Beyond The Sun Review
The first few times I heard people talking about Beyond The Sun, I heard it referred to as ‘Tech Tree: The Game’, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I love a tech tree as much as the next geek, but a whole game based around just that? Hmm, I can’t say it left me too optimistic. I needn’t have worried, because Beyond The Sun is so much more than just a tech tree. It has sequential research, sure, but it also has area control, action selection, resource production, and at times feels like a flat-out race. Beyond The Sun is absolutely brilliant. I don’t go around making claims like that without being able to back it up, so let’s get into it.
I’m actually going to start off by talking about the game’s only real negative aspect, and that’s how it looks. Call me superficial, call me shallow, call me what you will, but Beyond The Sun doesn’t have much in the way of table appeal. Yes, there’s a bit of a minimalism thing going on, but the main board is still as flat as a pancake. A sea of cardboard with a slew of cards on top of it. The exploration side-board, despite its name, isn’t somewhere to store your maps and compass alongside your fine china. No, it’s a board on the side (shock!) which has cards representing the planets you can colonise, and these look a bit more interesting at least.
As an aside, I’m really surprised the design and production team went with the verb ‘colonise’ in the game. Even if we’re talking about uninhabited planets, the negative connotations the word raises still spike something in my subconscious. Terraform would have been a much better term.
Once you get past that initial feeling of ‘oh, okay, is this it?’, things rapidly start climbing towards orbit. The little cubes that act as resource markers on your player boards, spaceships on the exploration board, and scientists on the main board, are so freaking cute you could just eat them! Don’t eat them though, they’re plastic. Eating plastic is bad, as I find myself telling my dog far too often. The plainness and resulting ‘OMG did they accidentally send the prototype files to the printer?‘ feeling soon dissipates, and leaves you with a fantastically easy-to-read board state at any given time. The choice to not go for stark primary colours for player pieces is also a major win. The orange especially looks delectable. You hear me? Delectable.
In other words, less is more.
Daddy or chips?
For the vast majority of the game you’ll be faced with two main choices: get your spaceships moving around the exploration board, or research new technologies. The two things tie together and have all manner of interdependencies, but it’s still really difficult to choose at times, and a lot of that comes down to the end-of-game trigger. At the start of the game, you lay out some achievement cards next to the board. As the name implies, these represent the things you’ll aim to achieve during the game. A couple of the cards are used in every game, but the others get drawn at random, keeping the game interesting long after your first couple of games. So for example, you might be aiming to be the first to colonise four planets, or you might have your sights set on being the first person to research a level 4 technology. Once four achievements have been claimed, no matter who by, the game ends, so you’d better get your skates on.
This is what I was referring to back at the top of the review. Even though Beyond The Sun is a Eurogame through and through, it piles on the tension like a good racing game. The achievements are worth decent points and are dangled just out of reach for most of the game. The game state is so easily read that nothing is hidden from anyone, so you can see just how close your rivals are to claiming an achievement. It forces you to make some pretty important decisions in the heat of the moment. Chase the player opposite you to pip them to the post for the achievement they’re blatantly after, or go for something else instead?
What makes the choices all the more delicious is the fact that you’re basically just looking at one of two places for the entire game. The exploration board and the tech board. No matter which you choose to work with your wandering eye is drawn to what the other players are doing on the other board.
Sure, that sort of thing happens in other games too, but it feels especially pronounced in Beyond Of Sun, and I love it. Tech advancements not only get you VPs at the end of the game and often grant one-time bonuses, but more importantly may give you new worker spots. Despite there being worker spots, I don’t think of it as a worker-placement game really, as you’ve only got one pawn to move around to take actions. It’s more like action selection instead. Either way, some of those higher-level worker spots have some powerful effects, and are often cheaper to use than those printed on the board.
Back in your box!
No, not the game. I don’t want the game back in the box. It’s great. “Back in your box” was a catchphrase my group developed while playing Beyond The Sun. Whether it’s a ship or a population marker (or scientist as I keep calling them), all of your cubic resources come from the little columns of crates on your player boards. Managing your resources is the key to doing well in the game, and after the end of each of your turns you choose whether to produce ore (from a central reserve) or create population from any relevant columns in your supply. If you need to remove ships from the board because you colonised a planet, or if you lose a population cube in order to make a new ship or conduct some research, they get rotated back to their crate side and return to your board again. Hence “back in your box”.
Despite being a glib little sentence, getting stuff back on your board becomes crucial. In a game with no turn limit, most games seem to finish at around 15 turns, and you’re only able to run your production once per turn. There’s nothing more painful than going to produce population, only to realise you’ve got to waste your production phase on doing a resource trade with a really bad return. I say there’s nothing more painful, but that’s an exaggeration. There are plenty of things more painful, obviously. I sat down too fast once and sat on myself. That can bring tears to your eyes, trust me, but I’m trying to make a point here. Plan ahead and avoid the pain of a wasted production phase.
Beyond The Sun is one of those games that does a tremendous job of offering you tempting new things to reach for, while simultaneously pulling you back and saying “Ah ah ah, not so fast, you can’t afford that”, like a predatory video game full of microtransactions. There’s no pay-to-win here, though. Clever planning is the only way to make your galactic dreams come true, and it results in a game that’s as engaging as it is fun.
Dennis K Chan has done a bit of a Min & Elwen with Beyond The Sun. The Czech duo came out of nowhere to land Lost Ruins Of Arnak on us and create a debut hit, and Dennis has done the same. Arnak isn’t a bad comparison actually. While there’s almost no crossover in terms of theme or mechanisms, they’re both very good medium-weight Euro games, and both are games with a near-universal appeal and low barrier to entry.
It’s not the most visually striking game in the world, admittedly, but it’s a design decision which benefits the game, and ultimately that’s what matters (despite my grumbling earlier). The double-layer player boards with their slots for the various discs and cubes are really high quality, and I love the decision to add in a second set of player boards with asymmetric upgrade options. Between those, the wide variety of tech and achievement cards, and the upcoming expansion (Leaders of the New Dawn), Beyond The Sun will be hitting your table over and over.
On a personal level, I’m really glad to see Rio Grande Games breaking the mould and opting for a shallow, rectangular box. Some of my favourite games came in boxes like this (Concordia, Hamburgum, etc.), and it’s great to see a publisher say “Sod your kallax, we like this shape”. If you’re curious about the game and fancy trying it before you buy, you can play it right now on Board Game Arena if you’re a premium member (or know someone who is) by clicking here. My addiction to the game shows no signs of letting up. I’m currently in three asynchronous games on BGA, and I can’t wait to get my physical copy played again. Beyond the sun is a joy.
You can buy this game from my retail partner, Kienda. Remember to sign-up for your account at kienda.co.uk/punchboard for a 5% discount on your first order of £60 or more.
If you enjoyed this review and would like to read more like this, consider supporting the site by joining my supporters’ membership at either Patreon or Ko-fi. It starts from £1 per month, offers member benefits, and lets me know you’re enjoying what I’m doing.
Beyond The Sun (2020)
Design: Dennis K. Chan
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Art: Franz Vohwinkel
Playing time: 60-120 mins