Publisher: Outer Limit Games
Game Designer: Stan Strickland, Mike Strickland
Artwork: Santiago Reinoso Muñoz, Mike Strickland
Ages: 14 & up
Playing Time: 90-180 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $49 – $69
There and Back Again
Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis is a 1-4 player space themed 4x game from Outer Limit Games that has re-launched on Kickstarter this Tuesday. In the game, players assume the role of an agent from one of four different alien races, vying for control of the Tau Ceti star system by gaining power and knowledge through trade, exploration and conquest.
The project first ran last summer on Kickstarter but was unable to fund, so the father and son design team of Stan and Mike Strickland went back to the drawing board and revamped the game. The end product of their labor brings us a more streamlined experience with some adjusted components to provide lower pledge levels and funding goals in order to ensure success.
For brevity sake, I won’t be rehashing the entire first review but keeping this one to only the new additions and other changes made from the first Kickstarter. For an in depth look, you can read my initial review which is still valid, aside from the changes listed here.
I recommend checking out the latest updated rulebook here for a full read through of the rules and mechanics of the game. The new rulebook is one of the bigger changes as anyone who read the first rule book will attest to, it is now much more concisely written and easier to follow than the original.
Same System, New Tricks, New Look
Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis offers a giant sandbox for players to adventure in; from running interplanetary missions or commodity trading routes, solving and manipulating planetary crises to engaging in exploration and building economic influence and power, you can follow any strategy you like.
There’s a little bit of something for everyone in this game and with the re-launch version, it has followed the course of the original but the changes made have definitely been for the better. Outer Limit Games has leaned out the components and cleaned up the rules while incorporating some new ones. I see no reason that this second run on Kickstarter should be anything but successful.
The rulebook received a much needed overhaul, clarifying many rules that were a tad confusing in the first version while also adding multiple illustrated examples to reinforce the players understanding. A quick-play guide walks you through everything from setup to end game very clearly, giving the high points of the procedures and serving as a great reference to ensure that you don’t miss a step.
There is an option for a short game of 8 rounds as opposed to the standard 10 with the two variable extra rounds that can push it to 12. The short game poses its own challenges since only 32 major actions are available overall, so you’ll need to have a coherent strategy to best utilize each of those actions each round!
In addition to the overhaul, some of the rules have been broken out and separated into standard and optional advanced rules to allow for a smoother introduction to the game. Once a player is familiar with the base game they can tailor the overall experience to suit their needs by cherry picking the advanced rules that they want to use. I really like when a game gives you flexibility like this, it’s a perfectly fitting approach to the sandbox environment of Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis.
For some examples of the rule differences between standard and advanced; crisis on your homeworld cost you action markers only in the advanced rules. Pick up and deliver Interplanetary Missions can now be played without the added risk of smuggling an unauthorized transport in the standard rules, but who doesn’t want to get in touch with their inner Han Solo? Quark-gluon plasma transports no longer run the risk of incurring damage unless you use the advanced rules but without that risk, you can’t double the reward.
Player mats have been changed up a bit and improved from their original counterparts. Everything is now clearly labeled and you’ll notice some changes, such as the removal of specializations and resource units. This has been replaced by the materials track, for tracking orbital construction and upgrades and this track tells you the cost for recruiting. Upgrades remain the same and the new orbitals feature replaces a couple of original mechanics which we’ll take a look at a little further down.
Some of the components have been updated and the excess pared down, making for a leaner and cleaner table presentation with less fiddly bits to be knocked about. The character art has received a facelift, forgoing the cartoony look with much nicer art and the tiles also appear spiffier. Character ships are now custom wood tokens, this was done to cut component cost but I fully expect to see those 3D models as a stretch goal that should easily be achieved!
The new map is still modular and puzzled together by each player placing tiles in turn but those meager dark matter tiles have been removed. This tightens up the board and the tension as everyone will be closer together through the duration and much better situated to go after those crucial exploration points, to expand their influence and begin producing commodities.
Speaking of those exploration points, they are all two point roots and once you have successfully explored one point you can lay a claim token on the other, signifying you’re intention to complete that root. This stops other players from coming in and screwing up your development of the root, which before could tend to stagnate and confuse play a bit.
Cultural influence has been scrapped; leaving only economic influence which spins off of the roots and expands into unknown sectors that you add cubes to as they are explored. While I did like the thematic aspect of spreading both types of influence from the first version, just dealing with economic influence allows play to flow more smoothly and quickly.
Those exploration roots are critical to not only economic expansion but production and in limiting your home world from falling prey to crises so it will be what everyone is racing after in the outset. Once a root is complete, you remove one of your five cubes from the enlightenment bag and place it on the root.
With each cube removed you lessen the chance of facing a crisis on your home planet but unlike the first version, you can never completely avoid them. Before there were only four cubes but now you have five, four of which can be removed and used for expansion but one cube must always remain in the bag.
This is a great design choice because you can no longer sprint through exploration points, removing cubes from the enlightenment bag and yourself from planetary crises as you could before. The subtitle of the game is planetary crisis after all; so this stays a real threat to everyone on every turn, as it should be.
A great new addition to Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis are the orbitals, with each player having the option of building four of them from the start. Once constructed, orbitals produce goods to your homeworld for trade on the Tau Ceti Exchange and give you a cool 3 Galactic Points for each one built and still standing in end game scoring. This new mechanic combines the original produce and re-engineer actions into one, making it much simpler and easier to manage. There is talk of also making orbitals have a combat ability as well, which was part of their original intent, but those rules were not present in the version I played.
The Enlightenment phase has changed slightly, now the active deck always starts with a crisis and specialist card in it regardless of player count. In the original version, this was only done with less than four players. When a crisis hits your planet, you’ll lose a resource cube if there is one on planet but the good thing is now you don’t lose action markers, unless using the advanced rules.
You gain a specialist and crisis card every time you recruit; this is tied into the build action on the materials track that I mentioned earlier. With each orbital built, recruiting costs go up, which is expected in a growing economy but it’s not crippling as it increases only one Tau (currency) with each step.
Recruiting is important; you’ll need those specialist cards not only to help avert crises but to help in other areas, such as combat. Crisis cards are not only necessary for a little take that action against an opponent, making sure another player faces trouble on their homeworld but also bring you GP at the end of the game, so don’t overlook this action and get those cards!
For solitaire fans, the great news is Tau Ceti: Planetary Crisis can now be played as a full game against three opposing AI characters! I’ve only had the chance to try out two of the AI opponents but they work rather well each has its own feel and it’s fairly quick to play.
Ramping things up even further is the Living Starship NPC expansion, another optional addition to the game. This bad boy is mean, with the sole intention of destroying everyone’s economic prosperity, relentlessly hunting down and destroying every orbital in its wake. The NPC does some really nasty stuff too, like sapping your energy stores and stealing knowledge tokens. When this thing shows up on the board, it’s in everyone’s interest to head it off and take it down!
The months between the initial launch and the re-launch have not been wasted. Tau Ceti feels like it’s matured and gotten wiser with age, bringing with it a rich mix of options and interesting mechanics that keep you engaged every time at any player count.
It has strong replayability as both a multiplayer and solitaire game, with deep enough strategy but keeps it simple rather than bogging you down in minutiae. I still think the game is better at a full table but is good with two and very fun as a solitaire game, with the AI and when you want to up the threat, the NPC.
If you backed the first project, it’s a no-brainer to back this one again. For anyone who is a fan of sandbox games with a space opera setting, offering multiple paths to explore and strategies to tackle, this is one to definitely back!
Company Website: http://www.outerlimitgames.com/
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/outerlimitgames
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/OuterLimitGames
Note: A preview copy of this game was provided to me.