Sunday, December 19, 2010

Galaxy's Edge - Epic Interstellar Conquest In About An Hour

 After playing the amazingly fun "Conquest of the Fallen Lands", I started looking into the publisher, Assa Games, to see what they're all about. It turns out that it is essentially a two-man show, and they had produced a second game after Fallen Lands. This second game is called "Galaxy's Edge", and while at first glance it appears to be a rethemed Fallen Lands, it absolutely is nothing like the other game aside from using a variable, hex-based playfield. This game is about mercilessly conquering the galaxy while appeasing your new alien allies, and it's a nasty snatchfest of stealing colonies from your opponents pretty much the whole game through.

The concept of this game is that you represent a faction that is intent upon taking over the entire galaxy through colonization, military expansion, treachery, and diplomacy. There are five alien races which inhabit this galaxy, and the player who has colonies in the most sectors of each alien type gets the benefit of the alien's ability at the end of the game. The abilities are generally tied to how many of a specific type of installation you've got, either colonies or military bases, and you get a windfall of points by meeting the power's criteria. The end of the game has each player counting points based on the alien powers and tallying the value of the players' owned colonies, with the winner being the person with the most points. It's a little bit mathy, but if you base your understanding of the scoring on the theory written in the rules, it seems quite daunting, yet in practice it's actually quite intuitive and very simple.

Upon looking at the box, you'll find cartoonish characters and illustrations which are quite nice and carry the theme very well. The interesting thing about the art direction is that while the characters and cards all have a very cartoonish feel, the art on the gameboard tiles is noticeably very non-cartoonish. They art and fonts are superb and add a tremendous value to the game's overall look. The included rules are very, very short and completely understandable, with many illustrations that will help you easily get into the game and help you to score it at the end.

The components are top-notch, although the die cutting on the system tiles wasn't the best, with a lot of little hanging chads that you'll have to tear or trim off. Included are hundreds of high-quality wooden bits in four colored sets, a bunch of special event cards, and as mentioned, 30 hexagonal sector tiles in six sets of five types which represent the galaxy itself and the alien races which control those sectors.

I will note that the flagships and ban tokens are huge when compared to the actual tiles they'll be sitting on, making them quite easy to see from any seat at the table...or across the room, for that matter. The last bits in the box are five alien power cards which are used to help you understand what benefits are gained by having the majority control of any given type of alien sectors, which is a key ingredient to scoring well and winning the game.

Setup takes about 4 minutes, provided you've bagged up your tokens by color. First, you randomly lay the tiles down in a rough hexagon shape, with the two center stripes being six tiles long and the rest tapering off down to four. Next, you shuffle the event deck and hand two cards to each player. Randomly choose a first player, and in turn simply pick a sector on the periphery of the board and place your flagship there. You're now ready to begin your imperial onslaught of the galaxy.

Turns amount to moving your flagship to an adjacent tile, building an installation, and rolling the event die if you built something. While this seems pretty easy, it's a little more complex than you'd expect at first glance. To build an installation, you must either have your flagship on a sector, or you must have any one of your installations in a sector adjacent to the one you wish to build in. Building a colony is quite simple, really, as you simply place a circular colony marker within an empty circular "system" space of your choice in that sector. This will, at the end of the game, score you the value of the system you built on, should you be lucky enough to keep that colony.

Military bases may also be built in a similar way, but these are represented by triangular bits, and you may stack these either one, two, or three triangles high to represent their base class. The class of the base only matters when checking for military superiority, which happens when the last open system in a sector is taken, thereby closing out that tile. Even if a colony was the last installation built, you must still check the military superiority status, and sometimes you will be stuck losing a valuable colony even though you've just placed the last installation in that sector. In other words, planning is crucial.

Checking for military superiority was one of the more confusing things in the rulebook, but it is immediately made clear when you play the game. Essentially, you must look to all adjacent sectors and see if any opponent has a class one base on any system to determine if you have superiority. If any other player has one, you then check for class two bases, then class three bases. If you are the only person to have a base of the class you're currently checking, you gain superiority and may therefore take the most valuable enemy colony in the sector you just closed out.

The key to gaining superiority really stems from placing military bases of varying values in key locations so that you always have one of each type in a group of sectors with valuable enemy held colonies, ensuring that even if there are several players' class one bases that you can have a higher class base available to take over colonies. The down side to being a war monger is that military bases have no value related to scoring, so placing a base on a nine point system is a very bad move.

Once you've built something, you must roll the specialty D6 known as the event die. Some faces allow you to play a card from your hand or draw a card from the deck, provided any cards remain, and other faces cause you to place a "ban" token on the sector you just built an installation in, thereby stopping any installations from being built on that location. Each player has one ban token of their color, and these will always end up in play, moving about the board regularly and stopping yourself and others from carrying out construction projects. These are a real pain in the ass to deal with, and you've got a high probability that your ban or another players ban will be placed on the tile you just built something on, meaning it's few and far between that you can develop any one tile very quickly. The other pain in the ass about the ban tokens are that they're huge, and take up a significant portion of the tile they're standing on.

Now as I mentioned, you can play cards if the die allows you to, and these cards have a wide variety of functions. Some allow you to move your flagship anywhere on the board that you wish instead of the usual one sector movement you're normally allowed, where others allow you to colonize tiles for free. Some cards allow you to place a colony token on an alien power card, which adds one point to your count of colonized alien sectors, thereby increasing your chances of gaining that power at the end of the game during scoring. Playing cards at the right time are absolutely crucial to winning the game, and are not an afterthought in any way as in some area control games I've played.

The end of the game comes when either all systems have had installations built upon them or when each player has taken a consecutive turn without building anything. In my experience, we've never had the latter come to fruition, and the game has always ended with the total enslaving of the galaxy. Scoring, as I noted, looks daunting on paper but is actually very easy, provided you follow the step-by-step scoring guide on the back flap of the rulebook.

First, you determine which players have earned the powers granted by the alien species by counting how many sectors of each type you have at least one colony on. Again, military bases do not count towards achieving this goal. The players who have control will take the cards and tally up their scores based only on the alien powers. Some alien powers are based upon having the most, or least, military presence in the galaxy, and others are based upon such things as one point colonies. Once everyone has scored their windfalls, you simply add the values of all of your colonies to that number and that is your final score. The player with the most points wins and is crowned God-Emperor of the Known Universe, or at least that's what we called the winner.

The long and short of the game is that it looks very simple but is deceivingly complex in strategic options, and is a hell of a lot of fun. Everyone at the table rated this game a consistent seven or eight, and I went a step further by rating it an eight-and-a-half. For the record, this is my blog and therefore my opinion is the only one that counts, so that's how I rated it, and I highly recommend this game to anyone who appreciates space themed games or area control games. It's brilliant, and I wish I'd have played this sooner.

Why The Galaxy's Edge Is Where It's At:
- Strong theme and nice art make this fun to play and explore
- Complex strategic options make this a thinking person's game
- High quality components really make this a great value
- The tile-based board gives a tremendous amount of replayability
- Great, short rulebook that allows you to learn and play this game in ten minutes or less

Why This Isn't Nearly As Cool As U2's The Edge:
- The bans and flagships are WAY too big and should be replaced with better components upon purchase

This, simply, is one of the best area control wargames that I've ever played. It's a total blast, and any game that can be played from front to back in about an hour while not being overly simple is a real catch. I highly recommend this one, as did all of the players I've played with to date.

4.25/5 Stars

Learn more about this badass game at:

Note that the picture above with the three folks playing is actually a photo taken by "Howitzer" on Boardgamegeek of the one and only Matt Drake, of Drake's Flames fame. If it's good enough for both Matt and myself, it's got to be a winner.

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