Some Thoughts on Tiny Epic Galaxies

The guys and I tried out Tiny Epic Galaxies tonight (the base game only, with none of the expansion material). It was the first time for Nick, Tim, and myself, but Mike had played it a few times before with his family. My overall impression of it is that it’s pretty good. Gamelyn Games’ trademark is big gameplay in small packages, and there are several entries in the “Tiny, Epic” brand. Tiny Epic Galaxies certainly delivers on this promise. I’m familiar with Gamelyn from backing the second edition Kickstarter for Tiny Epic Kingdoms. Galaxies has some similar themes mechanics-wise, but the gameplay between the two games is different enough to make it worth owning both.

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Nick rolls dice with the fate of the galaxy while Tim looks on.

Players have a limited number of ships which they move to any planet currently in play in order to collect resources and to either take advantage of the special power it offers or attempt to take control of it by spending resources. Similar to King of Tokyo/King of New York, players have a pool of dice which they use to randomly determine which actions are available to them that round. Taking control of a planet not only gives them access to additional actions, but, more importantly, scores victory points for them. Effective gameplay is heavily dependent on correctly deciding which planets to vie over for control and which to use in the short term. The variety of basic actions and the way they interact with special abilities granted by planets creates some potentially heavy decisions to crunch later in the game.

Another mechanic, and one that I haven’t seen before, allows players to perform the same action that another player chooses during their turn. It’s somewhat similar to the core mechanic in Puerto Rico where the active player chooses an action to perform and gets a bonus and everyone else follows suit. But the twist in Galaxies is that copying actions is optional and players must spend resources to do so. Much of the game revolves around weighing the trade-off between time and material that Garry Kasparov talks about in his book How Life Imitates Chess; chances are pretty good that the dice will be kind enough on your next turn to allow you to perform the same action, for free, but doing it right now might prove beneficial enough to justify spending the resources. The mechanic is executed well and elevates the gameplay from rote, economic engine-building into something deeper and more engaging, despite not really being thematic in any way (it’s a sci-fi game; maybe rather than “following”, they could have called it a rift in the space-time continuum or something along those lines).

We got two games in last night, and it was during the second one that I realized my major criticism of this game*: Tiny Epic Galaxies suffers from a phenomenon that I’ve seen cropping up in games in the past five years or so. I’m planning on writing a more detailed essay about this, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but essentially, it involves mechanics where different types of resources or even actions are interchangeable with other types.

In Galaxies, there are four types of resources which are used to perform actions or take control of planets: energy, culture, diplomacy, and economics. They each have different uses… sort of. Energy and culture are used to upgrade your empire (essentially, allowing you to take more actions on your turn by giving you access to more dice and ships). Diplomacy and economics are the “resources” that must be collected (rolled on the dice) and spent in order to take control of a planet. So far, mostly good.

The problem is that the names are simply placeholders; the only difference between diplomacy and economics is… well, nothing actually. The difference is that some planets require a set amount of one in order to be conquered, and other planets require the other. There is no mechanical difference between the two; they could have just as effectively been called “Red Macguffins” and “Blue Macguffins”. There are even planets that allow you to exchange one for the other. Combined with so many other options, interactions, and combo chains,the resources and special abilities really don’t feel unique and the net result is that everything just starts to blend together. If there were even just a minor mechanical different between diplomacy and economics, it would probably have been alright.

Despite its flaws, Tiny Epic Galaxies provides a good deal of enjoyment and replayability and is a good value for its pricetag. It’s not quite a heavy game, but its physical stature belies the depth of its gameplay; it’s a solid middle-weight game that can be the sole attraction for a game night. We all had fun playing it last night, and I genuinely look forward to playing it again.

*And it wasn’t just because I suffered a caffeine crash which caused my brain to basically shut down, completely gimping my ability to play well, resulting in my scoring a whopping six points at the end — one-third as many as Mike and Tim who tied for second place. Nor was it borne out of an irrational hatred of this game because on my final turn, on 18 dice rolls, I didn’t roll a single instance of the action I only needed to perform once which would have boosted my final score to nine points, which would have at least given me a moral victory  despite having finished in last place.

So THAT’S why werebears are chaotic good.

I’m half-listening to my wife reading The Hobbit to my daughter and me while  working on a different post. We’re in the chapter with Beorn and it just dawned on me why werebears in D&D are chaotic-good (at least in Second Edition, not sure about any others) when just about every other type of lycanthrope is chaotic evil. And it’s not like I’ve never read The Hobbit before, it’s just that I din’t put two and two together until now. That’s a thing that I had wondered about since first browsing all of the entries in the 2e Monstrous Manual*. Not even going to look this one up.

 

*For those of you who’ve never played Second Edition, yes, that book was called the Monstrous Compendium and, later, the Monstrous Manual (which was subsequently followed up by further volumes called Monstrous Compendium Appendicies. Oi.).

Introducing Heathcliff!

I try not to shamelessy plug that other thing that I do too much on this blog, but I just released a new piece today that I thought would be worth sharing here. I mean, how often is it that you see a cool piece of terrain with a giant freaking skull carved into it?

Kong may have an island, but we have a mountain! (Well, a hill, anyway. But it could be a mountain depending on the scale of the game you’re playing. :-p )

Also, this is the part where everyone who’s lurking here can make me look foolish by posting comments with links to all of the other giant skull terrain that probably already exists. I know you’re out there!

🙂

Adventures In Airbrushing – Part 2

I didn’t have time to do too much with my new airbrush yesterday, but I did set it up and briefly try it out. Key observations:

  1. Wow, does this create a lot of spray! If this turns out to be a piece of equipment that becomes a permanent part of my toolbox, I’m going to have to get a spray booth, and possibly a respirator. Until then, this is for outdoor use only.
  2. The sample paints that came with it are extremely pigment-heavy. It probably too me 10 minutes to flush out all of the residual paint when I was finished using it.
  3. Using this thing is really pretty easy!

I put my new airbrush through its paces in earnest today, painting several terrain pieces using craft paints that I thinned down with airbrush thinning medium.

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Fun fact: All terrain-making can trace its roots directly back to the condiments table at fast-food restaurants.

Key observations:

  1. Much to my surprise, airbrushing unfortunately isn’t very well suited for basecoating my terrain pieces. Despite all of the spray that’s created, it doesn’t put out nearly as much volume as spray cans, and it probably would have been faster to use a normal brush for the basecoats.
  2. Those airbrush paints that came with the set are seriously pigment-heavy! Cleaning the brush after using my custom paints didn’t take nearly as long!
  3. Again, much to my surprise, I was able to get pretty good results airbrushing the layers that I would normally drybrush in the past. This is actually the opposite of what I had anticipated — I had assumed that the airbrush would be great for basecoats but be unable to replicate the effects of drybrushing. Truth be told, if I have to choose one over the other, I’ll take basecoating by hand over drybrushing any day, so this is a welcome discovery!

I’d definitely call this day a success and I’m looking forward to getting deeper into using this new tool. It’s actually really exciting to finally be able to try out something that I’ve been aware of and interested in trying for some time but which had remained elusive for one reason or other up until now. I might even get around to painting miniatures again someday, lol!

Adventures in Airbrushing – Part 1

I held my breath and took the plunge today.

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Getting an airbrush is something that I’ve been thinking about on and off a few years now and came very close to doing once or twice, but today was finally the day. No special reason, really; just that my arm has been getting tired from painting and drybrushing terrain, so I’m hoping that this will help. I’m fairly certain it’ll work for basecoating terrain pieces, but achieving similar finished results as I do by drybrushing may involve a learning curve.

Side note, if you have kids or need a cool gift for a child in your life, the Crayola “Air Marker Sprayer” is definitely worth checking out. It’s basically an air brush that you load markers into instead of paint. My wife and I recently got one for our daughter, and after I had a turn using it, it actually helped tip the scales towards me deciding to finally pull the trigger, so to speak.

LVO 2017 Cephalyx Table

I came across this incredible table from this year’s LVO today, made by Tyson Koch of FigurePainters.com:

If you are at all into miniatures, you should seriously check out the tutorial just to get a better look at that thing in the large tank in the back.

In addition to the pics, he’s also created a detailed step-by-step of how he made it! From custom molds, to water effects, to LEDs, to dry ice, this thing is a masterclass showcase of just about every terrain-making technique and material known to man. Awesome work, Tyson!

First Quest

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Years ago, Dragon Magazine ran a series of guest editorials entitled “First Quest,” in which members of the industry recalled their introduction to gaming. The name was a reference to a line of D&D products that TSR released under the “First Quest” banner which were designed to help new players learn the game. The title of this piece is an homage to that series of editorials, although I do not claim to put myself in the same category as those game designers who made an indelible mark on the gaming world.

 

My introduction to gaming took place on my 12th birthday. It was the capstone experience of the day and one that would have an immeasurably profound impact on my life, but I didn’t know it yet. It took place during the lull between an awesome birthday party at an indoor amusement park/arcade earlier in the day, video games at home that afternoon, and ice skating that night. The one common denominator in all of these activities was my cousins. They’re a few years older than I am, which made them and the things they were interested in awesome by default.

We were at Anthony’s house. He’s always had a great sense of humor and a certain low-key cool that made me really enjoy being around him. Also, when we were kids, I could always count on him to bring his NES (and eventually, his Super NES) to the New Year’s party at our aunt and uncle’s house, transforming what would otherwise have been a boring evening into a solid block of hours and hours of playing Nintendo.

Dave was the oldest of the three of us. He was the smallest in terms of physical stature, but he carried himself with a wry, confident attitude. This, combined with the fact that he was a whole three years older than me meant that I tended to approach him with a level of respect and deference, despite him once describing me as being “ten times bigger” than him.

Dave took on the role of Dungeon Master and described the scene for Anthony: “You’re sitting in an inn.” And so, the adventure began, using what has become the ultimate cliche for D&D adventures, but which was still new to me at that point.

“The serving wench brings you your drink and then goes over to serve another customer, a mean-looking dwarf. All of a sudden, he starts loudly berating her for some reason that isn’t clear and then he starts beating her savagely.”

Anthony had an affinity for mages, but the character he was playing that night was more of a fighter type — probably something whipped up on the spur of the moment just for that adventure. In any event, he quickly sprung into action, drawing his blade and coming to the girl’s rescue. The malicious little bar patron turned his attention to Anthony’s character. A brief fight ensued, and he easily dispatched the dwarf.

The game had only been going for about three minutes, but I was already enthralled. The concept of free-form, collaborative storytelling wrapped up in a game was a completely new concept to me. Furthermore, in an experience no doubt shared by countless neophyte RPGers before and been since, I was also fascinated by the strange, multi-sided dice that my cousins used to determine the outcome of the fight and which conferred a sense of arcane, esoteric wonder to the proceedings. Who knew that dice could come in so many different shapes?

 

With the dwarf slain and lying in a bloody heap on the tavern floor, Anthony turned his attention to the serving girl. The dwarf had managed to inflict serious injuries in a short period of time and she was unconscious. Seeing her condition, he scooped her up and went searching for a healer in the town.

He barged through the front door of the nearest temple, interrupting the priest during the middle of a morning sermon. The cleric was irritated by the interruption, but was willing to help in exchange for a random item from Anthony’s pack. (Even non-adventuring NPCs want treasure.) Anthony agreed, and the priest cast healing spells over the girl, bringing her back to consciousness.

The callous priest collected his payment. Reaching into Anthony’s pack, he pulled out a gaudy-looking necklace and was instantly immolated by magical flames that engulfed his body the moment he placed it around his neck.

I was blown away; this game was like nothing else I had ever experienced before.

To drive home the point of just how free players were to take the game in any direction, Anthony and Dave reset the scenario back to the tavern with the serving girl waiting on Anthony. This time, they role-played a conversation which quickly degenerated into the two characters haggling over the price of sexual favors. (Hey, I had literally just turned twelve and my cousins were in their early teens, remember? What else would you expect?) I was in stitches, and my cousins had made their point effectively.

That was the end of the short demo adventure, but this game was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced and all I knew was that I wanted to play more.

D&D was always high on the priority list whenever I got together with my cousins after that point, and it was some time before I was able to play D&D without them. The main impediment was that my parents had become aware of the moral panic surrounding D&D which still existed at that time. They generally didn’t like the idea of me playing and resisted my efforts to do so to different degrees at various times, but they were certainly never supportive. Eventually, possibly due to my persistence, or possibly to them realizing that there really wasn’t anything to be concerned about, they officially let me try out my new hobby. In an uncharacteristic show of support for anything that interested me, my father was actually the first person to drive me to my closest FLGS, 20 minutes from our house.

The store was small, but I remember being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books and other gaming material: “There’s an entire *COMPENDIUM*¹ full of monsters, and this big binder is only the first volume?? This one city gets a whole book² written about it??!” I found a copy of the one book I was already familiar with and selected two sets of plain opaque dice, one blue and one black.

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A treasured relic from my earliest days as a gamer. The amount of time I’ve spend pouring over the pages of this tome is orders of magnitude greater than I’ve spent with any other single book.

Armed with my brand new Player’s Handbook and dice, I set forth on my first quest: recruiting new players.

My sister was the first person I DMed for. Being four years younger than me, she was in second grade at the time of her first adventure and couldn’t quite read all of the words on her homebrew character sheet (i.e., a sheet of loose leaf with boxes drawn on it), much less the actual rules of the game. We rolled up her first character, a dwarf fighter that she named Rosella Thogard. The adventure got off to a rocky start, with Rosella being killed by orcs in the first encounter, so we started over and things improved dramatically on the second try. I made it my mission to introduce as many of my friends to D&D as I could, and I was finally able to put together my first gaming group during the summer in between eighth grade and high school.

Having written all of this, I realize that in both of my “first quests,” I didn’t actually participate as a player: I was an observer when my cousins introduced me to the game, and when I did ultimately find other people to play with, I took on the role of Dungeon Master. Furthermore, not only did I run games for my friends, but with only one exception, I was also the one who introduced them to the game; it wasn’t until early in my freshman year of high school that I became friends with someone who already had experience playing D&D (a fact which I became aware of when I saw him reading the PHB while waiting for English class to start). This is a pattern that continued in my adult life, after a long hiatus from gaming, when I introduced a new group of friends to the game and ran a campaign for them. Upon reflection, I realize that I find both this approach and the DM’s chair are where I am most comfortable.

Today marks twenty-five years since my cousins opened up this new world to me, one that not only became a hobby, but which has impacted almost every aspect of my life in more ways than I can describe, including the real-life adventures I’m now engaged in. Thank you, Anthony and Dave, for introducing me to the game that would have such an incredible impact on  me, and for giving me what is, other than life itself, probably the greatest birthday gift that I have ever received.

-John

 

  1. The poorly-conceived Monstrous Compendium. You know, the one where they decided to put the monsters in a three-ring binder instead of a hardcover book because it gave you the flexibility to expand and customize by adding new monsters, but which only stayed alphabetized (in other words, usable) as long as you didn’t expand and customize by adding new monsters. Not to mention the poor durability of three hole-punched sheets.
  2. Volo’s Guide to Waterdeep