Reviewed by Herb Levy
BEYOND THE SUN (Rio Grande Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 90-120 minutes; $74.95)
The next two hundred years have not been kind to planet Earth. In the aftermath of a thermonuclear war, in the grip of civil unrest and climate change, Earth is no longer viable to support human life. As leaders of various competing factions, player are faced with the challenge to develop new technologies in order to foster new civilizations on new worlds Beyond the Sun.
Beyond the Sun, the first design from Dennis K. Chan, offers a different perspective on space exploration and planet colonization. It is the means to the end that matters most with the focus on research and development of varied technologies, expressed by the main board through a giant “technology track”.
Technology comes in five different levels: Basic and Levels I, II, III and IIII. Basic technology is available to all right away but action is required for the others. Level I cards are randomly placed on the four Level I spaces (face up). Four Level IIII cards are randomly placed, face down, at the top level of the tech tree. The other technology cards are separated into their respective decks, shuffled and placed alongside the board. Decks of Event cards (for Levels II and III) are separately shuffled and randomly placed face down on Level II and III spaces. (In each case, two Events, noted by a light border, are always in the game.)
The game’s secondary board, placed next to the main board, is the Exploration board showing Sol, Deep Space and shipyard systems. A and B slots for planet systems that may be colonized are filled with two randomly chosen “starting” A cards and two B cards. Two “standard” Achievement cards (present in every game) are placed near the play area board along with two more from the A and B Achievement card deck. These are end game goals (such as Colonize 4 Systems, Research your first Level IIII technolog and more).
Each faction has its own player board filled with what looks like dice – but they’re not. These six-sided cubes represent, depending on their face, supply, population, and spaceships of level 1, 2, 3 or 4. Two production tracks (one for food and one for ore) are filled with the appropriate discs. Above those tracks is an “automation” track. Players also have Achievement discs in their color which come into pay later. All players have 1 Action pawn (which begins off board) and start with 2 population cubes on their Faction mat, 1 level 1 spaceship on the Sol location on the Exploration board and some ore (depending on player order). Factions are slightly asymmetrical in the basic game so players will begin with some differences in initial resources. The flip side of the faction board is for Advanced play and has varied production tracks and special powers that my be used during the game.
A turn consists of three phases: Action, Production and Achievement.
Players begin by choosing one of the actions available on the Basic Spacefaring space. Choices are converting 1 Population cube to research a Level 1 tech, spending 2 ore to use a Population cube to research a Level II tech, transforming a Population cube to a level 1 starship and placing it on Sol or an available shipyard system on the Exploration board AND making 2 Jumps on the Exploration board and transforming the leftmost Supply cube into a Population cube AND getting 1 ore. (For 2 and 3 players, this area is slightly modified.) As the game unfolds, more action spaces will become available. (You cannot remain on the same space.) An available space is one that is NOT occupied by another player AND is found on a technology that has already been researched. Researching technologies is key.
Technology comes in four types: Scientific (blue), Economic (green), Military (red) and Commercial (yellow). Technology is researched in (relatively) linear order, going from Basic to Level I, II, III and IIII. Level I techs are face up for all to see. When choosing to research one of those (choosing the appropriate action), one of your population markers is moved to that area. Unlike games where claiming a space makes it yours (sometimes forever!), here, ALL players can research the same tech, deriving its benefits.
Research is connected through a series of links from level to level. Researching one or two lesser level techs is a requirement for researching techs of a higher level. For Level II and III, events also come into play.
Event cards are revealed when any player first researches a Level II or III tech. These events do lots of things including converting supply cubes to population or starships, impact colonization and/or systems on the Exploration board and opening up more possibilities on the Basic tech level. Once event effects are applied, the specific tech “researched” is determined. Cards from that Level’s deck are drawn until two cards matching the type of technology linked to that space are found. The active player chooses ONE of them to put in that Level’s space. Any drawn (and the rejected Tech) cards are shuffled and then placed at the BOTTOM of that Level’s card deck. (This assures a constant cycling of possible technologies.) Some revealed techs will also provide IMMEDIATE benefits and immediate benefits are available to EVERY PLAYER when they first research that particular technology.
Once the chosen action is done, players look to the bottom of their faction mat and do ONE of three actions there. They may get more Population cubes (based on population track position), more ore (based on ore track position) or make conversions (as many as wanted) to convert ore into population or turn a level 1 spaceship into a population cube or hand in population to get ore.
Exploration is important too. Spaceships can be built and upgraded through actions taken. Once in space, ships can “Jump” (move) to other points on the Exploration board. If landing on a System with no ships there, a player may take “control” by placing the specified “specialty” of the system (one of his/her food or ore tokens) on it as an “outpost”. Some Systems provide an immediate benefit for control. Control is maintained until either that player leaves that System and another player fills that “power vacuum” OR a higher valued force of an opponent’s ships arrive. In that case, the new player replaces the outpost with one of his own tokens. (The previously placed token is returned to that player.)
A system may be colonized. All systems have a colonization value. If choosing an available colonization action on the tech board (and paying the price), players with a ship presence equal to or greater than that value may colonize by returning those ships to his/her faction mat as “supply” with any excess moved to Deep Space where they may jump to other systems later. That System’s card is now claimed by the colonizing player, another production disc (of the same type as the outpost) added to that card, any colony bonus rewarded and the card placed among that player’s holdings for Victory Points. Now a new card (A systems replaced by A systems, B systems replaced by B) is placed on the now vacant area.
Finally, at the end of each turn, players check to see if any of the “Achievement” card specifications have been met. If so, an Achievement disc of that player’s is placed on the card (worth VPs). A player cannot claim the same Achievement more than once and cannot claim more than one per turn. When four Achievements have been met by any assortment of players, that round is completed with one more complete round played. When done, final scoring occurs.
Victory Points come from many different directions. Players score for technologies researched: 1 point for Level I, 2 points for Level II, 3 for Level III. Not only do Level IIII techs provide immediate benefits (repeating a previous bonus or giving a discount on actions etc.) but they also worth additional VPs for various accomplishments met during the game. During the game, “private technologies” that only you can use may become part of your holdings. These will score based on their level. More points are scored for how far players get on their Automation track as well as for colonized systems, for outpost discs on the Exploration board, military presence in non-controllable areas (such as Sol and Deep Space), for certain Event cards held and Achievements claimed. The faction with the highest combined total is victorious. Tie? Then the player with the fewest remaining Food and Ore production discs on their mat wins. Still tied? Then most population cubes. Still tied? Then most ore? Still tied? Then you have to be magnanimous and share the victory!
Graphically, the game adopts a minimalist approach so artwork does not obscure or interfere with game play. Player turns move quickly despite the fact that Beyond the Sun compels you to do a variety of things: research technologies, maximize actions to generate Victory Points, explore and colonize and, of course, gear your strategy towards Achievements. The multi-use cubes are very much a balancing act as you need population and you need starships and you need ore – but you only have so many cubes at your disposal! Conversion of one type of resource into another is always possible (a “safety valve” when you’ve found your population or ore tracks to be less productive than you’d like) but that’s something you want to avoid. The deciding factor is the technologies that appear in the game and, in this respect, the game’s technology tree works brilliantly, making research of one level of technology dependent on another. Everything dovetails seamlessly in a logical progression, making decision-making not only critical but satisfying. This is a clean design where the game’s internal logic and progression makes complete sense.
Dennis K. Chan may be new to game design but he has certainly made an impressive debut. In Beyond the Sun, uncovering the latest developments and putting them to work in exploring and colonizing is fascinating. Because events, technologies and tech positions on the tech tree change with each play, flexibility in your plans is a must: the same strategy will not work every time! This keeps the game fresh and engaging. This is an impressive journey into the future, well worth the trip Beyond the Sun! – – – – – – – – Herb Levy
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