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Subject: This is the Day of the Expanding Empire - A Ones Upon a Game Review rss

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Kevin L. Kitchens
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Review Haiku
Expand your Empire!
But not if you play solo.
Perhaps mobile soon?



Pre-Play Thoughts:
Never previously got onboard with the popular Tiny Epic... series of games, primarily because the first two titles were fantasy/magic in nature and not my cup of tea. Didn't pay too much attention then when Tiny Epic Galaxies was announced because it was (at the time) strictly a 2-4 player game. And then the big solo vs. 5-player vote/debate/feud/PR stunt took off and when solitaire won the vote, I took a little more interest. I still wasn't completely sold, but as I wrote here (Why I Went Ahead and Backed Tiny Epic Galaxies...) I changed my mind.

The game funded successfully and without a lot of drama and delays, recently arrived in my mailbox.


Components:
The game consists of a five player mats (doubling as the various solo AI on the reverse), 40 planet cards, 12 mission cards (for multiplayer only), seven custom dice with various actions, and seven wooden markers for each player (four ships and one each for tracking energy, culture, and empire level). All of this in a beautiful, compact, and sturdy box that doubles as a dice tray and planet colony action reference.

The mats themselves are a little on the thin side and prone to curl slightly, but are serviceable. The artwork throughout the games is gorgeous and inspires a retro sci-fi feel. The dice, while on the small side (a la Pandemic: the Cure), are a beautiful marbled black etched with white.

While again I cannot speak to their previous efforts, the quality of the components in this game shines through.


Rules:
Tiny Epic Galaxies is not difficult to play and the rules are presented in a very clear straightforward manner (at least when not playing solitaire). One odd choice that does not work is the printing of the planetary colony action summary inside of the box bottom. While I appreciate they were trying to be efficient with space, unless you're playing with all five players, chances are all the unused bits are left in the box. To lookup a clarification on an action, you have to remove everything from the box. Again, a great idea on paper that failed in execution -- and in fact would have been better had those rules just actually been on paper.


Overview:
In TEG you're in a race with the other players (or the AI) to expand your empire. The first to get 21 points via empire level and colonized planets ends the game and then after that round, whoever has the highest point total wins. Each of the tiny, epic emperors then gets to add in any points from their bonus card (if the mission was completed) assigned at the start of the game, which could tip the scales in favor of a player who didn't reach 21 first. Each turn a player rolls 4-7 dice (based on current empire level) and spends the actions rolled to acquire energy or culture, launch a ship (each has 1-4, again based on empire level) to a planet's surface or orbit, increase their empire's level, increase their influence around a planet in orbit for the purposes of colonizing the planet into their empire, or they may take colony actions available on their home galaxy or planets of their empire. Like Race for the Galaxy, the other players can follow any action of the current player, by expending a culture point, taking that action themselves. This certainly increases the strategy in a multiplayer game as you may not want to take an action knowing your opponent can follow you in doing so.

To counter some of the randomness of the dice, players can roll any number of their unspent dice one time per turn for free. Any subsequent rerolls costs a energy point (again for as many unspent dice as they like). If they absolutely need a certain result, they can use two of their dice for the purpose of setting a third to any face they want. It's a good system that works and make the game really enjoyable to play. So long as you're playing other players.

Overall Impressions:
I like the game a lot. Unfortunately though as I'll explain below, it's not very much fun to play solo. But I can see how this played in a group would be an amazingly good time as a quick filler game or even over several rounds as a main event. The components are nice. The artwork is fun and light. It flows quite well and is very easy to pick up and teach. The variety of the 40 planets and the mission cards gives each game a good amount of randomness and replayability.

However...


Solitaire Playability:
Tiny Epic Galaxies is a boring solo game (duck and run). And that makes me sad. Initially I was excited and felt the AI was going to be on par with the Robot in Race for the Galaxy. Unfortunately it's just not that good. I played my first game in beginner mode, then worked my up through easy, medium... and then because I was getting no challenge jumped straight to Epic mode (the toughest one included in the box). Still easy. Yes, the AI scored a little more each time, but there was very little threat or challenge to feel much tension at all.

On the reverse of each player card is one of five levels of AI difficulty, which essentially all follow the same pattern, just with alterations to make them "tougher". How the AI plays is as follows. It starts with 0 energy and culture point. It does however have all four ships available from the start. The empire starts at level 1 which gives it a specific number of starting dice (varied per AI). When it's the AI's turn, the solo player will roll the AI dice one at a time. If the AI can take that action they will, albeit with some modified rules benefiting the robot. A player is allowed to follow the AI actions as a normal player, however, the AI never follows the player. The AI will also never use colony actions or land on a planet. It will solely attempt to colonize and it will colonize at a faster clip than the player.

As mentioned the AI will only take an action if it's available. Here's where the AI gets tempered for all the other benefits it receives (or it received those benefits for all the missed actions that will be taken. Chicken/Egg? Egg/Chicken?). If the action is not available, the die is simply wasted and the next die gets rolled. For example, if the AI's four ships are already in orbit around the four available planets and a ship action is rolled, that action is not available and the die is left unused. If one of the colonization actions is rolled and there are no planets of that type currently being orbited by the AI, then nothing happens.

Now the AI is not without its special perks though. When it does roll a colonization action it gets to advance ALL the ships orbiting that type (economic or diplomatic) whereas the player only gets to advance one. When it gathers energy or culture, it gets one for every ship orbiting a planet that produces that resource as well as every ship at its home galaxy. The player only gets energy for ships at home, not culture. When the AI's energy and/or culture meter is full at the end of a turn, it gets extra bonuses then as well. A full culture track allows for the rolling of three more dice after which the culture marker is reset to zero. Fill up on energy and the AI gets to advance its empire level and then reset. The good thing for the player on this is that the full status is only evaluated at the end of a regular turn, not the bonus turn provided by culture. So should it advance again to full, it won't be able to get the bonus until the end of the next regular turn.

Finally when the colony benefit die is rolled, the AI will take a special designated action on its empire track. The AI does vary from level to level in the length of its empire level track as well as the actions it provides. The energy and culture tracks too are shorter in the harder AI making them advance faster as well.

Unlike playing a human opponent, if the AI reaches 21 points or advances its empire beyond the final level, the player automatically loses. While against the tougher AI it does produce a nominal amount of tension, it still comes down to a random die roll if the event the AI needs (or can use) will come up. The player can also spend both an energy and culture point to force a reroll of any AI die before it takes effect. So if you have a surplus, to can attempt to mitigate a game ending or other detrimental roll.

So while is seems the AI should work and be a greater and greater challenge as the it gets tougher, in the end the solo mode is just not that difficult or interesting. Perhaps it's good for learning the game, but nothing that would make me want to play it repeatedly. There are also some oddities and exceptions that arise for the colony actions that are normally designed to be resolved between players. Most of these are addressed online via FAQs, but still add to the myth that the AI was just "tacked on".


Conclusion:
That said, the only substantial negative about Tiny Epic Galaxies for me is the solo mode. The multiplayer game can be and is a blast to play - if you play multiplayer which I rarely if ever do. While I'm glad I kickstarted it and recognize the contribution that campaign made to the growing acceptance and inclusion of solitaire gaming, I've already traded away my copy to someone who will hopefully get more table time with it and friends.

I will say that if it ever comes in a digital form with true AI players or asynch multiplayer capability, I will buy that on day one.

Bottom line: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for 2 or more players. A bittersweet PASS for solitaire mode however.


From the ones upon a game Blog
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Ed T
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Thank you for the honest review re: your feelings regarding the solo mode!
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T K
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Nice report! I did find that with 2 players that it sometimes got bogged down when all the planets required the same colonization type. It seems like then we would always roll the wrong one, and couldn't wait to get rid of a planet to hopefully get one requiring the other colonization roll.

I think you did make a mistake in the AI play though. When the AI maxes out the culture track, it resets, and then you play the 3 extra dice. However, it can't flip again if it gets to the top, it will have to wait until the end of the normal dice rolls on the next turn. But this makes it a bit more likely, especially on epic, to give the AI 3 extra rolls each turn.

Even with that though, the solo is still very dependent on the rolls, which can make a big difference in how easy/hard it is to win. I totally agree with you there. Maybe a slight modification to the rules would be that for each dead roll, the AI gets to take 1 energy or 1 culture (the player's choice). This way the AI is still getting something. It's weaker than if an energy or culture was rolled, but it will negate a bit of the lucky die rolls that can occur, and make sure the AI is making some progress each turn.



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Kevin L. Kitchens
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kamarainen wrote:
Nice report! I did find that with 2 players that it sometimes got bogged down when all the planets required the same colonization type. It seems like then we would always roll the wrong one, and couldn't wait to get rid of a planet to hopefully get one requiring the other colonization roll.

I think you did make a mistake in the AI play though. When the AI maxes out the culture track, it resets, and then you play the 3 extra dice. However, it can't flip again if it gets to the top, it will have to wait until the end of the normal dice rolls on the next turn. But this makes it a bit more likely, especially on epic, to give the AI 3 extra rolls each turn.

Even with that though, the solo is still very dependent on the rolls, which can make a big difference in how easy/hard it is to win. I totally agree with you there. Maybe a slight modification to the rules would be that for each dead roll, the AI gets to take 1 energy or 1 culture (the player's choice). This way the AI is still getting something. It's weaker than if an energy or culture was rolled, but it will negate a bit of the lucky die rolls that can occur, and make sure the AI is making some progress each turn.



I've already shipped off the game, but I'm very certain that the rules are that the culture doesn't reset until after the extra turn is taken, but I could be wrong.
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T K
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klkitchens wrote:

I've already shipped off the game, but I'm very certain that the rules are that the culture doesn't reset until after the extra turn is taken, but I could be wrong.


They aren't the clearest. Here's what the instructions say:

Quote:
At Max Culture - Clear the Control Mat. The Rogue Galaxy takes an extra turn, but with only 3 dice and without these special actions reoccurring. After this is done, move the culture token back to zero (off the mat).


Re-reading it now, I agree with your interpretation. whistle It's dual use of 'mat' confused me. I now see that they were referring to two different mats. The first, the control mat, is where you lock in the dice. The second is the AI's mat.

Well, live and learn.
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David B
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I enjoy solo mode. However, I was not expecting it to be as good as or very similar to the AI in Race for the Galaxy. I'm not sure how one could have that expectation. I compare it more to the AI in VivaJava the Coffee Game: The Dice Game. For such a small game, the AI is well implemented and fun IMO. But it is true, that there are games where the AI does not roll useful dice for itself. But when it rolls energy early, that is where it gets really tough. I have seen games where the AI is advancing empire almost every turn.
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Nick Bolton
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I would recommend the game, even as a solo only purchase. It's not as good as RftG solo, but it is a much lighter and cheaper game that fulfills a different purpose and makes a welcome change.

It is possible to win at epic level, but not always. Have you tried the harder virus level yet? This is part of the additional solo components available to backers, print and play that you can get on actual cards.

Yes there is luck, but this is necessary in a solo game unless it's a puzzle - and with dice it's not a suprise.

I have played this a lot solo since getting it and it's a nice filler, when I'm not in the mood to relearn rules or play an epic campaign.

It's different enough from my other solo games to stay in my collection.

There are enough cards to provide variety and it's great to pull off combos. The outcome isn't certain, although I can't see myself playing on the easier solo levels very often.

Overall a very nice light solo game and everything fits in the sturdy box, even with all cards sleeved.
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