Staff Pick: Tiny Epic Galaxies

Space! It's very large. There are a staggering number of planets, nebulae, and stars floating out there in the cosmic foam. 275 million stars die each day and you would never notice if you weren't looking for them; just chew on that for a moment. The observable universe is so large, in fact, that if you packed up your Saturn V rocket (everyone has one in the garage, right?) and blasted off from the edge, traveling at a brisk 11.18 miles per second (or 40,000 mph), it would still take you 1.364 x 10^19 hours, or 1,561,745,800,000,000 years, to reach the other end. That's one and a half quadrillion years, assuming space doesn't keep expanding (it probably will). You'd better pack some snacks.

Lucky for all you starry-eyed explorers out there, Scott Almes has provided a way to travel the cosmos that's far more manageable in size and far less likely to end in your death. It's small enough to fit in a coat pocket or a purse. You could bring it to a bar or a restaurant. You can call it small. You might even call it... tiny.

TINY EPIC GALAXIES

1-5 players

30 minutes

Some mood music for this review:

Tiny Epic Galaxies is the latest in Almes' Tiny Epic line of games. The idea of the Tiny Epic series is a bit self-explanatory:

  1. The game boxes are small. 
  2. Their contents are "big".

By big, I don't mean it's a small box stuffed with the extra large meeples from Carcassonne, as funny as that would be. Instead, I mean that the games are large in scope. Tiny Epic Galaxies aspires to be Roll for the Galaxy in a box that's one tenth the size. Does it live up to those lofty goals? Can it really deliver a deep strategy experience in a box so small that Uwe Rosenberg would go fetal at the sight? Could it solve the age old problem of "gamer back" (pain caused by lugging around a copy of your typical Euro) and still have depth?

After a few multiplayer games and a spectacular amount of solo play, I would say yes. Tiny is the new big, baby.

At its heart, TEG is a die-rolling, resource-collecting, civilization-building hybrid. Each player is given a play-mat with four adorable little rocket ships, power and culture tokens, and a civilization marker. The game also comes with seven custom six-sided dice and a stack of planet or "colony" cards, which are laid out according to player count. (Special note - the box top is a dice tray and the bottom is a reference sheet. Brilliant use of limited space.) Each turn, the active player rolls a number of the dice corresponding to their civilization level; these dice are your available actions for the round. There are four main types of actions: move a ship, collect resources, advance an orbit, and colony actions. Each planet has a resource (either culture or power), an orbit track (diplomacy or economic), a colony power, and a victory point value. 

Colonizing a planet requires a bit of work: you must first move your ship to the planet's orbit and use your dice to move along the track. Depending on the value of the planet's power and VPs, the track's length will vary. Once you reach the last spot on the track, you gain the planet and all other ships on that planet are sent back to their home galaxy. From now on, you can use the colony die to activate the planet's unique power, which can range from free moves or resources to directly affecting your opponent's pieces. Collect enough planets and upgrade your civilization and you'll have no problem reaching the 21 VPs you need for victory. 

If this all sounds a bit "multiplayer solitaire", rest easy: there are plenty of opportunities for player interaction. Spending culture points allows you to "follow" or repeat another player's action on their turn. There's no limit to how many players can follow a single player's action or how many actions can be followed, so turns can become a full group affair. The following mechanic makes action selection tricky; if an opponent can follow you, they might be able to beat you to the end of a colony track or use a colony action to set you back. You have to be smart and consider the positions of those around you to make the most of your turn. I really love this mechanic; it gives players an incentive to pay attention on their turn, reducing downtime and increasing engagement, which helps against the "Oh, it's my turn?" effect.

The solitaire mode deserves a mention, as well. On the back of each galaxy playmat is a "rogue galaxy" with difficulties ranging from beginner to epic. These function as a crude but effective AI, giving you something to play against; gameplay is otherwise the same. Personally, I think they made the first half of the rogue galaxies too easy, but playing with the higher level galaxies provides a very satisfying solo experience that can keep you busy for hours at a time.

The sum of all these parts is a sneakily subversive game: small enough to travel with but deep enough to push it past "filler" status, which is typically the ceiling for most small box games. I think there's something interesting at play here: the changing economy of game size. When it comes to box size, most people assume bigger is better. If it's bigger, it contains more components, boards, and rules; basically, more content, more fun. Bigger boxes also mean more shelf presence, something publishers crave. Just one look at Twilight Imperium's coffin-sized box tells you it's important. This has been a rule for a very long time, so much so that it's common to find game boxes that are 70% unused space (I'm looking at you, Fantasy Flight). In a world where everything seems to be growing more portable, games haven't followed suit. By scaling down with the Tiny Epic series, Gamelyn Games are turning an age-old industry standard on its head and proving that smaller doesn't have to mean less. For the sake of my poor gamer back, I hope it catches on.

- Charlie, Tiny Epic Writer