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It looks like Wallace finally got it right, mostly. Gone are the quagmires of Mythotopia--combat is fast and dynamic, and getting attacked no longer makes you easier prey to another player. The techs are fun and the place names/race names are hilariously bad (as intended). Rating might rise. [EDIT] Parsing the board, and hence figuring out where the pressure points are, is vastly easier on a second play (unlike other games, like Eclipse, where I still get surprised by the dead ends I've made for myself after many plays). That's a great sign.
Yes, yes, yes. The best of the Martin Wallace-implemented games of this type. Improves on Mythotopia in a number of areas. The game clock is unique, and guarantees the game will never be a grind. The combat system is elegant and delightful. There are some weaknesses, of course, but I forgive them because the game itself is so excellent. The asymmetry is interesting in concept, but in practice isn't all that impactful. It's like a slight nudge in card difference, but the shared pool of technology cards (and the fact that many of the faction's cards are also in the tech deck) means you can buy your way out of your faction's tendencies pretty easily. Slightly disappointing in that regard, but understandable from a playability standpoint. Having unique empire decks for seven factions would be an awesome thing, but would invariably make the game too complex for what is essentially a third iteration/streamlining of the system. Still... it's missed and the Hands in the Sea lover in me wishes each faction had its own empire deck to draft from. The attacker retreat rules with neutral planets potentially generating free movement feels weird, especially since it's a wargaming convention that an attacker must retreat from the area it came. Why this wasn't simply the rule is strange, but maybe Wallace wanted to afford this weird little loophole, so play it as intended, I guess? Makes spreading out a bit easier. And the reported issues around setup are real. I can set up Gloomhaven faster. Hands in the Sea remains a masterpiece, and class of this style of game by a wide margin, but this is still terrific.