Friday, December 19, 2014

Core Worlds: Revolution & Core Worlds: Galactic Orders (Expansions Review)

  • Designer: Andrew Parks (Galactic Orders), Andrew Parks & Sara Sterphone (Revolution)
  • Publisher: Stronghold Games
  • Players: 2-5
  • Time: 90 minutes (though I’d say it’s about 30 minutes per player)
  • Ages: 10 (officially – though my 9 year old does just fine with it)
  • Times Played: 4 (Core Worlds only), 7 (with Galactic Orders), 3 (with review copy of Revolution provided by Stronghold Games)
Some games are weighed down by expansions. They become bloated like beached whales, ripe for bundles of critical dynamite to be strategically used to blow their blubber to kingdom come. (It’s at this point in the review that I must recommend you watch a very old piece of video that humorist Dave Barry refers to as “the most wonderful event in the history of the universe”. You can find this video, along with a number of other interesting related tidbits, at

Case in point: my beloved Anno 1503 is a fast-paced (15 minutes per player) development/race game – the expansion (Aristokraten und Piraten) has some great sounding ideas that simply make the game slower, longer & only slightly less tedious than watching bread mold. That fact that it is very OOP just makes it expensive and hard to find – without reducing the tedium level.

On the other hand, Core Worlds is the poster child for a game that started well, but has actually become richer and more enjoyable with each expansion. The basic structure of the game (a deck-builder with a 5 staged decks of cards crossed with a tableau-builder with military units & worlds) has not changed – but layers have been added by Galactic Orders and Revolution that create more room for strategic & tactical play.

Moving Into The Universe, And She’s Drifting This Way & That

Back in March of 2012, our own Jonathan Franklin (with able assists from some of the other OG writers) wrote a positive review with some reservations about the Core Worlds base game. Though I didn’t contribute (I hadn’t actually played Core Worlds by that point), I would agree with his general assessment. The basic game was solid but tended to run a bit long, especially learning games and games with 4+ players. (Important safety tip: this is still NOT a game you want to teach to a full 5-person table of new players.)

But by the time I managed to play the game, Galactic Orders (the first expansion) was in the production pipeline and promised to add some new twists & turns to the universe. The space conquest theme was like catnip to my Star Wars-obsessed son (and his dad, if I’m being honest), so it hit the table a few times. We began to see the various paths to victory:
  • focusing on acquiring the appropriate units to conquer and best utilize one or two of the core worlds 
  • building massive energy reserves in order to scoop up most of the Prestige cards 
  • a balanced strategy that included a core world, units with victory points & a Prestige card or two
And then Galactic Orders arrived.

Ya Better Hop on the Cosmic Wagon Train

At the time, all I knew was that adding the Galactic Orders expansion to the base game felt like when my family had gone from owning a black & white TV to our first color television. I didn’t realize until doing research for this review that Andrew Parks (the designer) and his playtesting team felt the same way.
After months of testing the expansion, the base game itself was nearly ready for submission to the printer in Germany. During this time, we realized we had to stop playtesting the expansion and playtest the base game with the new graphic design so that we could discover any potential interface issues…

Well, something happened right after we played the base game without the expansion for the first time. We stared at one another with looks of consternation. The playtest had gone smoothly, and other than a few graphic tweaks, everything was functional and balanced the way it should be – but we realized that, as much fun as we had playing the base game, it was nowhere near the experience of playing with the expansion. I mean, not even in the same league…

At first we panicked, not sure what to do. Would players still like the base game even though it didn’t have all the fun juicy awesomeness of the expansion? And so Chris, Chris, and I thought back to all the time we had spent playtesting the base game in 2009 and 2010. We really enjoyed the game during those playtests, and so had all of our developers and remote testers. We assured ourselves that players who had never played with the expansion would enjoy the base game just as much as we had.

But one thing was for sure. Once you play with the expansion, you will never play without it again! (from Andrew Park’s designer diary on BGG)
I’ll explain why in a minute – but let me put it as simply as I can: I believe that Galactic Orders is an ESSENTIAL expansion that takes the game to whole new level, deals with some areas of frustration in the design, and just generally makes for a splendid gaming experience.

There are four major changes introduced in Galactic Orders – three of which open up paths for more player control.
  • Advancements make their first appearance in this expansion – and even though it’s just one card (Capital City), the power to cull cards from your deck separate of attacking a planet gives you more options to streamline your deck in very specific ways. 
  • There are two rules changes that make a huge difference as well: players can now draw an extra card if they have less units in their Warzone than they have Worlds, and players are no longer limited to garrisoning conquered planets with Snub Fighters or Galactic Grunts – any unit involved in the fight may act as a garrison. Both of these rule changes give more control back to the player… a very good thing! 
  • The biggest change introduced in Galactic Orders are, well, the Galactic Orders. The six symbols of the orders are already on the unit & tactics cards found in the five sectors – and when you deploy one of those cards, you place a faction token with  your symbol on the card of that order. It has two possible uses: 
    • at the end of the game, the players with the most & second most tokens on an order receive victory points, or 
    • during the game, you can discard a faction token to invoke the order’s special power – which could give you more energy to spend, more military power for an invasion, or even another action
It’s easy to see how these layers open up the game without undue complication rules-wise… though they will slow play down the first time they are added to the game.

The final wrinkle added by the Galactic Orders expansion are Events. They are seeded into the various sector decks and are flipped onto a single stack as units & tactics cards are added to the center of the table. When the requisite number of units/tactics are on display, the event on the top of the pile takes effect. Early in the game, the events are generally positive… but as the players get closer to the core worlds, the events become more difficult to deal with.

There are more units and tactics added to each sector, as well as a new core world. And, for your storage needs, a better box set-up. (Don’t buy it for the box – but it’s certainly nice to have.)

We played a number of games with Galactic Orders, slowly but surely learning how best to utilize faction tokens and the galactic orders. In games with 2-3 players (my preferred way to play Core Worlds), the tokens are generally more valuable for their special powers than for scoring. However, there are some significant scoring benefits in games with more players, as point spreads tend to be tighter.

And then Stronghold Games confirmed that they would be publishing Revolution.


I was afraid that this new expansion would be Core World‘s “jump the shark” moment… and at the same time, I was incredibly hopeful that this would take the game to the next level. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded and my hopes realized.

It’s no surprise that there are new units to draft & deploy as well as new worlds to conquer tucked away in the Revolution box – but the designers have expanded one previously introduced card type (Advancements) and added another (Heroic Tactics).

The Capital City first seen in Galactic Orders is now joined by a plethora of other Advancements that enter the game in the same fashion as Events. They are purchased with energy and placed adjacent to one of your conquered worlds. Each planet is limited to a single Advancement. They offer a wide variety of special powers: extra energy, discounts on certain purchases, end game scoring, and the like. They also have the added benefit of not clogging up your deck since they are played immediately.

Heroic Tactics adds three cards per Hero (a card type) in the game. These are tactics cards with a different hero-specific backs that form their own deck for each player. When a player drafts a Hero card, he has the option to add the Heroic Tactics cards for that Hero to his Heroic Tactics deck. When he later deploys that Hero, he takes the top Heroic Tactics card IF it matches the Hero played. (There are ways to manipulate the top of the Heroic Tactics deck, so it’s not just a crapshoot.) These Tactics cards are pretty powerful, so you’re limited to holding onto one Heroic Tactic at the end of a round… and only for a Hero that is deployed in your Warzone.

Just as with Galactic Orders, Revolution adds layers to the base game that don’t overwhelm the system. Instead, it enhances an already strong base game by adding new options and paths to victory. In our plays with both expansions, we’ve found that you can focus on Advancements to great effect – as well as wisely working your Heroic Tactics deck to create big opportunities to build your empire.

A nice touch: the cards are coded so that you can play only with the Revolution expansion.

And, In the End

I’ve pretty much said it throughout the review, but I think that both expansions for Core Worlds are not only enjoyable but essential to make a near-perfect gaming experience. This system takes deck-building & tableau creation and combines them to create an epic space empire game.

Note: I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again… players need one game under their belts with the base set before adding the expansions. I don’t think it would be a big deal to add the two expansions at the same time, though.

Song references (in order):

Talking Heads, “And She Was”
The B-52s, “Cosmic Thing”
David Bowie, “Changes”
The Beatles, “The End” 

This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers blog.

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