Year Published: 2015
Publisher: Gamelyn Games
Designer: Scott Almes
Playtime: 45 minutes – 1 1/2 hours
One Sentence Synopsis: Intergalactic bumper-cars, where sharing is not caring.
For a review of the finished product’s components and the mini expansion, click here. This article, although done with a preview copy, can now be taken as our review of the final game’s mechanics.
Gamelyn Games’s Tiny Epic Kingdoms was one of the first games I backed on Kickstarter earlier this year. The fantasy theme really caught my eye, and the concept that a small, portable game could capture even a bit of the essence of a euro-style worker placement and resource management game was intriguing. Michael Coe did an excellent job running the Kickstarter campaign, so-much-so that I backed the game’s cooperative sequel, Tiny Epic Defenders, before Tiny Epic Kingdoms even arrived and before my group even had a chance to table TED’s print and play version(preview here). Neither game disappointed, with both offering great, light board game experiences that are easy enough for newcomers to pick up quickly, but with enough depth that more avid gamers will find plenty of interesting strategies and combinations to dissect. The fact that both games came in at around $20 was even more of a bonus.
Fast-forward to the 2014 Holiday season and we have the next installment of the Tiny Epic series on our radar for its January 8th Kickstarter debut. Designed once again by Scott Almes, Tiny Epic Galaxies combines resource management and worker placement mechanics with dice-rolling as players compete to amass the most points through upgrading their home worlds and the acquisition of new planets. While I think Tiny Epic Solar Systems might describe the feel of the game more appropriately, it certainly doesn’t sound nearly as sexy. COG Gaming was lucky enough to snag a prototype copy of TEG, so rather than preview a print and play version of this one around the time the Kickstarter will launch, we’re pleased to be able to provide this early preview of Gamelyn Games’s newest title!
Before getting into the review itself, I do want to make it clear that this is a preview for a prototype version of the game. The components don’t look anything like the finished product(which looks pretty amazing, if the photos from BGGcon are any indication), and the rules are in no way finalized or even fully completed and may not be exactly the same as other prototype reviews you read. In fact, one of the small quibbles my group had looks like it has already been addressed if some playtester notes I recently read are any indication, so I’ve notated that in the appropriate section. Things are bound to change before the game even hits Kickstarter, and I’d venture a very safe guess that what is included in the game will expand during the campaign, and we may even see the expansion of the number of players. With that said, while some reviewers shy away from providing direct commentary on rules for prototypes, I intend to provide critical commentary on the rules so people reading know exactly what my group enjoyed about the game, and which aspects we enjoyed less. That way, come January, readers can make their own comparison between the game as it stands now, the final product, and whether concerns discussed in this preview and others were addressed in the interim.
Like the previous titles in the Tiny Epic series of games, Tiny Epic Galaxies is very easy to pick up and play. In fact, I’d say that in comparison to Tiny Epic Kingdoms that TEG is actually easier to learn. Setup takes all but a couple of minutes, and consists of divvying out a Homeworld card to each player, along with their set of resource trackers and colonizing ships that will see their tiny denizens to the surface of new planets. A number of cards is dealt to the center of the table representing the initial selection of planets available for exploitation or colonization, and with that you’re off and playing! We tried the game a number of times with anywhere from 2-4 players, but even with experienced players I think the advertised 30 minutes playtime is probably only achievable on a consistent basis from a 2 player game. Our 3-4 player games took anywhere from 45 minutes to a little over an hour. I’d say an hour is a safe bet for your 3-4 player games.
Although the home world cards have different artwork, they all share the same functionality. Each includes a numbered track in order to record how much energy and culture that player has, along with an upgrade track that shows how much the player’s home planet is currently worth in Victory Points(max of 8), along with how many ships and dice that player gets to use based on that upgrade level. Players start the game with 2 ships, and the use of 4 dice on their turn.
At the start of their turn each player rolls the number of dice available to them, and then in a dice-rolling mechanic similar to King of Tokyo gets to choose any number of those dice to keep, and then re-roll the others one time. The results of these dice dictate what each player is allowed to do on their turn, and whether they’ll actually be able to pull off the moves they had strategized for. Each side of the dice depicts a different action the player is allowed to take(unless they choose not to), and each result may be taken in any order the player wants. This can actually result in some pretty impressive action combinations if players adapt their strategies well on-the-fly, and it’s truly satisfying to pull off a perfect 7-dice combo towards the end of the game where every action just falls into place perfectly.
Movement: A player can move a ship from its current planet to another planet. The player may choose to land the ship on the planet’s colonizing track, which puts them in contention for that planet’s victory points and eventual control over its special ability, or they can land on the planet’s surface and immediately use the planet’s special ability. In either case, the ship also allows the player to gain whichever resource is available on that planet(the symbol in the top right).
Investment: Activating an Investment die allows the player to move one of their ships one space up the colonizing track on a planet with the Investment symbol.
Diplomacy: Activating a Diplomacy die allows the player to move one of their ships one space up the colonizing track on a planet with the Diplomacy symbol.
Energy: Activating an Energy die allows the player to gain 1 energy for each ship they have on a planet with the energy symbol. Energy is used to upgrade your home world, or can be spent for additional re-rolls.
Culture: Activating a Culture die allows the player to gain 1 culture for each ship they have on a planet with the culture symbol. Culture is used to upgrade your home world, or can be spent to use the result of another player’s activated dice during their turn.
Colony Action: Activating a die with this symbol allows the player to take one action from any colony they’ve successfully colonized, including the ‘upgrade’ action on their home world.
Players use these actions to amass resources, upgrade their home world, and colonize planets by being the first to reach the end of that planet’s tracker in an effort to end the game with the most number of points. When a player takes control of a planet, all ships that were on the planet are returned to their home worlds, and the winning player puts the planet card under their home world card to symbolize that its victory points are theirs, and that they now have sole-rights to use that planet’s special ability. Once one player reaches 21 points, each other player gets one more turn and then the final points are tallied and an overall winner is determined.
Rather than the meat of the game coming from the complexity of the rules system, Tiny Epic Galaxies really shines because of its player interaction. At first glance I’ll admit I actually couldn’t see exactly how this was much more than a race for points, but once we got a couple of turns in and the interactive elements started to reveal how they all worked together it became apparent the game was both highly strategic, and very interactive. Players can expect to have to juggle colonization races on multiple planets with multiple players, which if lost are essentially wasted actions. At the same time they must weigh the risk/rewards of those races with whether to try and give themselves more long-term advantages by burning dice and resources to upgrade their home worlds, acquiring the resources to do, or possibly saving those resources for future dice re-rolls or trying to piggyback on other players’ actions using culture. It all makes for some very tense moments where the success or failure of strategies, races, or even the game, hinge on a couple of dice.
Adaptation is also extremely important, as even the most well-laid plan can be countered by someone else’s perfect use of their resource and actions. New planet cards will reveal themselves throughout the course of the game as others are colonized, and players may decide midway through the game that a new card is a must-have combo for their plans, or that circumstances have necessitated a change in strategy. What’s great is that decisions like that are actually possible- you can start the game with one strategy and finish with another; you’ll rarely find yourself in a situation were you’re so incredibly disadvantaged that there’s no coming back from it. Culture also helps in this regard, as its effective use takes some randomness out of a game that relies on dice-rolls for actions, and allows players the occasional extra action or two(essentially of their choice) to catch back up as long as other players are actually activating the dice they want to use.
Now, I will mention that I think culture is currently a mixed bag. On the one hand, its current functionality has the aforementioned effect of alleviating some randomness, and adding an even deeper layer of strategy as players concern themselves with whether someone else is going to use their own dice against them. On the other, amassing culture in order to use other people’s dice on a regular basis is an extremely powerful strategy, and it’s really not all that difficult to do. Energy is the same way, though to a lesser extent of usefulness, in allowing players to re-roll non-activated dice as many times as they have energy. In one instance someone was basically able to re-roll dice on their final turn until they got exactly what they needed to eek out a win. While this isn’t so much an issue with either resource early on as people spend the resources to upgrade their home worlds, later in the game it’s fairly easy to keep high numbers of both resources on-deck.
Although being able to come back from a deficit is certainly one of the positives for the game, my group also still had a few instances where players were frustrated by some of the huge swings in momentum that people can accomplish through epic dice combos, and subsequent use of culture. Some players were able to set themselves up on multiple planets during their own turn in a way that essentially precluded anyone else from using any of their colonizing actions without that previous player being able to take the planets they were in contention for. While that person obviously found a good strategy, the consensus around the table was it seemed a little unfair that one person could set themselves up for such total control over a round(and guarantee their success on the following turn even if everyone chose not to activate dice). Specifically, people took issue with other players being able to spend culture to use the effect of someone else’s dice immediately after that player had made use of the action. It was suggested players using culture have to wait to do so until after the current player has activated all of their dice, though we haven’t had a chance to try that tweak out yet.
Also, at least with how we read the rules and played, it seems like players are potentially at a disadvantage the farther from the starting player they are in the turn order. Since each player gets to take a final turn after someone reaches 21, it means that if the last player in the order is the first person to 21, all the other players end up getting 1 total turn more than that person. If the first player in the turn order reaches 21 first, everyone else just takes their normal turn and then the game ends. I’m not sure what the best course of action is to address this though because I do like having a final opportunity to try and come back and counter someone and surpass their score in the final turn. Since receiving our rules I’ve read some information that looks like a bonus may have been introduced to address this, but since it wasn’t included in our version I can’t speak directly to that.
Even with the few issues my group had with certain elements of the game, everyone enjoyed playing it. It hits a nice playtime where we could play it as a filler, or as a lighter game that still allows for the strategy and planning of a worker placement/resource management game, but without the complexity in setup and rules. What’s really impressive is that even though it uses some similar underlying mechanics as Tiny Epic Kingdoms, Tiny Epic Galaxies manages to feel completely different. I think I’d hesitate to add a 5th player to the game if the option is ever made available down the road, as it would potentially edge up on the 1 1/2 hour mark, and if I’m looking for a game with that kind of a time commitment there are others I’d opt for first. For that 30 min-1 hr mark though this is a really great option, and I’m looking forward to the Kickstarter campaign on January 8 to see what the final product looks like, and what kind of added value Gamelyn Games has up its sleeves for stretch goals.
Visit the Official Tiny Epic Galaxies page
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Have you played other entries in the series? If so, what did you think? Excited for TEG?