There are some designers that seem to come out of nowhere and then dominate the scene, at least for a little while and Scott Almes is one such designer. If you would have asked me 2 years ago who he was, I wouldn’t have been able to name one of his games without looking at BGG. And now I own/am waiting for 4 of his games and he’s one of the designers that I tend to keep an eye on because of his skill in taking very simple mechanics and turning them into great games.
Tiny Epic Galaxies is his latest effort, one which will be on Kickstarter early in the new year (January 8th to be precise) and it is the third game in the Tiny Epic (Kingdoms and Defenders being the other two) series. Like other games in the series, this is an attempt at doing a bigger game in a short playing time using a few components. While a little too big/long to be considered a micro game, it can easily be taught and brought pretty much anywhere. The real question remains, how does it play? Let’s find out!
In Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games) by Scott Almes, you and up to 3 other players are trying to build the largest space empire by taking over other planets and upgrading your home world. By taking over planets, not only do you gain victory points, thus getting you closer to winning, but you gain their special abilities. Increasing your home world size gives you more potential actions (dice) as well as granting you extra spaceship with which to fly to new planets and possibly colonizing them.
At its core, Tiny Epic Galaxies is a dice-driven action game, where you roll a number of special dice at the start of your turn. These dice will dictate what actions you can take but be careful! Other players could copy your action if they have some Culture to spend.
Tiny Epic Galaxies is a fast (roughly 30 minutes once players have grasped the rules) and furious romp through the galaxy, offering the highlights of a 4X game.
Please note: As with any review of prototypes or games on Kickstarter, things are subject to change. For example, the art on the copy of the game I reviewed is definitively going to change and the rules might go through a few minor tweaks. The game should be pretty close to what I played, but might be slightly different.
True to the Tiny Epic name, Tiny Epic Galaxies comes with a very small footprint as far as components are concerned. The game is made up of a deck of 30 planet cards, 4 player home worlds (oversized cards), player pieces in 4 colors (4 ships, 1 disc, 1 cube and 1 hex piece), 7 custom dice (the heart of the game) and a rule set. This being a Kickstarter project, you can expect a few extra cards to be added as the campaign funds.
I can’t really comment on the quality of the components since they are of prototype quality, If Tiny Epic Kingdom and Fantasy Frontiers are to go by, the final quality of Tiny Epic Galaxies should be extremely high when it comes out.
The rules are fairly clear, with a few missing details here and there but not enough to stop someone from playing. Again, this being a prototype, I’d expect the final quality of the rulebook to be much better.
Tiny Epic Galaxies is very fast to set up: give each players a set of tokens along with a Home World card. Place the round token (Culture) on the 1 space, the cube (Energy) on the 2 and the hex (Empire) on the x. Shuffle the planet cards and deal out, in the middle of the table, 2 more than the number of players. Select a first player and you’re ready to go.On your turn, take as many dice as indicated by your current Empire size and roll them. You always get 1 free re-roll every turn, meaning you can always re-roll any or all of your unused dice. If you want to/need to get another re-roll during your turn, you can always spend some Energy to do so. 1 point of Energy will allow you to re-roll all/any of your unused dice.
Each of the different die face allow the player to take 1 specific action. Once a dice face is used for an action, it is set aside and once all the dice have been used or discarded, play passes to the next player.The Arrow die face allows the player to move a ship to a new planet. If you decide to move a ship, it has to move to a different planet. It can either land on the planet and immediately gain the resource (Energy or Culture) as indicated by the icon on the top right corner and do the action as stated at the bottom of the card. These actions can be pretty powerful and using them in the correct order is key to winning Tiny Epic Galaxies. The player can also start colonizing a planet by landing on the Colonizing track. When landing on that spot, the player doesn’t gain the resources granted by the card or get to do the action. Why should you do this then? Well, if you manage to colonize the card (more on this later), you get to take the card and slip it under your Home World and gain the VPs given by the planet (1-7 VPs) and gain sole possession of its ability.
The next two die face will allow to do just that. They are represented by the ! (Diplomacy) and $ (Investment) symbols. Rolling one of these symbols will allow you to move a ship you own that is on a matching colony track up by one space. Reach the VP space and take the planet, sending any ships on it back to the Home World of the owning players.
The next 2 die faces are the Circle (Culture) and Square (Energy) icons. These die face grant you one of the matching resources for every ship you have on a planet that gives that resource (has the icon in the upper right corner). Ships that are on the Colonize track count as well.
The last die face is the Colony Action, which looks like a little dial. This allows the player to do one of their colony actions, which at first is the same for everyone: upgrade your galaxy by spending either Energy or Culture (but not both) equal to the next level. As the players colonize more planets, the power of those planets can be used by using the Colony Action.
Upgrading your galaxy will not only give you more VPs, but will also either give you an extra die to roll at the start of your turn or an extra ship to send around.
All’s well and good, but what about Culture? Is it only used to Expand your galaxy? Nope. In perhaps the cleverest little twist to the game, using Culture lets the other players copy any one die action as it is taken by the current player. Any die action. Someone rolled and is using a Move action? Copy it and get to that new planet to get some Culture or Energy and do that planet’s action right away. This can be very powerful and useful.
The game ends when a player is the first to reach 21 points. All the other players get one more go and the player with the highest total wins the game!
Admit it. After reading the rules explanation, you’re a little lukewarm about the game. Doesn’t seem to have much meat on the bones of this one, not much space for interesting decisions. After all, you just roll a bunch of dice and then figure out what you will do with them, right? Can’t be that interesting, right?
Well, I have to be honest and say that I very much felt this way after reading the rules. Underwhelmed, especially after Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Defenders. Did this game cross the line, jump the shark and became the one that tried too hard? Well, no, not at all.
The simple rule set hides a game that, at first, is very simple to understand and offers a few choices but as it progresses, it opens up like a flower to show you all of its beauty. The choices, which are few at first, become multitude and even the simplest act of choosing which die to use first becomes a tricky art.
The core of this is a very simple rule. Yes, the conquering of planets which grant you sole use of their abilities is nice, but that’s almost standard in a 4X game. Adding some more ships and more dice also help, but that’s also a fairly standard power curve. No, the one rule which makes all the difference is the Culture rule, which allows you to copy a single die action from another player. This is the rule that makes Tiny Epic Galaxies really sing.
The Culture rule means that, at first, you are not that careful as a player when you take your action and, same can be said about using your Culture to copy. But as the game progresses and things get a little closer to victory, suddenly how and when you use your dice becomes paramount. Will the other player, the one who’s only one planet away, going to copy your Colonize action? Is it better to use your move first? or simply re-roll that die so that they can’t get the action on your turn and let them get it on their turn, even if it means delaying getting that other planet for yourself. Lots to think about and what’s more, all your actions have a direct consequence.
It is a game that is both easy to teach and easy to grasp. The “Aha!” moment where everything clicks happens at around 5 or 10 minutes of the first game you play, with interesting combos emerging depending on the planets that are dealt. As advertised, it does last roughly 30 minutes, even with a group that hasn’t played before and it leaves you wanting to play one more.
Be warned that is it not for the faint of heart or those who do not like direct confrontation as many of the planet powers involve directly messing with other players, which is lots of fun. None of the powers will hurt a player really badly, which is even better since it means that you can easily take your revenge quickly.
By the way, it is a good idea to have the players call out their actions as they are using up their dice. This will make it easier for other players to keep an eye on what’s happening and maybe use their Culture to copy. It’s too easy to miss an action if the players don’t call them out.
Tiny Epic Galaxies is a game that is easily much more than the sum of its parts. Simple enough to teach to players of any level (both people who are unfamiliar with our typical fare and those who play very regularly) and yet it offers a lot of interesting decisions within a very short time frame, this is simply a great game. Keep an eye out for it when it goes to Kickstarter, on January 8th, 2015.