I admit it, I love dice games, and I am drawn to ones that offer unique ways to use dice. But, space isn’t a theme that draws me in. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Roll for the Galaxy, but this beautiful game is on its way to being called one of the top games of this year (even if it technically came out in 2014).
Roll for the Galaxy is a dice game about building your space empire. The dice are your workers who help you explore the galaxy, settle worlds, develop new technologies, produce goods and ship goods. The player who best manages their empire and earns the most victory points wins the game.
Set-Up and Components
From the box cover to the world tokens, the artwork and graphic design of Roll for the Galaxy are incredibly stunning. Some of the card stock could be a bit thicker, in my opinion, but more on the quality of the game later in the review.
There are a plethora of components that come with Roll for the Galaxy including 111 custom dice, 5 plastic dice cups in each player color, 5 credit markers, player mats and screens, 5 phase strips, 9 faction tiles, 9 home world tiles, 55 game tiles, a cloth bag for the tiles, 33 victory point chips, and 5 phase tiles.
To set up the game each player is given a dice cup, a credit marker, a player mat (the credit marker is placed on the 1 space), a screen, a phase strip, one random faction tile and one home world tile. Next, place the tiles in front of the mat and the phase strip placed behind the player screen. Then each player draws two game tiles and places them in their construction zone. One will be placed its development side and one on the world side. Each player also gets three Home (white dice) in their cup and 2 Home dice in their citizenry. If the world or faction grants the player dice these are placed as instructed by the tiles.
In the center of the table the phase tiles are placed x-side up, the game tiles placed inside the cloth bag, and the dice and chips set aside to form a common pool.
The game is played over rounds and each round has 5 steps: roll, assign, reveal, phases, and manage empire. Each of these steps are simultaneous and are continued until either all initial VP chips have been earned, or at least one player has 12 or more tile squares in their empire. When these game end condition occurs the round is finished and the players total their Victory Points.
Step 1: Roll
This is a straightforward step as each player simultaneously rolls their dice behind their screen.
Step 2: Assign Dice
After rolling your dice, you assign them to phases by placing them below the matching phase symbol on the phase strip. The * symbol is wild and can be assigned to any phase. Next, each player can select one phase. They do this by placing one worker on any phase on the phase strip. This die does not need to match the selected phase. Players may also reassign workers. Reassigning can be done through the powers of some developments or by using the Dictate action. To dictate, players place one worker to the right of the phase strip, then they can take one worker and assign it to another column. The dictate die will later be returned to the cup.
Step 3: Reveal
When everyone is done assigning their, dice each player lifts their screen to reveal their dice and announce what phase they selected. The selected phase tiles are flipped from the X side to their black side. Put any dice placed under unselected phases, and any dice used to dictate, back in their dice cup.
Step 4: Phases
Players will complete each selected phase simultaneously, in numeric order. Players use all workers assigned to the phase, including the one that selected it. All workers must be used if possible. As workers are used, they are returned to the player’s citizenry. Return any spare workers to the dice cup.
Scout – During the Scout action players can look for a new tiles and place the tiles in their construction zone. They do this by drawing one (or more) tiles from the bag. If players choose to abandon a tile from their construction zone, they may take one more tile.
Players can also choose to stock. Stocking allows a player to gain two galactic credits instead of taking a tile.
Develop – The second phase is “Develop.” Place the development dice on the top-most development. The cost to complete the development is in the diamond in the upper left-hand corner of the tile. Once the number of dice on the development equals this number place the development into your tableau. Place used workers in the citizenry. Any remaining dice are left if there is another tile underneath the one just completed. If there is no tile, the dice are placed into players dice cup. Most developments give the players a power, such as being able to reassign another die or gaining a galactic credit during shipping.
Settle – The third phase, “Settle”, is similar to Develop. Place the settle dice on the top most tile in the construction zone. Once the number of dice on the tile equal the number in the circle, the world is complete. As with develop, any extra dice can be used to complete the next world or returned to the cup if the construction zone is empty. All worlds have immediate effects; they all grant dice, but some also grant galactic credits.
Produce – When a player chooses the fourth phase, “Produce”, they put their dice on any of their non-gray worlds and it becomes a good. Any die can become a product, it does not need to match the world. Matching the world is useful if players want to consume the dice during the ship phase for victory points. Worlds can only hold one good. The “Galactic Reserves” development allows players to have more than one good.
Ship – The last phase, “Ship”, allows a player to ship their goods. Players can choose to either trade for Galactic Credits or consume for victory chips.
When players trade, they receive some Galactic Credits depending on the color of the world. They may receive as little as three for a novelty (blue) good or six for alien technology (yellow).
When players consume, they earn victory point chips. They will always receive one victory point, but may receive more. If the good color matches the world it is on they will get one extra VP. Players earn another VP can if the shipper color matches the good’s world. The purple consumption die matches all colors and will always get one extra victory point. There are even powers that can help a player earn extra victory points.
Step 5: Manage Empire
After all phases are complete players take time to manage their empire. Players first recruit dice from their citizenry into their cup. Players need to play one Galactic Credit for each die. If a player’s credits ever move to zero, their token is shifted back to the “1” at the end of this phase. Players can also recall any developers, settlers or goods back to the cup. Next, reset all the phase tiles to the “X” side.
Players should also check for game end conditions.
The game ends when one player has 12 tiles in their tableau or if all victory point chips are gone. When the game ends, players total up their Victory Point chips, their Victory Points from their developments and worlds, and any bonus victory points for their 6-cost developments. The player with the most Victory Points wins.
After just a few plays of “Roll for the Galaxy” it has become one of my favorite games. The incredible mechanics, luck mitigation, ease of play and artwork combine to make for one fantastic game.
That wasn’t my first reaction when we opened the game and started punching the components. I was a bit disappointed in the thinness of the player mat and the phase strip. They are a thick card stock. After playing with them, I don’t mind this anymore since players don’t handle them during the game. They are the same material as the player screen. I expect the player screen to be thin so it can be flexible. The player screen is very helpful with a player aide on the back. It makes it very clear how to perform each phase in addition to round order. The screen also folds well during game play and lays flat in the box for storage. During the first few games, I was contently using the player screen but now that I only occasionally need to look at it for clarification.
The dice cups are awesome and I like the added touch of the embossed phase symbols. I’m not sure what shape the pawns are, but they are good quality.
The best part of the components are the custom dice. They are nice, and I like the colors they chose. The are a bit plain, but from a distance they are easy to tell apart. The dice are painted, not etched, so I hope they will hold up over time. The symbols are all legible and none of our dice had any defects, which is quite incredible for the amount of dice you get.
The artwork and graphics are beautiful and functional. The artwork helps the galactic feel of the game and every tile is unique. At first all the icons may seem overwhelming to a new player, but playing through one game and using the player screens, the game will come quickly into focus. The iconography also adds to the game, as on the developments and worlds it is easy to read. The developments highlight when to use their powers. As your tableau fills up with different tiles, this helps players remember when to use your power.
As a side note, I also appreciate that all of the game’s components (except for the dice) are made in the USA.
Rule-Book / Rules
The rules are clear and straight forward. They are only eight pages long, including four pages of clarifications and fine points. The back also has a dice face and tile distribution chart. Players who have played “Race for the Galaxy” may appreciate the summary of differences between the two games that is also included in the rules. Learning to play by the rules is easy as they do a nice job of explaining how to play.
The rules, artwork and components combine in Roll for the Galaxy to create a marvelous game. While I mostly play games with two players, the simultaneous play would help the game play well with any player count. There aren’t a lot of games that can go up to five players and still play under forty-five minutes.
At the same time, there isn’t a lot of player interaction or confrontation. Opponents can’t affect your tableau, and player powers only affect the owner of the development. You do need to pay attention to what the other players are doing to help you decide what phases to choose or to know how the other player’s scores compare to yours. What phase players choose does affect the other players.
As I said at the beginning, I love dice games, but dice games don’t always love me. Dice games involve a lot of luck and, sometimes, the dice just don’t roll your way. A great dice game usually has some way to mitigate those poor dice rolls. “Race for the Galaxy” is one of the best at doing this. I thought that not being able to re-roll your dice would make the game challenging. Even without a re-roll, there are many ways that a player can manipulate their dice. Even with the luck of dice rolling, I feel like I have a lot of control over my dice.
Being able to assign any die to a phase to trigger that phase, plus the dictate and reassign powers, allows a player to always be able to play the phase they need even if they don’t roll it. As you build your empire you can also get dice that are more suited to your needs. If you want to do a lot of settling, get the green dice, if you want to produce and ship, get the novelty dice. The Alien Dice have the most wild sides and might be useful when you need to be flexible. There are a lot of meaningful decisions involved with obtaining, choosing, and manipulating dice.
Because the dice have multiple uses, they can be used to settle, used as a good, to ship, and so forth… players have multiple decisions to make each phase. Many players will like that you make your decisions after you roll your dice, not before. There are a lot of branching paths to victory and no game is ever going to be the same as the last.
Players need to balance having resources, credits, and workers. As you play it feels like you are building up an empire. You get more powers and more dice, but you still need to careful with what you need to do to achieve victory. As you play, you choose different worlds and developments. These can help you choose and focus your path.
I also enjoy the asymmetrical start of a different faction and home world for each player. Right away players also start out with different developments and worlds in their construction zone. Everyone’s tableau is unique every game. Your starting worlds can also help you focus your strategy. I found this helpful during my first few plays, and I think other new players will as well.
Bookkeeping can be a concern for players. As you play, you will gain more dice and powers. The graphic design helps here; it highlights when to use your power. Also, planets usually just give dice or galactic credits. Learning how to play optimally will take some time. There is a lot to explore in Roll for the Galaxy.
One negative of the game is that you are on the honor system with your fellow players. You are rolling and manipulating your dice behind a player screen and players may cheat. This isn’t a fault of the game; it is just something one may want to think about when you play.
Roll for the Galaxy offers an excellent balance between elegant mechanics and the luck of dice rolling. The artwork and components are beautiful and add to the game. Playtime is a plus and we usually play more than one game in a session. Roll for the Galaxy is such a well designed game and you can tell a lot of effort and play-testing went into it. It is unexpectedly a very deep game. Race for the Galaxy is quite possibly going to become one of my top ten games.
Designer: Wei-Hwa Huang, Thomas Lehmann
Artist: Martin Haufman, Claus stephan, Mirko Suzuki
Publishers: Rio Grande Games
Game Length: 45 minutes
Ages: 10 and Up
Photo Credits: from www.boardgamegeek.com – W. Eric Martin(W Eric Martin), Andrew Brooks (dotKeller), Steph (punkin312), Steph (punkin312)(4), W. Eric Martin(W Eric Martin), Ibrahim Rodríguez (Hexanauta), Steph (punkin312), Ibrahim Rodríguez (Hexanauta)
Thanks for sharing your great pictures!