A couple years ago, when I first heard of Tiny Epic Kingdoms, I was intrigued. The idea of a small box with big gameplay was one that I was willing to check out. And it came through for me and many others, as it’s a great game. Designer Scott Almes really has a knack for taking a game and distilling it down to make a small, yet potent package.
I’ve enjoyed the entire Tiny Epic series so much that when I saw Tiny Epic Galaxies go up on Kickstarter it was a no-brainer. I was jumping all over this game. The premise sounded cool, the art looked great, and his other games have been quite entertaining. Finally the long wait was over and this one arrived at my door. Did it live up to my expectations? Well, read on…
Tiny Epic Galaxies is a space exploration game for 1-5 players which will take around 30-45 minutes to complete. Each player receives a galaxy mat, ships, and tokens in the color of their choosing and two secret mission cards. After looking at those cards, each player will choose one and place it under their galaxy mat, discarding the other. The deck of planet cards is now shuffled and two more planets than there are players are dealt out in the middle of the table. If you are playing with five players, only use six cards. The dice, control mat, and planet deck are also placed in the middle.
The galaxy mat is going to be the center of your universe (pun intended) for this game, so let’s focus on those for a minute. Curving along the left side of the mat is the resource track. You will place your energy and culture tokens along this track, moving them up and down as your resources increase and decrease throughout the game. The resource track curves around the center of your galaxy, and this is where your available ships will live when they aren’t out colonizing a planet.
On the right side of the mat you will a large track which has three smaller tracks inset to the left. The large track is your empire track, and you’ll place your empire token on here to track your progress. The three other tracks are reference tracks which will tell you how many ships you should have in play, how many dice you can roll, and how many base victory points your empire is worth.
Gameplay proceeds as follows: on your turn, look at your empire track and take the number of dice shown on your dice track. Roll the dice and take the actions depicted one at a time. If you would like to reroll any number of your unspent dice, you may do so once for free. Additional rerolls are allowed, but will you cost you one energy per reroll. Once you’ve either used all of your dice or decided to not use the rest, play continues to the next player.
Each die has six faces which allow you to take one of four basic actions:
- Move a ship – Move one of your ships to a planet, or from a planet back to your galaxy mat. When you move to a planet you can choose to either land on the planet and take the action listed, or orbit the planet in an attempt to colonize and claim it for your own. You may have two ships on the same planet as long as one is in orbit and the other is on the surface. When moving a ship which is already on a planet, it must move to a new planet…it’s can’t move from the surface to orbit or vice-versa.
- Acquire resources – Each planet is capable of producing a resource (either energy or culture) and you can move up the resource track for each ship that is on a planet of that type. So if you rolled an energy symbol, and you’ve got two ships on planets with the energy icon, you would gain two energy. It’s worth noting that your galaxy mat has the energy icon, so you can gain energy while your ships are there as well.
- Advance colonization – Along with a resource symbol, each planet has a symbol at the end of the orbital track signifying what it will take for you to successfully colonize the planet. Each symbol (either diplomacy or economy) allows you to move your orbiting ship one space closer to the end of the track. Once you hit the end, all ships are removed and returned to their home galaxies and the card is placed underneath the colony symbol on your galaxy mat.
- Utilize a colony – This action will allow you to perform the empire upgrade found on your galaxy mat or any of the actions which are found on the planets you’ve successfully colonized. If performing the upgrade found on the mat, you may pay in either energy or culture, but not a combination of the two.
As you are taking your turn and activating each die, your opponents will have the opportunity to spend one culture to “follow” your action. This will allow, for example, your opponents to move ships when it isn’t their turn. If there are ever timing questions, you should evaluate each follow clockwise from the active player.
Each planet will have a number of victory points at the bottom, and as planets are colonized players will announce their new score. The end of the game is triggered once a player has 21 or more points, and play continues until every player has had the same number of turns. At this point the secret missions are evaluated, points are totaled, and a winner is decided!
You’re going to pick up the flow of this game in a heartbeat. Nothing’s overly complicated, and the basic premise behind most of the actions are ones that we’ve all seen before. But the package itself is nicely presented and makes everything flow nicely. From the follow mechanic to the dice activation, it’s just a complete package.
It’s pretty interesting that a simple thing like the follow mechanic can make such a huge difference in a game. Without that, this would have been a neat game that I would play once and forget about. But being able to follow someone’s action does quite a few things to improve gameplay.
First of all, it reduces downtime. Sure, there will be moments where you’re just out of culture and can’t follow someone even if you wanted…but careful planning will keep those from becoming frequent. For the most part, when it isn’t your turn you are still keeping on eye on what other players are rolling. You never know when your opponents will roll something that’ll set you up on your next turn.
Secondly, it makes activating your dice a little more challenging. Sure, I’d love to advance diplomacy because I’ve got a planet I’m working towards colonizing…but BOTH of my opponents do as well and they will get their colonies before I do at this rate. So is there another way to approach this turn?
Finally, it makes you choose to land on planets you normally wouldn’t. Because after that first time that you run out of culture and you really want to follow someone? Well, you won’t make that mistake twice. I’ve hopped onto planets I have no desire to get near just to have a chance at grabbing some culture.
There’s a lot to like here. You get some player interaction, lots of replayability, a compact footprint, and meaningful decisions. Basically everything that the Tiny Epic games are known for. And the components and art are top notch, which is fast becoming the hallmark of anything put out by Gamelyn Games. This is well deserving of a spot on any gamer’s shelf.