Tiny Epic Review
Then again, the upside is that Tiny Epic Galaxies is the best thing we’ve seen yet from Gamelyn Games, so maybe we’ll give those oxymorons a pass this once. This once.
One of the problems with many dice games is, well, the dice. It isn’t just that a bad roll can dismantle a turn, though that also makes for rough going. It’s that any game where your actions are determined at random presents you with a series of choices that might not mesh with your plans. In too many cases, the tempo slows to larghetto while the current player studies his freshly-rolled options. When all a player can do is react, forethought becomes wasted thought. Little surprise that some dice games feature three-quarters of the table staring dully into space while they await their turn.
A good dice game, then, gives you plenty of ways to ameliorate the whims of the dice. It puts the control back in your hands.
Tiny Epic Galaxies is one such game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Like every other starfaring civilization that has come before, the goal of your personal starfaring civilization is to research more tech and claim more real estate than your opponents. The main way to do this is by taking part in the multi-step process that is planet colonization. First you’ve got to blast your ships off to a planet, choose to position your ship in orbit rather than taking advantage of the planet’s unique ability, and then spend enough economy or diplomacy to advance along the track until you reach the end. Each of these steps requires its own die result. Upon reaching the end of the track, all other ships are booted off and you lock away that planet’s points — and its abilities.
What infuses this process with a sense of urgency is the fact that everybody can inhabit the same colonization track, racing to hoist their flag over its alien horizon. Since some planets are enormously useful, pushing other ships backward on the colonization tracks, altering dice results, or nabbing free resources, it isn’t uncommon to see two or three players racing for the same choice planet in an attempt to secure it for themselves.
Meanwhile, a functioning star-empire has other needs. Upgraded levels of technology will bestow extra ships, dice, and points, but require gluttonous quantities of resources. Energy and culture don’t come free, and must be earned by positioning ships on the right planets and then applying the proper dice to harvest them.
Speaking of those resources, both are absolutely essential not only for controlling your empire, but also for making Tiny Epic Galaxies hum like a well-tuned Bussard ramjet. The first, energy, is usually spent on rerolls. It’s always possible to burn some dice to choose the result of your choice, but when the possibility of five rerolled dice is a mere pip of energy away, it’s often the sounder option.
But while energy is important, it pales in comparison to the second resource: culture. It might not sound like much, evoking images of pottery, postmodern architecture, and community college productions of Death of a Salesman. If it seems too tame, you could blow a whole lot of it upgrading your empire. However, you’d be better advised to stockpile it for once your turn ends. See, one of the best innovations in Tiny Epic Galaxies is called “following” — and no, I’m not talking about the creepy sort. Rather, this is the system that lets you take any move an opponent makes on their turn, effectively mirroring their selection of dice. And all for the low, low price of one culture-buck.
This alone transforms every single turn into a possible coup, a chance to get ahead. Desperately need to get ahead on a colonization track but haven’t had any luck rolling diplomacy? Well, gather culture instead and spend it on riding the jetwash of somebody else’s good luck. Out of energy and hoping for an upgrade before all your gatherer ships are kicked off a planet? All your vessels have been stranded in spacedock for two rounds? Want to use your mean planetary ability to surprise the active player? Follow.
The one downside to this system is that culture quickly becomes the most valuable resource on the table, players often clustering on any planet that will provide it. Without culture, your empire just might sink. Maybe there’s a metaphor in that.
Tiny Epic Galaxies might not live up to its “epic” moniker, but it certainly makes for a solid (tiny) filler game. Whether it’s the way each empire starts with a hidden objective to pursue, the frantic cries of “follow!” when someone announces the action everybody’s been waiting for, or the frustrating moment when a contested planet is finally colonized by an upstart, there are a lot of little things to like about this one. It isn’t going to revolutionize dice games, but it’s a legitimately enjoyable portable title. A rocket in your pocket.