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The empire closes its grip around the planets. Sentinels appear across the galaxy, preparing for the inevitable open rebellion. In back alleys, factions bicker and scheme to both end the Empire and take control for themselves.

At least I think so. There’s a paragraph in the rulebook that explains the theme but that’s about the last place you’ll truly interact with it. Fortunately, this game’s highlights don’t depend on the theme. They’re good independently. Unfortunately, the lows are tied to it.

Empires: Galactic Rebellion is big, literally and figuratively. Eagle-Gryphon typically spoils you on components and this game is no different. Each faction has 80 individual miniatures in addition to the Sentinels, the cardboard tokens are among the thickest you’ll ever play with, and everything from the box to the resource tokens are infused with a 80’s sci-fi tech aesthetic. The game itself matches that heft. There are five unique specialist units in addition to your generic workers that all have to be recruited individually. There are covert missions to go on, technologies to research, the senate to influence, and money to raise. Oh, you can’t forget to actually send people to the planets you’re trying to control.

This is truly my kind of worker placement game. Your actions are varied and there are multiple opportunities to do everything. This isn’t the kind of worker placement game where you will need 4 sequenced actions to succeed and get frustrated when everything goes to hell after your opponent takes the fish before you do. There are benefits to being first to almost every action but you can’t be first to everything every turn. While your opponent is focusing on science, take the time to get ahead of them on economy. When they’re forced to play catch up on your income, you can take the opportunity to grab some science if you still need it or use the Senate to make some powerful moves.



Options galore.


The worker placement pressure comes from never having enough tools to do everything, not from being locked out of anything. That’s something I really enjoy about Galactic Rebellion. The system rewards flexibility and an ability to navigate the shifting priorities of you and your opponents. Recognizing that an opportunity to remove Sentinels from a planet you control through Political Action can be as valuable as boosting your combat abilities feels pretty good and it’s an effective way to ensure that no one is ever left completely behind. The inclusion of Epoch 3 Technologies that boost or provide VP gains across all aspects of the game help here as well.

Unfortunately, their inclusion at the end of the game is but a single example of the biggest issue I have with Galactic Rebellion. The effects of a lot of really important decisions and actions are heavily backloaded. The enemy Sentinels represent an existential threat but are a big communal action problem. They must be dealt with early, but it’s extremely difficult to recognize the warping effect they have on the end game until you’ve played once - especially considering that you’ll score for planetary control twice in the game before you have to fight them. They’re seemingly content to monitor your rebellion while you score points for control, only to get super angry and start shooting at the end of the game before you score...the exact same amount of points.

Suddenly and abruptly the smooth engine of rebellious plotting grinds to a halt while you pull cubes in an out of a bag to determine who gets to score only ⅓ of the total available area control points. To be clear, I like the combat. I even like the idea of the Galactic War, I just don’t particularly care for the execution of it. For two thirds of the game you’re hardly aware there’s a rebellion at all as there is little interaction with that aspect of the setting. Sentinels waste their potential by standing around like the Queen’s Grenadier Guards, and this lack of interaction with the empire makes the game suffer in another big way.

At the end of the game the Galactic War happens. On each planet, the Sentinels will turn their attention to the person with the most units and attack them until either that player is destroyed or the Sentinels are. This leads to the frequent situation where the player in first place loses just enough units to lose control, while still eliminating all of the Sentinels. In this case, the player with the 2nd most units will end up earning the most points for the planet without ever having lifted a finger to help with the Sentinels. In fact, they’re incentivized to avoid helping in any way - leaving the player with the most units to spend actions on Sentinel mitigation - in the hopes that the player who must expend resources does all the fighting for them. It works from a balance perspective, but it doesn’t feel good for either player.


Getting a little crowded. Different specialists bring different benefits to bear.


These major issues do eventually fade away after repeated plays, but you’ve got to get there. More importantly: your group has to be willing to get there. I quite like Galactic Rebellion but unfortunately I can’t play it by myself and this isn’t the kind of game that is going to grab a group and blow them away on the first play. Even if you can manage to convince them of the importance of the Galactic War and lay out all the late game VP Technologies, it still feels a bit more like managing the bureaucracy of a Rebellion than fighting it. The worker placement area control game that you play isn’t quite the one promised by the setting.

But that’s ok. For 8 rounds this game provides a compelling experience that combines a few classic mechanics. Getting new workers requires constant investment and so you have to balance snatching up future specialists for next turn without sacrificing too much on this one. All the specialists are great at a few things (except Troopers, the Sierra Mist to the Hero’s Sprite ), and they even provide an element of bluffing. Diplomats, for example, may signal that you’re making a play into the Senate only to surprise your opponents when they’re used to accelerate your control of Orange Planet 2.

Galactic Rebellion is a good game. There are groups out there that will really enjoy this Euro-centric game of rebellion. In some ways, the game reminds me of Eclipse for people who prefer Worker Placement to 4x. Those people will find a game with rich layers of decisions and flexible strategy, where long term considerations must wrestle with immediate decisions about where to focus. Hopefully I can find them one day and get more plays in.

___
This review was originally posted on Ding & Dent! A list of my reviews that you can subscribe to can be found here.
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Matt Smith
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captainraffi wrote:
At the end of the game the Galactic War happens. On each planet, the Sentinels will turn their attention to the person with the most units and attack them until either that player is destroyed or the Sentinels are. This leads to the frequent situation where the player in first place loses just enough units to lose control, while still eliminating all of the Sentinels. In this case, the player with the 2nd most units will end up earning the most points for the planet without ever having lifted a finger to help with the Sentinels. In fact, they’re incentivized to avoid helping in any way - leaving the player with the most units to spend actions on Sentinel mitigation - in the hopes that the player who must expend resources does all the fighting for them.


I've heard the area control/Galactic War situation referred to as a game of chicken. If you're angling for second place points on a planet, and the first-place player isn't preparing to fight the Sentinels (no increase of Military Science or removal of Sentinels), then you'd better either prepare yourself to fight all/most of the Sentinels, or resign yourself to losing your guys on that planet. The idea of snatching first place points in Epoch III by being in second place at the start of the GW only works if the first-place player has prepared for the fight. Otherwise, you'll likely face just as many Sentinels as the first-place player.
 
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mvettemagred wrote:
The idea of snatching first place points in Epoch III by being in second place at the start of the GW only works if the first-place player has prepared for the fight. Otherwise, you'll likely face just as many Sentinels as the first-place player.


Yep, but in that case neither of you are scoring points at all unless someone just gets a big string of luck. Me scoring points on a planet is the ideal situation but I'm also ok with neither of us scoring points. If you're depending on area control points on a planet then sure, beef up your military. But then you're doing that anyway as part of your strategy.

It all works, it just doesn't feel good. Two thirds of the Area Control points can be scored by ignoring the sentinels and suddenly they're a big deal for the last 1/3. It has felt in many games that you're better off turning your attention to other VP methods (like Covert Missions or Epoch 3 Techs) than the area control ones. It feels bad if you're hoping Player 1 gets rolled by the sentinels and they get a string of luck and it also doesn't feel great if your 1 dude on a planet who is there because you wanted a trade route ends up winning because the sentinels got a string of luck.

If the impact of chance was felt throughout the game, or if you felt their presence throughout the game, it might be a different story.

That's the only thing I didn't like about the game though. The rest of it is excellent, and with enough plays you sort of learn to deal with it and learn what to expect. It's a good game for sure.
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I agree with you except for the part about not feeling the impact of the Sentinels throughout Epochs I and II. Once players experience the Galactic War (GW), they'll understand why they must plan their actions throughout Epochs I and II with both the Sentinels and GW in mind.

Even though the Sentinels don't take actions prior to the GW, their presence on the planets does affect the Epochs I and II strategy of experienced players. Beyond the Sentinels obvious cost impact on Covert Missions, the Sentinels (and Imperial Fleet) can be manipulated through Imperial Actions, and Sentinels can be killed via Warfare, all of which affects which planets players decide to send their workers.

For example, in Epoch II if I increase the number of Sentinels to six on a 9/5 VP planet where you and I have been competing for first place, should you continue to fight me for first place, or just settle for second place points because we're not likely to survive six Sentinels in the GW? Rather than continuing to spam workers onto that planet to swing 4 points from me to you, you might be better off spending those actions elsewhere.

In another example, if someone opens up a one-Sentinel planet by moving the Imperial Fleet away from it, should you start sending workers to that planet and stop reinforcing a planet you control that has three Sentinels? The Sentinel strength on the planets should affect your decisions throughout the game as the planetary influence landscape evolves.

Hopefully you can see from the above examples how the presence of the Sentinels, the Imperial Actions taken throughout the game, and the looming GW should affect players' planetary influence strategy throughout the entire game. The Sentinels aren't just there to fight in the GW; they affect the whole game in many ways.
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mvettemagred wrote:

Hopefully you can see from the above examples how the presence of the Sentinels, the Imperial Actions taken throughout the game, and the looming GW should affect players' planetary influence strategy throughout the entire game. The Sentinels aren't just there to fight in the GW; they affect the whole game in many ways.


I don't disagree with you on this part really. I mention in the review that the information is backloaded and once you play through you feel it. I do disagree that it feels like I'm engaging with a rebellion though. Even if you're shuffling sentinels around to impact Epoch 3 scoring, they aren't really doing anything and it feels odd that a planet is worth 9 points with Sentinels on it, then 9 points with Sentinels on it, then still 9 points if you manage to survive. The impact is mechanical, not narrative.

I played this with 3 different groups through the process, they all liked it but felt the game ultimately fell short of a higher potential. A few people would love to get into it more. It's a good game, I just think it has a specific appeal to certain people.
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It sounds like you don't think having your rebel forces infiltrate the Galactic Senate to convince enough Senators to re-position the empire's defensive forces (Sentinels) is a "rebellious" act. If you recall Star Wars episodes I and II (I know, not a fun memory), influencing senators and actions of the galactic senate was a bigger portion of the plot of those movies. The galaxy hadn't yet progressed to an open battle between the empire and the rebellion. To me, strategic positioning of the empire's defensive forces via the Senate is a very thematic aspect of the pre-GW portion of the game. You're not sending Sentinels to a planet to attack it, your rebels in the Senate managed to convince the senators to have the Senate re-position some of the defensive forces based on "suspect" information.

Before the GW, the rebellions are working to subvert the empire's power via planetary influence (sedition within the locals), covert (secret) missions and influencing the Senate (political influence). Any Warfare actions are just isolated minor skirmishes that are a prelude to the full GW.

It sounds like your groups were expecting the game to present more of the Star Wars episode IV story, with open battle between the empire and rebellions throughout the game. Instead, the game really spans Star Wars episodes I-IV, starting with players focusing their resources on political/covert/seditious activity and ending with all-out open war via the Galactic War.

Once you realize the full arc of the story, I think everything makes reasonable sense thematically. At least to me it does. Regardless, this discussion has helped me to better organize my thoughts about how to explain the game to future new players. Many thanks for your well-reasoned responses.
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mvettemagred wrote:
Many thanks for your well-reasoned responses.


Same to you!

I (again!) don't disagree with you; all that is there it's just in your head. There is no difference between researching science, going to the senate, getting economy, etc. Contrast that with a mechanic like Eclipse's blueprints. The geometric layout and actual manipulation of tiles onto a blueprint, in a small way, provide a unique feel to those actions. All that senate infiltration, convincing other senators to do thing, etc is all internal narrative. This is a hybrid like Hyperborea is. 90% Eurostyle mechanics, 10% cool theme and story if you give yourself into it.

I think your analogy to Star Wars is spot on!
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Thanks for the review and insight AND especially thanks for the conversation about.
I'm looking forward to receive E:GR in the next time... "where's shipment to Europe?" and your insight and thoughts given me the possibility to introduce my gaming group well about the mechanics and possibilities.
Your experience will help through our first game.

I will reply my 3-cents after. (but not knowing, first when the game arrives, and then, when we could bring this heavyweight to the table with at least 5-6 players!)

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erzengel wrote:

Thanks for the review and insight AND especially thanks for the conversation about.
I'm looking forward to receive E:GR in the next time... "where's shipment to Europe?" and your insight and thoughts given me the possibility to introduce my gaming group well about the mechanics and possibilities.
Your experience will help through our first game.

I will reply my 3-cents after. (but not knowing, first when the game arrives, and then, when we could bring this heavyweight to the table with at least 5-6 players!)


If your first (learning) game is with more than 4 players, be prepared for the game to take more than 3 hours to complete. I'm okay with longer games if they are engaging (which E:GR is), but I wanted to let you know in case you have some players who will think 3+ hours is too long.
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erzengel wrote:

Your experience will help through our first game.


Great, thank you! I hope you all enjoy it
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So 3+ hours are okay from time to time, we played this year on a whole saturday Twilight Imperium and on another a full 6-player Eclipse!
(But yes, both events are rare and I'm glad we did it this year...)

On the other hand I played now 4 Rebellion (My new Holy Grail Game) since I got it, and we never did that one below three hours...

I will bring on before my Age of Empires III (or Age of Discovery) in play, that we could compare the mechanics too. Maybe in that case we'll play this next January/February first (we spending once a year a weekend only playing - "It's a (playing-)Mans World!" )

And..., at least it still doesn't arrived here in Germany... yuk
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