players, because you have to find where to place their starting ships and influence cubes, but it is minimal. Shuffle up the Event Cards, let each player pick a faction card, remove the Event Cards that are not applicable and then roll to see who goes first. 10 minutes tops!
The box along with the quality of the cards, chits, and cubes are all above average. The feel of the box is actually very satisfying, whatever coating is used for it creates a nice tactile sensation. It isn’t a glossy finish, but isn’t quite matte either. It's somewhere in between with almost a waxy feel to it. The cards are of good quality card stock and seem very durable. The artwork is fitting, but anything that isn’t a screenshot of the TV show is fairly generic.
There is no solo play option for The Expanse.
The Expanse is a game that leaves you wanting to play it again, not only to master it, but to have fun with learning the nuances. It does feel somewhat limiting while you’re playing, especially if one of your opponents has a big turn. In those cases, you almost always have to burn an Event Card to get some action points to counter it. This usually results in giving one of your opponents a bonus of some sort, making it very difficult to catch up. It can be frustrating in these type of games where you only have one main choice per turn, which makes every decision critical. On the flip side, it also simplifies the game, allowing room for a younger or more inexperienced player to step in and enjoy as well. I think this game could benefit from some stronger Event Cards, and if an expansion were to be released, that is the direction I think they should go with it. Overall, I enjoyed the game greatly, and would definitely recommend this to keep in your gaming arsenal especially if you seldom have time for a 4 hour session of Dominant Species. The retail price is just a bit steep, but becomes a better deal in the $30-40 range like it is on Amazon..