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Stephen Mould
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Sheffield
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I held off getting Roll for the Galaxy for some time. Although I liked the sound of it and the look of all those pretty multi-coloured dice, I wondered if there’d be enough of a new game for a group that has played Race for the Galaxy a couple of hundred times (at least).


In the end my wife bought it me for Christmas and my 5 year old son helped me pop all the cardboard pieces out of their sprues, by far his favourite part of board gaming. He was also fascinated by the dice and his enthusiasm started to infect me. I had a flick through the tiles, noting that old favourites like ‘Galactic Trendsetters’ and groan inducers like ‘Doomed World’ had made the transition between games. I read the rules and fondled the dice, shaking them in the cup to produce a satisfying clatter.


Lovely bits.

I began to get a bit excited. Although all the familiar Race elements were present, the way the dice worked seemed different and I could already see this would offer an interestingly different challenge.


One of Roll for the Galaxies strengths is that if you’re familiar with Race for the Galaxy, the core mechanics are nice and familiar. Each turn you’re going to choose from one of 5 actions. The actions enable you, and everyone else, to settle new planets, develop new technologies, produce goods on previously settled planets, ship these goods for points/cash and search for new planets and technologies. Planets and Developments both provide points as well as other benefits (adding extra dice, powers that enable you to change their faces, extra end game scoring etc.). The game ends when either one player has built/developed 12 tiles or the victory point pool in the centre of the table is exhausted.


The things the game shares with it’s older brother are what makes the differences interesting for me. There are three mechanics in particular that I really like.


1. Developing and Settling. In Race, cards serve a dual purpose. They are both the planets / developments you are attempting to lay down in your tableau and also the currency used to pay for them, leading to interesting decisions on which card you REALLY need to play and which you are going to have to discard to do so. These 2 functions are separated in Roll. The planets and Developments appear on the tiles and the Dice are used as the ‘currency’ you need to build them. However, rather than removing an interesting decision, this adds extra things to think about. Because often, to settle expensive planets or produce expensive developments (which are often the vitally important end game scoring tiles), you’re going to have to leave dice on them between turns, meaning that you’re not rolling these dice to use for other things. And the Dice do everything. They are used to explore, produce and ship as well as settle and develop. And each colour dice has a different chance of being able to do these different things. So do you use that purple wild to develop, when really purple is best used for shipping, which you might need to do when this development is complete in order to buy your dice back (more on this later)? Or do you hold off on developing for now, leaving that 6 development on top of your development stack, which cannot be rearranged, stalling your progress? It’s a fascinating decision but, and this is crucial, not usually one that results in a longer decision making process. It’s usual pretty clear what the BEST option is, but as you’re playing with dice, there’s always the option to take a risk on rolling exactly what you need to make it work next round. Secondly, tiles are double sided, with a planet on one side and a development on the other. The costs of the two are opposites so a tile with a 6 cost development on one side will have a 1 cost planet on the other and you have to choose which you’re going to have before you build it. Do you go for the 6 development, potentially stalling the development stack, or the less exciting but easier to settle planet?

2.Production happens before Shipping. Any veteran Race players will immediately see that this is HUGE. In Race you ship first, meaning that if you choose to produce and someone else chooses to ship, you’ve just given everyone who does ship a massive boost for the next turn, because they can immediately replace all the stuff they’ve just sold. This is a very important decision point in that game, as you really want to be benefitting from the actions that others choose in order to be as efficient as possible (players of Puerto Rico and San Juan will also understand the importance of this kind of timing), whilst avoiding helping the other players out too much. If you look around the table and see that other players have goods stacked up on all their planets, you might want to think twice about producing, but on the other hand you really need that income... In Roll, the decision point is similar, but subtly different. If you look around and see that others have a lot of goods on their tiles, now might be the time to produce, as there’s a good chance someone is going to ship. However, this means not only committing dice to produce, but also to ship, as unlike in Race, you don’t automatically get to do an action chosen by others. Here, you have to have committed dice in that column before the choices are revealed. And that could be a high percentage of your dice for the turn, because as in Race, Roll is all about timing and efficiency. If shipping doesn’t happen, those dice go back in your cup and do nothing for you this turn. Then again, you might just be able to nick a few extra dollars from a quick produce and trade combo, to ensure all those dice sitting in your citizenry are back in your cup for the next turn. Speaking of which...

3. Citizenry. This is a completely new mechanic that doesn’t really have a parallel in Race. Whenever you use a Die for something it will eventually (usually) wind up in your ‘citizenry’. This is a holding area for your dice. While they’re in the citizenry, dice are useless. You need to get them back in your cup to use them again. Each die costs 1 spacebuck* to put in your cup. Your spacebucks are recorded by a little man running up and down on a track on the bottom of your player mat. There are a number of ways to get more cash. When exploring, rather than searching for new tiles, you can instead trade a die in this column for 2 spacebucks. This will allow you to get 2 dice back in your cup at the end of the round. Except you’ve just spent 1 die to do so, so it’s really only 1 die. Alternatively, various Planets and Developments will give a small boost to your spacebucks when completed. These are fairly few and far between however, and you’ll probably have spent dice building the damn thing in the first place. There are also some that give you a passive income generating ability that triggers when certain things happen (whenever there is a development round or a bonus for how many of a particular colour of dice are in your citizenry). Alternatively, you could Trade. In Race, this let you swap goods for cards. In Roll, you swap goods for cash. Each colour of good is worth a different amount, with blue barely being worth it and yellow providing an embarrassment of riches. This produces a number of interesting decision points around the value of a die, especially as the other option when shipping is to consume the goods for victory points.


hmm. May be spreading myself a little thin here...

Roll for the Galaxy is a great game. It has a similar feel to Race, with the same subtle non-direct interaction. My favourite part of Race has always been second guessing what the other players are going to do in order to benefit from their decisions. But Roll has enough differences to make it it’s own game, to provide a different puzzle, to make your brain work in ways that Race doesn’t. It has a tactile element that Race can’t match, the dice look, feel and sound great. The tiles are lovely, thick things and the iconography which so many people find off-putting in Race, has been simplified and in most cases paired with a written description of the power.


So I like Roll for the Galaxy more than Race then? Weeeeeellll....


Although the iconography is simplified, it’s the only thing that is. Admittedly, Race is a game that is a bit of a bugger to learn. All those symbols, all the icons, the interactions between cards, the bonuses to actions, the difference between trade and consume are all barriers to entry.


However, once you overcome these barriers, Race plays like a dream. It’s core mechanics are simple and elegant. Once you understand the icons, they make (almost) every card understandable at a glance. With a group of experienced players, even a four player game often takes less than 30 minutes. My core Race group regular plays 4 three player games in an hour.


Roll, unusually for a dice version of a pre-existing game, adds quite a lot of complexity and rules overhead. While the tiles are pretty much a straight swap for the cards, the dice are an extra component that requires an extra set of rules. And this isn’t a little bit extra round the edge, it’s a whole new game, really, with the manipulation and cycling of dice as it’s core mechanic. And it’s fun, don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the puzzle. But it’s less elegant than Race, more bitty, more fiddly. Which would be fine if it added more depth, which I’m not sure it does. It replaces the decision on which cards to hold and which to throw, with a decision about how best to spend your dice but I don’t feel like this is a meatier decision, just a different one.


The game is also longer, despite the fact that your are given 3 of your 12 tiles at the start of the game. And though it’s cool to have a starting empire with clear strengths, it can feel a little like railroading, certainly for the first few turns. And if your empire and starting world tiles are uncomplimentary, it can feel like you’re at a disadvantage (although I think this is a perception rather than a reality).


Finally, despite my issues with the extra complexity, I think if I had to choose one of the games to introduce a player who’d never played either, I would teach Roll first. This might sound contradictory, but I think RftG's streamlined simplicity doesn’t actually become apparent until you’ve played maybe half a dozen games. Similarly, when first learning Race, it’s going to take at least as long as a game of Roll, perhaps longer when you factor in the multitude of questions you’ll be asked. Roll is more immediately accessible and the inclusion of written descriptions of planet and development powers reduces the need for rules clarification during those early games. But, once that new player is comfortable with Roll, I'd then introduce the more subtle pleasures of Race.


Ah, so thats what questions mark in a box, twirly arrow, question mark in a box means.

Positives
Some interesting new mechanics and brilliantly adapted RftG mechanics. Good decision points that don’t bog the game down with AP. Lovely components, especially the wonderfully colourful pile of dice. Less of a barrier to entry for new players than Race.


Negative
Added rules load doesn’t necessarily make for a deeper game. A little longer than RftG for experienced players of both games. Not as elegant as the game that inspired it. I suppose that the core mechanic of rolling your dice behind a screen might encourage cheating, although if that happens I’d suggest not inviting that player to games night again.


Conclusion



Roll for the Galaxy is a great game, but for me the fact that so many of the reviews here compare it to Race highlights why I struggle to give it an overwhelmingly positive review. By itself it has interesting decisions, fascinating puzzles and a nice dash of indirect player interaction. When compared to Race, although it triumphs in the component department and in ease of entry, I think it makes a beautifully streamlined experience a little too complex and fiddly. Personally, if given the choice between the two with players who were experienced with both, I would rather play Race than Roll. However, I think I’d teach a player new to both games Roll first. Finally, I think Roll for the Galaxy is different enough from Race for the Galaxy to make having both games in your collection a reasonable proposition.



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David B
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Chesapeake
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Bravo, sir! An exceptional write up with very thoughtful points.
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John Curtis
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Andrews
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Excellent review!
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Eric Guttag
United States
West Chester
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Hey Stephen,

An excellent review comparing Roll and Race. I started with Roll and then got Race. I like both games, each has similarities and differences in play. But starting with Roll made it easier for me to deal with the iconography in Race.

Because cards are used for everything in Race, Race has, in my opinion, much more excruciating decisions to make. For example, if I want to settle/develop the card, I may need to part with cards I would like to settle/develop later. But both are fun games for me.
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Adam Smith
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Thanks for taking the time to write the review. Really helpful!
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Stephen Mould
United Kingdom
Sheffield
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Eric G wrote:
Hey Stephen,

An excellent review comparing Roll and Race. I started with Roll and then got Race. I like both games, each has similarities and differences in play. But starting with Roll made it easier for me to deal with the iconography in Race.

Because cards are used for everything in Race, Race has, in my opinion, much more excruciating decisions to make. For example, if I want to settle/develop the card, I may need to part with cards I would like to settle/develop later. But both are fun games for me.


yeah, I agree. I like the double sided tiles but the decision there is not as difficult. Usually, if it has something I want on one side, the other side won't be as interesting to me. And although I said in the review that choosing a 6 dev can clog up the dev pile, the fact you can just throw it away on a future explore action makes it less of a problem. I think the designers were going for something a bit lighter, decision point wise and that's fine, as you say it's still fun.
 
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