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I hesitated buying this game when it originally came out because of all the mixed reviews. However, when I noticed that this $60 game could be bought new for $15 from Boards and Bits and a revised rulebook was available, I decided to give it a chance. Rather than just give a rules summary, I try to give you a feel for how the game plays and the decisions you have to make.
Will You Like This Game or Not?
This game will likely appeal more to people who enjoy political games and would like to try one with a science fiction theme rather than those players who enjoy more traditional science fiction themed games. This ultimately is a politics game. In fact, I think the game mechanics could have just as easily adapted to a fantasy or some other theme. If the idea of trying to get your senators elected to various minister positions or developing new laws makes your eyes glaze over, you may as well stop right here and skip this game.
While I enjoy science fiction games, I am hardly a hardcore fan. While I have played games like Twilight Imperium Starcraft, Galactic Emperor, and Stellar Conquest, I personally find these games a bit boring. I always seem to spend round after round trying to build up my star fleet, improve my home planet defenses, and work my way through various technology tracks. If you really enjoy science fiction games where the races and planets have various powers, where technologies allow you to develop cool weapons, and you can launch epic battles, then you are likely going to be a bit bored with Galactic Destiny. While the rulebook includes background information on the races and political parties, this information has little effect on actual game play; it is really there to help you roleplay your party and senators better. While there are different types of fleet miniatures provided, they all behave exactly the same so that death star fleet won't give you any additional powers. There is very little technology at all in this game also. Finally, the sectors that you conquer are there to provide you money and influence. While some of the sectors provide special abilities, these mostly affect game mechanics. The sectors cards have text about each sector, but this is mostly there to provide flavor.
Now that I have discussed what this game is not, I'll describe what this game actually is.
The components are a mixed bag.
The plastic fleet miniatures are decent.
The game board is a quality board with nice artwork.
The player mats are also functional. They contain a lot of game and party background information, some of which is a bit hard to read. I found the little resource counters for money and influence very easy to knock out of place though.
The cards are OK. The artwork on the back of all the cards is the same. Different artwork for the different types of cards would have made them easier to differentiate. The cards can have a lot of information on them (cost, priority, when apply, etc.). I found them pretty easy to understand though. A lot of people complain about the artwork on the senator cards, the rulebook, and the box cover, but it did not really bother me though.
The counters can be a little confusing though, because of the similar artwork. Being colorblind, I wish the difference between the corruption and shadow tokens would have been starker. The election counter is never described in the rulebook so I figured it out by default (looks like a sector counter with a bluish color).
Everyone's least favorite part of the game. It sucks. The revised rulebook you can download is better, but it still sucks. That being said, I used the revised rules 90% of the time. The rules are hard to understand the first and second time you read them. Part of the problem is that many of the rules are interconnected so it is hard to describe turn phases if you are not familiar with corruption. This results in lots of flipping through the rulebook during your first game and makes it a bit hard to explain the rules to new players. My biggest complaint is that the rulebook is not even longer than the revised one. Much of the confusion about the rules results from information that is not discussed or which is not discussed in enough detail. Examples are provided in the revised rules, but I could have used more. What I really would have liked to have seen was an example of the first complete turn or two. That would have helped tremendously because once you understand the turn sequence, it really is not that complicated of a game. The player aid helps a bit. The main things to keep track of are the various modifiers to the number of dice rolled and modifiers to the rolled value. Luckily, there are not any tables to reference.
The Galactic phase is fairly typical. Refresh exhausted senators and replenish republic fleets. Draw and resolve 3 event cards. Draw 3 sector cards and mark them. Players each draw 2 action and senator cards. You check to see if the sectors in play are infested and then you collect resources from your sectors.
The Senate phase is what makes Galactic Destiny stand out from other science fiction games. First, you see if there are any elections this turn. If so, the players nominate Senators for the 5 minister positions and vote for them. This is hardly a peaceful election as some elections are met with a flurry of assassination attempts, seductions, and other actions to bias the vote. Furthermore, players can spend their influence to change the vote too. This is where you hope your group of senators has plenty of diplomacy since this drives the number of votes you have. This is also where the corruption and shadow tokens diminish the voting strength of your senators.
Once the elections are over, the players need to decide where the fleet will go. If there are infested sectors or players in rebellion, those are obvious targets. Then the Senate (and later the minister of justice) determines which senators to prosecute. Since senators that have accumulated a lot of corruption and shadow tokens negatively impact everybody through increased infestations and become more powerful admirals (through extra dice), they make tempting targets to prosecute since executions purge that corruption and shadow. This is also where players can go after senators that have become too powerful for their own good.
Finally, the Senate develops and votes on general propositions. You will either love or hate this part of the phase. With the exception of 5 sentient rights, players are free to propose any law they can dream up. Once an idea has been formed, other players can jockey for support for or against or come up with modifications and amendments to them. A common proposition deals with how to tax parties to buy republic fleets to battle infestations with. How much you roleplay your party here is up to your discretion, but you can expect the various players to have different ideas (e.g., flat tax per party, per sector controlled, etc.) or to tax or prohibit behaviors that threaten the peace. If the laws become too onerous, you risk having the other players simply break them and take the 2 corruption tokens. I found this to be one of the most interesting aspects of the game with a tremendous amount of player interaction. The players' own political viewpoints often get reflected in what bills they are willing to support in the game.
The last phase is the Intrigue phase. This is where the players declare and then resolve invasions and campaigns. Both usually involve senators and often your action cards. Military invasions may involve fighting infestations for the good of the republic, but more often military invasions of neutral sectors or those controlled by other players. Campaigns involve senators trying to sway other sectors to your parties. In both cases, the success depends on the strength of your senator and/or fleets, the defense value of the sector, and various modifiers. You can hedge your bets by spending influence to increase the chance of success of campaigns. One random factor is that you get to reroll any 6's thrown during the first roll and add the second value to the original 6. This adds an element of unpredictability to your invasion and campaign attempts.
Parties also have the option of declaring a rebellion. This is a fairly drastic action because you relinquish any ministry positions you control and will likely lose control of many of your sectors. However, you don't get corruption during invasion attempts, sector defense values are cut in half, and your senators can now assassinate or sabotage other fleets. Players continue in rebellion until they and the senate reach a peace agreement.
So What Do I Think
The thing I enjoy the best about this game is the semi-cooperative nature of the game. While each player is trying to gain control of as many minister positions and sectors as possible, they have to cooperate to keep the infestations down to a reasonable level or everybody loses. The parties also have to cooperate to some degree to elect the various Ministers and pass any laws.
I also enjoy the concept of corruption and shadow tokens. You are only going to win by taking advantage of your ministers' corrupt abilities, launching invasions, and breaking laws & deals - all of which cause your senators to accumulate corruption and shadow tokens. While these shadow tokens let you roll additional dice, they can trash your diplomacy and make it hard to campaign or win votes. Corrupt senators also risk the wrath of other players who don't like the negative die modifiers that impact everyone. This tradeoff is an interesting one to balance. Often you decide to sacrifice one of your senators by loading him up with corruption and then letting him get executed once you have reaped the benefits.
I also enjoy the fact that the game has many options and is very open ended. The action cards, laws, and senator abilities provide many options and strategies. Laws are limited only by your own imagination. Some people may find this makes the game overwhelming or too chaotic. With the right group of people, it can make each game pretty unique and interesting.
The last thing I want to discuss is the high degree of player interaction and actions in general. In almost every turn, the players can interact a lot during the senate phase. In almost every turn, your party is conducting as many invasions and campaigns as you can support. Thus, you avoid the weakness of some other sci-fi games, where you can spends turn after turn preparing for the big event. With several players, if you are not bumping into each other after the first few turns, you are doing something wrong.
It's pretty obvious that I enjoy this game. I was attracted to it more because of comparisons to Republic of Rome than its sci-fi theme. Right now I give it a score of 8. I want to play it more, but I want to make sure I play it with the right group of folks. I am hoping that in future games, I can try to roleplay the parties and races better since I think that will make it even more interesting. If you like political games, I would encourage you to try to slog your way through the rulebook and the so-so art, and give the game a chance. In any case, you can try it out for a lot less money than the latest FFG big box will cost you.
This game is definitely not for everyone. If you do not enjoy politics or are looking for a more traditional space empire game, you will probably be disappointed with this game. If you like a well-defined (and somewhat limited) set of options and crisp rules, you may get frustrated with this game.
I would like to thank Rompcat, Pulisw, Unholy Frog, houjix, and Oldtree whose photos I used.
Once you get to know the game (& yes, you do need to read the rule book a few times), the game is rather good. Having the right type of players helps as well.
Thanks for the review.