Taming the Medicean Stars

Yes, Galileo named them the Medicean Stars in honor of the Medici. Those jerks were showing up everywhere in the Renaissance.

It’s been 413 years since Galileo Galilei gazed into the heavens with his telescope, a homemade object fitted with lenses he’d ground himself and that could only achieve twenty-power magnification, and noted three points of light lingering near Jupiter. Contrary to the stars behind them, these points of light, which were soon joined by a fourth, seemed to be moving in the wrong direction, clustered in a straight line about the planet. Within three months, Galileo published The Starry Messenger. Among a few choice insults flung at the moon (“mountainous,” he called it), the treatise described how other celestial objects possessed satellites of their own. The universe was suddenly a lot bigger and scarier.

In the four centuries since, we’ve dreamed of ways to conquer Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Fortunately, Adrian Hesling’s Galileo Project is all about taking the Galilean satellites down a peg. About time.

Soon they shall be merged... into SUPERMOON

Take that, Galilean satellites!

How will we go about the task of toppling Zeus’s abductees? With the same weapon that killed the cottage industry, taxis, and art itself: automation. Yes, Galileo Project takes a somewhat robotic approach to its quest of stellar conquest. The goal is to most effectively bend Jupiter’s largest four moons to your will. Human hands still make their mark on this endeavor, but they represent more of a first step than a final result.

The stars may be reserved for robots more than human habitation, but any objections are soon tossed out the airlock. What follows is a compelling puzzle that’s one part drafting and two parts juggling. The drafting revolves around three items: human resources, robots, and technologies. Is it telling that the first, humans, serve mostly as a speed bump on the long road of progress? Nearly every other turn requires that players hire somebody, slotting them onto their personal board for endgame bonus points or discarding them out for a one-time bonus, but either way gaining their most important contribution: raw influence. This is the stuff you’ll use to purchase and deploy robots to the Galilean moons, which is where the real meat of the game can be found.

That’s because robots get it done. The game’s first juggling act is found in orbit. Every robot can visit either one or two moons, improving your overall rating there. Each moon awards its own bonuses as more and better robots are deployed there. Io, for example, makes new robots cheaper — cheaper in influence, anyway, as this discount is only applied when you pay another of the game’s currencies — while Europa dishes out energy and Callisto lets you build custom bots. Meanwhile, you’re juggling two dueling forms of influence alongside credits, energy, and eventually bonus techs. It’s a lot to keep in the air all at once.

Rated in descending order of squishiness.

People, robots, and technologies.

Of course, it probably helps that the gravity is so low out here. Like plenty of modern Euros, Galileo Project revels in its interlocking systems, but it isn’t overly dense. There are only three actions, and while on rare occasions one will allow a robot to bounce between moons, potentially triggering the near-equivalent of a free turn, even these moments are suitably bite-sized. Any real complications are derived from the draft. There are plenty of robots to deploy and employees to abuse, with the requisite spreadsheet’s worth of pictographs and slightly differentiated bonuses to consider. Its most interesting tidbit is that robots grow in effectiveness as you deploy more of them. Your first mining robot only doles out a single meager megacredit, but your second produces two and the third awards three. The same goes for the others, from the robot that improves the performance of its fellow bots to the one that apparently mimics human behavior so well that it obsoletes them altogether. It isn’t long before you’re presented with that age-old question: specialize or generalize?

This all feels good. The drafting hits the right notes. There are plenty of optimal — and, as it goes, sub-optimal — picks to fiddle over. The currencies are nicely differentiated. Influence is freely gained but sometimes pricey to rejigger, while megacredits are cheap until your account bottoms out. Energy tends to be sparse, but there are ways around that if you’re willing to spend some time bouncing robots in and out of Europa’s orbit — not the easiest choice when turns are at a premium. The whole thing has a nice polish to it.

At the same time, it suffers from the same compartmentalization that’s so trendy right now. There’s always the risk of somebody claiming something you wanted, but apart from the occasional absence in the drafting pool you might as well be operating in separate galaxies. There’s nothing wrong with some multiplayer solitaire. It’s a pleasure of its own to create something in tandem, to compare creations rather than to set them in direct opposition. At the same time, the best games of this stripe let us bask in our creations. A landscape; a beachfront; a space station. Places one might visit, or at least daydream about. In Galileo Project, there’s scarcely anything to look at. A few duplicate robots, one or two employees tucked out of sight, and positions on those satellite tracks. It’s all so bare. The result is a game that prioritizes out-deciphering a system over outplaying one’s opponents, but then doesn’t offer much reward for cracking the system. It’s as sterile as its robots.

clack clack clack

The chips are unnecessarily nice, but clack clack clack.

The outcome is decidedly mixed. Galileo Project gets many things right, especially when it comes to the textures and sharp edges of its card drafting. Every pick feels like you’re passing up something valuable, and there’s some real pressure to purchase newer employees or robots at a premium. For a game that sets its sights on Jupiter’s moons, however, it doesn’t demand repeat visits. That’s how it tames the Galilean satellites at last: by reducing them to clumps of ice and dirt.


(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

A complimentary copy was provided.

Posted on May 16, 2023, in Board Game and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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