Long awaited, but now it’s finally here. Roll for the Galaxy from Tom Lehman, Wei-Hwa Huang and Rio Grande Games. It’s, kind of, the dice version of Race for the Galaxy, a game I really, really like. You settle planets, improve your technologies and harvest the goods you’ll find on distant worlds. All this is possible because you’ve rolled your cup with multicoloured dice, lots of them. Is this going to be another winner?
What do you get for your money?
You get 5 dice cups, 5 credit meeples, 5 player mats, 5 player screens, 5 phase strips, 9 faction tiles , 9 home world tiles, 55 double-sided game tiles, 5 phase tiles, 111 custom dice , 1 cloth bag , 33 victory point chips and the rules.
How do you play the game?
In Roll for the Galaxy you try to develop technologies and colonize planets. When colonized, these planets can give you goods and goods give you points. When there are no more points to take from the supply or one or more players have built their twelfth planet or technology tile the game ends. The player with the most points from planets, technologies and shipping goods wins the game.
Sounds familiar? Yes, this game has very similar ideas as Race for the Galaxy, a game I love, however it uses dice instead of cards. Dice in different colours and with different symbols. These symbols represent the different phases of the game: explore, develop, settle, produce, ship and there’s also a wild-card symbol.
You start the game with a home world that gives you, in addition to some basic white dice, some dice in other colours and a power.
Everybody rolls their dice behind their player screens. You then choose one phase by placing one die, regardless of the result, on your phase strip. That’s the phase you choose and only the phases that players choose are active during the round. You then place every other die beneath the phase that the side of the die shows. You can change the outcome, at the start only one time, by placing, dictating, one die on the side of your board. You can reassign one other die another phase.
After everybody is done all players remove their screen and you check which phases are activated. The dice that are placed beneath phases that aren’t activated and the die or dice that you’ve sacrificed are put back into your cup. The rest you can use during the different phases.
In the Explore phase you can use your explore dice to gain two credits or to draw another tile from the bag. Every tile has a planet side and a development side. You draw one, choose which side you want to build and place it beneath the corresponding planet or development stack on you player board.
In the Development phase you can use your dice to develop. You do that by placing them onto the development tile on top of your stack. Every tile has a value and when there are just as much dice on the tile as its value, then you’ve completed the development and must place it in front of you. The dice used to develop that tile go back into your citizenry and the tile is now activated and might give you an extra die, a power and some points at the end the game.
The Settle phase works exactly the same, but then you place dice on planets.
The Produce phase is the phase where you place your production dice on coloured planets that you’ve already build. It does matter which die you place where, because during the Ship phase you can consume goods for points. With your ship die you may ship one good from a planet. You always get one point, but you get one extra point if the good die matches the colour of the planet and another extra point if the colour of the ship die matches the colour of the planet. You can also trade goods for money instead of points. Yellow planets give Alien technologies and those are worth a lot more than novelty goods from blue planets.
After all players has performed their actions everybody gets the chance to buy new dice from their citizenry, their own dice supply, and places them into their cup and a new round can begin.
At the end of the round where one or more players have built their twelfth tile or when the point supply is empty, the game ends and you count your points. The player with the most points wins the game.
This is going to be, rightfully, compared to its older brother, Race for the Galaxy, but I’ll try to treat it as a separate game. Although I probably can’t help it and sprinkle a little Race on top of this review.
Let me start by saying that this game is pretty easy to teach. The rules and structure of the game are quite straightforward. You can go over one or two rounds together and once everybody is familiar with it you can play the game, do the actions, simultaneously.
This keeps the pace nice and high. You can easily play a two-player game in half an hour and a four-player game in forty-five minutes or an hour.
There are a couple more things that make sure that the pace remains high. The first thing is the dice themselves. Once you’ve rolled and assigned your dice, you must use all of them if you can. You cannot say, halfway through a round, ‘Oh, I’ve got some better options now, I’ll wait and use these dice the next round’. No, you’ve placed them, now you have to use them.
The second pace maker is the way you settle planets and develop developments. While in Race (here I go) you could halfway through decide that you wanted to use your card for money instead as a planet or development. Here you must finish what you started, or take all dice of a tile in development, which is not very efficient. So you are pushed to keep on settling or developing the top tiles before you can start investing in the bottom ones.
This also means that Roll is more an optimization game than Race. In Roll you have to, somehow, make the best of what you have. In Race you could more easily build a strategy around a 6-point end-game scoring card. You could keep it in your hand and if it wouldn’t work out, change your strategy. In Roll you have to place these tiles in you development stack and if it comes up, you have to start developing that tile. Roll is far more a game of taking chances and it’s more difficult to develop a coherent strategy around the end-game scoring conditions.
Roll is more a game of building an engine with your dice; making sure that every round you earn enough money and have enough dice in your citizenry, so that you can do something useful every round.
It’s therefore very important to balance the dice you use for settling or developing with the dice you use for trading or exploring. Dice on tiles that are worth a lot will be unusable for a while, which means that you’ll have to be OK with doing very little for a couple of turns or make sure that you have lots of dice to use before you start building these expensive tiles. It’s a cool balancing act.
I said the game was pretty easy to teach, but to play the game is another story. It takes a couple of turns, and maybe a whole game, to really understand the consequences of your actions. There are so many ways to place your dice on your little phase strip and your plans can be ruined just because the other players simply do not choose a certain phase. Sometimes you have to gamble and other times you have to play it safe. You might throw badly, but there’s always a way to make it work. All these options can make the game somewhat overwhelming the first time you play it, especially if your not familiar with the ideas from Race for the Galaxy.
In comparison to Race I would like to say one last thing (in this section). It’s something about the dice. You might think that because you use dice, there’s much more luck involved than when you use cards. However, in Roll, precisely because of the use of these dice, you have more control than in Race, more control over what you can do during you turn. You decide what you definitely want to do and choose that phase with one die. The other dice you can use for what you like to do and even reassign them by using one or more dictate powers.
You can see more clearly what other players might want to do. He has no development tiles, so he probably doesn’t going to choose develop. She doesn’t have any money and no goods to ship, so she might want to explore this round. The many dice you can roll and use, plus the fact that there’s more open information, makes that I think that there’s less luck involved in this game than in Race for the Galaxy, where there’s luck of the draw and a lot of hidden information.
However, I do feel that in Race, because you use cards for everything, while in Roll you have three separate things (your tiles, your dice as goods and your money), it’s easier to build a coherent strategy around your cards. In Race you cycle through so many cards that you always find some cards that work well together. In Roll you have to be a bit more lucky to find these tiles.
Flavour and Theme
I don’t feel it, the theme. In Race I could see the theme, a bit, when I looked at the individual cards. Here I have more difficulty to do the same and looking back I think I even graded Race too high in this aspect.
The illustrations still look nice and in this section I have to compare it to Race for the Galaxy, because they’ve used exactly the same illustrations, so off course they still look nice.
Is it laziness? Maybe. Is it smart? Yeah, sure, it’s probably much cheaper for them this way. Do I like that they’ve recycled the pictures. No, a little more variation would have been nice.
The cover, however, is different and that’s a good thing, because the Race cover isn’t that great and this one is a beauty.
Another improvement, and although I did not have the problem myself, is the symbology on the tiles. It’s a little easier to understand and for those who still find it hard, there’s text that explains everything.
Quality of the components
The game comes with a ton of good quality dice, it comes with custom dice cups, nice tiles and a cloth bag to hold them.
Pretty much everything in the box has a good quality.
Oh yeah, this is fun! Rolling dice, trying make to best of the result, trying to figure out what other players might want to do, so you don’t have to pick that phase. It’s great fun to wrap your head around all the possibilities you have.
The first game(s) might take a while, but after that you can all play simultaneously and then it becomes a real quick game.
Is it better than Race? Is it worse? It’s louder, that’s for sure.
No, to be fair, I think they are equally fun, both in their own way. Race is more portable, Roll has much cooler bits, both pack a lot of decisions in a short playing time. I’m just a fan of the whole ‘for the Galaxy’ family. They just have good genes.