I have never had a smoother read of a rulebook for a game this complex.
Theme and What is it?
Galactic Era is a game that chronicles the unfolding expansion of several starfaring space races and the inevitable conflict that arises when resources start to dwindle. It is a classic example of the Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate style of game. Fans of games like Twilight Imperium will be right at home in the Galactic Era.
The theme is dripping in the science fiction environment you see in Star Wars, Star Trek, and dozens of other influential franchises. This is most noticeable in the “light”- and “dark”-side restrictions and benefits each race is bound by. Being STO (oriented towards service-to-others) offers great advantages with the indigenous advanced star populations while forcing you to obey the prime directive and leave primitive worlds in peace. But letting your dark-side fly with the STS (service-to-self) will let you conquer and enslave as you wish.
Galactic Era has a lot of very sweet mechanics to talk about. Overall each of the 8 rounds of the game starts with players distributing ships into uniquely powered fleets and flying around the various in game sectors. You will try to position your ships over worlds you aim to colonize, conquer, or ally with. You will also try to gain extra ship building resources by controlling asteroid belts and keep some defense on your own worlds. You also might want to be in the same location as your opponents, even if you are at peace!
After the movement part is done, everyone secretly selects 2 oval growth actions and one square tile. The growth actions include taking new stars into your empire, adding more population to existing locations, building new ships, switching alignment, and researching technology. The research technology growth requires you to pick one of 5 tech tracks with your square tile to go up in the correct one. If you are not doing a technology, you can use your square tile to go up or back in turn order.
The end of the turn offers a chance to trade technology with opponents you are in contact with and then score for the conditions currently up in the Galactic Era you are in.
One of things you always look for right away in a big 4X game is how much of a nightmare the rules are going to be to learn and to master. I was given this game and told that I would have one day to play around with it before being put on a live stream camera to teach and play the whole thing the next day. I have never had a smoother read of a rulebook for a game this complex.
I remember reaching exactly two points where I had a question but they were completely answered by the time I was done. I reached out to the developer about a potential confusion to make sure I had it right and he was very responsive in answering my questions.
Each race has its own unique art both with a light side and a darkside that embodies those alignments. The final artwork in the finished kickstarter will include some I have not seen with the prototype. But what there is to look over so far is extremely satisfying to the gameplay.
The way players interact in the game is easily the best part. I put together this excellent plan where I set myself up to be after the player I wanted to attack in player order and when my opponent positioned his fleets to defend his worlds, I just slipped right past to the ones he couldn’t protect. Then, before he could use his high spirituality to build unblockable reinforcement troops the square turn order shift occurred. So I conquered his worlds before he could block the options. I had backup options for my star attacks but was really happy that things worked out for me.
Like all 4X games, the fun of the end game tension comes from ganging up on leaders and players all making intelligent choices in how they target their aggression so no one has too much of a runaway and that everyone has a chance for the domination objectives to swing things their way.
Age Range & Weight
14+ is a fair rating. While I am SO pleased with a smooth reading and clear rulebook, this is still not a game I would recommend to a casual new board game player. This is for serious strategy players or those with at least one friend able to do that hard work and explain things carefully for the rest of the group. It will take more than one play for everyone to get the hang of everything. Each game after the first is so much better as players start using their technology and board positioning so much better. Galactic Era will take at least 2 hours to play the first time with not much shorter than that for even repeat plays. This combined with how deep the strategy is will make it inaccessible to most younger audiences with a few exceptions that will have a new favorite thing.
Galactic Era is launching on Kickstarter 11/4/2019 and is well worth checking out the campaign. There are a ton of new games hitting the market but the ones that are likely to be the most successful are the ones that offer the range and depth of play that Galactic Era can offer. It brings many basic strategic elements that veteran 4X players will enjoy but adds unique twists that will offer dozens of hours of play just to get to the true mastery point. At that point, each play of Galactic Era will be like an artistic masterpiece being painted in real time on a board.
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