A detailed look at Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto, which AEG is calling a Saga expansion for Space Base.
This Space Base expansion adds a short, story-driven campaign to your games of Space Base, adding a ton of new cards and content to the game.
What do you get with The Emergence of Shy Pluto expansion for Space Base?
A note on spoilers: Before I get to the actual review I want to note that I will be saving all potential spoilers for the very end of this review. Overall, I will be completely avoiding any story spoilers, but I do want to highlight some of the new mechanics added to Space Base with this expansion. All talk of these mechanics will be saved for the last section of the review, so you can easily skip over that part if you want to avoid spoilers.
Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto was designed by John D. Clair, the designer of the base game of Space Base, and features artwork by Chris Walton. It was originally published in North America by AEG in 2019. This story-driven expansion plays two to five players and features a number of scenarios, with each game taking between half an hour to about an hour and a half with that game length depending mainly on player count.
The MSRP on this saga expansion is $24.99 USD. A copy of Space Base is required to use this expansion. If you haven’t tried the base game, it’s well worth picking up (you can read all about why I strongly recommend this game in my Space Base review).
Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto is what AEG is calling a Saga Expansion for Space Base, the first in a series of Saga expansions.
In The Emergence of Shy Pluto a strange new galactic body has been found and it’s up to you to determine what it is. You will do this through a series of story-based scenarios each of which adds new components and mechanics to your game of Space Base. After you complete the scenarios most of the new content is integrated with the base game, giving you a new Space Base experience.
For a spoiler-free look at the components of this story expansion for Space Base check out our Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto unboxing video on YouTube.
The Emergence of Shy Pluto comes with a rather thick rulebook that starts off with an introduction to the story and instructions on how to use all of the stuff included in this expansion. Just like in Space Base, these rules are well laid out, very easy to read, and feature lots of artwork and examples.
The expansion also comes with a plastic tray that neatly holds a deck of large Story Cards, a skinny deck of Space Base-sized Discovery Cards and two sealed Mystery Boxes. The Story Cards are revealed one by one as you play through the scenarios, the Mystery Boxes are opened when you are instructed to do so by the story cards and the Discovery Cards are added to the game bit by bit, scenario by scenario.
The component quality here is excellent and matches the base game exactly. I appreciate the number of warning cards that are included to make sure you don’t add anything to your game before you should.
It’s also worth noting that while this game does have some Legacy aspects, where you unlock content for later play, including sealed boxes, as you work through the campaign, nothing will be destroyed during play. All of the cards have something on them indicating they are from an expansion and are also numbered, so you can easily re-build these decks if you later wanted to remove the expansion or play through it multiple times.
How do you play through the story in The Emergence of Shy Pluto?
You start off your first game of Space Base with The Emergence of Shy Pluto expansion by setting up a regular game of Space Base. You then read through the first couple of pages of the Shy Pluto rulebook which will have you start flipping over and reading some of the story cards. These cards will instruct you to pull some of the new cards from the expansion and put them into play.
You then play a game of Space Base using these new cards. On the last story card you read, there will be an indication of when you should flip over the next card and unlock the next scenario.
Interestingly, this could happen during your first game, or it could take multiple games for your group to move on to the next part of the Shy Pluto story. The rules include a way to “save” so that you know how to set things up for your next game if you do finish a game without completing a scenario.
Once you unlock the next scenario, you will be instructed to refer back to the rulebook which will present any rules changes and new mechanics. Then you will read story cards and follow their instructions to add more Space Base cards from the expansion to the table. Sometimes you will do this right in the middle of a game, while other scenarios don’t start until you finish a game and start a new one.
In almost every case you will be adding cards to your Space Base game that you will not remove. They will become a permanent part of your game. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that all of the new ship cards here will end up in your game eventually, it’s only some of the story cards that go away after certain requirements are met.
This leads to another interesting point about this expansion. You can keep playing the game in-between scenarios. Let’s say you and your partner are playing through the campaign and one weekend some friends come over and want to play. There’s no reason you can’t just sit down and play Space Base, including whatever you have unlocked so far, and then return to your Shy Pluto campaign in another play.
There’s also no reason you can’t just continue that campaign with those new players. You don’t need to have the same group playing every time. Though if people do drop in and out they may miss out on the story, so you may want to let them read through any story cards they’ve missed and be sure they are taught any mechanics that were unlocked between games they took part in.
Once you finish all of the scenarios in The Emergence of Shy Pluto, most of the components you unlocked become part of all of your future games of Space Base. While you could at any time remove all of the expansion content, this isn’t designed to be an optional module that you can turn on or off when playing Space Base.
Should you pick up The Emergence of Shy Pluto for Space Base?
When I first opened up Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto I had no clue that it was a legacy style expansion that included sealed decks of cards and two boxes of additional content that doesn’t unlock until partway through the scenario. This was a big surprise to me and honestly a pleasant one.
The only issue I have with the format of this Space Base expansion is that due to the fact that there are things to unlock, I worry about spoiling it for other players. This has made this expansion hard to talk about, especially on our podcast and on social media. I always have to worry now when I’m sharing a picture of us playing on Instagram that I might spoil something for someone. That’s not something I want to do.
I think this format, where you gradually unlock new content, is fantastic for slowly introducing new content to a game. I love the fact that this expansion added new cards one small set at a time, and stuck to adding only one new mechanic at a time as well. Shy Pluto also does something where it makes sure that these new cards see play when first introduced.
This is so much better than many other card game expansions that just have you mix everything together and you could technically play a game or two without seeing any of the new content.
I also liked the way the content was unlocked and how it could take multiple games to actually complete the scenario goals. I wasn’t expecting the ability to progress through multiple scenarios in one game nor did I expect a scenario to take multiple games to complete. There is one potential downfall to this system and that’s the fact that the speed you unlock content in Shy Pluto can be greatly affected by the player count of your games.
Personally, we played through a big chunk of this expansion with two players and many of the scenarios took us multiple games to complete. Most of the scenarios unlock after certain things are built or certain numbers are rolled and the fewer players you have taking part the less chance there is that these things will get bought or that those numbers will come up.
Now I wouldn’t say this was really a problem for us, but for a group that wants to get to the end as quickly as possible, playing with more players will help reach that goal.
As for the story in Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto, it was solid. It didn’t feature any of the problems we saw in Draconis Invasion: Wrath, another story-based card game expansion, we reviewed recently. The writing for the storyline elements of Shy Pluto is good and what you unlock and add to the game fits the story well.
While there were some sections of the Shy Pluto campaign that were more fun than others, there were none that we didn’t have fun with. We all particularly liked what I would call the climax, enough so that I’ve been tempted to reset my game to that state again and play through it a few more times.
As for the new cards and mechanics, there’s some really cool stuff here that I think are awesome additions to the game, including ways for players to do more on their turns and get more on opponents’ turns. There is one new dice rolling mechanic I did find a bit odd as it has players generating resources for themselves and only themselves, which just seemed contrary to the “everyone is invested in every roll” theme of the original game.
One thing I do appreciate is the ability to remove this expansion from Space Base due to the fact that all of the cards are numbered and marked. Though I will say it’s a bit of a pain to go through everything to find the expansion cards. Due to that, I wouldn’t want to keep swapping things up, putting stuff in and taking stuff out every play. I think most people are going to want to finish Shy Pluto and just leave everything in for all future games.
Speaking of leaving everything in, you can fit all of the unlocked material from Shy Pluto into the Space Base box with the original insert. Note this does require you to leave the rest of the Shy Pluto stuff (completed story cards, stop cards, the two empty mystery boxes, etc) in the Shy Pluto box.
While we had a great time playing through the story of The Emergence of Shy Pluto and appreciate most of the new cards that have been added to the game, we’re on the fence about the overall effect of Shy Pluto on Space Base when you are done. Once you’ve finished the story, you end up with a new way to play Space Base that includes a new resource and something new and highly random to spend that resource on.
Having now played a number of games with this new system I’m not sure if I can say it has improved the game. The people we’ve been playing with have felt the same. On one hand, it is a new thing, something to keep things interesting and something that adds even more dice rolling to the game. It’s also something that gives players more to do on other players’ turns (which somewhat makes up for that new dice mechanic I mentioned earlier).
The problem is having to now buy cards to get this new resource to give you the new options and if doing that is even worth it. Another problem is that all these new cards dilute down the original Space Base deck.
While I know people out there that love the changes that Shy Pluto brings and claim that this expansion “fixes” Space Base, I don’t agree with this. I don’t think this expansion fixes a problem but rather presents a new option. I don’t think the original game was broken in any way, and don’t see anything that needs to be fixed.
What I really wish is that there was a way to turn this new mechanic on or off, a quick way to remove just this part of Shy Pluto. While I can pretty quickly remove all of the new content, that’s not what I want. The way it’s designed Shy Pluto is an all-or-nothing style expansion. What I’m very tempted to do is to just remove all of the cards generating the new resource and what you can buy with it, leaving everything else from Shy Pluto in.
Overall I did really enjoy playing through The Emergence of Shy Pluto campaign. There were some really fun moments and it was a great way to add new content to a game we already love. I loved unlocking new stuff and getting to try out new mechanics slowly with only one new thing added at a time. This is a great way to onboard expansion content into a game and something I would love to see happen more often. While player count did affect how quickly we got through The Emergence of Shy Pluto my biggest concern with this expansion is the end result. I’m not completely sold on the new play mode that’s unlocked at the end and I think different people are going to have different feelings about the final change to Space Base that you unlock at the end of Shy Pluto. Thankfully even if you don’t love the end result, you can pretty easily modify your copy of the game to keep the bits you do like and remove any you don’t.
I can’t help but recommend this story-based expansion for anyone that owns and enjoys Space Base. Even if you only play through it once and decide to take everything out at the end, it’s worth it for the experience of playing through the campaign. I also find it highly unlikely that you won’t find at least some parts of Shy Pluto that you will want to add to your game, even if you don’t like all of it.
For those out there that thought Space Base was only okay, I personally don’t think this expansion is going to change your mind. That said it does seem like I’m the minority on this one. Many people have indicated that this expansion “fixed” the game for them, so you may want to try to give it a shot, or check out the spoilers below or watch an actual play, to see if maybe The Emergence of Shy Pluto adds something to Space Base that will make it more appealing for your group.
What does The Emergence of Shy Pluto add to Space Base? (SPOILERS)
Due to the fact that Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto is a campaign-style expansion I wanted to be careful about spoiling any of the content. However, there are some specific parts of this expansion that I do want to talk about, so be warned, everything from this point on will contain potential spoilers at least in regards to mechanics. What I won’t be spoiling at all is the storyline of Shy Pluto.
The best part of this Space Base expansion is the variety of new cards and new card abilities that it adds to Space Base.
The first set of new cards introduces a new lightning bolt icon. When cards with this icon are activated you get to add a charge cube to any other card.
Another early unlock adds a new set of white D6 dice. Cards that use these dice usually require charge cubes to unlock their ability which is to roll the white dice and activate your ships as normal. The difference here from your regular dice roll is that the active player, the one that rolls the dice, is the only one to generate resources, while the other players get nothing.
This expansion also includes a number of new arrow cards. These include arrows that point diagonally instead of from side to side. When these arrow cards are activated they let you collect the resources of an adjacent card but of the opposite type. If the arrow is on a docked ship you get to activate your deployed ships in an adjacent number, or if the arrow is on a deployed ship you get to activate your docked ship in an adjacent number. Other new arrow cards include ones that generate something and then also activate a card to the side of them, as well as new double arrow cards that let you activate a card that is one or two slots to the left of the arrow card.
Eventually, you will unlock variable sector cards. These have numbers in the top right like 8+ or 1+ which allow you to place that card into any sector equal to or higher than that number.
The biggest change to the game happens when you get to the boss fight and unlock patrol ships and all the cards that generate those ships. Patrol ships are a new resource that you track through tokens (which are included in one of the sealed mystery boxes). We personally found this boss fight mission to be the best of the bunch and is the one we’ve been tempted to re-set to so that we can play through it again. The disadvantage of this scenario is that it introduces rules and mechanics that are used for this scenario and this scenario only.
After the boss fight, you unlock Miners of Shy Pluto: A Game Play Module for Space Base. This is the part that changes up your games of Space Base going forward. With the boss defeated you now unlock a ton of little purple dice. The patrol ships become part of the standard game and even more cards that generate those ships are added to the three market decks. These patrol ships are used for one thing only, buying the new purple dice which are called Shy Plutonium Cubes.
There’s a starting set of these dice in a more reddish colour that are randomly placed onto the new Shy Pluto board. This board has six slots, each of which has a cost in Patrol Ships printed above it, with the lowest spot costing two ships and the highest costing four. At the end of any of your turns, you can spend Patrol Ships to take a die (Shy Plutonium Cube) from this board. Then all of the cubes slide down to the left and a new cube is randomly drawn from the included cloth bag.
Each Shy Plutonium Cube features five blank sides and one side with a bonus symbol on it. You roll all of your Shy Plutonium dice every turn (though only on opponents turns in a four or five-player game) and take any face-up bonus. These bonuses include Credits, Income, Points or the ability to roll the white dice.
So, this mining expansion adds a new resource to the game in the form of Patrol Ships but it also adds the potential for a ton more dice rolling. These new dice add a much more random element to the game as each die only has one side that gives the player rolling them anything. It’s the odds on these dice that have all of the people I’ve played with questioning their worth.
The Miners of Shy Pluto module adds a lot more luck to an already luck-heavy game and not everyone is going to like that.
My biggest complaint about Miners of Shy Pluto is the fact that it is called a “module” but there’s no way to just use that module. As noted above, overall The Emergence of Shy Pluto expansion is designed in an all-or-nothing sort of way. You can’t just choose to play the game without using the Shy Plutonium dice, as then your decks are going to be filled with cards that give you patrol ship tokens, and those patrol ships are useless without the dice to spend them on.
You do have the relatively simple option of removing everything that is marked as from the Shy Pluto expansion, but then you miss out on some of the cool things I mentioned above, like the new arrow cards, charge cube generators and white die rollers.
I wish AEG had included a quick and easy way to be able to use the rest of the Shy Pluto expansion without using the Mining Module. Of course, you could just go in and manually remove any cards that generate Patrol Ships and that should work, but I feel that this option is something that should have been included by design. I mean, why call it a module if it is not modular?
I’ve always enjoyed games that have a campaign or ongoing story-based scenarios in them. Due to this, I love the fact that more publishers seem to be releasing campaign-style expansions for their non-campaign based boardgames. The Emergence of Shy Pluto is a great example of this, as was the Wrath expansion for Draconis Invasion that we reviewed a few weeks back.
I would love to see more story-based expansions like this in the future. Have you tried any other board game expansions that add campaign or scenario play to an existing game? I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments!