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Friday 10 November 2023

Friday Filler: Tiny Epic Galaxies

Tiny Epic Galaxies is almost, but not quite a ‘4X’ game. That is a game whose mechanics focus on ‘Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate’. Twilight Imperium, for example, is a classic example of a ‘4X’ game, but Tiny Epic Galaxies forgoes the Exterminate aspect to focus instead upon ‘Explore, Expand, Exploit’ for a competitive, but not combative board game. Tiny Epic Galaxies is a Science Fiction board game in which two to five players—though there is a solo option included—compete to exploit the abilities of planets across the galaxy, expand their fleet of rocketships, and colonise planets in order to expand their territories and become the preeminent power in the galaxy, and so win the game. Tiny Epic Galaxies is designed to played and does indeed play in thirty or so minutes and combines dice rolling and rerolling mechanics, player Follow mechanics, order assignment, and secret objectives. The third in the Tiny Epic series, following on from Tiny Epic Kingdoms and Tiny Epic Defenders, it is published by Gamelyn Games and like the rest in the line, Tiny Epic Galaxies packs a lot of high-quality game components and game play into a relatively small—though not tiny—box. Consequently, if the components are a bit small for ease of use for big fingers, the game itself is easy to transport, easy to store, and occupies very little space on the table, all whilst still offering big game play.

Tiny Epic Galaxies comes with a lot of components. These consist of five Galaxy Player Mats, a Control Mat, forty Planet Cards, twelve Secret Mission Cards, seven Action Dice, twenty Ships, and five each of the Empire, Energy, and Culture Tokens, plus the twelve-page rulebook. Each Galaxy Player Mat consists of five tracks. One for Culture and Energy combined, and then one each to track a player’s Victory Points, the number of dice he can roll on his turn, the number of rocket ships he can have in his fleet, and the size of his empire. Increase the size of his empire and the number of Victory Points, dice to roll, and rocket ships to launch and move, all go up as well. To increase his empire a player will need to spend Energy and Culture.

Each player uses the Control Mat when it is their turn and it primarily has spaces for the dice as a player uses them. It also summarises all of the actions and has a Converter space which is used to sacrifice two dice in order to get the result a player wants on a third. One minor issue is that there is only one Control Mat and it would have been useful for every player to have one for ease of use.

The game’s objectives consist of the Planet Cards and the Secret Mission Cards. Each Planet Card is illustrated with a picture of a planet, which is surrounded by a track. This is the Colonisation Track which a player will move a ship along to in order to claim the planet and add it to his galaxy. It has a Victory Point value, ranging between one and seven, the greater the Victory Point value, the longer it takes to colonise. Lastly, it has a special ability. For example, ‘All players harvest 1 Energy, but you harvest 2 Energy’, ‘Spend 2 Energy to advance +2 Diplomacy’, ‘Utilise the action of an un-colonised planet’, or ‘Reroll any of your inactive dice’. A player can use a planetary ability by landing a ship on it or if he has it in his galaxy. Secret Mission Cards provide a player with a means of scoring points in secret and an objective to aim as well building his galaxy. For example, ‘Gain 2 if you have all of your ships in your galaxy at the end of the game’ or ‘Gain 3 if you have the most planets at the end of the game’.

The game’s seven dice are marked with six symbols, each indicating an action that a player can do. These are ‘Move A Ship’, ‘Acquire Energy’, ‘Acquire Culture’, ‘Diplomacy’, ‘Economic’, and ‘Utilise A Colony’. The ‘Move A Ship’ action lets a player land a ship on a planet and use its ability or allow it to enter orbit in readiness to move it along the colonise track on each planet. ‘Acquire Energy’ and ‘Acquire Culture’ add a point to the track on the player’s Galaxy Player Mat. The amount in either case depends upon the planets the player has assigned his ships to currently. The ‘Diplomacy’ and the ‘Economic’ actions enable a player to move one of his ships along the Colonise Track of a planet depending upon whether the planet is susceptible to Economic or Diplomatic influence. Lastly, ‘Utilise A Colony’ enables a player to either upgrade his galaxy and once he has added a colony to his empire, he can activate its ability.

At the beginning of the game, each player receives four ships and a Galaxy Mat plus associated tokens. Initially, a player can only use two ships, but can add the other two during play. He also receives two Secret Mission Cards and chooses one of them. Several Planet Cards are placed down for the players to try and claim. These will be refreshed as they are claimed one by one.

On a turn, a player rolls the dice and then uses the symbols rolled to undertake actions. It is as simple as that, the player making the best use of the symbols rolled and their associated actions. A player can reroll his dice as many times he wants, but for every reroll after the first, he has to pay an Energy cost. However, there is a wrinkle and that is Tiny Epic Galaxies’ ‘Follow’ mechanic. This is similar to that of Glory to Rome, which allowed the other players to immediately do the same action that the current player has just done. However, in Tiny Epic Galaxies, the Following players have to pay a point of Culture. Thus, it is important for players to build up their Culture so that they can do Follow actions. On the downside, the Follow mechanic does mean that a player’s turn can be interrupted over and over with Follow actions.

Play continues until a player has accrued twenty-one Victory Points. Then play continues until everyone has had the same number of turns. After that, Secret Mission cards are revealed and Victory Points are awarded for those. The player with the most Victory Points is the winner.

Besides keeping his Culture high, a player needs to keep a balance between building up his galaxy and gaining colonies. Building up his galaxy has the benefit of giving a player both extra ships to move around and more dice to roll. Gaining colonies gives a player ready access to their special abilities, as opposed to a player simply landing a ship on a colony in play to use it once. Although the primary interaction between players is via the Follow action, players can also interact through the effects of the various special abilities of the planets and racing to colonise a planet.

Physically, Tiny Epic Galaxies is very nicely produced. If the Galaxy Mats for each player and the Control Mat are a bit small, they are still clear and easy to read. The quality of the game is very good, but the inclusion of wooden spaceships and tokens just gives it that extra touch of class. Similarly, the fact that the wooden spaceships are designed to look like classic space opera rocketships gives it another touch of class, though a retro one. The rules are easy to read and understand. One minor issue is that everything does not quite fit in the game’s box. It is very full and everything goes in, but the lid is not quite flush. Nevertheless, Tiny Epic Galaxies is a good-looking game that also feels pleasingly tactile.

Tiny Epic Galaxies is a fantastic filler, which not only fits into a thirty-minute window with its playing time, but offers a player a wide variety of actions, both in terms of dice actions and the special abilities of the colonies, and then of course in the planets they can attempt to colonise. There is also enough variety in the number of planets available to give the game plenty of replay value. And then there is the theme, which Tiny Epic Galaxies simply does perfectly. In fact, Tiny Epic Galaxies is the perfect ‘3X’ board game—‘Explore, Expand, Exploit’—and the fact that it does it in a perfectly appointed, ‘tiny’ fashion without losing any game play or components just makes it that bit better.

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