I’m delighted when I see new designers start to truly make a name for themselves in our little world of gaming, and even moreso when their creations really fit in my wheelhouse. Scott Almes’ Tiny Epic Kingdoms went insane on Kickstarter and is now gracing tables around the world, offering a fantastic gameplay experience that I’ve returned to again and again since getting my copy. Tiny Epic Defenders is currently on the conveyer belt over at Gamelyn Games, but the latest in the series was shown to me while at Essen this year – it’s called Tiny Epic Galaxies and great as they are, this one is easily better than its two predecessors.
Offering a comprehensive but pocket-sized 4X experience in around half an hour, I think that TEG (as it will become known) is going to break the records set by the earlier games in the series. Quick playing yet satisying, TEG will never see you looking to chuck out your copy of Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition – but you won’t have to schedule a visit to IKEA to buy a second table next time you want to play around a mate’s house either.
The game sees players attempting to reach a certain score, racing to utilise and colonise a series of planets that appear on cards in the middle of the table. Each card is laid out in a similar fashion, a numbered ladder on the left hand side, a symbol in the top right corner showing whether it’ll yield you Energy or Culture when you land a ship there, its points value in the bottom right and – probably most vital – the planet’s Colony Action. Players also have a larger Home World card in front of them that acts as a base as well as a way to track your stats and resources (the previously mentioned Energy and Culture).
Your selections are dice driven with everyone kicking off the game rolling only four dice, but depending on how things turn out you could well be hurling seven of them across the table – and this is one thing you should be aiming to do as more ships mean more options AND more points. At the beginning of a turn you roll your allotted amount then, depending on what’s landed face-up, take actions. A single re-roll is allowed in case what you want doesn’t quite come up (which you will use a lot) and you’ll then, one-by-one, resolve the dice you’ve got. One lovely little element to TEG now shows its face – when you trigger an action, a player may spend one of their Culture Points to trigger that same action themselves, even through it’s not their turn. You might think you’ve got some excellent plan up your sleeve, but a Culture rich heavy player could potentially screw you over over the course of someone’s turn – even your own.
So, what can you do? Well, arrows allow you to move one of your ships around, either to the planet’s surface (which will pull in Energy or Culture if those symbols are rolled) or to the card’s Diplomacy track. Roll those symbols (a $ and ! in the current prototype) and you’ll move up the ladder, claiming the planet for yourself and tucking it in underneath your Home World. The final symbol shows the Colony Action, a potentially gamechanging thing that’s entirely dependent on the planets you’ve added to your collection. Everyone begins with the same ability – spend a set amount of one resource to upgrade your Galaxy (meaning more dice and Victory Points, as mentioned), but with each planet offering some kind of rule bending power, you’ll be seeking out the best ways to turn things in your favour.
As the game progresses, players’ tableaux eventually hopefully grow into a splendid collection of planets, pulling in all manner of useful resources and looking grand, tucked underneath your Home World – but all the while there’s that sneaking suspicion that everything will crumble beneath you, that all your plans will come to nothing thanks to that bloody rule of other people copying your Actions. Got your eye on picking up another planet? Tough, someone else has stolen it from under you, AND ON YOUR OWN BLOODY TURN AT THAT. Notice that someone seems to be running low on a resource? They won’t be for long, pushing their trackers up on your go. And this is wonderful as it means there’s pretty much no downtime in TEG – you’re constantly paying attention to what’s being rolled and when the dice are triggered. Manage to do this well and by the time your turn comes around to you again, you’ll be able to pull off some incredible stuff.
And that, for me, is what makes the game so damn good. Sure, it plays out in about half an hour, but for that whole time you’re watching, waiting, ready to jump while also planning your own strategy out. It’s a glorious, exhausting thirty minutes, fun as all hell, and when it launches in January on Kickstarter, you’d best get in on it. Tiny Epic Galaxies is showing that Scott Almes is growing into a truly talented designer, and it’s so exciting to thing that if he’s turning out games like this now, what kind of stuff will we see from him in a few years? If the game is this good with no graphic design and relatively plain iconography in a PNP, imagine what the end product is going to be like.
Tiny Epic Galaxies will be on Kickstarter in January 2015. You will want a copy of it. Cheers to Michael Coe at Gamelyn Games for handing over a copy for us to check out!