Monday, 2 March 2015

Roll for the Galaxy

Plays: 2Px7

The Game

Roll for the Galaxy is the dice game version of Race for the Galaxy, but it is not just a simplified or shortened version of the game. It is a game with a similar feel, but it uses different mechanisms. Imagine Mona Lisa being painted by Picasso - familiar yet very different. Here's how it plays.

Players each develop their own galactic empire, starting with one homeworld, and two additional worlds or technologies. This is a tableau game, so as you develop new techs or colonise new planets, you add them to your tableau, and they grant you new powers or benefits. Every planet or tech is worth points. The top-end techs grant bonus points depending on your tableau at game end, e.g. bonus points for techs, or for goods, or for different coloured dice. You can also collect victory point chips during the game using the Ship action. The game ends once a player reaches 12 worlds and/or techs, or when the VP chips are exhausted.

Dice represent your people, and also represent actions you can perform. You start with five basic white dice, plus a few more depending on your start worlds and techs. New worlds you colonise will give more dice.

When a round starts, everyone rolls his dice behind this screen. You first arrange the dice below the small strip, according to the icons rolled. Once done, you pick one die (regardless of icon) and move it onto the action icon on the small strip for the action you want to execute this round.

Once the above is done by all players, the screens are removed, and you get to see what everyone else has picked.

These five big tiles at the centre of the table represent the five action types in the game. After seeing the actions everyone has chosen, these tiles are used to indicate which actions will be available for the round. If an action has been picked by at least one player, other players will be able to execute it too as long as they have dice assigned to that action.

By default, the action a die can be used to execute depends on the icon you have rolled. When you pick an action for the round, you guarantee that this action type will be active, and all the dice you have in that column (including the one placed on the strip) can be used to perform the action of this column. If you have dice in other columns, you will need to hope that other players have picked these columns.

In this photo, I have rolled two Explores (eye), two Develops (diamond), and one Settle (circle). I place one of the Develop dice onto the Settle action icon, meaning that I will definitely be Settling this round. Every die in this column will be used for Settling. I have moved another Develop die to the Settle column using a special ability. My two Explore dice are left in their default location. I will only be able to Explore if my opponent picks Explore.

The five actions in the game are: Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce and Ship. Explore means drawing tiles from a bag. Every tile is two-sided, a world on one side and a tech on the other. When you draw one, you must decide which side to use, and then you place it under your Develop stack (for techs) or Settle stack (for worlds). In this photo above, I have one tech waiting to be Developed and one world waiting to be Settled. I already have two Settle dice on the world, so I just need three more to complete the colonisation.

The Develop and Settle actions simply mean placing dice onto the Develop and Settle stacks. When the number of dice on a stack equals or exceeds the number on the topmost tile, you complete the development or colonisation and get to add that tile to your tableau.

The fourth action is Produce, which means placing the die onto a world to represent a good produced. You won't gain any benefit just yet. You need to use the fifth action - Ship. To Ship means to use a good on a world. There are two ways to use it. You can Trade it, which means earning cash. Cash is important. Whenever you use a die, it goes to a Citizenry area and stays there, until you can afford to pay to bring it out for use again ($1 per die). The other way to use the Ship action is to Consume the good, which means discarding it to gain victory point chips. You gain at least 1VP. If the colour of the good matches that of the world, you gain an extra VP. If the colour of the ship matches that of the world, that's another extra VP too. In the best case, you earn 3VP for one Ship action. In this photo I have five worlds with goods of matching colours, which means good scoring opportunities.

At the start of a round when you do dice rolling and dice assignment, they are done simultaneously by all players. After everyone is ready, the screens are removed at the same time to determine which actions will be available for the current round. After that, usually everyone can perform actions simultaneously too. This minimises downtime.

The game ends when one player reaches 12 worlds and/or techs, or when the VP chips are exhausted (the number of VP chips depends on the number of players).

The Play

Roll for the Galaxy has a bit of multiplayer solitaire feel. I'm a big fan of Race for the Galaxy, but I do not hesitate to say this, even though it is sacrilege to many fellow fans. Defenders of the game will tell you that there is player interaction, just that it is more subtle than other games, which is true. A big part of the game is trying to figure out what actions others will choose, and you need to leech off your opponents. You also need to watch what they are doing in order to gauge the tempo of the game. Sometimes expediting or delaying the game end is the key to victory. You do not directly interfere with your opponents' empires. You are mostly focused on building your own. Player interaction is indirect, but it's there.

Just like Race for the Galaxy, in Roll for the Galaxy you also need to guess what actions your opponents will pick. In this photo my Development stack is empty, which means I am not likely to choose the Develop action. If my opponent wants to Develop, he'd better choose it himself and not hope that I would do it.

You need to remember to maintain a more-or-less steady income, so that your used dice quickly return to work. If you frequently run out of cash, your progress will be fitful.

So far in Roll of the Galaxy I see there are these three main types of strategies - setting up your infrastructure to grab VP chips, going for high valued planets and techs, and customising your empire to score points from 6-cost techs. These can be found in Race for the Galaxy too, but there are some strategies in the former game which don't have equivalents in the newer game. Of course, there are some tactical elements in the newer game which are not present in the older. E.g. powers for manipulating dice, and making use of the different die-face distribution of the dice.

One part of the game which slows down is the Explore action. There is some downtime here if one player takes a few Explore actions while others have not allocated any dice for Exploration. It takes time to look at the tiles drawn and choose how to place them on your player board. This can take a fair bit of time when you are new to the game. After you are familiar with the tiles, this phase should move faster.

The dice come in seven colours, and the die-face distribution differs depending on the colour of the die. The white starting dice have more Explore icons than others. The valuable green and yellow dice have more star faces (jokers).

The inside of the player screen is a reference sheet. This looks rather intimidating, but once the rules are explained, you will find this very comprehensive and useful.

The Thoughts

Roll for the Galaxy is a development game and a tableau game. As your grow your empire, you gain more and more powers, which help you further expand your empire. It is satisfying to see how your tableau develops and to make use of combos between your planets and techs. Putting together a coherent set of planets and techs is what tableau games are all about. Often you need to make do with what you draw from the bag, and this is part of the challenge. With so much dice rolling, the game may sound luck-heavy. However I find that there many ways to manipulate your dice and to mitigate luck. Your basic abilities already let you reassign one die to execute any action you want, and there is also another basic ability to let you spend one die to reassign another. So you are never fully at the mercy of what you roll. I find that more often than not my dilemma is that I need to decide how best to reassign my dice, and not that I'm stuck with die results I can't do anything with. Should I split up my dice to try to do a few different actions (hoping others will pick actions I don't pick)? Or should I try to focus all my dice on one action type - the one which I can guarantee will happen? What type of die colour should I go for when I picking new planets to Settle? When I pay to reactivate dice, which ones should I pick?

I can't help comparing Roll for the Galaxy with Race for the Galaxy. They feel very similar, and yet are quite different at the same time. Roll is definitely not a simplified or more luck-heavy version of Race. Although overall I would say the strategy space of Roll is smaller, the play time and the number and type of decisions you need to make are about the same as Race. Does that mean if you own Race you don't need Roll? I'm a long-time fan of Race. To me, Roll is an alternative way to enjoy Race, so I don't find it redundant at all. If you didn't enjoy Race, there is still a chance you might like Roll, because some of the fundamental mechanisms are rather different.

No comments: