When I heard news of an expansion for Tiny Epic Galaxies – designed by Scott Almes and published by Gamelyn Games – my first thought was not a kind one, I admit. I think TEG is a really good game. I also think TEG is complete on its own. Therefore, I may or may not have had an initial reaction that included the words “money” and “grab.” Oh, and adding an expansion meant that it no longer qualified as Tiny.
I backed the Kickstarter anyway! Not only that, I eagerly played a bunch of games the instant it arrived at my door last week! Yes, my friends, the acquisition disorder is strong in this one…
What you get in the box
Very often, a first expansion includes lots more stuff that you can just shuffle into the base game. BtB doesn’t have a lot of that. There are only eight new planets for the planet deck, which surprised me.
Everything else included in BtB consists of a new play mode in two parts – Pilots/ Advanced Ships, and Unexplored Space.
How to Play Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black
In terms of gameplay, pilots represent TEG’s way of introducing unique character powers. However, players do not start the game with any pilots. Instead, you have to earn them by dedicating at least two of your action dice on your turn to a hire action. Once you have a pilot, you get to replace one of your dinky regular ships with an advanced ship which gets the power that is printed on the pilot card. Generally, the new ships get small effects like ‘count one diplomacy die action twice, 1/ turn’ or ‘other ships cannot pass this one on the colonization track.’
Where pilots gives you a few more levers to exert control over then game, unexplored space gives you a ‘push your luck’ option on every turn. With one fly action, you can land in unexplored space and pull a card off of a special, circular deck. If the card is green, you can either keep it and get a minor buff or…. push your luck! The next card might be better for you, or it might be a red planet that takes resources from you or locks your ship for a few turns.
Both the pilot cards and the unexplored space cards provide a new way to score points – Exploration Badges. These are supposed to represent data collected from unexplored space (presumably, your intrepid pilots have explored some space on the side and have the data sitting in their pockets). At the end of the game, you score two extra points for a majority in a set, then one point goes to second place.
Rounding out the whole package are new Rogue Galaxies for solo mode. They generally act the same as they do in normal mode, only they have new ways of collecting unexplored space cards.
What I liked about Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black
Adding unique player powers is the go-to move for an expansion, right? Some games, however, mess it up in one or more of the following ways – 1) Adding unnecessary complexity, 2) the powers themselves are unbalanced, with some being much better than others, 3) they aren’t powerful enough and are therefore negligible, or 4) they are too powerful and throw off the whole game. Thankfully, the pilots powers are able to navigate through that asteroid field (see what I did there?) and add a lot of fun to the game.
I really enjoy hiring the pilots midgame as opposed to having them dealt to you. Although there’s no way to change the market, there’s usually an effective one or two sitting there for you. You can also replace pilots if you need. In addition, it’s nice to have an additional option for those crappy dice you rolled on your turn.
In addition, I appreciate that the pilot powers are fairly subtle and don’t break the game in any way. It would have been easy to add powers that really throw off game balance, like “get one additional die on your turn forever” or “pay one less resource for upgrades.” BtB chose not to go that route, to its credit. Maybe certain pilots are more generally powerful than others. However, you get a LOT of pilots included in the game (over 20), so I imagine they can’t all be equally useful.
I will have more to say about unexplored space in the dreaded “below” section. However, two things I did like about unexplored space is that 1) it’s yet another thing to do with an otherwise potentially useless roll, and 2) the mat itself gives culture instead of energy. Culture is WAY more powerful than energy in this game, and sometimes the planet deck just doesn’t want to spit out any culture planets. With the unexplored space mat, you always have some way to get culture when you need.
With regard to solo mode, the advanced mats stack up the unexplored space cards so fast that you may as well forget about collecting them. Other than that, I think if you liked solo mode in the game game, you’ll like it here.
What I didn’t like about Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black
In general, I like the theme of TEG. I wouldn’t say it’s a terribly thematic game. However, I think it works for the most part. With the ship meeples, the card art, and game mechanisms that make sense, I at least get the vague feeling that I’m flying a ship to a planet, rather than pushing a cube to a card.
In this context, the Exploration Badges drive me nuts. Packets of data from space? About what? Somewhere in the depths of space, I’ve learned about orange triangles?
Maybe that’s why I was underwhelmed by the new set collection aspect of the game. I enjoy colonizing a planet – I take the card into my galaxy and I get its power. However, I didn’t enjoy acquiring symbols. The symbols don’t really do anything for you. They just sit there. I realize that, between the pilots and the planets, there’s already a lot going on. However, for such an important part of endgame scoring, I would have hoped the the game did a better job of integrating them and making them more fun.
I also found the whole unexplored space mechanism a bit jarring. Despite dice driving the whole engine, I find TEG to be very strategic, especially with the pilots. However, in a BtB game, there’s basically the equivalent of a roulette wheel sitting on the edge of the board. Do I use my time plotting the best way to use my resources and make the most progress, or do I spin the wheel and see what happens!?!?! Woohoo!!! I also don’t get jazzed by the rewards. One culture and a few symbols isn’t very exciting.
At the end of the day, I felt this expansion was a mixed bag. I liked the pilots, but I didn’t love the unexplored space mechanism and the set collection.
Even with the pilots, I don’t think this is an essential expansion for TEG. You’re fine with the base game. If you love the base game, however, then I can recommend this expansion to mix things up. I like TEG enough that I will keep BtB in my collection.