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You know what this blog needs? More space games. People generally like space. And so do I! One of my favorite games is a space game. Alas, it’s both an amazing game and particularly annoying to teach, so it doesn’t always make it to the table. Sometimes I need something a bit … tinier. And more … galaxies? No, that doesn’t work at all. Let’s move on.
Tiny Epic Galaxies is the third game in a line of Tiny Epic Games (Defenders, Kingdoms, and Galaxies, with Western to follow soon) that are all pretty solidly Kickstarter successes, and we’re a fan of Kickstarter around these parts. In this, similar to Roll, you play as an enterprising fledgling Galactic Federation / Empire (How exactly do you start one of those, I wonder? Just, “hey guys, what if we got a whole galaxy to put us in charge?” “Yeah that sounds good.”?), and you are trying to add planets to your sphere of influence. Other players are trying to do the same thing, as you might surmise. But how’s it hold up? Read more and find out.
So, you’ll notice that there’s not a lot to the box; it’s pretty small. Hence the “Tiny” in “Tiny Epic Galaxies”. However, there’s a fair number of pieces and parts and mats, they’re just … also tiny. Let’s go through them in turn, starting with the Activation Bay.
This is where your dice go when they’re rolled and you “activate” them. More on that later, but put it where all players can see it.
This is pretty much the most important thing. Note that there are three tracks on the right side of the mat: the dice track (how many dice you can roll per turn), the ship track (how many ships you control), and the empire level track. You start at the lowest level, marked by a star. Give each player a color, and then distribute the other pieces to the players with that color mat. The other pieces look like this:
Tiny rocket ships (pshoooo)! Place two in the center of the Galaxy Mat (right on the galaxy), and then one each on the Galaxy Mat on the ship track on the boxed 3 and the boxed 4 — you’ll get them later, when you level up your empire.
This is your Energy marker! It shows how much Energy you have. Put it on the 2 on your Galaxy Mat.
This is your Culture marker! It shows how cultured you are. Put it on the 1 on your Galaxy Mat, you ruffian.
This star thing tracks your empire level! Put it on the star on your Galaxy Mat.
Now, let’s move on to the cards.
These are Planet cards! Put X cards in the center, where X is the number of players plus 2. If you have five players, only put six cards in the center. (So, really, it’s min(num_players +2, 6), for those of you at home who enjoy that sort of thing. [I do.]) These are the various planets you’re going to try to colonize. Each planet has an ability (that text box on the bottom), a colonization type (either Diplomacy or Economy), a resource type (either Culture [the pillar] or Energy [the lightning bolt] in the top-right) and a value (in victory points on the bottom-right). These are all pretty important.
Finally, there are Secret Mission cards! Deal two to each player and let them pick one. These are essentially bonuses that you can get in the endgame if you fulfill that condition (sort of like the extra VPs in Roll for the Galaxy‘s 6+ development tiles).
If your area looks like this, you’re all ready to go:
Now let’s talk about the rules in Gameplay.
So, you’re trying to get planets to your Federation. This is started each turn by rolling a number of dice equal to your current place on the dice track on your Galaxy Mat. You start with four, but you can increase it over the course of the game. More on that later. So you’ll roll the dice first. Given what you roll, you can choose to activate your dice, moving them to the Activation Bay and utilizing their effect, or you can set them aside and reroll any number of inactive dice. You can get one free reroll (similar to BANG! The Dice Game) once per turn, but subsequent rerolls cost one energy (the lightning bolt token). Most importantly, opponents with culture (the pillar token) can spend one culture per roll to “follow” any roll on your turn, meaning that they also perform that action, immediately after you do. This is a huge deal, and the very foundation of Tiny Epic Galaxies, so I’ll probably repeat it again later. Anyways, given how important rolling the dice are, let’s cover what each option does:
Move. This symbol, when activated, means that the player can move one of their spaceships anywhere, either onto a planet’s colonization track or onto the planet itself, immediately taking that planet’s action. Note that you cannot have more than one ship (per player) on each of a planet’s surface and its colonization track at the same time (two ships total). Also note that you must move a ship to a different planet when you move — you cannot move from the surface to a colonization track or vice versa. Finally, you can also use a move action to move a ship back to your Galaxy Mat at any time, if that’s a thing that you want to do. Your prerogative.
Acquire resources. These two symbols, when activated, produce one of their respective resource type for each planet you have a ship on, per ship. So if you have two ships on a culture planet (one on the colonization track and one on the surface) and a third ship on another culture planet, rolling culture will earn you three culture per symbol. Note that the Galaxy Mat produces energy, by default. Note you max out at 7 of each resource. You spend energy primarily on rerolling dice and culture primarily on following other actions, for reference.
Advance colonization. These two symbols, when activated, move a single ship on a particular planet’s colonization track up one, provided that the planet is that colonization type. (You can only advance via diplomacy on diplomatic planets and same with economy.) If you get to the actual diplomacy or economy symbols on the track, you have colonized the planet and can add it to your Galaxy Mat. Note that other players can follow these actions as well (since they can follow any actions), meaning that you could inadvertently allow players to colonize planets on your turn, if they have enough culture. Worse yet, you could allow them to colonize planets that you are trying to colonize! Whenever a planet is colonized, all ships on that card (both surface and colonization track) are returned to their respective players’ Galaxy Mats. You tried so hard.
Colony action. This inscrutable symbol allows you to use your Galaxy Mat / colonized planet abilities, when rolled. For probably the first third of the game or so, that means the primary use of this will be upgrading your empire, in which you spend X energy or X culture (mutually exclusive) to advance one level, where X is the next level (so you need to spend 2 energy or 2 culture, but not 1 energy and 1 culture to move to the next level). Note that this upgrade action can also be followed. Also note that if you gain an additional ship, it’s immediately added to your Galaxy Mat, but if you gain an extra die, you don’t get to use it to your next turn (meaning that it’s usually helpful to upgrade your empire when it’s not your turn, but more on that in Strategy). You also gain victory points for upgrading your empire, so please note that you should let everyone know what level you’re upgrading to, as a courtesy. This also means that you might hit the points threshold to end the game (more on that below), so be mindful of that. Instead of upgrading your empire, as I mentioned previously, you can also use the abilities of any of your colonized planets (which would be under your Galaxy Mat). While this can be followed, this does not mean that a player following you gets to use your planets–they can just use any of theirs.
And so gameplay progresses! You’ll want to give your opponents a bit after each die you activate so that they can choose whether or not they want to follow your roll. Note that when they follow your roll they also perform the same action, but after you. This means that if you use a diplomacy roll to colonize a planet, they cannot follow you and try to colonize that same planet themselves first, unless they’re significantly ahead of you. You always move first. Furthermore, they get the roll as if they rolled it on their turn, meaning that if you activate an energy symbol to gain four energy and they only have three ships, two of which aren’t on energy planets, then they only would gain one energy from following you. (That was an oddly specific example, now that I think about it.) You don’t have to activate all your dice on your turn, but if you find that you’ve had an absolutely abysmal roll, you can use the converter to burn two inactive dice to turn a third die to whatever face you want (like a twice-as-bad version of RftG‘s dictate action).
First to 21 points initiates the end of the game (Splendor [and others]-style, so everyone has to have had the same number of turns). Once the round has finished check your Secret Mission cards and add points as needed. Whoever has the most points after that, wins!
Player Count Differences
This seems like a thing that people like from reviews, so I’m gonna mention it briefly, since it plays 1 – 5.
At One Player
With one player, you have to use the solo rules. They’re a bit different, just because you’re playing against an evil rogue galaxy that’s a bit more megalomanical, and it has an orderly progression (in that it’s predictably eventually going to devour the universe). On the back of each Galaxy Mat is a Rogue Galaxy with a different difficulty level (in that the colony actions tend to be more aggressive at higher difficulties), and the Rouge Galaxies’ Galaxy Mats produce energy and culture. It’s handy! For more information, check out the solo rules in the rulebook, but it’s actually really fun to play solo. I’d suggest it, actually.
Other Player Counts
I hate to bunch it up, but with more players than one there aren’t any real significant changes, except that the game tends to take a bit longer and culture becomes much more important, as you have more players that take turns between your turns. You also get more planets (except for five players — you have the same number of planets as the four-player version). Other than that, it plays pretty similarly except for the heightened need for culture. I will say that at smaller player counts your Secret Mission becomes [even] less useful, as there are fewer players that could end the game (by virtue of there just being fewer players, generally). For instance, in a two-player game if the second player gets 21 the game just … ends. Secret Mission doesn’t matter unless it’s really close.
- Have culture. Being able to follow other players’ actions is incredibly useful, not just because you can beat them to the punch or perform actions on their turn, but also the mere threat of it will stop players from performing certain actions. If you’re one ahead of me on a planet’s colonization track and you’ve got culture, I may not activate that die or I may try to reroll it and get something more useful. It also means if you have enough culture, you can essentially copy another player’s entire turn. Which, as you might imagine, is pretty handy.
- If you can gain two culture when a culture die is activated, you should always follow that activation. For instance, if I roll culture and you have two ships that can gain culture (either on the surface or colonization tracks of planets that produce culture), you would spend one culture to follow me and then gain two. Net positive, unless there are other effects in play (some planets penalize following / make it more expensive). I’d recommend always doing this.
- Higher-value planets seem to be generally better than lower-value planets. Usually I think it’s pretty hard to win with only 1- or 2-point planets (since you win at 21), whereas you only need three 7-point planets to trigger the end of the game. It seems like a bit of an issue, actually, but you should jump on a valuable planet whenever you see one. This isn’t to say that the lower-value planets are never useful, they’re just … less frequently useful.
- Don’t get caught in the JMott trap. We call it the JMott trap (after a friend) when you spend all your energy trying to reroll one die (and are ultimately unsuccessful after wasting 4+ energy). It’s a bit unfortunate, but sometimes you have to just cut your losses and keep a crap roll. To that end, actually:
- Try to avoid running out of energy, too. Rerolling when you need to helps a ton, and if you render yourself incapable of doing it, you’re gonna have a bad time.
- Not always a benefit to going first. If you go first, you’re definitely stuck at four dice, but if you follow someone who upgrades their empire on their first turn (which you have exactly enough resources to do), you can start your first turn with five dice (which is more than four, my team of fact-checkers tells me). Note that this becomes irrelevant once people know that you’re trying to do that, leading to a weird stalemate for the first few turns, but … yeah. It’s a thing to note.
- Strategic following is the key to success. If you have plenty of culture, half the time your opponents’ turns are basically just free turns for you. It’s a really fascinating mechanic, as you can really propel yourself to success when it’s not even your turn. Be mindful of follow order, though.
- Don’t worry too much about your Secret Mission. It’s not usually worth enough points to swing the game, as I haven’t seen a ton of close games of TEG. That might not always be true, obviously. If anything it’s just sort of a Secret Tiebreaker, which I appreciate.
- The Converter is the worst. Try to avoid it unless you’re actually just having the worst turn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Space! I don’t own enough space games, and this is a fun thematic little space game. Also who doesn’t love tiny rocket ships? I’m a big fan of the theme.
- Tiny! It’s very easy to take places with me, and it’s well-liked by the various people I play it with. That being said, even when fully expanded it doesn’t take up a lot of space.
- Pretty easy to learn, but still relatively deep. It’s got a good amount of complexity for such a tiny game, and I think people like it for that.
- Short. It’s not a long game, but it usually means that people will want to play another after it finishes, especially if it’s their first game. It’s nice to learn once and then play another, in my opinion, and it doesn’t feel like that’s too long, even for two games.
- Really well-run Kickstarter. I know it’s not a game pro, specifically, but as far as Kickstarters go Gamelyn Games run theirs fantastically. Tiny Epic Western was run with similar levels of quality, and it means I will likely support games of theirs in the future.
- Varied planet effects leads to a pretty reasonable replay value. With 40 different planet cards (especially with the different colonization / resource types), a tableau of available planets can look very different and require very different strategies / approaches. This does give the game a nice amount of replay value.
- I really like the follow ability. I think it’s a nice touch to this game, and part of the reason I play it so frequently. I think it adds a very interesting layer of strategy to the game.
- The Galaxy Mats aren’t quite thick enough. For a game where you’re sliding cards underneath your Galaxy Mat a whole bunch, they are ridiculously difficult to pick up, even with reasonably long fingernails. You end up having to slide it to the edge of the table, and then the cards fall off and it’s a whole thing.
- The Converter is just … really bad. It seems to not ever justify its use, unlike the dictate skill in Roll for the Galaxy, which is used basically by everyone a few times per game. It’s odd that it’s just, so not-good, but I guess you have to be in dire straits to want to use it in the first place.
- Low-value planets seem to be not useful to the point of being actively unhelpful. They won’t win you the game and getting them is more trouble than they’re worth. In my mind, that’s not great for gameplay because it just ends up junking up the tableau and they are really bad value (the track is length 2 for 1 point, as opposed to 6 for 7 points or 5 for 5 points). It seems like it would almost be interesting to try removing both the 1-point and 7-point planets from the game, to see if more 2-point planets get picked up as a result.
- You will get screwed over if you have bad rolls. It’s still pretty heavily luck-based, and there are not very good luck-mitigation options (see the Converter). If you have bad rolls you’ll be in a world of hurt, made worse if your opponents have culture and keep copying all of your good moves on your turn. Other than the Converter, there are only a few luck-mitigating planets, so you may not even see them in a given game.
- Generally a bit luck-heavy, in my plays. If you get a bad planet card draw or a bad roll or some thing that gets you pretty severely behind, expect it to be hard to recover. Most games I play there’s a winner by a fairly substantial margin, which is part of the reason we try to ignore our Secret Mission cards. Speaking of which:
- Some of the Secret Mission cards are bad / difficult to plan a strategy around. For instance, some players can get extra points if they have all / no ships on their Galaxy Mat at the game’s end. That’s … really hard to work with, and you have almost no control over that (especially no ships — you might just get unlucky and someone colonizes the planet that your on and costs you points, which, I suppose, is the game). Others demand you have the most energy or culture, both of which you’re strongly incentivized to spend as frequently as possible. I feel like it would be a bit better if there were a few “Galactic Imperatives” a la Suburbia / Castles of Mad King Ludwig’s bonus tiles, which were Secret Mission cards revealed at the start of the game to both players that were known, along with actual Secret Missions that were kept hidden. This might also prevent the game tilting in one player or another’s direction as much as we’ve had. I also feel like I would like more Secret Mission cards.
- This is probably just me (and is almost certainly confirmation bias), but I find myself frequently rolling the exact. same. thing. It’s a bit annoying and I’m sure it’s literally just confirmation bias, but imagine rerolling an Economy symbol and getting it again. and again. and again. Drives you a bit nuts. One minor irritating point about this game.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I like Tiny Epic Galaxies. I feel like there are still some nuances of the game that I’ll unlock as I play it more, but generally first impressions are positive. I like a LOT that I can throw it in my game bag and it’s easy to transport, and I REALLY like how easy it is to pick up the theme. I can see this being a pretty rock-solid family game if you’re trying to transition to something a bit more thoughtful, and it has a bit more player interaction and far less complexity than Roll for the Galaxy, which I would consider a more advanced version of this game, in a few ways.
I think at its core, you’ve gotta ask, “is this Roll / Race for the Galaxy?” and the answer is no. But I don’t think it’s trying to be, either. I think it’s a less-complex, little, more luck-based space game about trying to add planets to your tableau, and for that I think it manages to keep a pretty solid hold in my game library and I’d recommend it to others. And given the quality of TEG, I’m really looking forward to Tiny Epic Western, once it arrives.