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Roll For the Galaxy

Reviewed by: Eric Brosius

(Rio Grande Games, 2-5 players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; $59.95)

Roll for the Galaxy is a game about space exploration, expansion and economic activity and is designed by Wei-Hwa Huang and Tom Lehmann. This game clearly draws its inspiration, and even some of its artwork, from Tom’s earlier game Race for the Galaxy (featured in the Winter 2008 Gamers Alliance Report). On the other hand, though it is a bit easier to teach than the older game, it is by no means simplistic or luck-driven. In fact, good play requires just as much care and attention as in Race for the Galaxy.

rollforgalaxy1As the name suggests, Roll for the Galaxy includes dice: 111 custom dice in seven colors that represent workers to which various tasks can be assigned: exploring, building, producing and shipping. Each die face represents a possible task for that worker and each color has different faces (for example, each purple consumption die has three shipping faces.)

The game also includes a large cloth bag with 55 double-sided tiles. Each has a development on one side and a world on the other. Dice used for exploring can scout for new tiles to be put into the player’s Construction Zone, where they may later be built. Dice used for building can be used to build new developments or worlds (there are different die faces for developing and settling) that are added to the players’ empires. Developments give powers that improve the operation of a player’s empire, while worlds provide new dice (i.e., workers.) Goods can be produced on most of the worlds using dice assigned to production, and these goods can be consumed for victory points or traded for money using dice assigned to shipping. You need money to pay workers; those that have done work must be paid before they do any more.

You roll your dice at the start of every turn (except any that were not paid). Unlike many dice games, Roll for the Galaxy has no re-roll mechanism though there are limited “reassign” powers that let you assign workers to phases other than the ones you rolled. You use one worker each turn to select a phase that you want to make sure will occur: Explore, Develop, Settle, Produce or Ship. This is done simultaneously and secretly behind the player screens included with the game. Players then reveal their phase selections and worker assignments. Each phase that was selected by at least one player occurs, and any other phases do not happen. There is no direct “take that” mechanism in the game but you must think carefully about what your opponents may do and you can try to cross them up by making different choices than they were expecting.

1280(2)The game has five large tiles that can be turned up to indicate which phases were chosen. Once this is done, you play in order through each phase that was selected. At the end of the turn you pay your workers and reset the phase tiles. You then check whether the game is over, either because one player’s empire has 12 or more tiles or because the supply of victory points is used up. If it is, you count up the victory points for consumption and for tiles in your empire (including extra points for special 6-cost developments.) Otherwise, go on to the next turn.

In some ways, Roll for the Galaxy has a cleaner design than its predecessor. Many people had trouble understanding the icons in Race for the Galaxy. In Roll for the Galaxy, an explanation in words is included on every tile. Also, the worlds generally provide additional dice, which you add to your empire when you build them, rather than ongoing powers. And all worlds are settled in the same way, using a process that is identical to the process used to build developments. The dice contribute to this simplicity because the choices you make about which worlds to settle determine what dice you get and thus the die faces that are available to you, freeing you from the need to remember this information. (This reminds me of how the different colors of dice in 1775: Rebellion – which I reviewed in the Fall 2013 GA Report – encode information about the combat powers of the different factions.) I have already played more than 50 games of Roll for the Galaxy and, although I still prefer Race for the Galaxy at this point, my wife is far more comfortable with Roll for the Galaxy because she finds it a little easier to follow. We have been playing it a lot as a 2-player game.

The components of Roll for the Galaxy are functional and appealing. We have played dozens of times with my copy and it shows no signs of wear. The dice are clear and attractive. They even have shading differences on the production faces so color-blind players can distinguish the colors of dice more easily. The game also includes five colored dice cups you can use to roll your dice; this may not have been strictly needed, but it makes it a lot easier to roll them and adds a cheerful note of color. The phase tiles, player screens, and other items are well thought out. And the components fit neatly in the box, something that makes me smile every time I put the game away.

When one of my favorite games is redeveloped, I wonder whether the result will be worth playing. I have been surprised by how much I enjoy Roll for the Galaxy. Wei-Hwa and Tom have designed a game that stands on its own, even though it inherits concepts and flavor from its ancestor. I have taught it successfully to many people, and have often wound up playing it several times in quick succession. Like most of my favorite games, it does a good job combining luck and skill—better decisions won’t always win for you, but they will improve your record. It’s a game that has wide appeal. I recommend it for those who enjoy Race for the Galaxy, for those who have never tried it, and even for those who wanted to like it but found it a little too complicated.


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