Beyond the Sun is getting a ton of love across gaming media; it’s a sci-fi game from first-time designer Dennis K. Chan and Rio Grande Games, which has always released great strategy games, many of which are still on my (very limited) gaming shelves. So when I found a deal to pick this up recently, I jumped at the chance.
Then, I opened the box.
“Is this the ugliest game of all time?” I said to no one in particular.
The box art is bland; I knew that from seeing the pictures online, but seeing it in person really brought that home. The box organization is functional, but not the amazing Game Trayz inserts I have begun to love. Many publishers are boxing their games more sensibly to save space and make packing/unpacking a game night easier, but not Beyond the Sun. The rulebook is so dry it almost appears to be written like a grade school science textbook.
But I had just dropped cash on a new game. So while I initially had buyer’s remorse, I made my way through the rulebook and soon discovered that you should never judge a book by its cover (or the box it came packaged in).
Explore the board…and the galaxy
The action in Beyond the Sun is tied to two distinct areas. First there is a large branching technology tree which is slowly revealed over the course of play; this is where your action selection mechanism comes in. The second is a space exploration map that allows for your ships to colonize new systems, giving you a mix of instant, ongoing and/or end-game bonuses.
Both are vital…and both are so much fun to reveal and explore. The tech tree is this really beautiful bonanza of a design; it’s so simple, but so empowering to the player each time they get access to new technology and powers. But you can’t sleep on the space exploration board either; there’s plenty of end-game points to be had, but also ways to further accelerate your population and ore production engine, both of which are required to build new ships, grow your population and build colonies over time.
This loop is, simply put, awesome. I did a mock playthrough for two players, then did a regular three-player game with the basic faction boards, plus two more four-player games last week. And something started to happen…love! You know that feeling you have when you play a game and you realize it is exactly in your gaming sweet spot? It was happening as my plays of Beyond the Sun developed, and then other little things start to come to light:
- The turns in Beyond the Sun are beautifully short. You will pick a tech tree action, execute that, then do a production action before you pass to the next player.
- Yes, the board, the art, the box are all ugly, but these icons (on your player board, cards and the two game boards) are easy to read and designer Dennis K. Chan did something amazing here: he uses words—WORDS!—to describe rare actions that would have required lots of consulting a rulebook if icons had been used. Why can’t more designers mix great iconography with simple use of the English language?
- The tech tree board is not sexy, but there’s plenty of space on it. Combined with the smaller exploration board, you are going to need a lot of physical space for those plus the player boards. But as long as your room is well lit and everyone is willing to sit close to each other to read the various cards, you’ll be fine to quickly execute your turns.
- Scoring isn’t this convoluted exercise in point salad-dom. You get points from researched technologies, colonized systems, and public objectives. Scores will range from the mid-40s to the mid-60s in most cases. You don’t have to have a math degree to figure things out. (And, post-release, Rio Grande Games added a PDF file for this game to their site to print out a scoring sheet if you need one.)
There’s a reason why this game’s MSRP has gone up this year!
Beyond the Sun is not perfect; the board basically should not be read upside down or from a distance for the reasons described above. I typically poo-poo the use of expansions, but Beyond the Sun is rife for needing expansion content because of the limited end-game objectives and Tier I technologies (the same four Tier 1 techs are used in every game). I can definitely see the need after 10+ plays for more content; as of early February 2021, promo packs are being announced for this game.
And damn, this could be a better-looking production with a better box and better art. Or any art.
But those are minor quibbles. Come for the gameplay, stay for the gameplay. The hype is justified!