‘Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto’: A Story-Driven Expansion

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Space Base Shy Pluto boxes

A mysterious object has appeared in our solar system, dubbed “Shy Pluto.” What could it be? Deploy your ships and explore this strange phenomenon!

What Is Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto?

Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto is an expansion for Space Base and requires the base game to play. It’s for 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, and takes 30 to 75 minutes to play. (That wide time range is largely due to the player count—the game’s length can increase significantly based on the number of players.) Shy Pluto retails for $29.99 and is available now directly from AEG or at your local game store.

A Note About Spoilers

Shy Pluto is a scenario-based expansion: it adds some new ship cards with new effects, as well as some other components, but it introduces these new game mechanisms through a story deck that you explore over the course of several plays. Because of that, my review will have two sections: a spoiler-free peek at the game, and then a more in-depth look that includes spoilers. Stop reading before the big “Spoilers” image if you want to avoid spoilers!

Space Base Shy Pluto components
The spoiler-free components photo. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto Components (Without Spoilers)

Here’s what you see when you open the box:

  • 13 Story cards
  • 62 Discovery cards
  • 4 dice
  • 2 Mystery boxes
Space Base Shy Pluto story card
The first story card tells you not to look ahead until you’ve read specific parts of the rulebook. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The story cards are tarot-sized cards; each one has some instructions to follow, and a purple arrow that indicates it’s time to move to the next card. Usually, you’ll have to achieve something in particular before you can move on to the next card, though the first few cards are mostly about which pages to read in the rulebook and how to set up for the first game. Most of the story cards other than this initial “stop” card also include flavor text about the story of Shy Pluto, though (as with the base game) there is a level of abstraction between the gameplay and the narrative.

Space Base discovery cards
Discovery cards have a tiny number on the sides. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The discovery cards are the new ship cards, which will be introduced over the course of several scenarios. The deck includes several “Stop” cards so that it’s easy to grab the right set of cards without accidentally peeking ahead. However, I will note that the numbers on the cards are tiny. My main complaint about the original Space Base is simply that there are a lot of things that are just hard to read because of the font choices, and this is another example of that. Fortunately, if you keep the discovery deck in order, you won’t really need to refer to the numbers themselves—it’s only if you want to reset the story deck and start over that you’ll need to put them back in order.

Space Base Shy Pluto card backs
The card backs don’t quite match. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I was also a little disappointed to discover that the card backs for Shy Pluto don’t quite match the original card backs. The ship cards will eventually be shuffled into the three existing decks. It doesn’t really change gameplay significantly, but if you can see the difference in the color, you’ll be able to tell if the card at the top of the deck is from the expansion. Fortunately, AEG knows about this error and is working to print replacement cards—fill out the form here. Personally, I think I can live with the color discrepancy, but it’s the sort of detail that I do wish had been caught ahead of time. It’s less apparent with the cards for Deck 2 and Deck 3.

Space Base Shy Pluto dice
The new dice are colorless and sparkly. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The new dice are similar to the base game dice, with a rocket for the “1” face, except that they’re transparent and colorless instead of light blue. I did find that the transparency means that they’re a bit hard to read from across the table—my photo above used a flash so you can see the faces more clearly, but under normal lighting, you can see through the dice to the pips on other faces. As it turns out (slight spoiler), it’s not as important to be able to see the dice values from across the table after all, unless you’re playing with people who are prone to lie about their dice rolls.

As for what’s inside the mystery boxes? Well, that’ll be after the spoiler banner, but the boxes are about the size of a regular tuckbox for a deck of cards.

How to Play Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto

If you’re not already familiar with Space Base, read my original review for how the game works.

Without getting into the specifics, here’s how Shy Pluto works: each story card has instructions to follow, and conditions that must be met before moving to the next card. Some conditions may be met mid-game, and some include finishing a game. Typically, moving to a new card will introduce some new discovery cards (ships) to the game, and you’ll read a few more pages of the rulebook at that time to learn how those cards work.

Most of the game is still the same: you’re still trying to be the first to reach 40 points, but curiosity serves as an incentive to finish these “side-quests” that will unlock the next story card.

Space Base Shy Pluto setup
A story card from the first scenario, set up next to the colony cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Will You Like Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto?

I really enjoyed the Space Base base game, enough to give it our GeekDad Approved seal when I reviewed it last year, so I was excited to see what this expansion would add to the game. The story-based introduction of new elements reminded me a little of Scythe: Rise of Fenris: you play through a series of scenarios that teach you the new rules of the game, but once you’re done with the story, you can just mix everything in (or replay the story, if you want). Shy Pluto is a bit simpler than Rise of Fenris but that process felt similar. I really enjoy this idea of gradually revealing new content, and I think that gave some extra excitement for the five plays that it took my group to unlock all the pieces of Shy Pluto.

I actually really enjoyed the penultimate scenario and wish that there were an easy way to switch between that and the final module, though that would involve sorting out the cards each time you wanted to back up a scenario, so it’s probably a little less practical to switch back and forth. The final module adds some new choices and approaches for earning money and points, though, as always, a lot of it will still depend on whether the slots you fill get rolled or not.

If you’re a fan of Space Base and you enjoy unlocking content, Shy Pluto might be worth it for the story-based play alone.

If you’d like to avoid spoilers, stop reading here!

Spoilers Ahead

Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto Components (With Spoilers)

So here’s what’s inside those mystery boxes:

  • Mystery Box 1:
    • 42 Patrol Ship tokens
    • World Eater die
    • 6 Plutonium dice
  • Mystery Box 2:
    • 6 Pink Plutonium dice
    • 18 Red Plutonium dice
    • Dice bag
Space Base Shy Pluto mystery box components
The contents of the mystery boxes, with the story cards that trigger them. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The patrol ship tokens are cardboard tokens with a ship icon on them—they have a range of colors in the backgrounds but there’s no gameplay difference between colors.

The World Eater die is the same size as the regular dice in the game, and features the World Eater’s face on two sides. The Plutonium dice are smaller, and each die has only 1 face with an icon on it.

The drawstring dice bag is fine, with an embroidered logo on it. It’s larger than it needs to be, but that’s nice for reaching in and drawing a random plutonium die even if you have large hands.

How to Play Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto

I won’t get into every single story card, but I’ll give a quick overview of some of the new card types, and also how they’re introduced.

Space Base Shy Pluto new cards
A few of the new card effects in the discovery deck. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The first time you play Shy Pluto, you’ll use a few of the new Deck 1 cards—each player gets one as their initial starting ship (instead of from the regular Deck 1), and the rest are shuffled into the deck. That guarantees that you’ll see some of the new ships right away. A few of the new effects include a card that gives you the rewards of two cards to its left. Another card gives you extra income if you roll double 4s (that tiny number in the gold coin is “8”). There’s also a new icon for an existing effect: the lightning bolt is the same as the “place a charge anywhere” text from the base game. There are also just a couple of cards that give you more flexibility in where to place them when purchased.

To move past the first scenario, when a player with at least 8 points rolls an 8 on their turn, they may spend a point to advance to the next card, which will then introduce some new cards mid-game. These cards all look like the leftmost card in the photo above, with the research station. You charge up these cards, and then spend the cards for the “bonus roll” effect—that allows you to roll a pair of the bonus dice, and take the rewards as if you’re the active player. Nobody else gets to use your bonus roll, which is why I mentioned that it doesn’t really matter if anyone else can read your dice. When this scenario is first unlocked, these ships are all placed next to the market, and you claim one for free if you roll a 9. You move on to the next story once all of them have been claimed; any ships that are claimed get shuffled into the appropriate deck at the end of the game, and any unclaimed ones will start off next to the market again.

Space Base Shy Pluto diagonal arrows
Diagonal arrows trigger adjacent rewards of the opposite type. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The next scenario introduces a set of ships that have diagonal arrows on them. Like the horizontal arrows in the base game, these trigger rewards in an adjacent slot. The difference, though, is that when they’re on your board, they trigger the tucked cards in an adjacent slot, and when tucked, they trigger the on-board reward of an adjacent slot.

Space Base Shy Pluto patrol ship cards
These ships give you patrol ship tokens. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Once all of the diagonal arrow ships have been purchased, you trigger a new scenario for the next time you play, which requires a separate setup. First, you’ll lay out a number of new ships that have a patrol ship effect on them. You’ll also set out the World Eater story card—as it turns out, Shy Pluto isn’t just an asteroid or something—it’s a giant monster!

Space Base Shy Pluto World Eater Scenario
The World Eater scenario! Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

In this scenario, every time you roll the regular dice, you also roll the black World Eater die. If the World Eater face is rolled, then you roll all six small red dice. Every player must choose whether to spend a patrol ship token or not—if you spend one, you gain everything shown on the red dice (which may include money, income, or points). If you don’t spend a patrol ship token, then you lose everything shown on the red dice. If at least one player spends a patrol ship, then you advance the marker on the World Eater card. If it reaches the end of the track before the game ends, then you defeat the World Eater and may proceed to the next story card on your next game. Otherwise, the World Eater is still at large and you’ll face it again.

Space Base Shy Pluto - Final Module
The final ‘Shy Pluto’ module. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After you defeat the World Eater, you get to open the next mystery box, and you’ve now unlocked the final module, the one that you can play with from now on. The rest of the ships get shuffled into their decks, and you set out the Shy Pluto story card with the six pink plutonium dice randomly placed on the card.

During your turn, you may spend patrol ship tokens to purchase plutonium dice from the market. (They slide to the left and refill with random dice from the bag.) These dice are now yours to roll, and you’ll gain any rewards that turn up. For a 2–3 player game, you roll them on every turn (yours and your opponents’). In a 4–5 player game, you roll them only on your opponents’ turns but not your own turn. The pink starting dice include 2 money, 1 income, and 1 point, but the other red dice include as much as 6 money, 3 income, and 4 points. There are also dice that let you place a charge or get a bonus roll.

Space Base Shy Pluto game in progress
A game in progress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Why You Should Play Space Base: The Emergence of Shy Pluto

The way that the story cards are set up, it will take you a minimum of three sessions to go through the entire story deck, though it’s likely that it will take at least a few more. For me, it took five sessions. In our first game, nobody rolled an 8 after reaching 8 points, so we were unable to progress to the next card. Later, it took 2 sessions before we rolled enough 9s to claim all of the research station cards. But when it came to purchasing a set number of cards before progressing, everyone was interested in buying those up.

Once you’re through the story, though, you can simply play with the Shy Pluto module, and all the cards stay shuffled into the deck. That module presents the players with a trade-off: if you purchase ship cards that get you patrol ship tokens, you’re passing up a chance to get immediate rewards (money, points, other effects) in order to save up for purchasing plutonium cubes. It’s a delayed reward. Once you’ve purchased a cube, though, you have a 1/6 chance every turn of gaining that reward—so it’s less effective than the tucked cards in slots 1–6 since each of those has a 2/6 chance of triggering on each opponent turn. However, if you accumulate a lot of plutonium cubes, there’s also the possibility that you can trigger more than one in a single roll—whereas you’ll only trigger up to 2 of your tucked slots on a roll. The big difference, of course, is that the plutonium cubes are a way for you to gain rewards on your own, without the dice giving anyone else a chance to claim anything.

So far it feels like it’s fun to buy up plutonium cubes when you can, partly for the novelty of them, but I’m not yet convinced that they’re more cost-effective than simply buying ship cards without the patrol ship rewards. It’ll take more plays to see how effective they can be. The one thing I can say for sure is that they’re very swingy and you do tend to roll a whole lot of blanks pretty often.

That’s why I feel like the World Eater scenario was also a lot of fun: that one had a different sort of risk-reward balance. If the World Eater showed up and was going to steal 2 points from you, was that worth spending a patrol ship? What about 4 money? If you spend a patrol ship to gain a bonus, will you have time to gain another patrol ship before the World Eater strikes again? We had one single round where players earned/lost 10 points to the World Eater—the player who ran out of patrol ships suffered a lot—but it was a statistically unlikely scenario. I only wish that it were easier to switch between the World Eater and Shy Pluto scenarios: you have to remove a lot of cards from the decks and make a certain set of patrol ship cards available to purchase from the beginning of the game in order to play the World Eater scenario.

The bonus roll abilities are also fun: they appear on a few of the new ship cards, but there are also a couple of plutonium cubes that give you bonus rolls. Again, it’s a way to trigger rewards without giving other players a chance to gain from your roll. As you progress in the game and other players have more and more cards tucked, that becomes more and more valuable.

One quibble I have is that, as with the base game, the balance feels quite different between the 2-player game and a 5-player game, simply because of the number of opportunities you have to trigger the tucked cards (and, now, the plutonium cubes). In a 2-player game, your tucked cards trigger as often as the ones on your board, but in a 5-player game, your tucked cards will trigger 4 times as often as the ones on your board. The card effects are balanced with this in mind: board effects are typically more powerful than tucked effects. So, while you can play Space Base with only 2 players, I feel that it’s more interesting when you have more players, and the same goes for the plutonium cubes in Shy Pluto.

Overall, I’ve had a lot of fun with the Shy Pluto expansion. If you like rolling a bunch of dice and don’t mind adding even more randomness to the mix, then you’ll get a kick out of the new ships. And if you don’t want to introduce more randomness to your own tableau, there are some other fun cards that give you more control over rewards and effects. If you’re a fan of Space Base but you want to inject a little extra into it, look for The Emergence of Shy Pluto.


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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