Friday, August 24, 2007

A Rules Preview of Galactic Emperor

Last week I wrote a preview of 1960: The Making of the President based on the rules that are now available for download. This week I saw that the rules for Galactic Emperor were available for download, and I saw the opportunity to do a series.

I like empire-building games, and within the past month I tried my first game of Twilight Imperium 3rd edition which seems to be the reigning monarch of galactic conquest games. But based on the rules, I’d say that Galactic Emperor has a shot at getting into the galactic throne room, if not actually deposing the king.

Like Twilight Imperium, Galactic Emperor uses a choose-a-role mechanic that seems borrowed from Puerto Rico or Citadels. Unlike Twilight Imperium, Galactic Emperor streamlines every aspect of the game so that most of the eleven pages of rules are taken up by descriptions of the roles players can choose. Everything in the game that players do is related to these roles.

The basics of Galactic Emperor will be familiar to anyone who has played an exploration-based space game. Players start with a home planet and a single space ship. Ships move out into the galaxy to find new worlds (when the explorer role is chosen) and to claim them (when the Marine role is chosen). These new worlds yield food, metal, and energy resources (when the industrialist role is chosen) which can be converted into new technologies (when the scientist role is chosen) and new space fleets (when the engineer role is chosen). Resources can also be bought and sold (when the merchant role is chosen). Eventually, players will come into conflict when they use their political influence to claim worlds (when the politician role is chosen) or when opposing space fleets meet (the Marine role once again). Roles that are unclaimed during a turn get a spacebuck placed on them to make them more appealing in future turns (another steal from Puerto Rico).

There is nothing particularly innovative here, but designer Adam West makes the details of some of these roles interesting. For example, at the beginning of the game, a number of space tiles are turned face-up. These tiles fit in the gameboard hexes and feature suns, planets, or empty space on them. When someone chooses the explorer role, each player can choose one of these tiles and place it on the board in a location where he has a spaceship. After the other players have each chosen a tile, the player who picked the explorer role gets to place all the remaining tiles, and he has the ability to place them on top of empty space tiles that are already on the board. Because one tile is turned up every turn and added to the supply, the number of tiles that will be controlled by the player who next chooses the explorer role will grow.

The player who chooses the merchant role gets to roll four dice. He then discards one die of his choice, and assigns the lowest remaining number to food, the next highest number to metal, and the highest number to energy. Players then can buy or sell these resources based on the dice-price. This mechanism gives some control over prices to the merchant player, but players will always know that energy will the highest priced commodity in the game.

There is some goofiness and ambiguity in the rules. When a black hole tile appears, the scientist role is eliminated from the game. I assume this means that players must grab technologies early in the game or risk not getting them at all. But I could not tell from the rules if technology cards give players an on-going special ability or are a one-time shot. Perhaps this information is on the technology cards themselves.

The biggest virtues of Galactic Emperor seem to be simplicity and a short-playing time. Presumably, the price of the game will also be less than that of Twilight Imperium or other orgies of plastic.

I get the impression from reading the BGG postings that Galactic Emperor is getting close to the end of its playtesting cycle. But I have no idea if that means anyone will be publishing it anytime soon.

I certainly am not going to proclaim that Galactic Emperor is a success just from reading the rules. But it does look promising, and it will probably have a playing time considerably shorter than a lot of empire-building games. I hope it is eventually published. You can download the rules yourself from Boardgamegeek.


huzonfirst said...

Nice preview, Kris. I also downloaded the rules and agree with your comments. At first glance, GE looks like a Puerto Rico clone set in space (several of the roles match quite closely with PR roles), but if you look deeper, you'll find many discrepancies. I expect the two games will play quite differently. Like you, I hope this game winds up getting published.

We may be seeing a trend. There's another homegrown game listed on the Geek (I forget its name) which is basically Carcassonne with a space exploration theme. Hey, if the Europeans won't do sci-fi, I guess it's up to us gamers to do it!

Chris Trimmer said...

I see two knocks against the game - its simplicity and short playing time!