Tiny Epic Galaxies has been a regular visitor on my table for years now, ever since I first came across the original Kickstarter campaign and backed it in 2015. It comes out for another game session regularly at family gatherings, where semi-frequent board game players can pick it up after months away without too much trouble. It fills that role well, with relatively straightforward mechanics, an easy to follow dice-rolling action system, with minimal direct player competition, and an interesting sci-fi exploration theme and art design to wrap it all together.

Tiny Epic Galaxies was designed by Scott Almes at Gamelyn Games, where he has continued to develop his Tiny Epic series niche with small-footprint games that have more complex gameplay than you might expect from its physical size. While I have since backed more Kickstarters in the Tiny Epic series, Tiny Epic Galaxies stands out as the crown jewel.

Tiny Epic Galaxies by Gamelyn Games

All this to say I would highly recommend the game to anyone looking for a relatively easy to learn ruleset in an intriguing sci-fi setting. It’s not all roses however. Most of the annoyances I have with the game stem from the restricting small-footprint, inefficiencies of larger player counts, and the unbalanced solo play. Stick around to hear my reasoning on each, or you can ignore the essay at the end and just focus on the TL;DR directly below!

Happy gaming!

TL;DR

Learning Complexity: ★★☆☆☆
Strategic Complexity: ★★★☆☆
Gameplay Cohesiveness: ★★★★☆
Theme Cohesiveness: ★★★★★

Overall: This game is part of the backbone of a good collection. By bringing cohesive mechanics through straightforward gameplay it is an excellent game to break out for board game night enjoyment time and time again.

What it does best:

Where it could use improvement:

Should I play with the Mini-Expansion Super Weapons?

Recommendations for Smoother Gameplay:

Justification for Critiques

1. Player components often hide key information on cards, and crowd each other out during gameplay due to the small footprint cards they are played on.

This is a complicated issue, as one of the marketing tactics behind the game and the Tiny Epic series is the small footprint of the game itself. Unfortunately this gets in the way of gameplay clarity regularly, and actually blocks moving pieces during games with 3 or more players semi-often. The physical size of wooden components (ships, resource tokens, VP marker) are all good; they are solidly constructed, and easy to handle. However, the size of the components far outstrips the space required for them on planet cards when multiple players attempt to place there (example to the right), and leads to the resource markers and game pieces hiding relevant information on the player (or rogue) galaxy card unless viewed from a high angle (example below).

A planet card with 4 orbiting and 4 landed ships.

Fixing this would sadly require a rework of components themselves, something that is probably unlikely at 8 years since release and alternate Tiny Epic Galaxies (don’t worry, this is still the best one) already having been released.

A Rogue Galaxy Showing Component Pieces Hiding Gameplay Information On The Card.

2. Victory point balancing leaves a lot to be desired.

Planets in Tiny Epic Galaxies give 1 to 7 points depending on the length of their colonization track. A ‘1-track’ planet may give 1 victory point, while a ‘5-track’ planet may give 7 points. The difference in points gained between different planets often leads to sudden surprise endings if players are not actively watching everyone’s totals. Since the game ends as soon as 21 points is hit, and a planet can be worth 7 points, the game can end as soon as a 3rd planet is colonized.

While having variety of points on the planets is needed when some have longer colonization tracks and better active abilities than others, the current point value for long tracks outstrips any value smaller track planets have. In the current iteration, no matter how many 1 or 3 point planets you obtain, you will never be able to hit 21 points faster than someone focusing solely on 7 point planets. While this could be argued as a legitimate gameplay intention, the small track planets do not have useful enough activated abilities to bother exploring them at all, further compounding the crowding issue on 7 point planets described previously.

A secondary issue stemming from this balance issue, is the relative inability of players to focus on their secret objective. Many games suddenly and rapidly end as a player gets their 3rd (or 2nd planet with an upgraded galaxy), and do not allow players to even consider playing for their secret objective; causing its success and failure to mostly be a crap shoot.

This issue would require reprinting, but could be solved simply by assigning planet victory point value to the highest number on it’s colonization track. This would make the current 7 planets worth 5, and the 5 planets worth 3 in most cases. A re-shuffle of active planet abilities to put stronger ones toward lower VP planets is probably also in order, but is a lower priority change in comparison. It is worth noting this would likely extend the average gameplay session, but would drastically improve the overall pacing of the game and (in my experience) would lead to better satisfaction with final results.

3. High player count games get bogged down in follow-actions, leading gameplay time to balloon out of nowhere in the mid- and late-game.

This issue really stems from the use of culture to follow actions in a round. As players progress toward multiple ships, if two or more of their ships are on/orbiting planets that produce Culture, then following the culture action of another player will cost them 1 culture and gain them 2. Colloquially we refer to this as starting the ‘Culture Engine’, and while it can feel good to create the strategy (as you instantly become a powerhouse in the game that can take virtually any number of follow actions you want) it leads to an instant lengthening of game rounds and removes the smoothness of gameplay. This issue is especially apparent with higher player counts, as the more players that build the ‘Engine’ the more actions that are taken each die roll and all of a sudden each turn can take 5x longer than it used to.

Thankfully there’s an easy fix here though, implement a House Rule: Culture actions cannot be followed.

4. Solo play should be avoided unless the Rogue Galaxy AI is reworked.

While I generally appreciate the option for solo play in games, the mechanics present in Tiny Epic Galaxies fall flat. It remains good practice to learn the game yourself, however the AI system used to determine actions is entirely static and uninteresting.

The AI system uses a set number of dice that are rolled one-at-a-time and resolved as they are rolled. This can lead to actions that the AI is forced to ‘ignore’ due to being unable to gain any benefit from them (such as rolling to advance in a colonization track when all ships are in their home galaxy). While ignored actions also can’t be followed by the player, it leads to a weird system of balance where the player may end up playing against an AI that is entirely inefficient and wastes a large number of actions, or facing off against an AI that manages to use actions effectively despite being at the same difficulty rating.

A potential solution would be to have the AI roll all of its dice similar to how the player will, but have the actions resolved in a specific order. For example: If there are ships in the home galaxy, move actions occur before any track advancement dice. Although this would take significant work to set up AI rules for order of actions to try to build a system that uses actions efficiently while giving counter-play options to the player.

Sadly I cannot recommend the solo play variant as printed. Although you may still find some enjoyment and skill-building opportunities from it.

Thanks for sticking around and reading the whole thing!

As always if you have anything you think I missed or misjudged, or even just a memorable moment in a gameplay session, I’d love to hear it.

Silverspire Games Jeff

Jeff, Magus of the Silverspire