Geoff Engelstein has designed many games, including Space Cadets, The Fog of War, The Dragon & Flagon, and Pit Crew, and teaches game design at the NYU Game Center. He is also the host of the Ludology podcast, and contributes the GameTek segment for the Dice Tower.
The following interview is about his board game The Expanse.
Jason (GameGobble): The Expanse was first a series of novels, then a television series. Your board game, released in late 2017, actually features events from those first two seasons of the show. What led to the decision of creating a game based on The Expanse?
Geoff: I was approached by Wizkids to do the game after they received the license. Being a fan of the books and then the show, it was a no-brainer for me to take on the proejct.
Jason: While fans of The Expanse series will enjoy how well the theme is integrated into the game, participants don’t have to know the story to have a fantastic playing experience. What were some of the game development decisions that made this possible?
Geoff: Part of it was a consequence of direction set by the authors, who I spoke to early on about what they wanted in the game. They’re both gamers, so they had definite ideas for the board game, and one of them was that they didn’t want it scripted to match the story of the show. One of the original concepts was to have gating events, or chapters, that moved through the story, but they wanted a game where the initial situation was set up, but it was up to the players to create the narrative.
I think this helped both by improving the game in general, but also by making it more accessible to those who are not familiar with the books. The solar system setting makes it instantly relatable for all players.
Jason: There seems to be little randomization aside from which cards appear in the Action Track. What are the variables that make The Expanse replayable?
Geoff: The randomness of the cards can have a big impact. The power and impact of cards varies dramatically throughout the game, so when they show up will add greatly to the flavor of one play versus the next. This can also add to the decision of when to keep cards, to hold them for those big moments. The unknown of when the Scoring cards will come up also adds to the variety.
In addition, having four factions with different abilities allows the players to adopt different strategies for each.
Finally, the system itself has a lot of levels of tactics and strategy waiting for the players to uncover. I still find new angles to exploit, even after having played it so many times.
Jason: Gamers have observed that the The Expanse bears some resemblance to Twilight Struggle. What are your thoughts on that comparison?
Geoff: While there is a lot of military in The Expanse universe, mostly it is used for political posturing and brinksmanship. There is very little actual combat. This immediately reminded me of the Cold War, which leads one to Twilight Struggle. The Action/Event mechanism is certainly inspired by Twilight Struggle, but it needed to be adapted for multiple players. I also owe a big debt to El Grande, which is the grand-daddy of area control games. The fleets act like mini-Kings from El Grande, for those who are familiar with that game. Finally, the track mechanism was influenced by Through The Ages.
Jason: What is one thing you want gamers to know about The Expanse board game?
Geoff: The Expanse is simple to learn, but offers deep gameplay in a 60 minute package.