Some Thoughts on Castle Panic

The guys and I got in a game of Lords of Waterdeep using both modules (aka, expansions) last night. Long story short, despite getting to play as my favorite lord, the Xanathar, I came in next to last.

Before playing LoW, we got in our first play of another game, Castle Panic, a semi-cooperative tower defense simulator with a generic fantasy theme. “Tower defense” is a genre of video games in which you use static defenses to repel wave after wave of enemies as they encroach upon your territory. There’s a bit more to it than this, and different games naturally put their own wrinkles and twists on the mechanics, but that’s the general idea.


Behold the, uh… I was going to say “marauding horde,” but “manageable crowd” is probably more accurate.


In Castle Panic, your static defenses consist of three concentric rings surrounding your castle at the center of the board. A horde of monsters assembled from conventional fantasy tropes (goblins, orcs, and trolls) advances through ring with the goal of tearing down your castle one wall at a time. Within a given ring, the invaders are vulnerable to attacks by only type of unit (archer, knight, or swordsman). On their turn, players draw cards which determine which types of units they can use to attack, or which grant a variety of other special abilities.

The game is mechanically sound, which I think sums it up pretty well. It works, and it’s playable, but there’s not really much more to it. The theme is not only generic, but pretty much pasted on. You could easily switch it to any other genre; it would feel exactly the same if instead of a horde of green-skinned humanoids, it was a mob of space aliens, zombies, or rampaging kittens rushing towards you. There are a few boss monsters with unique abilities, but there’s really nothing else that differentiates goblins, orcs, and trolls from one another besides the number of hit points they have.

Along the same lines, there’s no thematic rationale as to why units of a given type can only attack monsters within a specific ring. During the game, I quipped that the knights are unable to turn their horses around to attack enemies that make it past them and that the  archers couldn’t wrap their heads around the concept of firing their bows at point-black range. There are also boulders that randomly appear when their card is drawn which come careening down from the forest, crushing any greenskins in their path before crashing into your castle and wrecking one of your precious walls. It’s a fun little mechanical twist, but I think a rampaging dragon that comes screaming from the sky raining indiscriminate death and destruction would have been more fun thematically than a boulder.

More importantly, while it replicates some of the core mechanics of digital tower defense games, Castle Panic misses the mark in some crucial ways. There’s normally an ebb and flow with tower defense, a tension that intensifies as time goes on and which builds to a panic as you wonder whether the defenses you’ve placed will manage to hold the line. One way that tower defense games create this experience is by starting players off with basic defenses, allowing them to unlock more powerful ones as time goes on. Likewise, the difficulty of the monsters scales at more or less the same rate.

Castle Panic is a cooperative game, so the players all win or lose together (although at the end, the player who scores the most points based on number and type of kills is awarded the title of “Master Slayer”). Once you draw your cards, combat is deterministic and players can trade freely during their turns. The upshot of this is that rather than being a frenetic scramble to make good decisions while under time constraints, turns instead morph into a puzzle to be solved as players figure out the optimal way to use the cards that are currently available to them. And rather than tension that steadily ramps up, the game goes through fits and starts, as the types and number of monsters that appear is randomly determined, and it’s possible that you can either clear out swathes of enemies during your turn or remain completely idle depending on what cards you draw and what your allies have to trade.

The pressure to act quickly could easily be created by using a timer. The lack of flow could have been avoided if, rather than all of the monsters and cards being mixed together, they were divided into several groups which are introduced over the course of the game, with each subsequent group being more powerful.

Probably the most powerful combo in the game. Play the Barbarian and then use “Scavenge” to play him again immediately? Yes, please!


I’m normally reticent about reviewing a game after having played it only once, but I feel that Castle Panic is simple enough for me to have gotten a good grasp of what it offers after a single play. Additionally, I don’t foresee this one hitting the table again so that I can gather more data anytime in the near future.

All this being said, does this mean that I think Castle Panic is a bad game? No. Everything works and it plays well; it just doesn’t have a lot of depth. Furthermore, a lot depends on how you approach it. For most gamers who would even be interested in reading a review like this, there isn’t really enough here to hold their attention for very long or to create a compelling gameplay experience — but this does not make it a bad game. Also, to be fair, despite the fact that we won, victory was uncertain until nearly the end of the game, and there were a few genuinely tense moments.

Castle Panic is a good choice to play with younger gamers. The theme is fun, and they won’t notice that it’s pasted on. The mechanics are easy to learn, and there are enough tactical decisions to make without it becoming overwhelming. It could also serve as a good intro to boardgames for gamers who are deep into the digital side of the spectrum: something they’re probably familiar with and that isn’t so complex that it turns them off to boardgames.

I have two takeaways from last night: 1) As long as your expectations are calibrated correctly, you won’t be disappointed with Castle Panic; 2) I probably need to play as someone other than the Xanathar.


Some Thoughts on Lords of Waterdeep

At just over five years old, Lords of Waterdeep is a modern classic — which is a polite way of saying that, in boardgame years, it’s kind of old. On the other hand, considering that it’s still being played five years later demonstrates that it’s withstood the test of time thus far; personally, I’ll rarely turn down an opportunity to play it.

We had six guys at our recent game night — slightly more than our usual four or five. Most of the games in our respective collections top out at five or less. Furthermore, Ty was joining us the first time, so we wanted to avoid jumping too far into the deep end right away. These parameters narrowed down our options pretty significantly. Fortunately he did have some prior gaming experience (including playing D&D), so Lords of Waterdeep fit the bill perfectly.

At its core, Lords of Waterdeep is a fairly straightforward worker-placement game. Each player, taking on the role of one of the hidden (as in, secret) lords of the City of Splendors, sends their agents out to various locations around the city to recruit adventurers to go out and complete quests. The rewards for completing quests normally come in the form of influence over the city, represented by victory points, but they can also take the form of gold or even additional adventurers. Taking a page from Ticket to Ride, each player is randomly assigned a lord at the start of the game which gives them bonus points at the end, typically based on types of quests completed, but there are a few exceptions.

There are five basic resources in the game: four types of adventurers (fighters, rogues, clerics, wizards) and gold coins. Each quest requires a specific group of adventurers, and frequently a sum of gold as well. Gold is also used to purchase buildings — other locations around the city where agents can be sent in order to recruit adventurers, earn gold, or gain other types of benefits, ranging from the relatively mundane to the quite powerful. Of course, this being a worker-placement game, there is also a sixth resource, the most precious one of all, hidden in plain sight: the number of actions available to you over the course of the game, represented by the number of agents under your control. Each player has the same number of agents throughout the game, but there are a few ways to do some “sequence breaking” and acquire additional actions.

Everything functions within a fairly tight set of parameters. Although not explicitly stated, there’s a firm exchange rate in place on the relative value of adventurers, which can be seen with a little effort by comparing the number of adventurers required to complete a quest with the rewards that it yields. Essentially, two coins equals one fighter or rogue, and two fighters or rogues (or one of each) is equal to one cleric or wizard. The starting locations also bear this out, as you can recruit fighters and rogues in pairs at their usual hangouts, but only a single cleric or wizard at their respective locations. There’s also a starting location that earns you four coins.

There is a clear effort in the design to balance all of the moving parts and for the benefits of each action to be incremental and sometimes even beneficial for multiple parties. For example, when a player sends an agent to building, that player receives the reward for placing their agent there, but the owner also receives a small bonus as well. Likewise, Intrigue Cards will frequently provide a bonus to multiple players, not just the one who plays it. Even Intrigue Cards that attack other players aren’t terribly punishing.

The board is reasonably sized, but you’ll never have too much space available to play this game.


For those steeped in D&D lore (specifically, the Forgotten Realms campaign setting), the game takes on extra flavor and immersion. The quests themselves are fairly thematic. For example, a mission to break into an ancient crypt is primarily rogues’ work, but a wizard or two may be necessary in order to assist with any magical dangers that may be present.

On the other hand, a common criticism of game is that the theme feels tacked-on. This is a fair assessment, and something that will be felt most acutely by those who are not familiar with the setting. Extrapolating from the name of a quest why a particular group of adventurers is needed requires a little imagination on the parts of the players, and being familiar well-versed with D&D, or fantasy tropes in general at the very least, is definitely helpful in this regard. Making the extra effort to refer to the cubes as the type of adventurers that they represent (not simply by their color) along with reading the little bits of flavor text that are present on the Quest and Intrigue cards will also go a long way for creating a sense of immersion.

The tight design of Lord’s of Waterdeep, whileone of its greatest strengths, is also an easy target for criticism. For all of the flavor present in the quests, there really is no differentiating one type of quest from another. Sure, Piety quests will typically require clerics and Skullduggery will require rogues, but they’re all simply worth points in the end based on a fairly straightforward calculation and they are mechanically identical; the only reason to choose one over another is based on the particular lord you’ve drawn and the types of quests they earn bonus points for.

The burdens that accompany the role of being one of the hidden lords of Waterdeep proved to be too much for Spike.


Lords of Waterdeep has two expansions available (or “modules” as they are referred to within the game, a nod to classic D&D lingo): Undermountain and Skullport. Both come in a single expansion set called Scoundrels of Skullport (a questionable marketing move since by focusing on “Skullport,” the name downplays the fact that there are two expansions present in the package).

Undermountain is basically what Prosperity is to Dominion: no changes to core mechanics or gameplay, just more of it, bigger and better. It adds a new section to the board with several powerful areas where lords can send their agents, along with bigger quests that require larger groups of adventurers going for bigger payoffs, and more expensive buildings that provide greater benefits to their patrons. It adds a new layer of decision-making: is it better to complete several lower-point quests, or go for more difficult but higher-value ones? Worker-placement games are fundamentally about action economy and determining optimal moves. It takes fewer actions to complete a single higher-value quest, but it requires more actions to recruit the requisite number of adventurers, so it’s not always clear which is the better decision.

I’m not sure if there’s a direct Dominion analog for Skullport. Alchemy would probably be the closest because, as with Alchemy, Skullport also adds a new resource type and with it, new mechanics: corruption. “Resource” is actually a misnomer because, while it must be carefully managed, it’s a negative side effect that comes frim sending agents down into Skullport, the seedy (literal) underbelly of Waterdeep, represented by another separate board with new starting locations, or by participating in particularly unsavory actions (new quests and Intrigue Cards). The payoffs for sending your agents to these places is significantly greater than for sending them to the more reputable parts of the city, but they come at a steep price — represented by subtracting victory points for every corruption token that you possess (or does they possess you?) at the end of the game. In a really clever example of game design, the tokens start out on a corruption track and are removed as players earn them, revealing a progressively worse negative value for each token. A small taste of corruption can help an ambitious lord get ahead; too much will easily bury him or her in the end. As with Undermountain, Skullport introduces its own set of new buildings, quests, and Intrigue Cards.

Each expansion adds three new lords to the game, with benefits that are more interesting than the standard “earn 4 victory points for these two types of quests” from the base game. In our gaming group, we have a house rule where we divide the lords according to whether they come from the base game or the expansions. Each player is randomly given one from each group and chooses the one that they wish to play as. My personal favorite is the beholder crime lord of Skullport known as the Xanathar.

In a nearly complete inversion of the corruption mechanic, and one of the rare instances where the mechanics and theme of using a particular lord converge, the Xanathar actually scores 4 VP for each corruption token at the end of the game. The catch is that he still takes the penalty as well. Effective play with the Xanathar comes down to making the most of locations and quests that confer corruption, carving out enough of a lead over the other players during the game in order to still be in the lead even after lords are revealed and bonus points for quest type are awarded. This is decidedly not how it turned out for me during my group’s last game.

I got the Xanathar! Oh, happy day.


We played the full version of the game, using both expansions, and I was thrilled that I drew the Xanathar as one of my lords. However, I ended up struggling to score many points during the game, due to a combination of some sub-optimal choices I made early on, as well as the vissicitudes of the game, particularly which quests came up. There was a relatively low number of the big 40-point quests that showed up, which meant that they were even more valuable when someone was able to score one. Despite having a fairly high number of completed quests none of them were of the coveted 40-point variety, and I finished in fourth place.

My resources and completed quests at the end of the game. Needs more points.


For almost the entire game, it appeared that Nick was going to finish closer to the bottom than the top. Nick has earned the reputation of being our resident game shark, so no matter who wins, it’s always at least a minor victory for everyone else as long as it’s not him. [Just kidding, Nick, you’re awesome! Please don’t take umbrage and destroy me even worse in whatever game we play next!] However, in the last round, he pulled off an impressive combo involving a couple of different Intrigue cards and Quests, rocketing past several other players on the score track, and finishing tied with Joe at a respectable 124 points after bonus points were tallied. Of course, being Nick, he ended the game with more coins in his tavern than Joe, winning the tie-breaker and the game.

Although it wasn’t a very good showing for me, I got to make some fun plays over the course of the game. I drew an “Open Lord” Intrigue Card early on. Playing it meant that I revealed to everyone that I was, in fact, the Xanathar, but it also made me immune to Mandatory Quests and other attacks from the other players for the remainder of the game. I was also able to complete the “Unleash Crime Spree” quest during my final turn, true to form for the Xanathar and a (im)moral victory at least. I may not have won, but I got to tell a fun story with the quests that I completed.

It was an enjoyable game with an exciting and unbelievable ending, and I’m happy to have logged another play with this classic.


My copy of Clank! arrived today


In between dinner and bedtime (our daughter’s, not ours), we sleeved and prepped the game as a family, and my wife and I got in a few rounds of play, with the girl spectating off to the side. Our first impressions of this game are good. It’s always a plus when I find a new game that my wife genuinely enjoys. We would’ve played more, but my daughter protested the idea of missing out on “discovering the game together as a family” (her words) so much that I promised her we’d wait until tomorrow morning so that we could all play it together.

It’s World of (S)laughter: Some Thoughts on Small World

I’m as susceptible to the cult of the new as any other gamer, but once in a while, I reach back into the mists of time and acquire a title that, although being a bit long in the tooth by boardgame standards, is new to me (we have to keep those long tails on board game sales going if we want to see expansions, right?). I received my copy of Small World as a birthday present from my wife and daughter earlier this year. We’ve played it a few times since then, (both one-on-one games with my wife as well as a simplified version with my daughter), but the other night’s five-player game was the first time playing with a larger group.

This past Friday was the regularly-scheduled game night with the guys. However, a bad storm and downed power lines quickly put the kibosh on those plans. Since Nick still had power at his house, my wife and I regrouped and headed over to his house along with our friend Mike for an impromptu sleepover for our daughter with Nick and Heidi’s children, and a game night for the grownups. After getting our daughter settled in, we decided to give Small World a try.


It only took a power outage and a tornado, but not only did Small World hit the table, but two of our wives also got a chance to participate in the game. Bonus points to my wife for drinking a beer that matches her description.


Small World is the 30,000-foot view of the rise and fall of a series of different civilizations playing out at light speed. It’s a fairly light, primarily tactical game that plays at a brisk pace — which is ironic considering the vast amount of time that playing the game represents. Each player chooses a race from a diverse collection of fantasy and fairy-tale (and possibly nightmare) creatures that they guide in their attempts to spread out and conquer the world and the other races, scoring victory points based on the number of regions under their control. It’s an area-control game at its heart, but there are a few twists.

First, not only does each race have its own unique power, but each race is also paired with a special ability that grants an additional power. The race and ability cards are two different physical components that are randomly combined, meaning that any combination is possible. Some combinations are powerful than others, and repeated play will help players distinguish the standouts from the less-than-stellar options. The second twist comes from the tragic reality every one of the races in Small World is destined not for prosperity and happiness, but for downfall and demise. Faced with this realization, it is up to the player to decide when to leave their current race behind in the dustbin of history and choose a new race to lead — until the cycle repeats with this new race. Timing this is crucial, as placing your race in decline comes at a steep price: sacrificing your entire turn. The one saving grace is that your newly “in-decline” race continues to score victory points through the course of the game until they face extinction at the hands of other players, or by you choosing to place a second race in decline.

Small World hits the sweet-spot for what I’m currently looking for in a boardgame: a light to mid-weight game that involves a decent level of strategy and thinking, but which is accessible enough to quickly teach new players and to finish a game in a reasonable amount of time. Conquests are a simple matter of counting how many enemy tokens currently occupy a region and bringing an equal or greater number of your own tokens to bear. Deterministic conquests are an interesting design choice to me given that in real life, vicissitudes of fate often conspire in such a way as to make combat anything but deterministic.  However, I think it’s one that fits well with the overall design of the game: core rules that are relatively simple and straightforward, with the real meat of the game being analyzing the various race-special power combos that come up and deciding which ones to choose and how best to use them.


I don’t really have a caption for this photo. I just thought it was a good pic and that it would have been a shame not to use it. 🙂


For three out of the five payers, this was their first game of Small World. Although there were several errors over the course of the game, everyone had a firm understanding of how to play by the end of the first turn. We cycled through every race and most of the special abilities by the end of the game. The standout combo of the night was the Flying Sorcerers. It’s a powerful combination, to be sure, that increases with player count. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from four of the players about how over-powered and game-breaking this particular combo was. We did eventually figure out how to counter it, which really wouldn’t have been difficult to do much earlier, if we had just taken a moment to stop and think about it. But by then it was too late in the game; Heidi emerged as the victor with 114 points, due in no small part to her legion of Flying Sorcerers. As for myself, I came away with a grand total of 60 points… placing me firmly in last place. Most importantly though, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the game, which was peppered with much friendly banter throughout.


Aww man. I wish that I could’ve gotten those Flying Sorcerers.


Small World exemplifies the kind of game that has become Days of Wonder’s trademark: a solid title that is straightforward to learn and play thanks to its uncomplicated rules, but which nevertheless manages to achieve a good level of depth and replayability, accompanied by solid, but not overly flashy or expensive physical components. It is this combination of accessibility and depth that, again, much like several of Days of Wonder’s other titles, makes it both a perfect gateway game as well as something that can hold the attention of veteran gamers. Ticket to Ride may be Days of Wonder’s most well-known game, but Small World is probably their best.

Some Thoughts on Villages of Valeria

I’ve been making an effort the last few months to reduce the ratio of played to unplayed boardgames in my collection. One game that made it off the shelf recently after arriving as a Kickstarter reward several months ago is Villages of Valeria from Daily Magic Games. My wife and I recently put it through its paces a couple of weeks ago and it was the game that the guys and I chose to play at our game night last night.

We played two games and the consensus at the end is that we all enjoyed it. Then again, we’re a fairly easy-going lot, so it typically doesn’t take a much for us to find a boardgame enjoyable. I’m probably the most critical in our group, so the real measure is probably whether or not I enjoyed it, which I am happy to report that I did.


Game one, about mid-way through. A bunch of buildings on the board, but we didn’t end up recruiting many adventurers during this game because most of the ones that were available didn’t work well with the buildings that we had chosen.

The theme of the game is, starting with your castle and the resources it provides, to expand your village one building and one adventurer at a time. Buildings and adventurers are worth victory points at the end of the game and during the game provide either a one time immediate bonus or a recurring one that’s triggered by certain actions. The game ends when one player accumulates a set number of buildings and adventurers. In a surprise twist, the goal of the game is to have the fewest victory points at the end. Actually, it’s not. But that would be a surprising twist, wouldn’t it?

Gameplay is smooth. The core mechanic is reminiscent of Puerto Rico where the lead player chooses an action that all of the other players follow, with the player who chose the action receiving a bonus. The core mechanic is action-selection, but the depth of the game comes in determining which buildings to construct and which adventurers to recruit.

You must build your economy from the ground up, first developing the raw materials needed to construct your buildings, which are in turn used to recruit adventurers, all the while trying to find the best combos and synergies with the options that are currently available. There is a large variety of buildings and adventurers, but only a few of them will be available at any given point in the game. Good decision-making goes a long way in converting the random arrival of cards into winning plays, and your success will largely depend on your timing and the ability to determine when to switch over from low-value buildings and adventurers that provide immediate benefit to more expensive buildings that are essentially dead weight and resource hogs during the game but which have a higher payoff at the end.

Despite the depth of interaction between the different buildings and adventurers, there was little downtime, even with our most analysis-paralysis-prone players. The lead-follow mechanic is a key feature in keeping everyone involved at almost all times since it means that there’s less downtime in between turns.

One of my favorite parts of the design is that you can pay gold to another player to use the resources that they’ve developed to construct your own buildings. This deprives them of the ability to use those resources for a turn, but the sting of this inconvenience is mitigated by the that the gold they receive goes into their coffers for their own use. The net effect of this is that it creates an actual economy and a greater level of interaction between players.

Thematically, it feels like there’s a difference between buildings and adventurers. Both are worth points at the end of the game and either provide an immediate benefit or an ongoing one that’s triggered by different conditions, yet they somehow feel distinct. Part of it probably has to do with the fact that the mechanics for building are almost completely different from those for recruiting. Another factor is that there are multiple copies of most buildings but only one copy of each adventurer. Mechanically, having each adventurer be unique also leads to a little bit of asymmetrical gameplay and strategy as the game progresses.

The only place where the theme breaks down a little is in situations where the cards representing buildings and adventurers are themselves used as a resource, needing to be discarded in order to complete certain actions, or traded for gold. It all fits mechanically, but I’m not sure if it’s supposed to represent something theme-wise.

We played with the Guilds Halls expansion in the first game, minus the event cards, and we used all of the expansion content in our second game. Out of all the expansion material, we found the event cards to be the least interesting. They’re highly thematic and easy enough to implement, but in terms of actual impact on the game, they’re fairly lackluster. They typically involve a minor penalty or bonus to one player, although they sometimes have global effects. In fairness, it was probably a prudent decision to err on the side of limiting their effect, lest luck have too much of an impact on the outcome of the game. The guild building cards themselves add more flavor and asymmetrical play since, unlike the other buildings, they are unique, but they don’t add any new mechanics, meaning that it’s just as easy to use them when first learning the game, which is something I recommend.

The Monuments expansion adds some new mechanics, but they’re easy enough to learn and aren’t complicated. The monuments themselves are a welcome addition, adding another layer of depth and decision making. Do you focus on keeping your economic engine humming along, erecting new buildings and attracting new adventurers to your village, with more instances of low-scoring moves, or do you devote the necessary resources to completing the high-cost, high-value monuments instead? I’m not sure if well-played games always incorporate completing monuments or if ignoring them to focus on other scoring methods is considered a viable way to play, but for what it’s worth, in a four-player game, only one of us had managed to complete one by the end, and it was a different player who won the game.

The length of the game is just about perfect. You get enough turns to allow you to feel like you were able to accomplish some things, but it’s short enough to create that tense sweet spot where you’re hoping that the game will last just long enough for you to see all of your grand plans come to fruition. In terms of real-time, it feels just about right and avoids overstaying its welcome.

Villages is my gaming group’s and my first experience with the games in the world of Valeria. Based on our experience, I’m eager to explore more of it, and I imagine that they would be willing to come along on the journey.

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.


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.