Roll for the Galaxy
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See aggregated Roll for the Galaxy reviews and ratings here.
Overall Rating: 9/10
Roll for the Galaxy is an excellent implementation, with seamless online and offline play and strong AI opponents. Our only minor knocks are a somewhat lacking tutorial for new players, few “extras” (no custom challenges, achievements, or expansions yet), and a nitpick on the display. If you already know or are willing to invest a bit of time in learning the game, and just want to play the base game without any bells and whistles, Roll for the Galaxy’s app is a near-perfect adaptation.
As a quick note: this is the first new mobile board game app we “discovered” from building our Loodo Scores (our attempt at aggregated ratings — read more here). It was the highest-rated game we hadn’t already played so we had to check it out!
What we like about this adaptation
This implementation of Roll for the Galaxy is practically flawless.
All of our thoughts in the “what could have been better” section are about either subjective design choices or features like the tutorial which, while important, is outside of the core game experience. Once you know the game, playing through is a breeze and everything works exceptionally well.
The app has all of the digital board game essentials: an undo button, a clear game log, and a running tally of every player’s score.
The thoughtfully designed UI effectively condenses a ton of information:
Cards have clear icons, and there’s an option to increase text size (especially helpful on small screens). I'm sure the visuals don't mean much if you haven't played the game before, but once you know what the icons and colors indicate it's easy to find what you need.
Play proceeds very quickly, with games against the AI often under 10 minutes. Many actions can be taken by multiple players simultaneously. The app also has an advantage over the physical game in that these simultaneous actions are kept secret, which is sometimes a bit of a challenge in person.
A helpful “auto” feature speeds things up further by automating certain obvious actions (such as assigning dice to their matching phases, below) — it doesn’t always do what you’d like, but you can easily modify or undo the automation, and it manages to also not feel like it’s giving you “hints” or making strategic decisions for you.
Online play has quick options to set up a live or asynchronous game and makes it easy to find your friends or start a public game. When playing alone, the AIs are satisfyingly challenging, even after dozens of plays.
What could have been better
One of the most important tactical elements of Roll for the Galaxy is anticipating which “phase” your opponents are going to lock each round. For readers unfamiliar with the game: each player secretly chooses one phase to lock, and secretly precommits their “actions” (dice) to that phase but usually also to one or more other phases. All players then get to take their actions associated with all locked phases. So if you can figure out what your opponents will lock, you end up being able to do more on your turn (whereas if you commit actions to phases that nobody locks they end up wasted).
One of the drawbacks of the digital version is that it’s hard to see all of the information you’d want to know to try to guess others’ moves. In particular: some players have phase-specific bonuses or cost advantages that might make them more likely to pick a certain phase. Below, an opponent has a card that makes the "settle" action less costly and therefore somewhat more likely to be chosen — but while that information is technically discoverable, from the main screen you have to zoom in on your opponent's board in the top left to see it (and then again on the individual card if you're not already comfortable with the icons).
Perhaps there could be some indication of other players’ phase-specific bonuses when finalizing your choices — at least the existence of such bonuses, if not their details. While our overall review of Scythe was rather critical, their display of “recruit” bonuses shown below are a good example of what might work well here.
For new players: while the tutorial covers most of the basics, it also leaves a fair bit out. The ultimate test of a tutorial is how I feel the first time I play: do I know everything I need to know? Roll for the Galaxy’s tutorial left me feeling that I was familiar with the general concepts of the game, but I still ended up needing to read the rules to really understand how to play — and even then, there were some pretty important facets of the game that didn’t become apparent until I’d played through a few times.
For example: nowhere in the tutorial is it mentioned that different colored dice have different proportions of the possible faces (e.g., some are more likely to roll the “development” action, while others are more likely to roll “shipping”). That fact is obvious when playing with physical dice, but with digital dice you only ever see one face at a time. More confusing still, the dice colors have other impacts on the game that are explained by the tutorial — so it seems easy to come away with the incorrect impression, as I did, that the differences explained by the tutorial are the only ones.
Tutorials have to draw a line somewhere between rules and strategy. Technically, the different dice faces aren’t part of the “rules” — you can play legal moves without ever knowing that fact. But it’s obviously a critical piece of knowledge necessary for basic strategic decisions, and one we felt should have been included.
Finally, Roll for the Galaxy doesn’t yet have any expansions available, nor does it have any “extras” like custom challenges or achievements. It’s focused on doing one thing very well: implementing the base game.
Closing thoughts (on the app)
Roll for the Galaxy isn’t necessarily a game for everyone (see below for some follow-up thoughts on the underlying game) — but if it’s for you, this app provides a nearly perfect way to play it whether solo or online. We hope more board game apps model themselves off of this excellent design and implementation.
Is this the game for you?
Our reviews focus on the digital implementation of games (and that’s what our 9/10 at the top of this review is based on) — we want to keep things short, and there are great descriptions and reviews of the original game on BoardGameGeek and elsewhere. This time we’re adding some thoughts on the game itself that might help you decide if you’d enjoy it. If you’d like to see more like this or have any other thoughts let us know at email@example.com.
Roll for the Galaxy is sneaky.
It looks like an engine-building game. It talks like an engine-building game. But in my opinion, it’s much more tactical and situational than heavy engine-builders, and relies much more on effective anticipation of your opponents’ moves. You won’t get very far approaching it like another “multiplayer solitaire” game.
A lot of the difference is driven by game length — the game ends once any player has 12 cards in front of them. Given that you start with three and your last few cards aren’t in play for very long, you only have maybe six cards to choose for your “engine”. Contrast that to a game like Terraforming Mars, where players often have played several dozen cards by the time the game ends, and Roll for the Galaxy can feel quite light by comparison.
If you’re really into heavy engine-builders, that might make Roll for the Galaxy a bit of a letdown. By the time you’ve built a great engine there’s very little time to capitalize on it. It can sometimes feel like the game is reduced to simply racing to play high “face value” cards as quickly as you can, regardless of their impact on your engine (especially against the AI).
The game is still definitely an intellectual challenge, though — it’s just a challenge of a different nature. Synergies between cards don’t matter as much because there’s not as much time to take advantage of them. Instead, the key skill is to anticipate what your opponents are likely to do each round so you can lock the right phase and allocate your actions in a way that maximizes your score.
It also will feel too luck-based to some. The dice are an obvious source of chance (though less than you might think, as you can influence the dice in a number of ways to reduce that uncertainty). The random cards you start with feel pretty impactful too, given they comprise a quarter or more of the cards you’ll end the game with.
All of that said: Roll for the Galaxy is a deliberately light and fast game. It plays well, once you understand what’s important. Don’t be fooled by appearances, though: if what you’re really looking for is an engine-building game, Roll for the Galaxy might not scratch that itch.
(As an aside: I suspect a version of the game that ended after 18 cards, rather than 12, would be more fun for fans of engine-builders — perhaps an expansion idea?)