Almost a decade after my interest was first sparked in reviewing games for Rio Grande Games, I finally met someone on the inside of the company in a mutual FB industry group and made a connection. Soon after, a review copy of Beyond the Sun by Dennis K. Chan was at my door.
Game Reviewing as a Hobby: A Peak Behind the Scenes
I have always had a soft spot for Rio Grande Games. I spent part of my childhood growing up in New Mexico, and graduated from New Mexico State University, where the actual Rio Grande itself was practically in my backyard. Because of my time in the area, I really enjoy supporting New Mexico businesses. So there's that. And the first "serious" board game I ever played was the Rio Grande distribution of Power Grid, which is still one of my favorites. We own over 30 games from the Rio Grande catalog, including Dominion, Puerto Rico, Carcassonne, Race for the Galaxy (another favorite), Stone Age, Underwater Cities (this game is amazeballs), and more. But I've never done a review for Rio Grande Games before.
A million years ago, before I was ever a board game reviewer, I regularly reviewed books for publishers. When I first fell in love with board games, I thought I'd approach the publisher of my favorite games - Rio Grande Games - and establish a partnership. I was very used to the review procedures at major book publishing houses where the marketing departments are run by MBAs (who may or may not enjoy reading books themselves), the review process is formally structured and well publicized for reviewers, and introductory discussions between reviewers and publishers are focused on marketspeak like "demographic penetration". I remember feeling exasperated at the time that the Rio Grande Games website didn't have a marketing page with straightforward information on requesting review copies, nor contact info specifically for their marketing department. I had to do a bit of digging to reach someone at the company and that's when I found out that it wasn't a cold corporate monolith, but a small company where people wore many hats and everyone involved loved board gaming with all their heart. I didn't know any of those people personally (I hadn't been to a gaming convention yet) and trying to approach them from a traditional marketing relationship perspective (I think I sent a formal email about demographics!) went nowhere so I just gave up. I loved board games so much that I just started writing reviews for new games we purchased and played and didn't make any more attempts to establish connections with publishers after my run in with Rio Grande Games that left me spooked. A few years into the hobby, I started attending Gen Con, where I met a lot of publishing folks face to face and made a lot of great connections based on a shared love of gaming. It was only then that I started receiving review copies and maintaining formal relationships with the various board game publishers. While it's true that the board game industry has become more sophisticated in its marketing and organization as it's matured, a lot of board game publishers are still small time operations and when I connect with these folks, it feels like being part of a family.
My first observation: the cover art, by Franz Vohwinkel, is phenomenal.
In Beyond the Sun, players take on the role of faction leaders on the move, colonizing space and researching new technological breakthroughs in a post apocalyptic universe. Each turn, players make decisions on what action to take and what resource to produce. However, most of the action spaces on the board are initially blocked off. A blocked action space can only be used by a player once they’ve taken the prerequisite actions on previous turns of researching the technologies associated with the blocked action. These technologies and associated actions are presented in a tree display with the level 1 technologies/actions branching off into level 2, 3, and 4 technologies/actions.
After the action and resource phases of a player’s turn, they may claim an achievement, if they’re eligible. There are multiple achievements laid out for each game and players compete for the limited spots on each achievement card. When 4 achievement discs have been placed, the final round is triggered, followed by scoring.
After a thorough read through the rulebook, I got the game on the table pretty quickly. It’s a well written rulebook by the way, with humor to boot. I especially love the rule for determining first player (see #13 under setup).
With the pandemic in full swing and social isolation in effect, I’ve focused on 2 player games of Beyond the Sun between my husband Chris and myself. During our first game, we spent the first few rounds aggressively fighting over one system we both wanted to colonize. Back and forth, back and forth, the control shifted. At some point this power struggle became more about a matter of stubborn will between the two of us and less about strategic play and I have to admit, I got a kick out of the ability to passive aggressively annoy and rattle my husband in this way. Eventually I gave in on that and moved on to focus on claiming the easier achievements while Chris focused more on building his engine through research and got caught up in trying to get to level 4 on the technology tree. That proved to be his downfall. Focusing on colonizing and the low hanging fruit of completing more level 2 research in lieu of making it to level 4 won that first game for me, 59 to 49.
I occasionally ran into a bit of analysis paralysis in during my plays of Beyond the Sun, but nothing too severe. And the components (dice, plastic coated cards, wooden tokens, ore crystals, player boards, player aids, and the central board) have held up well. They’re not as beautifully designed as the cover art, but the illustrations on them fit the theme and carry the story as intended.
We really enjoy this game at 2 players. It’s a solid engine builder that’s quick to learn but variable in play to keep the boredom at bay, and quite thinky. Our only complaint is that the game doesn’t come with a score pad to do the math at the end to determine the winner (the publisher would like to you know that you can download scoresheets on their website). A great addition to any well curated board game collection, I highly recommend Beyond the Sun.
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 90 minutes per game
Game type: worker placement, point to point movement
Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.