The ever-prolific Scott Almes is back with another Tiny Epic game: an expansion to Tiny Epic Galaxies. Hire pilots with unique skills, and explore even further into the unknown depths of space!
At a glance: Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black is an expansion to Tiny Epic Galaxies, so you must have the base set to play. It is for 1 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 30–60 minutes to play, depending on number of players. It just launched today on Kickstarter, with a pledge of $24 for the expansion. (In case you don’t have the base game, you can order one now from Gamelyn Games or Amazon, or bundle it with the expansion for $46.) And if you’re a big spender, for $300 you’ll get to name one of the planets! I think the 14+ age recommendation is a little higher than necessary—my 9-year-old played (and won!)—because there isn’t anything inappropriate for younger players, other than perhaps the gameplay complexity. The expansion does add a lot more decision-making, though, so be warned.
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Note: my review is based on a prototype, so it does not reflect final quality, and the wooden bits were substitutes. Most of the art and design looks to be final, though. My prototype included some pilots and planets that are probably stretch goals, so you may see things pictured here that aren’t necessarily included right from the start.
One of the hallmark features of the Tiny Epic series is that these games come in small boxes: they manage to pack a lot of gameplay into a small package, and I love it. Here’s what comes in the box:
- 20 Advanced Ships (4 each in 5 colors)
- 27 Exploration cards
- 1 Exploration mat
- 20 Pilot cards
- 5 Hangar cards
- 8 Planet cards
- 8 Secret Mission cards
Since this is an expansion and the cards need to match the base game, Gamelyn Games has already included many component quality upgrades that were stretch goals in the original campaign, including the box thickness, better cardstock and rounded corners on the cards, and interior printing in the box. Potential stretch goals may add more pilots and planets as well.
A bit about the components: there are 4 new ship shapes, and each player will get a set of them, along with a hangar card to store them on. The Exploration cards are round, so they stand out from the rest of the game—they’re fun, but I’ve always found round cards a little tricky to shuffle. The Pilot cards have some nice artwork on them, with various human and alien races depicted; each one has a name, an ability, and the ships that the pilot is trained to fly. I do like the way that the names are tied to the abilities: the Bandit steals energy from other players; the Matriarch is able to colonize more quickly with Diplomacy. In terms of diversity, I do still feel that white humans seem to be overrepresented among the pilots, but there is at least a mix of men and women of different races and several alien races.
The new planet and secret mission cards add new abilities that are often linked to the pilots and the new exploration portion of the game. Also, there are planets that award both types of resources (energy and culture) rather than just one or the other.
All of the expansion cards that get mixed in have a little symbol at the top left corner, making them easy to identify so you can remove them when you want to play just the base game.
In addition, the Kickstarter version will include some bonus content that will not be available in the eventual retail edition:
- 20 Drone tokens for Drones mini-expansion
- 4 Elite Pilot cards (including Tim Schafer and Andy Weir)
- 1 box sleeve
My prototype didn’t include the Drones mini-expansion so I won’t be able to comment on that. The bonus pilot cards are a nod to TableTop Season 4, in which Tim Schafer (of Double Fine) and Andy Weir (author of The Martian) face off against each other in Tiny Epic Galaxies. The box sleeve is a simple cardboard sleeve that holds the two game boxes (base set and expansion) together.
How to Play
I did explain the base game in my original review, so I won’t go into details here, but the basic idea of Tiny Epic Galaxies is to score the most points by upgrading your empire and colonizing planets. The game is played until a player reaches 21 points, at which point you finish the round, and then the game ends. Each player also has a secret mission that is worth additional points at the end of the game if accomplished.
Here’s the gist: Each turn, the active player rolls dice, and then uses those dice to move ships around, gain resources (energy or culture), colonize planets (using diplomacy or economy), and using colony actions. Energy can be spent to reroll dice on your turn (beyond your free reroll). Culture can be spent during somebody else’s turn to “follow”—that is, copy an action they just played with a die. And as you upgrade your empire, you’ll get to roll more dice and have more ships—plus, your empire is worth more points.
Beyond the Black mixes in some new planets and secret missions, but those are mostly self-explanatory and just broaden the variety of abilities and options. Where the game really changes things up is with the pilots and exploration, which provide both new abilities and opportunities to score points.
The setup is the same, with these additional steps: give everyone a hangar card and the four advanced ships of their color. In the center of the table, deal out a row of pilot cards near the planet cards (the same number). Place the exploration mat nearby, with the exploration cards on the mat.
You may now use dice to hire pilots for your four advanced ships. Each pilot card shows which ships it is trained to fly, and each ship has a particular hiring cost—2 identical dice of a specific type. Pay the cost, and then assign the pilot to that ship. Or, you may pay 3 identical dice of any type to hire a pilot to fly a ship that it is not trained to fly. Either way, when you hire the pilot, replace one of your regular ships with the advanced ship. (And, of course, you may only have as many advanced ships in play as your empire level allows.)
Each pilot has a special ability that affects the ship it is flying. For instance, the Bandit allows you to steal 1 energy from each player on a planet when you land there. The Matriarch lets you advance 2 spaces instead of 1 on a colony track when using diplomacy (but only once per turn, on your turn only).
Each pilot is worth 1 point at the end of the game, and also has some “badges” at the bottom, which I’ll explain later. You may hire pilots to replace existing pilots—they just stack on top, and you get the new ability instead of the old (but you still get to keep the old ones for points and badges).
When you move ships, you may now move to the exploration mat, which represents unexplored space. It adds a little press-your-luck to the game. When you move to the mat, you get to explore: if there are any exploration cards face-up next to the mat (there can be up to 3), you may pick one of those or take whatever is on the top of the deck. Or, if there are fewer than three face-up, you could flip the top card over. Some cards are green, and some are red. If it’s green, you can keep flipping and taking your chances until there are 3 on the table, in which case you must take the one you just flipped or the top of the deck. If it’s red, you have to take it.
Once you’ve taken an exploration card (green or red), your exploration stops. Green cards are things like dwarf planets, derelict spaces stations, and alien transmissions. They award you with bonuses—some are worth points, and some let you claim some resources.
Red cards have penalties—you may lose resources, give resources to another player, or even get stuck in a black hole or asteroid field, in which case your ship is on a short track (like a colony track) that you must complete before you get your ship back and can claim the card.
Both red and green cards include badges, like the ones on the pilot cards.
The game end is triggered when somebody has 21 points showing (as before), or when the exploration deck is empty. Finish the round so all players have had the same number of turns. Then, add points for secret missions and badges collected.
There are four different badges: whoever has the most of a badge scores 2 points, and whoever has second most scores 1 point. (Ties for first place: both players score 1 point, nobody scores for second. Ties for second place but not first: tied players score 1 point each.)
Highest score wins.
Tiny Epic Galaxies is an excellent game, and I stand by my original review. (The final game did have a few gameplay changes from the prototype, but nothing that really affects my verdict.) The final version looks great, and it’s a nice mix of luck and strategy, and offers you opportunities to play both offensively and defensively.
Beyond the Black adds some very cool mechanics, and I love the special abilities that pilots give you. In the base game, the planets have abilities, but anyone can use them until a planet is colonized. For the pilots, you can’t use the abilities until you hire the pilot, and then it is yours alone. Since each pilot is tied to a particular ship, it also adds a choice about which ship to move whenever you want to move somewhere, because certain pilots will have bonuses in particular locations.
The press-your-luck element in the exploration is great, too. Since there’s a limit to 3 face-up cards, it doesn’t add too much time to a turn when you explore, because you can only press for so long before you have to stop. However, I do like the way that exploring can get you bonus resources and points, even when you run into danger. (And there’s even a secret mission, “Invincible,” that gives you bonus points if you have the most danger cards at the end of the game.)
A lot of the new secret missions and planets have abilities that are tied to pilots and exploration, so you can get some interesting synergies depending on which cards come up.
The biggest thing that the expansion adds, though, is additional opportunities to score points. While it wasn’t really a complaint, I mentioned in my review of the base game that Tiny Epic Galaxies doesn’t offer as many different avenues to victory: you get points for upgrading your empire, colonizing planets, and your secret mission (which is usually not that many points). There’s only so much you can do, and you’re competing with other players for mostly the same things. In Beyond the Black, you can score points by hiring pilots, by getting the right cards when exploring, and in badge bonuses. While those are each very small bonuses, they can add up to a lot—plus the pilots give you some powerful abilities if you use them properly.
The expansion does add a little bit to the game length, but not that much, and once people are familiar with the rules I think the game will play in about the same time as the original. However, adding players increases the game length. The base set’s time estimate is “30 minutes,” but I think that doesn’t take into account playing with 5 players. The more players you have, the longer the game will take, not only because you are adding people who will need to make decisions about actions, but you are also increasing the number of players who can follow each of those actions. Since the game goes to 21 points no matter how many players there are, it takes roughly the same number of rounds per game—and more players means longer rounds. That’s not necessarily a reason to avoid the game: it is, after all, an “epic” game and it’s meant to offer some depth. But if you break it out with 5 players expecting a half-hour game, you’ll probably be mistaken. I also recommend some familiarity with the base game before introducing the expansion, simply because teaching the game and expansion all at once is a lot of rules to process and may be a little overwhelming.
I continue to be impressed by the Tiny Epic series, and Beyond the Black is a worthy addition to the line-up. And I am still constantly amazed by Scott Almes—it seems he always has a new game coming from somewhere. Island Hopper just finished its campaign this week in time for Beyond the Black to launch, and I have a prototype of another game, Problem Picnic, to be launched at the end of this month. And in October we’ll see Tiny Epic Quest as well.
To sum up: if you like Tiny Epic Galaxies, you’ll probably be sold on Beyond the Black anyway. If you like sci-fi exploration themes and rolling dice, Tiny Epic Galaxies is definitely worth your while. The Kickstarter campaign is definitely the best price for the set, and if you back the game on Kickstarter you’ll see that the Tiny Epic community isn’t tiny at all: over 12,000 backers funded Tiny Epic Galaxies, many of them repeat backers from other Gamelyn Games projects. Gamelyn Games has a good track record of producing and delivering their games, so you can back with confidence.
For more information, visit the Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black Kickstarter page.