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 difference 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.

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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.