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Empyreal: As Above, So Below Expansion Review

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Welcome back to the world of Indines where trains run wild thanks to magic and, of course, hard work. I recently gave very high marks to Empyreal Spells and Steam, naming it an all-time favorite. Empyreal: As Above So Below adds to the mix with more captains, more specialists, more spellcars, and a couple of new tricks.

This expansion was released alongside the base game during the first Kickstarter and recently reprinted with the base game and another mini expansion. With this expansion, Empyreal can play from 1 to 8 players and still takes about 20 minutes per player.

Expansion Overview:

Empyreal: As Above, So Below Golden Sands
Advisors get added to player boards and the game map, providing new types of special abilities.

As Above, So Below adds two new factions: Starchaser Rails and Underlands Dispatch. Each of these comes with two captains from which to choose. Additionally, you get another captain for each of the 6 factions in the base game. The expansion also includes more awards, specialists, and spellcars that can be mixed straight into the base game for added variety.

In terms of brand new ways to play, this expansion provides map tiles that allow for 7- and 8-player games. The added solo deck gives players the option to play solo or add an automata to games of any player count.

There is also one new game module included, metros. Metros act as wild cities in the middle of the board that can have any good type delivered to them. In addition to demand tiles, each metro offers additional bonuses for making a delivery that meets certain criteria. These include building track anywhere on the map, gaining mana, taking a special spellcar, or taking a new kind of specialist (advisor).

Empyreal: As Above, So Below Gameplay
The expansion adds two new companies, the Starchaser Rails (purple) and the Underland Dispatch (orange).

Game Experience with the Expansion:

This expansion was obviously designed in conjunction with the base game, then cut for space and money constraints. I know that is usually seen as a negative, but not here. The base game of Empyreal contains 2-3x more content than most games as is, so you never need the expansion (even if it is really good). However, you can tell this was no afterthought. All of the pieces integrate smoothly here. They do not feel like an underdeveloped cash grab like some expansions do. The quality of the design work is about as strong as the base game. The new spellcars, captains, awards, and specialists just add more delicious variety from game to game. And since the base game was designed with this expansion in mind, everything fits seamlessly into the base box. The storage solution is still top notch.

Empyreal: As Above, So Below People
The Argent University metro provides advisors, a new form of specialists.

I will admit, I did not try a 7- or 8-player game. That does not appeal to me as I think 6 player, while good, already pushes the limits of the game in terms of time and space commitment. That being said, two more factions are a welcome addition. First, Starchaser Rails has some funky interdimensional space madness going on. This gives them the ability to move around faster than the other factions and even teleport to any edge of the map. The Underlands Dispatch also moves around more efficiently, getting free transfers left and right or moving train cars from wasteland to wasteland anywhere on the map. Both factions feel right at home, though may not be as friendly for a brand-new player (these are slightly advanced factions). I’m excited to play both of these factions again.

As for the automata, I did try that out. Worth noting that I’m not a solo gamer, so take this with a grain of salt. The automata is solidly not for me. The system is straightforward. You just flip a card and do what it says, and every few rounds, you add a new powerful upgrade card to the automata deck. However, there are lots of ambiguous decisions to make along the way. When a card says to build a track on a red hex, for instance, it’s not always clear which red hex to build on. Even when you follow the triage in the instructions, you are often left to just pick one. And I do mean often. I don’t enjoy that level of ambiguity, and it is a bit too frequent for my tastes. Furthermore, it’s usually not possible to know when the automata will deliver, so it’s difficult to strategize around it. Overall, the solo mode is not for me.

Empyreal: As Above, So Below Underlands
Starchaser Rails puts wasteland tiles and transfers to good use.

Metros add a whole new way to play. I enjoy a lot about this module. It adds a new race to the middle where deliveries can be made for special bonuses. Some of these are cool as hell. Gesselheim provides a new level of spellcar not seen before with a cost of 3 mana that allows you to build three tracks at once. Druid’s Point lets players build track anywhere on the map, so no area is off limits. My favorite, by far, is Argent University. This provides an Argent Advisor tile. Each of these advisors slots in somewhere on players’ dashboards or on the map and provides pretty powerful bonuses.

For example, Luna Van Kassel can be placed in any city. When any player delivers to that city, the owner of that advisor gains a mana or refreshes 3 mana. Once the owner reaches the end of the line, they can move that advisor to another city. I just find that this adds a ton of dynamicness to an already dynamic game. I am a little sad that there aren’t more advisors because I love the concept and execution so much. That being said, not all metros are quite that interesting, but they do all change the game a good bit. I will be using this module regularly, especially for 5- and 6-player games since it allows you to deliver all good types without having to reach every corner of the map first.

Final Thoughts

They knocked it out of the park with Empyreal: As Above So Below. Like I said, no one needed more content for Empyreal given how much value the base game has. However, I’m here for it. I just don’t see myself getting tired of this game. Outside of the automata deck, I’ll be using every bit of this expansion regularly. The new captains are great, the new specialists fit right in, and the metros are entertaining. I strongly recommend this expansion if you play Empyreal often like I do.

Expansion BuyHits:
• Metros are an exciting module to add.
• Advisors are something I always want to play with. I want more Advisors. Please release more advisors.
• New factions and captains are well-balanced and fun.
• Adds even more variety to a jam-packed base game.
• Everything fits into the box seamlessly.

Misses:
• Automata/solo mode is not for me.
• Does not really benefit from 7 or 8 players

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