Zendica… How I hate their very existence! The rogues that they are, trying to deny me my rightful place as master of this universe. At every turn they thwart me; my ships regressed at every opportunity. Three times I have faced them, and each time I have been unable to gain the resources required to overthrow the tyrant.
Is this my destiny – never to overcome the power of this miserly medium rogue galaxy? Am I never to progress to the hard level, or, dare I say, the epic level?
Ha! So, that is your weakness? You are now forever doomed, never to again leave the depths of the box… Bring on Hades, let me see what hell you offer.
- Designer: Scott Almes
- Publisher: Gamelyn Games
- Year Released: 2015
- Players: 1-5
- Playing Time: 30-45 minutes (as quick as 10 minutes solo)
- Ages: 14+ (more realistically 12+)
- Recommended Retail Price: £26.99
It’s definitely tiny; it’s definitely got galaxies; but is it epic? I take a look at the solo version of the game to see if it really lives up to its title.
What’s in the box?
- 5 Galaxy mats
- 1 Control mat
- 40 Planet cards
- 12 Secret mission cards
- 7 Custom dice
- 20 Wooden space ships
- 15 Wooden tokens
- 1 Rulebook
How does it play?
If you’re familiar with how the game plays, then feel free to use some culture and follow me down to, ‘So, what do I think?’
You play the part of a galaxy trying to expand its territories due to overpopulation. You do this by gaining resources, increasing your fleet, and ultimately colonising planets.
Unfortunately, others are out to do the same thing – getting in your way, beating you to that very lucrative planet, and basically becoming a bit of a nuisance!
During the game you will move your ships from your mat and try to colonise planets. Colonised planets allow you to use their special actions whenever you activate the utilise colony die; they also bring you victory points.
You also need to gather resources – energy and culture – that will allow you to re-roll dice, and even follow other players (including the rogue galaxy’s) actions. You can also use them to upgrade your empire, thus releasing more ships to your fleet, allowing the use of more dice, and gaining more of those all important victory points!
First to 21 victory points wins the game.
How does all this happen? Here’s a quick overview of the gameplay…
Decide what level you are going to play at and put the relevant rogue galaxy mat to one side along with along with its respective wooden ships and tokens.
Next, choose a mat for yourself along with the appropriate coloured ships and tokens.
To set-up your own galaxy, place two upright ships on your mat, on the image of your galaxy. The other 2 ships go on the ship track as indicated by two small squares. Place your culture and energy tokens on the resource track, as indicated by their respective symbols. Finally, put the empire token on the first space of the empire track.
The rogue galaxy has all four ships placed on the galaxy image, the culture and influence tokens start at zero (off the mat), and the empire token is placed in the first space of the empire track.
Place the activation bay in the play area; shuffle the planet cards and reveal the top 5 cards, placing them in a line within the centre of the play area.
The player takes the first go and rolls the number of dice as indicated on the dice track in line with your current empire level – this is always 4 on your first turn.
You then decide if you wish to use any of these dice, and activate them one at a time by placing them in the activation bay and carrying out the indicated action.
You can re-roll any number of un-activated dice at any time, the first re-roll is free, but after that a re-roll will cost you 1 energy.
The actions are:
- Move a ship – Move one ship from its current location to another planet, either on the surface, allowing you to immediately take the action listed on the planet card, or in orbit, to try and colonise the planet. If you try to colonise the planet then the ship is placed on the starting position of the colony track, around the edge of the planet.
- Acquire resources – resources are either energy or culture, as determined by the die roll. Ships on or orbiting planets gather resources if the planet produces that type of resource, as indicated on the planet card. For each ship, on or orbiting a planet that matches the resource of the die, you gain 1 resource. You can also gain energy from ships that are on your galaxy, 1 per ship.
- Advance colonisation – Whenever you activate a diplomacy or economy die you can advance one ship along its colonisation track, providing the track matches that die type. Once the ship reaches the final space on the colonisation track you then gain control of that planet. All ships on its surface or in orbit are returned to their respective galaxies, and the planet is removed to your galaxy mat. Another planet card is then drawn to take its place in the line.
- Utilise a colony – This die enables you to do one of two things; upgrade your empire by spending the required amount of energy or culture; perform an action from a planet you have colonised.
It is also possible to use the converter located within the activation bay. To use this place two un-activated dice in the converter, then change the face of a third un-activated die to a face of your choosing. This die can then be activated.
Once you have activated all the dice that you wish to, then your turn is over and play moves to the rogue galaxy.
The rogue galaxy’s actions vary slightly compared to that of a player’s…
- Dice are rolled and activated one at time.
- If a die is unusable by the rogue, then it can be re-rolled once, and once only.
- The player may spend 1 energy and 1 culture to force the rogue to re-roll a die it would otherwise activate.
- Move a ship – Move a ship from the rogue’s mat, if available, into orbit of the left-most planet that does not already contain one of the rogue’s ships.
- Advance colonisation – When either a diplomacy or an economy action is rolled, then advance all the rogue’s ships on that type of colony track. Colonised planets are dealt with in the same manner as if a player was to colonise it, placing it under the rogue’s mat and adding up its current victory point total.
- Acquire resources – The rogue gains resources in exactly the same manner as a player would, except ships on the rogue’s mat may gain culture as well as energy. When a rogue galaxy reaches maximum energy the rogue upgrades its empire level, moving the energy token back to zero. Upon reaching maximum culture, the rogue takes an extra turn, this time rolling only three dice, and then returns the culture token to zero.
- Utilise a colony – The rogue carries out the action listed on its mat next to its current empire level, this usually results in an attack against the player’s empire.
During another player’s turn, including the rogue galaxy’s, you get the chance to follow the action they have taken by spending 1 culture. You may then copy the activated die’s action immediately.
Whenever you gain victory points you should announce your current total to the rest of the players – okay, maybe not if you’re playing solo! First to 21 wins the game.
So, what do I think?
Let’s take a look at the components first.
Starting with the box, it’s colourful, small, and very sturdy. The lettering is pretty neat, looking like, and feeling like, a transfer, which makes it stand out from the matt finish of the rest of the box.
The inside of the lid is printed up like a galaxy, and is there to use as a dice tray if you so wish, which points to the portability of the game. Meanwhile, the base of the box contains a printout of the planet action clarifications, again a pretty good use of space.
The galaxy mats measure 125 x 87mm, and are double sided – player galaxy one side, rogue galaxy the other. Each player side is in a different colour, but other than that there’s not much difference from one to the other. The rogue side differs depending upon the level of the galaxy – mostly in terms of the rogue colony action, but also in a few other minor ways.
The mats are functional; the galaxy image in the centre varies slightly from mat to mat, the colours are bright, and they have a hardwearing linen finish to them, so all in all, they do the job.
Not a lot to say about the activation bay card – again it is functional, somewhere to place the activated dice, but it does have a reminder as to what the die symbols represent, handy if you’re just learning the game.
The planet cards are standard sized and again, are good quality with colourful art. The images are, funny old thing, all of planets, but they have tried to add as much variance into the images as is probably possible. Some of the names are a bit odd and unpronounceable, but in the solo game you tend to take no notice of them.
The colony tracks differ in type, diplomacy or economy, as well as in length – the longer the track the more victory points you will earn when colonised. There are lots of different actions associated with the planets, some more useful than others.
The last of the cards I’ve yet to mention, are the secret mission cards, and that’s because they are not used in the solo game. In a multi-player game, the game end is triggered when someone reaches 21 victory points, with everyone taking an equal amount of turns. Players then reveal their secret mission cards (during set-up players are dealt two and keep one), scoring appropriately with the winner being the person with the most points. These are quite varied, with the more difficult ones reaping better rewards.
I love wooden tokens and these are no exception. The ships are a great shape and easy pick up and move around, though they can be easily knocked over – more of that later. The other tokens are all labelled up with a symbol to show what they represent, energy, culture, and empire, and they all fit nicely onto the game mat. Colours included are green, yellow, black, blue, and red.
I really like the dice too, though I have heard some complaints that they are on the small side – for me, they’re spot on, any bigger and I’d have trouble rolling them all at once, but then I have got small hands! They’re clearly labelled, a nice weight, and they look smart.
Finally, the rulebook. It’s 11 pages long, and that includes the rules for solo play. I found it to be well written and very easy to learn the game from, even without having it set up in front of me. There really isn’t anything here that is difficult to grasp, and with the pictures and examples, you should be up and running in no time.
Now, onto the game.
I started my first game on the medium level, thinking that would present me with a reasonable challenge – how wrong I was, I got creamed!
With my ego deflated I started again on the beginner level, only to get soundly thrashed again, lol.
A couple of games later though, and I’d beaten the beginner, and the easy level, and was back on the medium one. Here I stayed for a few more games and then progressed onto the hard and finally the epic, which, to be honest, I’m still having problems beating.
I mention all this because it really highlights how the solo game works – there is a set method of beating the levels, and once you’ve figured it out you’ll win the majority of games on that level, only really losing due to the luck of the dice. And, from beginner to medium, it doesn’t present much of a challenge to figure out how to go do this – I spent about an hour getting up to, and beating it consistently, on medium.
The hard level presents more of a challenge, and the epic is, well, epic!
When you first play the game solo you’ll probably have a few thoughts on how best to develop your galaxy, and then proceed with caution. But then the shock will hit you as the rogue plays aggressively, far more so than another player has the chance to. With a few good rolls early on, and the rogue suddenly has its empire upgraded to level 5, meanwhile, you’re still trying to accrue enough energy or culture to raise yourself to the dizzy heights of level 3, because the rogue stole most of it last turn. Another good turn for the rogue and it hits level 6, which is game over man!
This is the usual way in which you get beaten – by the rogue developing its empire to max, and thus winning the game. And it’s often in the first few turns that it develops an unassailable lead. The issue is that the rogue starts with four ships on its galaxy, and can gain both culture and energy with them there. So, the rogue starts dragging in resources right from the off, and you’ll be hard pressed to keep up with it.
So, you have to find strategies in which to deal with this aggressive enemy, and I’m not about to reveal them all to you here, they should be pretty easy to figure out for yourself, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun – especially as it’s the only fun you’ll really get from this game when playing solo.
Harsh? I don’t think so. I really enjoyed the first dozen or so games, which, once into the swing of things, passed at an average of 10 minutes a game. But, once I’d figured out how to play against each level, it started to become mundane – just going through the paces. For example – the rogue always moves his ships from the mat to the left most available planet, so you have to make a decision on trying to compete for that planet or ignoring it in order to colonise one on the right, which the rogue may not get chance to move to. It doesn’t take many games before you learn which planets to compete for and when and it soon becomes second nature with you barely spend any time thinking about it.
Okay, it does get a little more interesting when you hit the hard level, but it also becomes frustrating too, as the colony actions are extremely punishing, and it requires a modicum of lucky dice rolling to beat it. Being able to manipulate the dice is a must, as one re-roll is often not enough and the dice converter is really only a last resort, so keeping your energy levels up helps here.
Obviously, anything that involves rolling dice is going to bring some randomness to things, and those dice can be nasty, mean, little dice, whose sole purpose in life is to make yours a misery. Again, it can be very frustrating, when you have a winning strategy, to be thwarted by these horrid little cubes. So, to mitigate a bad re-roll of the dice there’s the converter to fall back on, but at the cost of two dice, it needs careful consideration when you still have energy to spare.
I found there just wasn’t enough depth in the solo game to keep me interested in playing once I’d reached the epic level, which took about two hours of total game play, though I do still drag the game out when I’ve got half an hour to kill, just to see if I’ve missed a strategy against it!
Though I like the mats and the tokens, they do offer up a little frustration themselves – the slightest knock of the mat and the tokens take flight like the spaceships they are, and the mats do get crowded, especially when you still have ships yet to be released into play.
I like the follow action, it’s a valuable asset in beating the rogue, and it pays to keep enough culture available to use it.
Some of the planet actions are useless when playing solo, mainly the ones that involve you gaining something if followed, but these can be removed from the game if you so wish.
As far as solo games go, this one is fairly shallow, there just isn’t enough depth to keep things interesting, not beyond the first half dozen plays anyway. But then saying that would be doing the game an injustice, because it isn’t a pure solitaire game, it just has that option bolted on to keep you busy when you have a little spare time. And, in my few multi-player games, I have found it to be a totally different beast altogether.
Playing with others brings the game to life, opening up a greater number of available choices to a player. You can’t just stick to a set strategy like you would against the rogue, as other players are reactive, and will try to beat you down at every turn – just as you would do to them.
Thematically, by playing solo you become more focused on solving the puzzle presented to you than absorbing the light empire domination theme that is overlaid upon it. This doesn’t really detract from the game, as many solitaire games suffer in the same manner, but the theme does come to the fore when playing in a group, especially when you have a player acting out the mad dictator, who promises an ugly demise to anyone who tries to colonise the planet Tifnod before him – and yes, that player is usually me!
So, what I’m saying is this – if you’re looking for a solo game to get your teeth into, then this probably isn’t going to keep you entertained for long. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a great little game that’s competitive, fun, easily portable, offers a strategic challenge when played with others, but you also want to be able to play the odd game solo, then this is well worth considering.
Official Site – Gamelyn Games
Recommended Video Review – The Dice Tower
BoardGameGeek Page – HERE