Alex Churchill
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I write this review having played GE four times: with 4, 5, 4 and 6 players. Not enough to try all the strategies, but enough to correct a couple of misconceptions.

I was introduced to the game as "Twilight Imperium but cut down", and it certainly fulfils that description beautifully. It manages to keep a lot of the feel of TI3 without many of the awful drawbacks that game has, most notably the 6 hour playtime. GE isn't short, at 2 hours for players who know the game and 2.5-3.5 when people are new, but it's far more sensible. Not just that, but it's managed to keep many of the fun bits of TI3 while radically streamlining and simplifying them, in a very impressive way. I'm not a fan of really heavy wargames, and I liked TI3 despite its weight rather than because of it; GE has a lot of the same concepts but smoother and quicker.

But it's not just a TI3 simplification, it's a great game on its own merits. On the other hand, it's not without its flaws. I'll talk through a few areas in turn.

The Explorer phase (getting sector hexes onto the board) works pretty well. Early game, getting a good planet with a free empire is really significant. First player often takes Explorer, saying "Settle for a Quarry" - a reference to the best Puerto Rico opening move.

The Merchant phase (buy and sell resources) is delightful, but flawed. It's great having control over the market, and it's great how people can buy and sell the resources at one simple single price.

However, often the Merchant won't actually have any control over the market. The most significant decision - whether food costs 1 or 2 - is made for you most of the time (3/4 of the time it's forced low, 1/16 forced high; only 3/16 of the time do you get a choice). With interference from the Time Warp player, you often won't get any choice at all. This means that the strategy of playing the stock market - buy cheap, sell dear - is risky because it's unlikely to pay off.

The maximum owned resources being limited is a very interesting dynamic that works very well.

The Steward phase (turn food into metal and energy) doesn't work so well.
The concept of a stable economy where you leave food on planets in the Merchant phase and remove it in the Steward seems pretty rare. When someone manages to get it going then they do well, yes, but the other players can only look on envious of their luck. Most of the time, either (a) people have no food apart from the one their home planet produces, so the most they can get is one planet's worth, usually just 2 or 3 metal; (b) people have lots of food, which means they buy all the resources they need in the Merchant phase and bypass Steward entirely; or (c) people don't dare leave food on planets, because someone else will steal the planet and reap the benefit. So with all these factors together, only about one person tends to manage an effective use of the Steward phase - plus of course the lucky player who ended up with the Protein Fields technology. That's usually the player after start player, who gets to choose Scientist and gets to buy Protein Fields in round 1.

Incidentally, I'd love to hear people's solutions to some of these criticisms. It may be that we have some degree of groupthink that's making certain things work better than others; please comment if you think you can see a way out. As it is, though, I'm inclined to try a variant where all planets produce in the Steward phase, because otherwise getting that tasty production out of planet Fermiculi often seems nigh-on impossible.

The Regent phase (take control of sectors by politics, and score points) is masterful. I love how politics can have such a degree of influence over the shape of the board. It's clearly great to be Regent, while there are different drawbacks to being each neighbour. The cancellation rules are simple and effective, the bidding for the Throne (Governor in PR) is good, and the Ambassador and Diplomat techs are both strong without being overpowered.

The one slight downside is that there's one strategy which goes: Always choose Regent, always defend the Throne, no matter what. This does quite well for himself (since being Regent has 3 advantages) and dooms certain other players to always having to pay 5 for their third influence chip, or never getting to pick a role early.

The Warlord phase is clearly complex, but much less so than in TI3; it does come closest to the bits I dislike most in TI3 (the die rolling), but it's not too bad. (Question: We've been playing that you do all your moves, and then all your fights; is this right? The rules are unclear on the order here.) The granting of VPs for planet invasions is brilliant, a great disincentive to turtling. I rather like the way that Empires can defend themselves effectively against a couple of fighters, but a cruiser and a fighter can take an Empire and gain a point (if there are any bare Empires left by the time cruisers hit the board).

The Black Hole and Sun rules were a bit unclear in the rulebook, but work nicely; I love the flavour of being able to slingshot round the sun, and the free attack for someone warping through the Black Hole is good but not overpowered.

The Engineer phase (build ships) is tricksy for such a trivial phase. It's very easy to get caught with the resources but not the money to build, or vice versa. Particularly when there are so few sources of money in the game; each game I've played, one or two players have managed to get very rich ($10-$20+) early on and have no money troubles for the rest of the game, while the rest of us struggle to afford anything. The chooser's benefit is beautifully simple and elegant.

And as for the Scientist phase (buy tech): I was surprised to see no tech tree, but it really doesn't need one; the costs ranging from 1-3 do a decent job of restricting your options to avoid analysis paralysis in new players, and the number of techs is small enough (same as the violet buildings in PR) that you can keep a mental model of them all after one game.

The technologies themselves are somewhat varied. Long-Range Scanners seems the only tech universally agreed to be awful; all the 2-cost techs seem to be great. The 3-costs are more variable - they each can be very powerful, but can be remarkably ineffective (Ion Cannons are no good against dreadnoughts, Shields are no good defending sectors where you don't have ships, and Ambassador is no good if you're early in the Regent phase and have several starbases you want to defend). Time Warp is excellent - really simple to understand, really handy, fairly priced (the rules just need to actually spell out that you flip it over when used, and flip it back at new round). Space Pirate gives a nice if minor effect. And Saboteur is great... sometimes. It can be a handy deterrent, and never get used at all, which is obviously best because then it never explodes. Or the following can happen:
Player B: I'll use my Space Pirate to steal from, erm... you.
Saboteur: You know I have this Saboteur tech, right?
Player B: Oh, no, I didn't notice/remember/spot that from over here. But never mind, I've chosen now.
Saboteur: Fine, I Sabotage it. You don't get my metal. *rolls* 5?! Noo! I just spent 1 energy saving 1 metal!

The components are generally good. The obvious exceptions are the way that hexes with dark-blue metal cubes against a dark blue background don't work so well, and even less well for the blue player start world, which always takes several sorts through the deck to find. The other bad bit is the technology cards: we have to reiterate to new players, "Don't trust what the tech cards say; ask us or read the manual". Several people have been caught out by the way Plasma Weapons don't work while defending, Space Pirate is just wrong about being at the start of the phase, and Long-Range Scanners is incomprehensible.

Other than that, though, the reminder cards are very handy (if somewhat cryptic with the numbers on the dice), the Storage Facilities work really well, and it's great that the board has spaces for the money, cubes and VP chips. The direction-of-play arrow should probably be a 2-sided disc with a clockwise arrow and a counterclockwise arrow, but works fine as it is. The ships are good, the hexes are great with great planet names, and the two-sided Empire/Starbase tokens do the job nicely.

The player politics is going to depend very much on your group. It does seem though that an early lead certainly isn't uncatchable. There does seem to be a slight "lock-out" syndrome where a player can get knocked down to 1 or 2 planets by players with bigger fleets, and so not have the resource income to build a fleet to defend or retake enough planets to get back into the race. This happened to me even with starbases and Ion Cannons, and it was quite dispiriting; I came and read the BGG forums for the final 45 minutes or so of the (admittedly 6-player) game, because there was nothing I could do for the final two rounds.

One extra note I'd like to mention is the designer support: having the game designer on BGG, and receiving rules answers from the designer himself, is awesome thumbsup

So when I pull everything together:
Overall, I'm very impressed. The game clearly borrows heavily from TI3 and Puerto Rico, but it's an excellent middle ground between the two. My wife likes it a lot, and she loves PR but doesn't play wargames at all. It can have the vicious circle troubles I mentioned, but it's clearly a game with a lot of depth and replay value, and the replays only take a couple of hours! Excellent stuff.
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Sean McQ
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Great review, exactly what I was looking for. Just one quick question; in your opinion is it worth getting this even though I have both PR and TI3 (and enjoy both)?
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Alex Churchill
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Heliconia wrote:
Great review, exactly what I was looking for. Just one quick question; in your opinion is it worth getting this even though I have both PR and TI3 (and enjoy both)?
Absolutely. If you enjoy them both, then you'll like this. It's not just a mashup of PR and TI3 - it has its own innovations. For example, there's nothing like the Merchant phase in either, and the Steward phase is different enough from Craftsman to play completely differently.

Galactic Emperor provides a way to play epic space combat with German-game players who don't like wargames or spending 3+ hours on a single game, and compared to TI3 politics have more direct effect on the shape of the board, there's more economics, and the strategies that work are rather different; in particular, with only one copy of each technology you won't always be able to develop the techs you want, so games play out with more variety.
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Andre Metelo
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Great review. I really like GE. It totally can stand on its own merits without the need to be compared to PR or TI3. I love how streamlined it is.

Just on a side note, the only thing that is a little odd is the durations. After 5 games, they all ended within 10 min of 90 minutes for our group (including a 6 player game at Dragoncon with 5 new players).

Also, we have been able to finish Ti3 in 4h consistently (in fact just did this on Saturday).

I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the market. we tend to pick it not to speculate, but to get the 3 marks for free, which is a pretty good advantage by itself. The roll is seen by my group as just a step in the process, as odds are that you will have very little control on the prices of the resources (energy is the one resource that usually we can affect).
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Anders Olin
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I played this with my wife and a friend of hers plus of my veteran gamers and both my wife and her friend liked the game a lot.

It's fast moving and many "what is the best move" moments, a winner in my book!

 
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Alex Churchill
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metelo wrote:
Great review. I really like GE. It totally can stand on its own merits without the need to be compared to PR or TI3. I love how streamlined it is.
I thoroughly agree. It doesn't need the comparison; but for people who've played one or the other, the comparisons are obvious.

metelo wrote:
Just on a side note, the only thing that is a little odd is the durations. After 5 games, they all ended within 10 min of 90 minutes for our group (including a 6 player game at Dragoncon with 5 new players).

Also, we have been able to finish Ti3 in 4h consistently (in fact just did this on Saturday).
So I may have been misleading about TI3. I've played it perhaps 5 or 6 times, and the durations have been something like 3h, 4h, 6h, 6h, 7h, 9h. So 9 hours has been hit, but it's unusual.

GE on the other hand has been very consistent at 2 hours, after the initial learning game. Every one of those started around 8:30 (on a Tuesday night) and finished at 10:30ish, but the learning game was well past 11pm when we finished.

But, well, groups differ. All of our group like thinking things through, and we table-talk about possible moves a lot. I don't remember many notable analysis-paralysis moments on anyone's part, but we may just be slower players than some others.

Quote:
I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the market. we tend to pick it not to speculate, but to get the 3 marks for free, which is a pretty good advantage by itself.
That seems fair. As I just said on another thread, 3 marks is a decent chooser's-bonus, particularly when sources of money are so scarce.
 
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alextfish wrote:
metelo wrote:
I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the market. we tend to pick it not to speculate, but to get the 3 marks for free, which is a pretty good advantage by itself.
That seems fair. As I just said on another thread, 3 marks is a decent chooser's-bonus, particularly when sources of money are so scarce.

As a bit of trivia, we originally allowed you to place the dice on any resource rather than the prescribed order from food to metal to energy - but that resulted in the ability to easily make money in the market (e.g. triple your money with metal). And that in turn destroyed the economy.

You can still play the market, but it's difficult. I think it's less than 10% now to double your money in metal. Your best bet is to sell food at a profit - I think it's about a 15% to double your investment.
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Alex Churchill
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Interesting. Thanks for the comment, Adam.

Since you're here, can you comment on the Steward issue I mentioned? Is it just our group being strange or paranoid that's making a "functioning" Steward phase so rare, even after a Merchant, or is it expected that only one or two players will be able to get much use out of Steward? ("Much use" being defined as, let's say, get more than two cubes total in a Steward phase.)
 
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Quote:
It manages to keep a lot of the feel of TI3 without many of the awful drawbacks that game has, most notably the 9 hour playtime.


Not trying to run down GE here but ti3 does Not take anywhere near 9 hours to play. Maybe if you put 8 total newbies in a game, but barring that insanity it takes more like 1 hr per player and plays well with 3 to 8 players.


-M
 
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malloc wrote:
Not trying to run down GE here but ti3 does Not take anywhere near 9 hours to play. Maybe if you put 8 total newbies in a game, but barring that insanity it takes more like 1 hr per player and plays well with 3 to 8 players.
As I said above, I've experienced a 9 hour game of TI3, with 5 players (I've never played with more than 6):
alextfish wrote:
the durations have been something like 3h, 4h, 6h, 6h, 7h, 9h. So 9 hours has been hit, but it's unusual.

But I'll edit the review's quoted playtime down to 6 hours to be less inflammatory, so that the discussion here can be about Galactic Emperor, not discussing the flaws or otherwise of TI3.
 
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alextfish wrote:
Since you're here, can you comment on the Steward issue I mentioned? Is it just our group being strange or paranoid that's making a "functioning" Steward phase so rare, even after a Merchant, or is it expected that only one or two players will be able to get much use out of Steward? ("Much use" being defined as, let's say, get more than two cubes total in a Steward phase.)

I've not seen that problem so it might indeed be your group. It's true if you play it right you can buy resources, but the payout is much better through Steward and I'm not sure why players would consider it otherwise. Generally, folks leave food on their sectors and really reap the benefits. Toward the end of the game, it's pretty typical for all players to fill their container during Steward.
 
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malloc wrote:
Quote:
It manages to keep a lot of the feel of TI3 without many of the awful drawbacks that game has, most notably the 9 hour playtime.


Not trying to run down GE here but ti3 does Not take anywhere near 9 hours to play. Maybe if you put 8 total newbies in a game, but barring that insanity it takes more like 1 hr per player and plays well with 3 to 8 players.


-M


No, it does not take 9 hours. It takes 12. Yup, we have played three times with 5 or 6 players and all sessions have been between 8 and 12 hours. All sessions with the expansions and with a mixture of old and new players. The game length is VERY dependent on the type of players.

So GE sounds like a really great deal with a playing time of three hours. Gotta try it!
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Andre Metelo
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Bolger wrote:
malloc wrote:
Quote:
It manages to keep a lot of the feel of TI3 without many of the awful drawbacks that game has, most notably the 9 hour playtime.


Not trying to run down GE here but ti3 does Not take anywhere near 9 hours to play. Maybe if you put 8 total newbies in a game, but barring that insanity it takes more like 1 hr per player and plays well with 3 to 8 players.


-M


No, it does not take 9 hours. It takes 12. Yup, we have played three times with 5 or 6 players and all sessions have been between 8 and 12 hours. All sessions with the expansions and with a mixture of old and new players. The game length is VERY dependent on the type of players.

So GE sounds like a really great deal with a playing time of three hours. Gotta try it!


I do have to defend Malloc... Once the players are familiar with the game (and it took our group about 5 or 6 plays, you can do in even less than the 1h per player.

Additionally, GE should take the 1.5 H as indicated in the box.. Which happened even with the 6 new players over at dragon con at 1:00 AM.. You just need somebody making sure that the game does not stall to a crawl (nominate somebody the whip boy or girl!)
 
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Bolger wrote:
malloc wrote:
Quote:
It manages to keep a lot of the feel of TI3 without many of the awful drawbacks that game has, most notably the 9 hour playtime.


Not trying to run down GE here but ti3 does Not take anywhere near 9 hours to play. Maybe if you put 8 total newbies in a game, but barring that insanity it takes more like 1 hr per player and plays well with 3 to 8 players.


-M


No, it does not take 9 hours. It takes 12. Yup, we have played three times with 5 or 6 players and all sessions have been between 8 and 12 hours. All sessions with the expansions and with a mixture of old and new players. The game length is VERY dependent on the type of players.

So GE sounds like a really great deal with a playing time of three hours. Gotta try it!


Played TI3 several times, 5-6 players, and never had a game longer than 6 hours.
 
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