Haven’t played RFTG for years although it is the first strategy board game xw and I ever played and practically led us into the board game world. We played the original version and the 1st expansion a lot, but the 2nd and the 3rd expansions made us lose interests on this game, because it felt like the system became complex and difficult for us to have a good grasp and enjoy.
The last game I bought, Takenoko, wasn’t very successful. So I’ve been looking for a new one for a while and noticed RFTG released its 4th expansion last year, named Alien Artifacts. The 4th expansion started a new “Arc”, or you can understand it as a new trilogy. So it should be played only with the original game, not with the first 3 expansions. Because of the history above, this feature is actually very attractive to me.
The 4th expansion added a bunch of new cards into the original game, and a new sub-system – Alien Orb. The Orb system feels quite weird because it’s not really “integrated” into the game and is completely optional. It’s slightly similar to Carcassonne: players put new tiles to form a map in turn, and move “meeples”. The mechanism is almost completed separated with the main card game, and the main relationship is you can get a few power tokens from the Orb system to use in the card game, also VPs.
I played 2 games with the Orb system and 2 without it. So far I prefer the latter much more. The Orb phase feels like a distraction so players need to “switch” thoughts between the cards and the map. And it introduces downtime into the fast-pacing original game, but doesn’t seem to bring enough interaction as a good trade-off.
Although the Orb system seems a bad addition to me and also received lots of critics on BBG forums, the 4th expansion is still a good expansion overall. The original game has a few elements “incomplete”, such as Rebel cards and Uplift cards, even the whole Alien branch. It’s obvious the design idea is to complete the missing parts in expansions. The new cards added in Alien Artifacts are quite a lot and balanced the whole game well. When play a card suite with the 4th expansion, it feels much more like a complete system and not over-complicated. I highly recommend to try this expansion if you play the original RFTG, but feel free to leave out the Orb system.