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Review: Galactic Rebellion

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Galactic Rebellion Box

Imagine that you’re the leader of a rebel faction in a futuristic sci-fi universe ruled by a corrupt Senate. You have a plan (and hoo, boy, it’s a great one) for how the universe should be run. Trouble is, there are other factions out there who think they have the best plan. (Pfft. They don’t.) In order for your great plan to be enacted and the universe run in your favor, your faction must overthrow the corrupt government and defeat the other factions. War, diplomacy, covert ops, and trade will all be required to win. If you lose, someone else’s great plan will be the blueprint for the universe and yours will go into the cosmic shredder. Oh, and you’ll have to do whatever they say. At least until you figure out how to overthrow them, but that’s a game for another day.

How It Plays

Galactic Rebellion is a worker placement/area control game in which you lead your band of rebels in an attempt to overthrow the galactic government and install your group as the new leaders. You accomplish this by gaining control of planets, running covert ops, researching new technologies, infiltrating the galactic government, managing trade, and winning wars. Or, in less thematic terms, placing your workers in action spots and then resolving those actions.

The game consists of eight turns spread over three epochs. Each turn has a possible six phases. The meat of the game comes from the first two phases of a turn: Placing workers in the board’s event (events are actions, in normal game parlance) boxes and then resolving those actions. In Phase 1, players take turns placing their workers. If you have workers, you must place them. If you’re out of workers, you must pass. Not all players will have the same amount of workers each turn as additional workers can be earned during the game. 

Galactic Rebellion Board
The board is huge!

Once all workers are placed, the event boxes (actions) are resolved top to bottom and in the order specified by the boxes (Phase 2). The actions you are working with include changing the turn order, gaining influence over planets, gathering trade goods, engaging in covert missions to strengthen your faction or weaken the empire, gaining new research technologies which can give you additional benefits during the game, engaging in warfare, and trying to gain control of the senate. Where your workers are placed in each box determines what, if any, benefit your receive from the action. 

Warfare/combat is a battle of cubes. The attacking player selects a planet to attack and either attacks another player’s faction on that planet, or the sentinels on the planet. The players involved place their military science cubes into a bag. (Players begin the game with three cubes but can acquire more and increase their military might during the game.) Three cubes are drawn from the bag and the player with the most wins the battle. The losers’ worker(s) is/are removed from the planet and returned to the players’ supply.

Once all events/actions are resolved, players take any income earned from having specific sets of trade goods in their possession (Phase 3). Players also take any benefits granted by technologies acquired during the event resolution phase (Phase 4). At the end of each epoch, a scoring round grants victory points for having the most influence over the planets and galactic senate (Phase 5). After all phases of a turn are complete, the board is reset (Phase 6). Play continues until eight turns have been played.

Galactic Rebellion Covert Mission Cards
Some of the covert missions.

After turn eight is played, but before final scoring, players engage in the ultimate galactic war. The sentinels on each planet attack the faction on that planet that has the most workers. Combat happens the same way as it does during warfare, except the sentinels are the attackers, not another player. Sentinels keep attacking until they lose, so if the first targeted faction is eliminated, they turn their attention to the next largest faction on the planet. Combat rages until either no sentinels remain on the planet, or only sentinels remain on the planet.

Final scoring comes after the war. Players receive points from: Having the most workers on planets, having the most workers in the Senate, Epoch III technologies which award points, completed covert missions, and having certain sets of trade goods. These points are added to the points gained during the between-epoch scoring. The player with the most victory points is the winner.

Should This Rebellion Be Incited or Suppressed?

Let me state this up front: I’ve never played Empires: Age of Discovery or Age of Empires III, from which Galactic Rebellion is derived. As I understand it, Galactic Rebellion is much the same game as its predecessors, just set in space and with a few differences. Since I’ve never played either, I won’t be comparing/contrasting the other games with this one. This review is strictly examining Galactic Rebellion on its own merits.

Now, before I get into some ugliness down below, let me say that I did enjoy the game. What you have to understand going into it, though, is that it is very much a Euro game and not an Ameritrash, thematic romp through space. The looks can fool you into thinking it’s the latter, but don’t be fooled. At it’s heart this is all Euro, all the time. Even combat is reduced to cubes, which I’ll talk about later.

If you’re okay with the Euro-ness, it’s a solid, fun game. Players take turn placing their workers on the available action spots. As in many worker placement games, there is a good reward for being first on an area, but even those who come later usually get something. No one is ever locked out of an area entirely. It’s not a “first one gets everything, next gets nothing,” type of game. You can always take part in an area, even if you’re not first.

Galactic Rebellion Minis 1
Minis!

The trick is knowing that you can’t be first on everything, so you need to figure out where you need to be first right now. Do you need to try to alter the turn order because you know you need to go first next time, or do you really need to train up a specialist to help you on future turns? Is it time to take out some sentinels or another player’s troops on a planet to make more room for yourself? There are plenty of choices and most yield some sort of decent reward, so planning your strategy is all about chaining those choices into a cohesive plan from turn to turn that gets you to victory. Easy to say, difficult to do.

It’s difficult to do because, first of all, you’re never going to be able to do all that you want to do. You have a finite number of workers and once they’re used up, that’s it for that turn. Plus, other players are going to be beating you to the spots you wanted and messing up your plans. They’ll be taking the resources you wanted, playing covert missions that mess you up, and picking off your forces with a little warfare. Sometimes, your plans are going in the dumpster and you’re going to have to make do with whatever you can cobble together on the fly.

Also, the game changes as you move through the epochs. As you get closer to the galactic war, you’d better start paying more attention to those sentinels (more on this below). The technologies available in Epoch III offer victory points as well as benefits, making them potentially more valuable. But they’re also more expensive, so you have to ask yourself if they are worth the purchase, or is there something else you need more? There’s a lot you have to monitor and, oh, by the way, it would be helpful to monitor your opponents, as well, so you can stay with them, or potentially derail their plans.

Galactic Rebellion Tokens
Technologies, trade goods, and other tokens.

Now, about that final galactic war. The sentinels are, for the most part, content to observe you foolish rebels as the game goes along. However, at the end they get fed up and decide to start killing you off, starting with the player who has the most workers on a given planet. You battle it out as I described above until either all the sentinels are defeated or only sentinels remain on a planet.

I’ve seen many complaints that this final war is too luck-driven and so swingy that it negates the rest of the game. Well, it’s true that the combat itself is luck-driven. To a point. If you’ve properly built up your military, you can go into the war with more cubes in the bag. More cubes in the bag = better chance of success. It’s not guaranteed, of course. Draws can go comically awry making you wonder if all of your cubes fell out somewhere. But you can try. You can also try not to be the biggest faction on the planet. Let someone else take the first big hit and deal a lot of blows to the sentinels and maybe you can survive.

But where you can really influence the war is during the game. If you attack the sentinels a little at a time, they aren’t present in such overwhelming numbers for the final war. You can knock them out fairly easily and quickly (avoiding the other big complaint about the war which is, “Man, this war takes forever.”).

Galactic Rebellion Imperial Action Cards
Some of the Imperial Action cards.

The sooner you deal with them, the less impact they will have on your carefully built strategy at the end of the game. Of course, doing this means that at some points during the game you aren’t going to be able to perform other desirable actions, so it’s a tradeoff. It also means that relying strictly on pacifist strategies won’t pay off in the end. You have to be willing to fight because waiting until the end to deal with the sentinels is what seems to lead to the bitterness surrounding the final war. I highly recommend that when teaching the game, you make sure players understand that the war is coming and what to do about it so they aren’t surprised and angry at the end.

So Galactic Rebellion is not a bad game, play-wise. It’s engaging, strategic, and full of brain burn. Yet I can’t give it full marks because of two things: Presentation and price. Now, I don’t usually mention price in reviews because I try not to let it matter. A great game will still be “great” no matter its price and a bad game is still “bad,” even at $5.00. However, we live in the real world and most of us don’t have unlimited cash to throw around. So when a game goes well north of $100 (Galactic Rebellion has an MSRP of $149.99 for the non-limited edition) and is so far above the average, I feel that it has to be super-special in some way to merit that price tag, or for me to recommend that you spend your hard-earned money on it. That’s the average price of three or more games, so why does this deserve to be on my shelf over three other excellent (or similarly “good”) games?

Galactic Rebellion Insert
Inside the box. Lots of compartments, not so easy to use.

To my mind, Galactic Rebellion doesn’t justify its price tag. The game is good, but not great. There’s nothing terribly original here that I haven’t already seen in other worker placement or area control games. It doesn’t break new ground, introduce a new mechanism, or combine old mechanisms in a fresh, new way. It’s good, but not mind-blowing.

Okay, fine, but surely the components justify the price, right? Wrong. Everything is “big,” but not “better.” The presentation is a mess, more reminiscent of a first time Kickstarter effort than a game from an established company. First, the minis are thin and bendy, more reminiscent of toy soldiers sold in Wal-Mart than minis. Maybe I’m spoiled by publishers like CMON, but when I’m paying over $100 for a game with minis, I expect better quality.

Aside from the minis, the rest of the components are just okay. The cards are a little thin and, huge oversight, there is no cube bag. Despite being referred to in the rulebook and being required for combat, there is no bag. I looked into it and it wasn’t just an omission in my copy. BYO bag.

Galactic Rebellion Ships
Imperial and rebel fleet ships, used as turn and unavailable space markers.

And the components are simply hard to play with. The minis tend to fall over, the tokens are bigger than their corresponding board spaces, and some tokens that are supposed to be placed on the board have no corresponding space on which to place them. They just go in the best place you can find and then they get in the way.

The box is unnecessarily huge. (And going back to the, “You could buy three games for the price of this one” argument, you could also store three games in the space this one takes up. If shelf space is a premium, it’s something to think about.) It’s divided into lots of compartments which at first makes you think, “Great! Storage will be a breeze.” But then you realize that the compartments are too deep and narrow to get your hand into (and I have small hands). So everything still has to stay in bags, or the insert has to be chucked and replaced with a custom job.

The art is, well, a matter of taste. It’s garish, the fonts are hard to read, and none of it goes together. I’ve heard it’s supposed to be 80’s retro, but I’ve played plenty of 80’s games and don’t see the connection. It’s going to be a matter of personal taste, but for me it hampered the game.

Galactic Rebellion Score Pad
The score pad makes accounting easier.

Finally, some components shown in the rulebook don’t match those in the final game. I understand that things go through iterations during development, but the final versions should match. And speaking of the rulebook: Not great. Headers appear as different font sizes and terms in the book don’t match those on the components. The game is explained well enough, but you have to do some parsing to cover the gaps.

Galactic Rebellion is a fun game and the decisions are interesting. It’s heavy enough to be brain burning, but not difficult to learn. The basics come easily enough, but it isn’t easy to play well. It will keep you interested for many games before you get sick of it. And the experience is engrossing. It may not be the most thematic space game ever, but the theme comes through well enough, especially in the diplomatic/infiltrating the government aspects, to make you feel like you’re plotting a big rebellion. Even the much-maligned war can, if handled correctly, feel like you’re making one last stand for glory.

In all fairness, most of the problems with the game are not in the gameplay itself. Under other circumstances, I would give it an 8/8.5. The problems are in the price/quality/innovation ratio. And it’s possible that this is just me. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to price and expect too much. But for me, I can only recommend it if this game were ever produced in a less over-produced version, or if you could obtain it on deep discount or used. Whether Galactic Rebellion is too much money for you is a choice only you can make, but I find it hard to unreservedly recommend the game to a wide audience when neither the components nor the gameplay is out-of-the-park awesome.

iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Eagle-Gryphon Games for giving us a copy of Galactic Rebellion for review. 

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Summary

Pros

For what looks like a complex game, it isn't hard to learn.
There are a lot of possible paths to victory.
It can be a brain burner.
Feels like you're plotting a big rebellion.

Cons

Ridiculous box.
Component quality/presentation doesn't warrant the price.
No bag for cube war.

7.0 Good

I like games with tiles/modular boards that set up and play differently each time. I'm also one of "those people" who likes dice and revels in randomness.

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