Review: Tiny Epic Galaxies: Deluxe Edition

Players:  1-5
Ages:  14+
Time to play:  30-60 minutes

Imagine if you will, an epic game set in the depths of space, where anywhere up to five players can control a fleet of ships racing to colonise a vast array of planets.  Each player has tools such as energy, diplomacy and culture to increase the size of their fleet and create a massive empire in space.  Now try to imagine that huge game fitting in a box no bigger than a pencil case...  Impossible, you might say...  well you'd be wrong.

The aptly named "Tiny Epic Galaxies" designed by Scott Almes released by Gamelyn Games manages it effortlessly.  It's a worker placement style game with a bit of risk thrown in for good measure.  The goal of the game is to use your fleet of spaceships to colonise planets.  Each planet has special skills that you can use but also a points value, the winner of the game is the first player to reach a score of 21.

Now I mentioned before how much game you get in this little box and I'm going to have to take a deep breath to tell you exactly what you get in here,  so here goes...

Included in the game are 5 galaxy mats, one for each player which has a different galaxy map for solo play, a control mat for exchanging dice, 40 planet cards all uniquely illustrated and 12 secret mission cards. 5 Empire tokens, 5 Energy Tokens, 5 Culture tokens and 20 beautiful retro style ships - that's 4 per player.  You also get 7 beautiful dice which have a smoky translucent look with crisp white icons, plus (if your version is rocking the satellites and super weapons expansion) you get a further 5 cards and 15 satellite tokens!  Also, did I mention that the the box lid doubles as a dice tray - I'm pretty sure I did...  Once you've set it up on a table, it's a pretty decent sprawl, especially in a large multiplayer game.

It's obvious that this game is really packing in terms of content, but how exactly is it played? Well its actually quite simple.  At the beginning of the game, a number of cards (according to player count) are dealt out in the centre of the playing area and these represent the current planets that are available for colonisation.

Then each player picks a colour and takes their components and places them in the starting positions on their galaxy mat.  They use this mat to monitor their in game progress and keep track of their energy, culture and empire levels, but we'll explain that in a bit more detail a little later.

Each player starts the game with 2 spaceships located in their own galaxy (on their mat), some energy, culture and the ability to roll 4 dice, which have 6 different actions printed on them.

On a players turn they simply roll their dice and then "activate" them by placing them on the activation bay card.  This allows that player to use the action on that die.  So for example, one of the simplest actions actions to explain is the arrow icon, which means "move a ship".  When you do this action you can move a spaceship from one planet to another or even back to your home galaxy if you like.

When you move a spaceship to a planet you can do one of two things, you can land the spaceship on the planet itself, which will allow you to use the special ability of that planet for this turn.  Or you can lay the spaceship on its side in orbit on the colony track.  When you reach the end of a colony track you get to keep the planet as your own, it's placed under your galaxy mat and a new one planet is dealt out.

So how do you move a round the colony track? well, unsurprisingly this is actually really simple and will go towards explaining another two of the actions on the dice.  If you look at the planet cards in the image, you'll notice that each colony track has one of two icons, one representing economy (a graph), and one representing diplomacy (a sort of wreath).  These icons match exactly the icons depicted on the dice.  So if you have rolled two dice with the diplomacy icon showing, and happen to have a ship in orbit on a diplomacy colony track, you could "activate" these dice and move your ship around it's orbit two spaces.  The economy track works in exactly the same way.

While we're looking at the cards, you can see in the top right corner of each card that there is either a culture icon (column) or an energy icon (lightning), which again corresponds to two more faces on the dice.  Now energy is very useful, not only can it be used for planet actions, you can also re-roll any of number of your un-activated dice for the cost of 1 energy (though the first re-roll is free).  Culture is extremely useful too, just like energy you can spend it on planet actions, but you can also use it to "follow" the previous players action at the cost of 1 culture.  So if a player activated a die to say move a spaceship, each player has the opportunity to "follow" that action and move a spaceship too.  Both Energy and Culture can also be used to upgrade a players empire (but we'll get to that in a bit).

So as we mentioned, each player has their own store of culture and energy which they keep track of on their player mats, these represent the two resources in the game.  These will need topping up from time to time as they get used, so the fourth and fifth actions I'm explaining now are about acquiring resources.

Now, you only get resources if you have a spaceship either landed on, or in orbit on a planet which has the corresponding resource type.  So, Lets say I have three ships, two of these ships are on cards with the energy symbol showing and the other is on a planet with the culture symbol showing.  If activate a die with the energy symbol showing - I would get two energy (one from each of my ships on energy cards).  If I activated a culture die, then I would get one culture (from my single ship on a culture card).

This leads me on to the final face of the die - the colony utilisation action which looks like a little colony in a dome.  Now when you colonise a planet, you place the card under your player mat under the colony action icon defined there, with only the planet action showing.  When you roll the colony utilisation action you can use any of the planet actions that you have collected.  If you don't have any planets don't worry - there is still the default colony action of upgrading your empire, which is really useful.  You can upgrade your empire using energy or culture and doing so gives you victory points, but also gives you the unlocks extra spaceships (up to a maximum of four) and extra dice (up to a maximum of seven).

That explains each action on the dice but what if you don't roll the action that you want? Well, you could re-roll the dice which we mentioned before, but this costs 1 energy each time you do it and you're not guaranteed to get what you want.  Alternatively there is a converter slot on the activation bay - placing two dice into this means that you can change a third die to whatever value you like.  It has a heavy cost on dice but costs you nothing in energy, so may be an option if you have a few dice you can't use.

So what kind of game is Tiny Epic Galaxies? Well it has some worker placement elements, some area control elements, some risk management elements but doesn't really lean so heavily towards one mechanic that it can be easily defined.  It feels to me mostly like a worker placement style game with a bit of risk thrown in.

Games are quick to play and there is plenty of player interaction.  This usually takes the form of stealing planets, but there are also some "take that" elements when utilising colony actions which can affect the other players.

In fact, one of the best things in this game is the flexibility in terms of actions that can be performed on the planet cards.  You'll often find that if you can't do what you want to do then there might be a planet which helps you out for a small cost.  This means that you have to think creatively to get the best out of each turn.  The ability to follow players too adds an interesting dynamic, speeding up gameplay and removing the advantages of lucky dice rolls.

There's also plenty to be said about the games replay value, the multitude of planets to be colonised means that the game feels fresh every time.  The hidden agendas also add an extra dynamic, making players adopt a different strategy each time that they play.

It's also nice that the game has a single player game mode know as the rogue galaxy mode.  In this mode the game is set up like a two-player but one of the mats is turned over to reveal the rogue galaxy which uses a slightly different set of rules to play.  Obviously you're not going to get the player interaction that you would normally, but it sure beats a game of solitaire right?

It's not all praise though, as I do have a few of minor niggles with this game.  Firstly, the gaming mats are unnecessarily small.  Now this isn't a big issue for me, but some people might struggle if they don't have great eyesight or dexterity.  They are nowhere near the size of the box so I'm struggling to find a reason why they didn't create them bigger in the first place.

Secondly, the size of the text for the actions on the planet cards is quite small.  This isn't a big problem when the cards are in the centre of the table, but if you have a colony action which allows you to use other players colony actions then you're going to need a pair of binoculars or be prepared to get in peoples faces to find out what you can use.

Finally it would be handy if there was a first player marker because in this game every player has an equal amount of turns, but when you've had a few games (and a few beers) it's difficult to remember who started the game.

Overall though, these are really minor issues.  Tiny Epic Galaxies is so engaging and fun to play that it makes up for these shortcomings in leaps and bounds.  It's still one of my favourite games and comes to the table frequently.

I'd definitely recommend this one...

You can pick up a copy of Tiny Epic Galaxies here.


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