Tiny Epic Galaxies (TEG) from Gamelyn Games ( Tiny Epic series ) is the latest in their series of Tiny Epic games…games that come in a small box, but supposedly pack an epic gaming experience into it.
TEG promises to be both a multi-player game as well as a solitaire game. It is for 1-5 players and the box says that it will take 30-45 minutes. In this post, I review both ways to play the game. And so that you are not left in any suspense: the solitaire game is solid but the multiplayer game has a really giant downside to it that can ruin the fun. Read on for my reasoning and see if you agree with me!
Multiplayer Game Play
Basically, TEG is a more sophisticated game of Yahtzee. You roll a set of dice (and a set that can increase over time as your galactic empire grows) and take actions based on the symbols that you roll. There are six actions, one on each side of each and every die (as an aside, wouldn’t it be cool to have some non-uniform distributed dice so that you could bias your rolls toward a particular outcome? How sweet would this game be if you could tailor your empire toward a particular strategy? Anyway, I digress). The six actions are: Move A Ship, Acquire Energy, Acquire Culture, Advance a Diplomatic colonization effort, Advance an Economic colonization effort, or Utilize your Galaxy Mat/Colonized planet actions.
The start of each player’s turn is quite easy: 1) Roll your dice. But from there it gets more complicated. 2) You can activate a die. If you do, any or all opponents may “follow” by paying 1 culture and taking a similar action. 3) At any time you can re-roll any/all of your dice by paying 1 energy. This may occur before or during taking actions through #2. When you are done, play passes clockwise.
What do you do with these dice? You are trying to get to 21 victory points to trigger the end of the game. There are only 3 ways to get victory points: advance your empire from level 1 to 6 (with a varying set of points along the way), colonize planets with your ships by using Advance actions, and achieving your single “secret objective” (always worth 2 to 3 points).
That’s it! It is just like Yahtzee…roll and re-roll and hope to get more points than everyone else. Okay…to be fair, it is much more complicated than Yahtzee, but the rolling mechanism is the same. However, you do get a cool galaxy mat and some wooden figures to move around on it.
The player mat with ships at home, my empire at Level 3 (hex with a star on it), my energy (lightning bolt) and culture (column) at zero. I have 3 colonized planets worth a total of 5 victory points.
Which dice do I activate, in which order, when do I re-roll, how many do I re-roll, who will follow, and what will they gain when they follow?…and why these decisions in combination can be very, very ugly!
The crux of why the game is strategic and not just multiplayer solitaire (like that crappy Race for the Galaxy game) is the “follow” mechanism. Because other players can mimic your actions for a very small price (=1 culture) they can do almost the same thing you do…but during your turn not during their turn. For example, if you acquire energy they might acquire more…on your turn! Thus, the game is all about opportunity costs. You will not want to advance your empire if 1 or more enemies do it too, you won’t want to acquire energy if other players acquire more, etc. You are going to want to take actions that might help you and be of little to no use to your opponents.
But this same mechanism is why the game is very, very ugly in multiplayer. For example, in a recent game I found myself on the last turn (another player had triggered the end of the game by achieving at least 21 victory points). I knew that I could win if I could get the dice to precisely be utilized in a specific order that would 1) get me enough energy (at least two dice of energy) to advance my empire, 2) roll a Utilize your Galaxy Mat action (to actually do the advancing of the empire), 3) because of actions available on my colonized planets and the open planets, I could roll another Galaxy Mat action to help out by using a planet power, 4) perhaps if I roll two ship movements I could land on a specific open planet and use its power to get some of these other actions done, 5) get me two diplomacy to colonize a planet and VERY IMPORTANTLY, 6) because of the follow mechanism these had to be done in a particular order so that my opponent with 21+ victory points wouldn’t get more points. Also, I thought it a priority to colonize a particular planet to get my secret objective just in case he had met his secret objective (note: at the end of the game he revealed that he had indeed achieved it).
Guess what happened next? Well, I started with 5 energy and used a bunch of it to re-roll, get more energy, and re-roll, and get more energy and re-roll. In between each of my actions was many, many minutes of agonizing calculations of probabilities (if I re-roll 3 dice versus holding that one ship and two dice, which would be better? What if the other guy follows any of these actions? What if I have to re-roll after this re-roll? How can I manipulate my ships and energy to maximize this process for the most re-rolls?). That last turn TOOK FOREVER! Okay, okay, it was more like 20 minutes, but it seemed like an hour! It was just plain awful. And what do you think my opponent was doing the whole time? Telling me to get on with it…but I couldn’t because I knew a solution was possible. I was frustrated, the game wasn’t fun, he was quite angry and I am surprised that we didn’t just sweep the game off the table and forget about finishing it.
And what was the end result? After gaining energy so that I could seemingly endlessly re-roll anywhere from 1 to 3 dice, it eventually came down to a last re-roll of a single die, where I had a 50% chance of winning and a 50% chance of losing–and I lost by rolling one of the wrong 3 symbols. All of that agonizing for a coin flip to decide it! Yep…truly the very, very ugly!
Verdict on Multiplayer:
To use a common term (and one that has been used in another review of TEG), this game suffers from a dramatic and debilitating case of Analysis Paralysis. The game easily can take 2+ hours. Each activation of a die or a re-roll can be an agonizing and exhausting effort in multi-variate calculus! As the game progresses, the number of dice rolled expands, the number of colonized planets with possible actions expands, the possible number of re-rolls and follows expands…and all of this leads to a massive headache when trying to take actions!
Why does this happen? First, the cost of following is too cheap. Only 1 culture is needed, and it is possible if the active player is acquiring culture to actually gain culture on his turn (he uses his dice, you gain more than him!). This is a basic flaw in the game. Other games with a lead/follow mechanism make following either quite expensive, or make leading more profitable (for example, check out the mechanism in the excellent game Eminent Domain ( Eminent Domain on BGG ) by which the “leader” gets an extra benefit that followers do not get). Second, because there are 4 to 7 dice to be activated, one by one in a sequence, there are 4 to 7 separate lead actions and much more possible follow actions (in a 4 player game, if I roll 5 dice my opponents have a potential 3×5=15 follow opportunities). Just thinking about the order in which 4 to 7 dice can be sequentially utilized produces many, many combinations (you guys can do the factorial math on your own).
As a multi-player game, the exceptionally long agonizing over activations/follows, especially during the last turn, ruins the fun of the earlier turns in the game. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this game to any gaming group in which even a single highly-calculating, serious, strategic player is involved. The last few turns play much like Chess…one guy sits and sits, calculates and calculates for minutes, and then makes a single move…except that in TEG this is multiplied by the number of dice that one guy just rolled and multiplied by the possible number of re-rolls!
Solitaire play = Quite Fun and Fast
In the solitaire version, you play against a programmed opponent. These “Rogue” galaxies can be found on the backs of the player mats and have increasing difficulty from Beginner to Epic (duh!).
The Beginner Rogue Galaxy! Note the pre-programmed actions (the red bubbles).
In short, the programmed opponent never follows and you can force it to re-roll a die by spending 1 culture and 1 energy. Its ships always colonize and never land on planets to use that planet’s action. Its ships also colonize faster, as all of the rogue’s ships move when he rolls diplomacy or economy. It has pre-programmed attacks that occur whenever it rolls a utilize a colony die face. And quite importantly, when the rogue galaxy maximizes its energy it upgrades its empire automatically; and when it maximizes its culture it takes an extra turn.
The Rogue galaxy automatically wins if it reaches 21 victory points or if its empire gets to the final hex (the skull and crossbones). You win instantly if you get to 21 victory points before the Rogue galaxy. Pretty simple, huh?
Solitaire game play
The solitaire game is much quicker because 1) the player can follow the Rogue’s actions but the rogue cannot follow back, and 2) the Rogue is programmed so it never wastes time in calculation. In short, each turn takes precisely as long as the player wishes to take on it. If you want to calculate exactly the best way to follow the rogue and/or make it re-roll, go ahead and do it; if you don’t want to do the mental gymnastics, go ahead and do that instead! Either way, there are not other players to sit around and steam while you take your time figuring out those probabilities in your head.
The whole TEG experience!
The solitaire game preserves all the fun of rolling the dice, deciding which dice to accept, in which order, and when to re-roll, as well as, deciding whether to spend that 1 culture on following. You do have to work to beat the Rogue and you feel like it will race ahead of you toward victory if you make mistakes. At the same time, the solitaire game jettisons the downtime waiting for other players and dramatically reduces the calculus needed for the active player (in this instance, the only player) to decide on a clear path on their own turn.
I highly recommend TEG as a solitaire game. It doesn’t cost much, it has an opponent who scales in difficulty, it meets the 30-45 time limit advertised on the box, it has minimal set up, minimal clean up, and is a fun time (well, as much fun as you can possibly have in a solitaire game).
You are going to want to play TEG as a solitaire game…because if you play it multiplayer, you and your friends might get so mad at each other that you will prefer to be by yourself anyway!