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Roll for the Galaxy» Forums » Reviews

Subject: That's no moon... it's a Dice Euro rss

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Matthew Percival
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A dice-based adaptation of Race for the Galaxy, itself a card-based adaptation of Puerto Rico, Roll for the Galaxy has come about through an interesting journey. Nominally themed around building a galactic empire, like most Eurogames the theme is fairly loosely represented in the gameplay. The game is at its best with 3-4 players, though also makes for an excellent two-player game. It is decent with five players, but that is definitely not the prime player-count. Initially, play will take around 45 minutes, though once everyone knows what they are doing you are looking at 30 minute games. The final result is based on VP, though the race-like conditions that trigger the end of the game make it so the player who ends the game will often win.

Components & Rulebook


When I first unpacked the box, I was initially a little disappointed. The boards and screens given to each player are quite thin card and the graphic design is fairly dull to look at. This initial disappointment quickly passed once I saw the tiles. The tiles are thick, sturdy and feature attractive illustrations, though in play these illustrations tend to be lost behind the iconography and quickly blend in together.



The game's large number of custom dice are also an attractive feature, with each type standing apart from the others and featuring easy-to-read (and interpret) symbols. The cups, while not the most attractive feature of the game, are perfectly serviceable and give a pleasing rattle when used.



The components have all shown exceptional durability, continuing to be in good condition despite the unusually large number of games I have played. On the other hand, the insert that comes with the game was worse than useless, not providing any useful way to sort components and soon collapsing through their weight shifting in the box. It is one of the few I have ever removed and thrown away.

Each of the tiles in the game has a different effect, similar to the cards in Race for the Galaxy. Roll for the Galaxy takes a good compromise for explaining these effects: it has both icons and full-text. Experienced players can simply glance at the icons to know instantly what effect something has, but newer players are not left as confused as they are in the game's predecessor since they can read the full text to understand what a tile does. Very new players will sometimes need to clarify what these effects do, but most of them are quite self explanatory. One detail I often find new players not immediately realising is that the effects normally only occur in a specific Phase. The tile represents this in both iconography and text, but many first-time players still fail to catch this.

The rulebook is very clearly laid out and well written. Each part of the game is described in the order they occur and in clearly delineated sections, making it easy for new players to confirm rules mid-game. The basic rules are easy to follow while potentially ambiguous or complex situations are described in more detail at the end of the book. This was not a game where I ever needed to check an FAQ or ask for help! The screens also act as player aids, with all the rules of the game available. Unfortunately, they are summarised with the game's iconography rather than worded in full. In my experience, newer players find the mess of symbols overwhelming and quickly give up trying to use it, while more experienced players have already learned the game well enough to no longer need these prompts. A concise, fully-worded summary of the order of play and what each Phase does would have been far more useful here than what is actually provided.

Gameplay & Replayability


This is very much a game of two parts. The first part is where you roll and assign your dice, with the second being the actual playing-out of your actions.

The first part is the most interesting and where much of the joy in the game comes about. When you build up your engine successfully enough to have a large number of dice in your cup, players always brighten with large grins as they shake the cup and hear all the noise. Then you look around the table and weigh up what you think the other players will do (or what they want you to do). Picking the Phase to activate and reassigning your dice based on these estimations is quite exciting. Finally, you reveal: some players cheer that their guesses were right, others wail at you picking the 'wrong' Phase. This is Roll for the Galaxy at its best!



The second part of each round is pretty routine: use your die for each active Phase and put any that were not used back in the cup. Most Phases go quickly, as all the decisions were made before reveal. The exception here is the Explore Phase: this is the game's weakest area! One bag of tiles, with potentially 2-5 players wanting to draw tiles from it at the same time. You will want to draw your tiles one at a time, per player, and possibly discard and redraw multiple times. Again, per player. Passing the bag around, diving in, deciding what to do with your draw, then possibly waiting for the bag to come back to take your next action... this can be quite clunky. When you consider that the same basic concept in Race for the Galaxy or San Juan is to simply draw X cards off the deck, this song and dance is far from elegant. You could house-rule this to make it quicker and smoother, but that would strip away a significant strategic element of the game. I feel doing so would cause more harm than good.

There are two triggers for the game to end, which align with the two broad point-scoring strategies of the game: placing tiles or Shipping goods. Everyone has to play at least some tiles to be effective; Shipping can be useful to piggyback off, but is less important to players focused on playing tiles. In the base game, there is definitely an edge to tile-based strategies. You can win a Shipping-based strategy, but it is harder and is generally reliant on luckier tile draws in the early game. If you are not lucky enough to get the tiles you need quickly, you will fall behind and lose horridly. On the other hand, tile-based strategies are a lot easier to play out due to their increased tolerance for unlucky draws. The real key for a high score is drawing a 6-cost Development tile in the mid-game: these are tiles that award bonus points based on some aspect of your empire. They are hard to play in the early game, and may not be a valuable fit in the late game, but if drawn in the middle you can optimise the rest of your game to maximise the points from these. Given three of these award bonus points for Development tiles, a popular strategy is to mostly focus on Developments and hope you draw at least one of those three. This is a very easy strategy to play, and a popular one with newer players, though in no way guaranteed to win.

I have played repeatedly at all player-counts. There is no question that 3-4 players is the most interesting. At this player-count, the Phase activation and assignment of dice really comes into its own and the various strategies feel most balanced. As mentioned, this is an usually good game with two-players. Like many other games, two-player Roll for the Galaxy features a dummy player, but in this case the dummy is merely an extra roll: roll a die and activate that Phase. This is exceptionally low maintenance, making two-player almost as good as three. The only exception is that I have found the Shipping strategy dramatically more difficult in two-player games. It is possible, but generally not as enjoyable. The game is quite serviceable with five players, but the extra player typically adds nothing to the game dynamic (often you will have three people all picking the same Phase) and only makes the Explore Phase even longer.

I have taught this game to a quite a few players, both hardcore and more casual gamers. Most players have picked up the basic flow of the game quickly, with only the Produce/Ship aspect of the game not making sense to the majority of first-time players. The one part of the game that novices almost always mess up in their first few rounds is choosing a Phase to activate. As such, I normally play introductory games without screens so I can aid in this. Some players need prompting to do this step in the first place; others forget that any die can be used and go to use one that has a matching face. Most people get the hang of this half-way through the game and you can see that the game suddenly 'clicks' for them. Most people I have played the game with enjoyed it. It has not been uncommon for people to immediately request a second game. I have only had a couple of people who did not want to play it again.

Despite being a dice-based game, the outcome is not random. More experienced players will typically beat novices; in fact, they will usually hammer them in the final scores! Similar to other games in its pedigree, much of the game is knowing when to activate a Phase so that it least benefits others, and likewise being able to leech as much as possible off other players' activations. As such, more experienced players will typically be far more effective on any given round. Similarly, novices tend to have great difficulty in maintaining the momentum. They will play a meaningful action, then spending a round or two gathering money and dice before they can play another. Experienced players are far better at maintaining the money and actions in parallel allowing them to advance their strategy every round. The other area where experience can matter is in finding meaningful combinations of tiles. I have played games where a novice ended the game by playing a large number of low-cost tiles, but I outscored them by having a smaller number of tiles that featured synergy in their points --- effectively scoring more points per die used.

Roll for the Galaxy is one of my most played games, and by far the most-played in the time I have been using Board Game Geek. By the time I reached around 35-40 plays it was beginning to feel a little stale, but the Ambition expansion was released at this time, breathing new life into the game. Ambition is a must-have expansion for dedicated fans who want to play 50+ times, but it is not at all necessary to have from the very first game. The quick play-time combined with the wide variety of tiles and starting conditions gives Roll for the Galaxy the potential to be enjoyable for a considerably large number of plays.


Conclusion


While Roll for the Galaxy is certainly not perfect, I continue to find it one of the most enjoyable games in my collection. The relative ease of play and short duration make it a game I can frequently get to the table. Most people I have introduced it to enjoyed themselves enough to request it again, and most of these gamers have been running effective strategies after two or three plays. The game rewards repeated plays, but does not have that dry, heavy feel that turns many people away. The components, while not perfect, are more than adequate and hold up to repeated plays. The game is perhaps slightly too complex for people who prefer gateway-level games, and perhaps not quite tight enough for people who want a tournament-level competition, but will work for the broad spectrum of players in between. If you want a game that lets you roll some dice, pretend you can read the minds of your friends and have a few laughs, all in less than an hour, Roll for the Galaxy may just work for you!
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Steve Burt
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Nice review, but Race for the Galaxy isn't a card based adaptation of Puerto Rico - that would be San Juan.
Aside from the idea of roles/phases RftG and Puerto Rico share pretty much nothing in common; the way the roles/phases are selected is completely different.
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David B
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steveburt wrote:
Nice review, but Race for the Galaxy isn't a card based adaptation of Puerto Rico - that would be San Juan.
Aside from the idea of roles/phases RftG and Puerto Rico share pretty much nothing in common; the way the roles/phases are selected is completely different.


Not entirely true.

The way phases are selected is different, but the bonuses for selecting phases are similar. Also, Puerto Rico has two distinct strategies (shipping/building) which can be mixed or pursued separately. Of course there are many different ways to approach those two strategies. San Juan, when it was originally released, did not really feature those two strategies. With the expansion, and specifically the harbor, the "shipping" strategy was reintroduced. But Tom Lehman, when designing Race, which was certainly inspired by Puerto Rico, wanted both strategies prominently featured in the game (hence the consume for points). So, yes, Race and Puerto Rico DO have similarities.

Also, if you look at the history of the development of San Juan and Race, you would find more evidence of the similarities. Tom Lehman did contribute ideas that were used in San Juan. Not all of his ideas were used and he decided to design Race which featured all the ideas he had when asked to contribute to a card adaptation of Puerto Rico.
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John Burt
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steveburt wrote:
Nice review, but Race for the Galaxy isn't a card based adaptation of Puerto Rico - that would be San Juan.
Aside from the idea of roles/phases RftG and Puerto Rico share pretty much nothing in common; the way the roles/phases are selected is completely different.


Tom Lehman was part of the original effort to adapt PR to cards. He then went his own way and produced RFTG from that effort, which uses many of the same mechanics as San Juan. With Roll (and Jump Drive) we now have two generations of games ultimately derived from Puerto Rico.
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john newman
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Thank you for your review. Solid job.

Although I have only had the opportunity to play Roll for the Galaxy a handful of times, I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had one question. In your picture, you have an explore die on a develop phase. Doesn't that require a dictate die? Where is your dictate die?
 
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Malcolm Howell
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johnpnewman wrote:
I had one question. In your picture, you have an explore die on a develop phase. Doesn't that require a dictate die? Where is your dictate die?

The die that sits on the phase strip itself is put there to select the phase. You must use one die for this, and can select any phase you want, regardless of the die face.
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Scott Russell
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johnpnewman wrote:
Thank you for your review. Solid job.

Although I have only had the opportunity to play Roll for the Galaxy a handful of times, I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I had one question. In your picture, you have an explore die on a develop phase. Doesn't that require a dictate die? Where is your dictate die?


The dictate power is to move a non-matching die to a column underneath the strip. This is in addition to the die that you place on the strip (that doesn't have to match as Malcolm pointed out.)
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john newman
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Nefrubyr wrote:
johnpnewman wrote:
I had one question. In your picture, you have an explore die on a develop phase. Doesn't that require a dictate die? Where is your dictate die?

The die that sits on the phase strip itself is put there to select the phase. You must use one die for this, and can select any phase you want, regardless of the die face.


I had been playing that wrong. Thanks!
 
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pfctsqr wrote:
steveburt wrote:
Nice review, but Race for the Galaxy isn't a card based adaptation of Puerto Rico - that would be San Juan.
Aside from the idea of roles/phases RftG and Puerto Rico share pretty much nothing in common; the way the roles/phases are selected is completely different.


Not entirely true.

The way phases are selected are different, but the bonuses for selecting phases are similar. Also, Puerto Rico has two distinct strategies (shipping/building) which can be mixed or pursued separately. Of course there are many different ways to approach those two strategies. San Juan, when it was originally released, did not really feature those two strategies. With the expansion, and specifically the harbor, the "shipping" strategy was reintroduced. But Tom Lehman, when designing Race, which was certainly inspired by Puerto Rico, wanted both strategies prominently featured in the game (hence the consume for points). So, yes, Race and Puerto Rico DO have similarities.

Also, if you look at the history of the development of San Juan and Race, you would find more evidence of the similarities. Tom Lehman did contribute ideas that were used in San Juan. Not all of his ideas were used and he decided to design Race which featured all the ideas he had when asked to contribute to a card adaptation of Puerto Rico.


The "common traits" triangle I outline to those who want to see what the connections are as follows:

PR & SJ
Same theme and roles. For the former, where the game takes place. SJ is in PR, and on a smaller scale! The buildings and goods are shared, like Quarry, and Palace. Violet and production buildings.
For the former latter, Sugar, Tobacco, Coffee. For the latter latter, Prospector, Builder, Produce, etc.

RftG & SJ
Both use cards, and the discarding cards in hand to pay for other cards mechanic. As well as tableaus

RftG & PR
A way to convert goods into VP. These 2 are roughly the same in "paths to victory".




quill65 wrote:
steveburt wrote:
Nice review, but Race for the Galaxy isn't a card based adaptation of Puerto Rico - that would be San Juan.
Aside from the idea of roles/phases RftG and Puerto Rico share pretty much nothing in common; the way the roles/phases are selected is completely different.


Tom Lehman was part of the original effort to adapt PR to cards. He then went his own way and produced RFTG from that effort, which uses many of the same mechanics as San Juan. With Roll (and Jump Drive) we now have two generations of games ultimately derived from Puerto Rico.
In a podcast (an episode of The Long View IIRC), Tom mentioned that Race came from 3 ideas...

1) Puerto Rico
2) San Juan
3) and a space themed CCG that he's been working on for a long while, but is unpublished. Ideas from this got used towards Race, and I suspect this will never get released as that CCG

EDIT: clarifications and simplifications
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Ryan Keane
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Great review!

While all 4 are related, I would definitely place Puerto Rico/San Juan as much closer together and Race/Roll much closer together than any other pairs. For me, the key mechanic in PR/SJ is the turn-based phase selection - everything is known and your primary repeating decision in the game is what phase to select based on what phases you predict other players will select later in that round and in subsequent rounds. Variable phase order is key to this working.

The key mechanic in Race/Roll is simultaneous phase selection - the primary repeating decision is what phase do you select based on uncertainty about what phases other players will select. Non-variable phase order is key to this working (although perhaps simultaneous phase selection and variable phase order would be workable).

The key aspect they all share is that opponents are also activated by your phase selection, as opposed to the many action selection games.
 
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Matthew Percival
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johnpnewman wrote:
I had been playing that wrong.


Funnily enough, I mentioned that in the review:

Quote:
Some players need prompting to do this step in the first place; others forget that any die can be used and go to use one that has a matching face.


It is one of the most common rules errors I see. Because it is so common I make a point of emphasising it when teaching now, and people still forget once we actually start playing. That is why I like to talk people through their first few turns, to make sure they know little details like this.
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