It was 2023’s Game you can’t escape, and Voidfall is here to stay. A truly epic space 4X game that messes with the formula and uses it to brew a Eurogamer’s galactic fantasy. The word ‘epic’ doesn’t just describe the scale of the game’s setting, but the package as a whole. There’s an outrageous amount of stuff in the box, enough rules to put the Highway Code to shame, and more icons than a trip around Madame Tussauds. There’s a lot of work involved in learning, setting up, and ultimately playing the game, but it’s worth it. Voidfall delivers on its lofty promises and goes beyond them.
“The truest wisdom is a resolute determination”
So said Bonaparte, who knew a thing or two about combat strategy. Combat is a great place to start as we dissect Voidfall, because it’s where you’ll see the biggest difference between it and its peers, like Twilight Imperium. Combat in 4X games often sees players chucking handfuls of dice across the table at one another, praying to the chance cube gods for a favourable outcome. Combat in Voidfall is deterministic. If deterministic isn’t a word in your day-to-day vocabulary, it soon will be.
When you’re talking about a game, deterministic combat means that you already know the outcome of the encounter before it begins. You know what the defenders can do, you know what you can do as the aggressor, and you know what the board state will be in the aftermath. It’s a really important thing to bring up early because it’s the part that will likely make or break Voidfall for a lot of people.
Lots of people enjoy rolling dice. Part of that epic game experience is picking a fight with someone you have no right to win, but clinging on to that small chance that Lady Luck has blown kisses your way. Voidfall is a stark contrast. There’s no trench run with a torpedo down an exhaust vent here. You go full Death Star or you go home. That unknown quantity, the seeds of randomness sown into the soil of the 4X landscape, just isn’t there. Hearing all of this might have made the game sound dull, and there’s a chance you want to close this tab right now. I should know, I was one of those people.
When I first heard how my epic space battles’ outcomes were already carved in stone before my thrusters sputtered into life, I wasn’t exactly enthused. It sounded boring.
I was wrong.
Get your house in order
Each player represents a grand house in the game. A sci-fi race of intergalactic beings bent on ruling the cosmos. Each house is asymmetric in play style, each with its own perks, abilities, and suggested ways to play. Even the player boards that track your progress along the different tech tracks are different from one another. The nuts-and-bolts mechanisms in Voidfall are resource management, area control, and action selection. Sounds pretty Euro-gamey, right? That’s because it is. It’s a heavy Euro in disguise, gorging itself on thematic vol-au-vents at the buffet of an Ameritrash members-only party.
You’ve got a board covered in dials that track your resource levels and production rates. Thank goodness it’s there too, because having to manage five more types of tokens during the game would have been the tipping point in terms of what’s manageable.
In the main action phase of each of the game’s three cycles, you’ll take turns playing cards from your hand. Each card has three actions on it, some of which have costs, and you can pick any two of these actions to perform. The cards and actions have themes and names that help tie things together. Even without knowing the game, you can hazard a guess at the sort of things you can do with the Development and Conquest cards. Production isn’t a standard phase of the game however, as you might expect from a game of this ilk. If you want to produce resources with the various guilds you have strewn around the galaxy, you need to use one of your actions on one of your turns, and if you’re producing, you ain’t fighting.
It all stokes the fires that in turn power the engines of a good Euro game. Tech tracks and advancements, taking and fulfilling agenda cards, spending resources to build guilds and defenses on tiles. All the while trying to manage the orange corruption markers that invade the main board and your player boards. Then you’ve got the technology market where you can buy cards which, once again, add a layer of asymmetry to proceedings. All of a sudden you’ve got shields to soak up damage during fights, or missiles that let you deal damage before you even invade a hex. There is so much to try to keep track of.
A bridge too far?
Amazing as it may seem, I still haven’t talked about loads of things in the game. Population dice, trade tokens, and skirmishes – oh my! If you don’t like heavy games with lots of decision-making, where you’re trying to make a hundred tiny gears turn in unison, you’re not going to have a good time with Voidfall. In all honesty, I’d be surprised if you got through setting up and playing the tutorial. It’s a 3-4 hour assault on your cognitive abilities.
Even when you revel in this level of complexity – which I do – it’s still a force to be reckoned with. You’ll have an idea of what you want to accomplish in your next turn, and likely have 10-15 minutes to plan how to do it. But the cards are temptresses. Sirens, beckoning your brain onto the rocks of indecision. As you place card on top of card, stacking an action queue for the ages, you’ll see something that makes you think “Ooh, actually I could do this, couldn’t I?”, and by the time you return from that cerebral rabbit hole you’ve got no idea what your original plan was. Of course, by the time it gets back to your turn the game state will have changed again, and you can almost guarantee that someone else has clamped your war machine’s wheels, but that’s just what Voidfall is like.
The time and space commitments are genuine concerns too. Setting up a game of Voidfall is an undertaking that can easily take 30-60 minutes, depending on the number of players and the scenario you’ve opted for. It will also swamp your table. I don’t care how big your table is, Voidfall will devour the lot and insist on a wafer-thin mint to finish.
Did I mention that it’s an absolute pain to teach? There are a ton of concepts that you need to understand if you want to play. You need to understand that your production level and yield are two different things. You need to know about approach and salvo damage and mitigation in combat, on top of initiative. You need to understand how to calculate end-of-cycle skirmish combat values, and how fleets can be broken and regrouped. And the icons. Oh, the icons.
In addition to the rulebook, compendium, and glossary included in the box (40, 86, and 52 pages respectively), there’s a four-page icon reference sheet detailing 214(!) different icons used in the game. Two hundred and fourteen! Voidfall is not a midweek game for after the kids have gone to bed.
You’d think that after that last section, I wouldn’t be recommending Voidfall. It’s an expensive, intense, time-hungry investment. But by the maker, is it worth it! Voidfall is a truly incredible game. If you can find a game to be a part of, I urge you to try it. Before you do, go over and watch the excellent how-to-play video from Paul at Gaming Rules!. It might take two full games to properly absorb the rules and iconography, but you’ll have such a good time getting there that you won’t care.
If I didn’t know the game was from the minds of Nigel Buckle & Dávid Turczi, who don’t seem to be able to put a foot wrong lately, I’d have sworn this was a Vlaada Chvátil game. The hex-based map, deterministic combat, card play, resources, and meticulous planning involved all make it feel like it’s what you’d get if he took Mage Knight and set it in space. Voidfall could so easily have tripped over its own feet if it weren’t for yet more sterling work in the graphic design department, thanks to Ian O’Toole. The man is some kind of wizard, I’m sure of it.
I could easily write twice the number of words I already have to try to explain the game better. I haven’t touched on the three different play modes, for instance. You can play competitively, cooperatively, and solo. The solo game runs smoothly and without too much overhead, and while I’ll be honest and say I haven’t had a cooperative game yet, the competitive mode is outstanding. When you consider the different houses and abilities, the pages and pages of scenarios on offer, and the different ways to play it, I can hand-on-heart say that the high price of the game is justified by its content, not just the amount of stuff in the box.
Hype games come and hype games go. I have a personal guideline which means I steer clear of heavily-hyped games for the first few months after release, just to see if people are still talking about them when the latest shiny trinkets are thrown before them. People are still talking about Voidfall, and I believe people will still be talking about Voidfall in the coming years too. It’s nothing short of spectacular. I recently played a four-player game at a convention which took close to four hours to complete. When we finished there was a palpable deflation, and had we not all had other games to go and play, I think we’d have all happily reset the game and played again immediately. Voidfall is that good.
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.
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Design: Nigel Buckle, Dávid Turczi
Publisher: Mindclash Games
Art: Ian O’Toole
Playing time: 120-240 mins