Monday 30 March 2015

boardgaming in photos: Ubongo, Kakerlaken Poker, Pandemic, Medici

14 Mar 2015. Playing Ubongo with the whole family. In this round Chen Rui (8) could not complete her puzzle when time ran out on the hourglass. We now all play the normal difficulty side of the puzzle boards, i.e. four puzzle pieces compared to three at the easy difficulty level.

Shee Yun (10) came to help, even though time had run out and Chen Rui would not be able to collect any gems anyway. I often do this too. I just can't rest without solving the puzzle. Doesn't matter that I won't be collecting any gem. I just want the satisfaction of being able to solve the puzzle.

There are six variants to every puzzle in Ubongo. The combination of puzzle pieces is different in each variant, but in all variants it is possible to combine the pieces in a way that fits the shape on the puzzle board precisely. I wonder how the designer came up with the outline shapes and the six variants. Also how to decide what the available puzzle pieces should be. This can't be all done by hand right? He would need some computer program I guess? How would that work? What's the algorithm? The more I think about it, the more interesting it is.

Kakerlaken Poker (Cockroach Poker), a lying game. The basic idea is you hand a card to an opponent face-down, and you state what it is (fly, scorpion, toad etc). You opponent needs to decide whether you are lying. With three players, the number of cards is too high to be easily held in two hands. We needed these card racks from 10 Days in Asia. Chong Sean taught me this technique.

I like the artwork. If I'm not mistaken every card is unique. Every rat card is different. Some are cuter than others.

This was the first time I taught the children Pandemic. They had played Pandemic: The Cure before, and liked it. So I promised them I'd teach them the original boardgame. We played the easy difficulty level, and almost managed to win. We eventually lost due to too many outbreaks. I think we could have won if I had given them more instructions. However I wanted to let them make their own decisions as much as possible. Let them make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. Losing and learning from it is better than winning and learning nothing.

Chen Rui always wants to play the Medic character, be it in Pandemic: The Cure or Pandemic. Perhaps she thinks he's awesome because he treats sick people most efficiently.

20 Mar 2015. This is Medici, one of the games in Reiner Knizia's auction trilogy, the other two being Ra and Modern Art. I own all three. It has been quite a while since I last played Medici. In this particular game that we played, I had one incredibly lucky first round. The other players had all bought goods earlier than me (which sometimes can be a bad thing), and they all had at least three goods on their ships (max is 5). Then it came to my turn to draw goods cards. The first card I drew was a 5, i.e. the largest possible value for normal goods. I decided to draw a second card, and it turned out to be the 10-value gold card! Needless to say, I went on to draw a third card, which would prevent everyone else from buying this batch because I was the only one with enough space to buy it. And that third card turned out to be a valuable 5 too! I only spent $1 to buy this 20-value batch. Later in the round, I was the last player remaining with space on my ship. There would be no more auctions at this stage. I must draw cards from the deck to directly fill my ship. I couldn't decide what cards to go for, but the consolation was they were free. So in this first round (of three), I had spent only $1. This is not normal at all, especially since I also won the $30 reward for most valuable ship. They rest said I was bullying newbies. I said it was just unbelievably good luck. I don't usually do so well in this game.

My copy is the Rio Grande first edition, and the graphic design is problematic from a usability standpoint. The score track shows only odd numbers, which is, of course, odd. The multiples of 10 are not highlighted. On the cards, each type of good has a specific colour for its border, e.g. cloth cards have a red border. However on the game board you need to identify the good pyramid by the drawing and not by colour. The cloth pyramid (rightmost) doesn't have any red border or red highlight to help you identify it. The artwork itself is actually okay. But usability design is...

Medici is a very 90's design. Not many rules, but there's a fair bit of strategy. Not much theme or story. It's trim and straight-to-the-point. Some may find that dry. You can say it's a pure game with no frivolous appendages. It doesn't try to use rules or mechanisms to tell you some story. Whatever story you derive from it (like my $1 for a fortune story here) is born from players playing and not from game rules telling it to you. I think gamers tend to play theme-heavy games or complex Eurogames. Bringing out a clean, crisp classic once in a while is a nice change of pace and is refreshing.

Saturday 28 March 2015

Thunder Alley

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Thunder Alley from GMT Games is a team racing game based on NASCAR racing. Each player manages a team of cars, and the number of cars per team depends on how many are playing. The game comes with different race tracks, and the number of laps to complete differs by track. You score points based on the final positions of your cars. The leading car at the end of every round also scores 1pt. At game end the team with the highest total score wins.

A round consists of players taking turns to activate their cars, until every car has been activated exactly once. You draw a number of cards at the start of the round, and play them to activate your cars. In our 3P game, we drew 6 cards for 5 cars, i.e. all but one card would be used. There are four types of movement cards. The simplest is the Single movement cards, which allow the player to move only the activated car. Most other card types usually allow (in fact, force) other cars to move. If you play a Draft card to activate a car, that car may move sideways first (possibly pushing other cars away or backwards) and then moves forward, chaining along the whole train of cars in front of and behind it. If you play a Pursuit card, the effect is similar, except that you push the chain of cars before you but leave behind the chain of cars behind you. If you play a Lead card, you don't affect the cars before you, but you pull the chain of cars behind you.

In addition to the movement type, a movement card also specifies the distance you move, the damage your car will take, and special restrictions or bonuses. Damage to your car can be temporary (e.g. tyres, fuel) or permanent (e.g. engine, body). Temporary damage can be repaired during pit stops, but there is nothing you can do about permanent damage. Any car with 3 points of damage or more moves more slowly when activated, but is not affected when it is pulled along by other cars.

The movement cards. At the top left, the larger value is the normal movement value, while the smaller one applies when you reenter the race after a pit stop. At the top right, a damage type is specified.

At the end of every round, an event card is drawn. Usually something bad will happen to a car with a specific type of damage. The event card will have a green flag or a yellow flag. Green flag means all is well. In car racing, the yellow flag means caution (e.g. there has been an accident on the race track, or there is rain). When it is raised, all cars must slow down, and may not overtake one another. The result is all cars will catch up to the leading car, and then they resume racing only after the yellow flag signal is cancelled. In the game, the yellow flag is like a reset, allowing trailing cars to catch up. It is literally a catch-up mechanism.

The game ends at the end of the round in which at least one car passes the finish line, which means every car will have been activated the same number of times.

The Play

I did a 3P game with Heng and Ivan, and we each had 5 cars. This was a team game, so we kept trying to maximise the potentials of our cards by pushing or pulling along other cars on our teams. We wanted to avoid helping others, but it was not always easy or even possible. I think sometimes it is more important to try to position yourself to be helped by others than to try to avoid helping others. E.g. squeezing your car between two cars belonging to another player will force him to help you if he wants one of his cars to help the other one. We had 6 cards every round for our 5 cars, which meant sometimes we could be screwed by poor card draws. If we drew many Single movement cards, we would have fewer opportunities to get our cars to help our other cars.

At the start of every round when you draw your hand of cards, it can take a while to analyse the board situation and think through how you are going to make the most out of your cards. New players beware. Also the board situation can change drastically between your turns, even in a 3P game, so your perfect plan can become rubbish and you need to rethink your strategy. It is important to stay flexible. However sometimes others' moves can inadvertently help you too, and create opportunities for you. You will want to grab these.

If some of your cars are disqualified (due to being lapped or voluntarily retired), you can forfeit a turn. Sometimes this can help, because by the time your next turn comes, you may have a better use for one of your cards. Also sometimes you may want to see how your opponents play before you react. However this can also be risky. Everyone is trying to leave his opponents behind. Forgoing one turn can be dangerous because you may find yourself cut off from the leading pack and being unable to catch up.

The race was about to start so every car was lined up neatly before the starting line.

The race had just started (this was still the first round), but already two cars had been left behind, one of mine (green) and one of Ivan's (yellow). The rest of the cars were mostly still in one leading pack, except for one of Heng's cars (black) lagging slightly behind. It should be able to catch up to the leading pack soon.

The two draw decks are the movement cards (left) and the event cards (right).

Cars which are lapped are automatically disqualified at the end of the round. They still score points. They just claim the last available position and score the points for that position.

You will have at most six cars on your team, which is when playing 2P. This player board is for recording damage to your cars, and points scored.

We were in the 2nd lap now. All four of my remaining cars (green) were in the leading pack on the left, which was good. Heng (black) had three, Ivan (yellow) only one. Both Heng and Ivan had cars left behind. The outlook was quite positive for me. However in the middle of the race a yellow flag came up, which did a kind of reset for us. We all took the opportunity to do pit stops to repair damage. It was good timing since most of our cars were close to their 3rd damage. When there is a yellow flag, the penalty for a pit stop is much less.

After the yellow flag event, there was one crucial bend move in which my chain of cars was overtaken and then left behind. That was one major turning point in the game, after which I never managed to recover. I switched from dominating the leading pack to having no presence at all. Eventually I came last. Heng was the ultimate winner, with a comfortable margin ahead of Ivan and I.

Of 15 cars in the race, the positions my cars earned were 7, 8, 9, 11, 14. Not good!

The Thoughts

There is definitely some luck in Thunder Alley (the movement cards you draw, the event cards, and whether others' actions mess up your plan or create opportunities for you), but there is much in your control too. You need to evaluate the board situation and plan how to best use your hand of cards. The board situation is constantly changing, so often you need to adapt, and you need to try to stay flexible. There is constant jostling to try to leave opponents behind and to try to position your cars to maximise the chances of others helping you. You try to create opportunities. You try to prevent your opponents from making big moves.

It's a team game, so you want every car to do well, not just the leading car. The point differences between the car positions are small - only 1pt between each position, except for the 1st place, which is 4pts more than 2nd place. You cannot rely on just your leading car to win the competition for you. Others need to do well too. Yet 4pts is not insignificant either. Also there is the 1pt bonus every round for the leading car at the end of the round. That can be quite significant too. You need to balance between getting everyone to be team players, and allowing your superstar to show off.

I'm not a car-racing fan and I am not familiar with the sport. I find Thunder Alley quite fun. This is a game where you need to analyse and plan. You try to do your best with the cards you draw and the opportunities that present themselves. There are opportunities for clever play, and when you pull off a genius move, it is very satisfying. This is not the kind of game where you roll dice, push your luck, gamble, and have some mindless fun. It is a little thinky. There's still some good and bad luck that you can cheer or swear at. It can be quite rewarding when you manage to execute a killer move, like snatching the 1st position from your opponent just before a round ends.

Saturday 21 March 2015

boardgaming in photos: China, Samurai Spirit, Agricola, Through the Ages

27 Feb 2015. China is my favourite Michael Schacht game. I have played its predecessor Web of Power, but only once or twice, on the internet, and I don't remember what I thought about it. My copy of China is the version published by Uberplay, which I like a lot, especially the box cover. Uberplay has closed down many years ago, which is a pity. They had some pretty decent games and had good production quality. The latest version of China is called Han and is published by Abacusspiele.

In the 5P game we played, many were new to the game. They remembered to block me (green) from making long road connections (4 or more linked houses). You can see that on the right side my chain of three houses had been cut off by the yellow and blue players. The purple player was new but had succeeded in forming a scoring chain. Five houses now, and no sign of anyone blocking her yet. At game end I managed to win, mainly because of points from the emissaries. This is an aspect which new players often fail to fully utilise, despite reminders when teaching the game.

1 Mar 2015. This was the first time I won a game of Samurai Spirit fair and square - I am sure I got all the rules right this time. It was a close thing - I had only one farmhouse left in the village. However I did have two barricades still standing which would have helped protect it. I didn't use the solo rules in the rulebook. I controlled 4 samurai and used the normal rules. I think fewer than four samurai makes the game less interesting.

All four of my samurai had transformed into beast form, which I think is important. But then of course you'd need to be careful not to let them take much more injury. Games can be easily lost this way. Any samurai getting killed means an instant loss.

I played the normal difficulty level. It is tough enough. I don't feel ready for the next level yet. Just reading the rules makes me dread it. At the next difficulty level, whenever a farmhouse is razed, you need to apply the penalty specified at the back of the farmhouse token.

14 Mar 2015. Michelle suggested Agricola, which she hadn't played for quite a while. Of course I said yes. This was one of our spouse games which we played heavily for a period. My previous few games of Agricola had always been with the children, and we used the family game rules, i.e. no minor improvements and no occupations. Now that I played the normal game again, I suddenly found the minor improvements and occupations rather overwhelming. There was so much more to think about, so many more possibilities to consider.

Through the Ages is another one of our spouse games. Bringing it out is like reminiscing about old times. It's always fun to give it a spin once in a while. I read that there's a new version coming out this year, probably with some streamlining.

We play with an unwritten rule - no aggression or wars. So the leaders, wonders and techs we pick tend to be not related to military. However military still comes into play, because it often determines how events affect you, and you also need it for colonisation. So playing peacefully doesn't mean you'll lose too big a chunk of the game (but you do lose some).

In this game I managed to put together the Michelangelo + St. Peter's Basilica combo, which is a powerful scoring combo in mid-game. The Hanging Gardens helped greatly in this combo too. Later an event card seeded by Michelle caused my Hanging Gardens to go out of fashion, so I lost the two smiley faces and the bonus four culture points per turn.

Friday 13 March 2015

birthday outing

For elder daughter Shee Yun's 10th birthday, I organised an outing to Meeples Cafe. I asked her to invite some friends along, but unfortunately most could not make it. She brought along one friend - Joey. That's okay, we could do different types of games with a smaller group. Other than the games in the photos below, we also played Incan Gold, Cloud 9, Samurai Spirit and Pack & Stack. All these games must be quite a fresh experience for Joey, as the games she is familiar with are mass market games like Uno and Monopoly.

Front: Joey, Shee Yun (10). Back: Chen Rui (8).

This is Pick-a-Pig, a real-time game. Everyone starts with one card, but you don't look at it yet. All other cards are placed on the table like in this photo. When the whistle blows, you flip your card face-up, and try to find a pig from the central display which is exactly the same as yours, or only differs by one feature (e.g. not wearing sunglasses, or holding a popcorn bucket). When you claim a card, you place it atop your stack, which means the topmost pig of your stack of cards will gradually change. The game keeps going until one player is not able to find any valid pig to add to his stack, and he declares the end. Everyone counts his cards, and whoever has the most wins. However before counting score you check one another's stacks for mistakes. Any mistakes made means 0 points. In our first game, 4 out of 5 of us made mistakes!

This is BANG!, a well-known bestseller, classic and evergreen in the boardgame hobby. I think this was my first time playing it, although I have read about it before. It is a secret identity game. Other than the sheriff, everyone else's identities are kept secret until he is killed or till game end. Some of these players are deputies, some are outlaws, and there is always one renegade. The sheriff and his deputies want to kill all outlaws and the renegade. The outlaws are not a team and don't mind killing one another, but they are an alliance of convenience because they have the same objective - to kill the sheriff. The renegade's objective is most interesting - he needs to be the last man standing. He wants the law and the outlaws to beat each other up, eventually leaving him to kill off the survivors. He can't let the sheriff die too early, because the outlaws would win. He can't let the outlaws get wiped out too early either, because it would be hard for him to face the sheriff's team all by himself.

I've always thought BANG! was a very simple game, but when I read the rules, I found that there was quite a fair bit of details to go through before you can start a game, because there are many card powers you need to know. None of them are very complex or hard to remember once you see them in action, but you do need to brief everyone before playing your first game.

We were two adults and three children, and in both games that we played, the adults were killed early, leaving the kids to fight among themselves. I guess we the adults were perceived as the greatest threats, and were thus on the high priority hit list. In both games the sheriff and deputy team won. That might be partly because the outlaws were reluctant to attack the sheriff for fear of revealing their identities too soon.

There is definitely some luck in this game - sometimes you just don't draw very useful cards, or sometimes your opponents keep drawing the good ones. If you are unlucky, you can get killed within the first two rounds. However the game is not just about the cards you draw. It is also very much about the hidden identity aspect and how you make use of that. Even if you draw very good cards, you may not know what to do with them when you don't know yet who is friend or foe. If you draw bad cards, you can still persuade others not to shoot you, or even better, convince them to shoot someone else. Naturally, as the game progresses and people get clearer ideas about who is who, it can come down to who draws the right cards to kill his opponents first. The game is smooth, quick and engaging, so a bit of luck is not an issue.

An outlaw card on the left, and the renegade card on the right.

Tuesday 10 March 2015

The Message: Emissary Crisis

I thought I have played The Message: Emissary Crisis many times, but when I checked my records, I realised that I have only played three sessions. I did play quite a few games at each session. Just one game was never enough. My copy was a review copy. Usually I don't have high hopes for party games or big-group games so I normally don't buy them. However I quite enjoyed The Message: Emissary Crisis. For a recent boardgame meet-up, since it was the Chinese / Lunar New Year period, I decided to pick games related to that. I picked China (the definitely counts right?), and The Message: Emissary Crisis (a game designed and published in China - I know, this is stretching it a bit). This time the group who played The Message: Emissary Crisis with me was again all new to the game. We played five games back-to-back. Here are some of my thoughts.

  • Our first game was a 7-player game, and the rest were 5-player games. 5P is less interesting. It can be quite quick to figure out who your teammate is and who your enemies are. It's serviceable, but not as good as with more players. 6P should be better, and I suspect best would be 7 or 8 (max is 9). If you only have four, then I'd suggest picking a different game.
  • I still struggled a little with teaching the game. The English rules that come with the game are so poorly translated that I had to rewrite it myself by comparing it with the rules of the Chinese version. From this recent session, I found that teaching from the translated rulebook was not ideal at all. I needed, and have since made, a rules summary like what I often do with other games. Hopefully I'll do better next time. The structure of a turn is actually very simple - draw two cards, play any number of cards, then send a message. What can be difficult to digest are the various effects of the action cards, how they interact, which ones have precedence over which other ones, and when or under which situations they can be used. Another challenge is the character abilities. The approach I used was this: after explaining the rest of the rules, I asked everyone to read his own character card, and then we took turns to explain our characters. In hindsight, I probably should have taken charge of reading all the character cards and explaining them one by one, because new players might not be able to grasp the character abilities immediately and understand the gameplay implications.
  • I had a reference card for the action card powers, but it was just a simple extract from the rewritten rules, i.e. a lot of text and not exactly easy to use. Now I have made a more graphical version, which is also simpler. Hopefully it'll help the next time I teach this game.

  • This is a game heavy on player interaction and light on game mechanisms. It's more about gaming the people than about gaming the rule system. It is about guessing what your fellow players' know and what they think they know. It is about luring or bluffing them into revealing clues about their identities. When you send a black message to a player who already has two in front of him (receiving a third black message means elimination from the game), it may trigger his teammates (or those who believe they are his teammates) to come forward to save him, and it may also trigger his enemies (or those who believe they are his enemies) to step in to prevent those teammates from saving him. In the end, that one message sent might be a harmless blue or red message, but it could have coaxed out a lot of information. Also tempting others into playing many cards means the next time someone else makes a big move (hopefully it's your teammate) other players may no longer have the cards to stop him.
  • Sometimes, even if you succeed in finding your teammates quickly, you still may not win, especially if you and your teammates don't draw cards of your team's colour. Still, generally speaking, knowing who's who helps.
  • On the other hand, it's not necessary to know everyone's identity, of even who your teammates are, to win. In one particular game, I reached a point where I had two black messages and two blue messages. I was on the blue team, which meant I was on the verge of dying as well as winning. The guy on my left (whom I had thought was my enemy) used his character ability to draw two random cards from the deck to be played as messages for himself and for me. I thought he was trying to get me killed. It turned out that he was actually on the blue team too, and was gambling on getting me a blue card so that we would win. Talk about bold moves! And he did draw a blue card for me! We won! I almost wet my pants, but we won.

Sunday 8 March 2015

link: I'm Gonna Lose

One interesting article I'd like to share - "I'm gonna lose" at Hyperbole Games, about Android: Netrunner and participating in competitions and leagues. Netrunner is a game I gaze at longingly, wishing I had the time, determination and dedication to play properly. Recently my older daughter Shee Yun (9) has been playing some Hearthstone of her own initiative. Suddenly a spark of hope ignited. Can she be my sparring partner in Netrunner? *sigh* *shake head* Gamer dads...

Thank you to iSlayTheDragon, where I found the link to the article above.

Friday 6 March 2015

boardgaming in photos: The Palaces of Carrara, Hanabi, Love Letter

6 Feb 2015. This is my copy of The Palaces of Carrara, which Jeff helped to bring all the way back from Germany. This was the first time I played with my own copy. Previously I played Chong Sean's. I taught Allen, Ivan and Sinbad. I had played twice before. I emphasised the importance of watching out for an expectedly early game end. I lost rather badly the first two times because I didn't grasp the tempo of the game. It turned out that I did even worse this time! I not only came last, I hadn't even perform a single scoring action when Ivan ended the game. Talk about not heeding your own advice...

8 Feb 2015. I played Pandemic: The Cure with the children. I felt we won rather easily again. I was starting to feel cold towards the game because it felt too easy. This was on normal difficulty. We had not tried the hard difficulty. More recently I played again with only Chen Rui (8), and finally we suffered our first loss. We also played at normal difficulty, but this was the first time I played the game with only two players. I wonder whether it is harder to beat as a 2P game (my previous games were all 3-5P games), or we were just rather unlucky (we did roll many biohazard icons). Or maybe I have been lucky in all the previous games I've played. I was rather happy to have finally lost. Perhaps the game deserves more plays.

Shee Yun (9) likes this game. I have been telling the children I should teach them the original boardgame version, but we still have not managed that.

15 Feb 2015. Playing Machi Koro again. We all like it.

20 Feb 2015. I managed to play quite many games during the Chinese / Lunar New Year holidays. This is Hanabi, a cooperative game where you can't see your own hand of cards and need to rely on clues given by others. When Shee Yun saw this hand, she said it was very hard to give me a clue, and she had to take a photo to show me afterwards, after the game ended.

I have played Hanabi quite a few times, but only recently realised a rule mistake. It was Shee Yun who pointed it out after she read the rules herself. When a player manages to play a #5 card, the team earns one clue token. I have always missed this. Clue tokens gained this way can be a great help. I guess I'll say I have been playing ironman rules all this while.

Shee Yun trying to give me a clue. We are using my mum's mahjong table back in my hometown.

We played my self-made copy of Adventure Time-themed Love Letter. We used dice from Roll for the Galaxy as score markers.

If not because of this Adventure Time version found on BGG, I probably would not have bothered to try Love Letter. Even if someone else had introduced it to me, I might not have found it interesting. The original artwork (of the AEG English version) is rather boring to me. So yes, I admit I am shallow. The theme and artwork influence how much I enjoy this game. Actually I don't even watch Adventure Time and I don't know those characters. My children do. I didn't even know BMO is pronounced "Bee-mo" instead of "B-M-O". So, really it's just the artwork that got me, not the theme.

The number of points you need to win differs depending on the number of players, but when we play, we usually just play to three points regardless of the number of players. If we feel like playing more, we just reset scores and play another game.

The #2 card in my hand can be used to peek at another player's hand card. However the players on my left and opposite of me have both played the #4 card to protect themselves, so I can only use the #2 card on the player to my right, if I choose to use it.

Chen Rui (right) probably had her card guessed correctly by Shee Yun, which meant she was out of the round.

23 Feb 2015. I persuaded my mum to play with us. She is always a little intimidated by the games we play. They look complicated to her. I convinced her that this one really was a simple game. So we played. And had much fun. The text was too small for her, so I asked her to just memorise the card powers by the numbers. Here's what happened in one of the rounds we played:

Ma used a #2 card to peek at Chen Rui's card. When Chen Rui's turn came around, instead of using the card which Ma had seen, she played the card which she had just drawn (risky move). It was a card which allowed her to compare hard cards with another player, and whoever has the lower card in hand is eliminated from the round. Chen Rui did win the contest. The loser's card was a #5. #8 had already appeared. So I knew her hand card must be a #6 or a #7. Then Ma's turn came around again. She happened to have a #1 card, which allowed her to guess another player's hand card. If the guess was right, that player would be eliminated. She declared she was guessing that Chen Rui's card was a #7. It was wrong! I looked at Ma and asked her - you have just seen Chen Rui's card and know what it is, you didn't have to guess. She started laughing. (Silly) mistakes were made.

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.