Helionox: Deluxe Edition review

26 September 2018
helionox-67755.jpg Helionox: Deluxe Edition
Space, the final dominion

If Star Realms and Dominion had a baby they would name it Helionox: a sci-fi deckbuilder that, while not reinventing the wheel, brings some fresh ideas to the table. 

Creating a deck by buying new cards, then watching their abilities chain off each other so you can buy more shiny things and construct even better combos, has always been a core enjoyment of deckbuilders. Helionox takes a brave step by diverting the players’ attention away from deckbuilding by introducing locations to visit, embassies to build and events to overcome. Thankfully, it does so without sacrificing the range of abilities on offer. Locations have unique abilities, building embassies unlocks more powerful versions and events can shut them down, encouraging players to resolve events so they can be accessed once again. So, even without prioritising purchasing better cards, strategic players can find a way to use their circumstances and surroundings to their advantage. 

With the Mercury Protocol expansion, included in the deluxe version of the game, the opposite is true. It adds a mechanic around cargo delivery that takes up more resources from players but provides an unexciting payoff. Players also have the option to pick ‘illegal tech’ cards – but, while these offer interesting abilities, they continuously give players negative points and overall have a higher chance of damaging than helping. The expansion is further hindered by events that affect all of the locations, essentially shutting them down completely, making players unable to use their powers or pick up and deliver cargo. Unless these events are dealt with almost immediately, cargo missions become impossible to complete. More importantly, at the end of the game one is left wondering if the cargo elements needed to be there at all. It brings very little to the game, but the cascading effect of its mechanics makes the rest of the play frustrating.

Helionox’s saving grace is varied customisation that allows you to avoid playing with the expansion completely, accommodating modes – such as single-player, competitive and co-op playthroughs – that have become more prevalent in recent years. While you can use bonus missions for an added challenge, the base version of the game proves to be the most enjoyable. This comes at the price of scouring the poorly-organised rulebook for setup and clarifications, and spending time sorting out all the decks. 

While it is nice to have a big box with lots of cards and variants, the best version of Helionox is the core game that takes inspiration from Dominion’s two-resource economy, mixing it with a great space theme and adding its own twist by giving players a greater presence on the game board. The more layers of additional mechanics and complexity are added, the more Helionox unravels in the way some Kickstarter games tend to, where bonuses feel tacked on for the benefit of backers, rather than the game itself. 

Putting expansions to one side, Helionox presents itself as a competent deckbuilder. While it is unlikely to dethrone some of the giants of the genre, like Dominion or Legendary, it brings enough interesting twists and ideas to the table to make it worth exploring – although it may be worth looking out for the base version of the game, and leaving the deluxe version drifting in space. 




Dragged down by its deluxe edition's bonus features, Helionox remains a better game in its purest, most distilled form. Even at its simplest, it has enough strategic depth to make the game challenging.

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Buy your copy here.

Designer: Taran Lewis Kratz

Artist: Luke Green

Time: 25-90 minutes

Players: 1-4

Age: 9+

Price: £50


This review originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.

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