Corruption, Conquest and Exploration
2021. August 11.
To this day, the origin of the Voidborn is a mystery and we’ll probably never learn the truth. It somehow exists in the void between dimensions and its nature is beyond our mortal comprehension. What we do know is that somehow it was among us well before the Voidfall; watching, whispering, and manipulating our scientific progress to help us grow and expand into a galactic empire - one that can satisfy its hunger.
When its time had come, and the portals opened up across the heart of the Domineum, it was already too late. In the event we know as the Voidfall, the Voidborn’s vile corruption swept over our empire, deforming everyone and everything it touched both mentally and physically. The first to fall were the Novarchs, the royal members of House Novarchon. Not only were they the rulers of the Domineum, but also the high priests of a mysterious cult. Had we known earlier that the entity they worshipped was the Voidborn itself, we could have at least tried to overthrow their reign before it was too late. Yet while the Voidborn whispered knowledge into the Novarchs’ ears, we gladly and blindly accepted the pathetic fractions of their incredible technology that they spared us. Now we have to face the consequences of our ignorance and not only wage a desperate war against the cosmic corruption, but also fill the power vacuum the Novarchs left behind - if we live to see that day...
The Voidborn and its Corruption
Now that we know a lot of the core game concepts of Voidfall and managing our own empire, it is time to take a look at our common enemy, the Voidborn!
A passive neutral opponent is a pretty common trope in space 4x games. Their design purpose is usually having someone to use your guns against even before you are ready to clash with your opponents, so that early military advancement doesn’t feel boring and pointless. While the Voidborn certainly fits this bill, we needed to take it a step further than, say, the Ancients in Eclipse, for a few reasons:
Since Voidfall is fundamentally a Euro-style game, we want small, efficient, economy-focused empires to be just as viable as the good ol’ galactic conquest strategies. Playing like that might mean that you never actually get to engage in player-versus-player combat, so engaging with the neutral opponent has to be not only challenging, but it also needs to have interesting ways to affect players beyond combat.
The cooperative mode has been part of Voidborn’s design goals from very early on. In the cooperative mode, the Voidborn is actually far from being passive (more on that in later Spotlights), and we wanted to convey that threatening feeling in the competitive version as well, which is impossible with a “sitting duck”-style neutral opponent.
Finally, the Voidborn is a centerpiece of the game’s theme. It’s not hard to see why an incomprehensible, otherworldly menace threatening to turn humanity into its mindless thralls needs to be integrated into the game well beyond the usual “shoot it down to take this hex” approach.
So, how exactly does the Voidborn threaten players in the competitive version? First, the obvious: it occupies almost every hex at the beginning of the game with corrupted ships and Sector defenses that can only be wiped out with brute force. In previous spotlights, we also talked about how it dynamically reinforces its corrupted troops as a cost of some Focus actions, and how it becomes even more powerful in certain Galactic events.
What we haven’t really talked about yet is the other powerful weapon in the Voidborn’s arsenal: the Corruption itself. Wiping out the Voidborn’s forces is not enough - you also have to do something about the Corruption that’s been festering in the sector!
Every Voidborn sector is corrupted by default, with a rather… disturbing physical manifestation:
Corruption has three possible states. By default, it affects sectors, disabling their population growth entirely, and making establishing Guilds very hard. But once you conquer a corrupted sector, you have the tough choice of leaving it crippled, or allowing the Corruption to seep into the inner reaches of your House, reducing the total number of Agendas you may have, or triggering an Affliction that severely hinders one particular aspect of your empire.
Carefully managing Corruption is an important and very thematic aspect of Voidfall. Playing as a purist empire that purges every trace of Corruption is certainly very rewarding, but so is embracing Corruption using the Temptation focus card, with extremely powerful actions with Corruption as a cost. After all, there was a reason why the Novarchs were so advanced...
Now that we know exactly what we’re up against, let’s see how exactly we conquer those corrupted sectors and take the fight to the Voidborn’s fleets and their defences. And with that, we get the first hint of the elusive final X, exterminate.
The Focus card you will first reach for when feeling the need to invade is Conquest, giving you 3 powerful actions: Combat Assignment, Accelerated Planning and Purge.
Combat Assignment (costing you 2 energy from your stockpile) allows you to perform an Invasion. During an Invasion, you target a sector adjacent to one or more of your sectors, and move any number of your adjacent Fleets into it. Then, the explosions start.
If the sector you invade is corrupted, you will gain Influence based on its population: it doesn’t matter if the corrupt sector is controlled by the Voidborn or one of your careless opponents who let the Corruption fester there. Invading a pure sector is permitted, but such vindictive attacks on your opponents does not aid humanity in the struggle against the Voidborn so there is no Influence bonus for such action.
When you first take a sector from the Voidborn, you’re also often rewarded with Spoils.
Bounty tokens give you some spare resources, while Reclaim tokens give you a free development in that sector (or just a lot more resources). Spoil tokens are placed randomly, face down on the sectors at setup, and more is often added via Galactic Events. While Voidfall’s combat is deterministic and calculable, we never said you would know exactly what rewards you can claim upon reclaiming a sector from the clutches of the Voidborn… Liberating a sector for humanity almost feels like exploring it all over again.
The second action on Conquest is Accelerated Planning, its effect is gaining an Agenda. We covered how we use Agendas last time - the Conquest Focus is one fairly reliable way to gain them from the six card offer of Agenda cards. However powerful a leader you are, galactic politics bind your hand - represented by the randomly available, revolving offer of cards, each revolving around a different scoring condition and multiplier. Additionally, such an action is not without costs, both materially (2 credits from your stockpile) and also by losing tempo against the Voidborn: as the Voidborn deployment shown in its cost will cause the monstrosity to deploy an additional Fleet or a Sector Defence to a sector under its control and adjacent to you - usually making the next step in your glorious expansion that much harder.
The third action on Conquest is Purge. Here, for the cost of recalling a Fleet Power from a sector you can remove the vile Corruption that has infested the same sector - this is often a quick way to deal with the Corruption the Combat Assignment has left you with. This represents part of your command capacity being reallocated for fighting local infestations instead of engaging in all out galactic war. You will read more on recalling Fleet Power soon, but be assured that Fleet Power recalled to your board is not lost, it can be deployed again, usually using your Shipyards.
Remember, whether your plan is to blaze a path through the sectors or set up a stable economic home front powering a full slate of Agendas, a Technology may exist in the game to help. For example, if you are on a warpath, you can be on the lookout for Transmitters, increasing the number of opportunities for invasions or for gaining Agendas. This could allow you to do one of them twice, or have a spare Focus Action to also purge some Corruption…
Exploration in Voidfall
We mentioned in the first entry that we seek to give the true 4X experience, but using a new implementation: that of a strategic choice driven economic euro, while maintaining the tension and the buildup of more wild space empire builder games. And it is most on display on the least highlighted X: explore. Most games of this genre implement exploration by flipping tiles on the map, as the game expands. If done impactfully, this can occasionally limit the ability of players to create grand plans, and also introduces a fundamental underlying randomness: if your strategy needs multiple components, and the map just consistently keeps not providing one of them, you might feel like the loss was not really your fault.
But exploration is exciting, and more importantly a driving force to adapt and come up with new ways of winning when presented with different possible ingredients. We wanted to maintain this drive, but without the limit and randomness an unknownable map imposes. Plus, it makes thematic sense too: we know the galaxy, the Domineum has been living in it for centuries. Our solution is to shift the exploration from spatial, to conceptual. The discoverable is represented at setup first in the form of the Technology Tableau (which changes with each scenario and each player House selection), and the drive to adapt is given by a cycling Agenda offer - the latter providing just enough randomness to not be able to plan all your scoring opportunities throughout the game, while creating moments of exciting pivots and high intensity brain burners you’ll need to solve to find the sequence of actions that will deliver your strategy. We feel this shifts the game from an unpredictable build-up and a possibly exciting endgame, to a steadily exciting build-up, with a payoff that feels well-deserved. This philosophy will again be on display as we handle player-to-player combat, as you'll see in the upcoming entries.
Voidfall comes with a variety of maps and recommended Technology Tableaus, for all player counts and to suit different players’ taste for the threat of direct interaction. We have rated each map in terms of aggression and of difficulty (the more special sectors a map has, or the easier it is to “get stuck in a corner” the higher the complexity is). The more aggressive maps are usually smaller and the players start closer to each other - ensuring early and frequent opportunities for direct player vs player conflict. The less aggressive maps are more suited to those players who prefer to compete indirectly, and they might as well be building their empires in a different galaxy altogether...
In future spotlights we will tell you more about Fleets and deploying Fleet Power, detailed Combat resolution and much more…