A prototype of this expansion was provided by the publisher; however, my opinions are my own.
This copy is a pre-production prototype — content, quality, and components may change.
Binding Ties is the first of several upcoming modular expansions for the deck-building negotiation game, Moonrakers. I have written a full review of the base game if you’re interested in learning more.
This expansion adds a Faction Reputation economy to the game that encourages cooperation. By completing contracts with opponents, players gain Faction Reputation (or “Faction Rep”) with those allies. Faction Rep is a form of currency that is spent on many benefits, such as increasing Credits, adding an action or card draw, blocking a Hazard Die, and bumping up the Prestige track, to name a few options. Failed contracts will cause players to lose Faction Rep, so it is important to choose your allies wisely.
This expansion adds a few new physical components to the game. In addition to the five new Reputation Terminals and 20 Faction Tokens, there are 40 new cards to shuffle into the base game’s decks. These cards help to integrate the Faction Reputation mechanic into the game.
This small addition to Moonrakers has made a massive strategic impact on the games I’ve played so far without changing the spirit of the base game. With Binding Ties added in, players are incentivized to accept partnerships for fewer rewards. Because Faction Rep bonuses are so powerful it is crucial to market yourself as a useful ally. Players can become highly sought-after allies by building a strong ship or recruiting a talented crew. And by participating in a lot of contracts, players can boost their Faction Rep economy significantly.
The Reputation Terminal is interesting. There are ten bonuses to take, ranging from the inexpensive “Discard a Contract/Armory Card” actions to the expensive “+1 Prestige” perk. These choices offer players a high level of flexibility. It’s obvious when a player is saving up Faction Rep for the Prestige boost, but a sneakier player might choose more furtive means of gaining prestige, such as drawing Objective cards. The ability to subtract requirements from Contracts or to gain a card draw helps players complete more difficult contracts on their own. And deck builders rejoice – there is even an option that allows players to trash cards from their hands!
Partnerships come with huge risks, and allowing any player to amass a lot of Faction Rep is usually a mistake. I have seen people able to make significant Prestige gains by spending their Faction Rep creatively. Players must pay very close attention to their opponents’ Reputation Terminals and try to anticipate when someone is plotting a big move. Sometimes the benefits of allyship might not outweigh the risks.
The addition of 40 new cards increases replayability. New Ship Parts and Crewmates allow players to make powerful adjustments to their Faction Rep track. New contracts offer a bonus in the form of Reputation gains. One of my favorite additions are the new Objective Cards. They often give Prestige Bonuses when the Faction Rep is spent. Timed correctly, these Objectives can give a player the edge needed to pull off a surprise victory. There are plenty of synergies to explore with these new cards shuffled into the original decks.
Moonrakers was already a highly-interactive experience, and Binding Ties leans into that. Faction Reputation bonuses encourage partnerships early in the game. They may also lead players to purposefully tank contracts mid- to late-game to ensure their opponents cannot use their Reputation to gain powerful bonuses.
Although the increase in the strategic depth and replayability are welcome, I’m especially pleased that Binding Ties seems to fix one of my only complaints about the base game: the length, specifically towards the end. In my experience, Moonrakers can drag a bit at the end. Binding Ties seems to make the end game less reliant on finding easy Contracts. Our games have ended surprisingly quickly so far, usually with a player finding a way to pull off a huge Prestige boost by combining a hidden objective with the creative use of their Faction Rep.
The rulebook is clear, and the new rules are simple and easy to teach. This expansion integrates nicely with the base game and does not add significant time to the setup, teardown, or rules teach.
Moonrakers: Binding Ties makes the game even more fun for me. Players who are already fond of the backstabbing and table moments in the base game will find more to love in this expansion. My plays so far have had more exciting moments, more yelling and good-natured grumbling when a partnership does not go as planned and more meaningful choices. The negotiation steps have been lively with additional interest in participation. Players are highly-incentivized to participate in contracts and occasionally sabotage them. IV Studios has managed to take what made Moonrakers special in the first place and double down on it.
In addition to “turning things up to 11”, this expansion seems to fix one of my few concerns with the base game: the end game state that sometimes drags on too long. Our games with Binding Ties have never come close to overstaying their welcome – in fact, they seem to end surprisingly quickly. I also feel the base game could have used more deck-culling, and this expansion helps with that significantly.
Because of all these enhancements, I doubt I will ever play Moonrakers without this expansion added in going forward.