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Review: Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry

4

It was easy enough in the past to tend to your own galactic gardens, assigning tasks to your workers and reaping the rewards, heedless of what other civilizations are doing.

But the discovery of the alien orb and the opening of a new galactic market have changed all that. Now, instead of insular races, there is full-on rivalry. Can you manipulate these new tools to get the better of your opponents?

How It Works

Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry contains three expansions for Roll for the Galaxy.

Rivalry comes with ten new start worlds. The initial variety, especially if you also have Ambition, is now nearly limitless.

The first includes new start worlds, new faction tiles, and new bag tiles as well as a new kind of die. The new die is a pioneering die, and it is very good at settling. It counts as a cyan die for the purposes of the Diversified Economy technology and for consuming goods.

The second expansion is the alien orb. At the start of the game, each player receives a yellow alien orb die, and three extra point tokens are included in the point bank per player. The orb game has a new game end condition: either all the points in the pile are gone, or one player has fifteen tiles in their tableau.

The components for the orb game. (Plano box not included.) The die faces on the orb are customizable, and there are a lot of options to choose from.

At the start of each round, players roll their orb dice in front of their screens, and these orb dice grant either immediate benefits or a benefit if a certain phase is called. In the orb game, there is a new, sixth phase that can occur in a round–research–as well as a new reassign ability to make any die a research die. The dollar sign on die faces (appearing first in the Ambition expansion) now correspond to this new phase. In the research phase, for each die assigned as a researcher, the player may make two “dots” worth of upgrades to their orb dice. Each die face is removable, and every die face has a “dot” value. You can upgrade faces within a specific color for the difference in dot values; you can change to an equal-value face in a different color for a single dot and upgrade from there. Die faces might make tiles cheaper, allow you to place goods on worlds at the start of your turn, give additional reassign abilities, offer further die-face upgrades, grant “virtual” dice if a certain phase is called, and so on.

The new deal mat and deal dice.

The third expansion is the “deal” game. To setup, the deal mat is placed in the center of the table, as well as a priority track with a disc for each player, and there is a new sixth phase, the “deal” phase. Dollar faces that were introduced in the Ambition expansion now correspond to this phase, and players have one free reassign to this new phase. At the start of each round, the dice in the deal market are rolled and placed on the deal mat.

If the deal phase happens, in priority order, any dice assigned to the phase may either start a deal or join a deal. To start a deal, the player takes two dice from the market and places one on each side of the deal section in an open market space. Then, the player places their worker on the left side of the deal, pays the cost indicated on the die on that side of the deal, and receives the benefit on the die on the other side of the deal. To join a deal, a die can be placed on either side; what must be paid is on the die on that side of the deal, and what is gained is on the other side of the deal. Essentially, the deal phase enables trading, and the things you can give up or get are tiles, credits, dice, space on your credit track, and so on. If at the end of the round there are the same number of dice on each side of a deal, that deal completes, and the players who dealt get money and/or talent counters and the dice return to the players’ citizenries. (Once a player starts a deal, their disc goes to the back of the priority tracker.)

At the end of the round, every incomplete deal “matures,” making it a little sweeter for dealers in the next round. If the deal isn’t complete after three rounds, players’ dice return to their citizenry (with a talent counter as compensation) and the deal dice return to the market.

High-Mileage Expansion

Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry is a high-mileage expansion. It’s not an expansion I would recommend buying with the base game, nor is it an expansion for the casual Roll for the Galaxy player or for the player who has played just a few times. But if you have played a lot of Roll for the Galaxy, if you can’t get enough of it, this is the love letter to the game both that you wanted and that you never knew you wanted. It is an expansion that will extend the life of the game indefinitely–maybe even forever.

The new faction tiles, eight in all. These support new strategies to explore.

Rivalry is three expansions in one. The basic expansion–the new pioneer dice, start worlds, faction tiles, and new tiles for the bag–are what players have wanted and asked for. It’s the expected expansion, and it doesn’t disappoint. The new start worlds are mostly ones that give you variations on the new pioneer dice and dice from the previous Ambition expansion, which are welcome changes of pace.

But it’s the new faction tiles that really make the game interesting. The new abilities here are novel and fresh and open up new ways to explore the game. The Alien Oort Cloud Refinery, for example, is a yellow planet that begins the game with a white good on it. However, players may never trade from this planet for credits; they may only consume for points. This doesn’t seem like a great starting world until you realize the power of the attached technology: whenever the good on the Oort Cloud is consumed, it may be exchanged with a die of any non-leader type. This process can take some setting up, but it introduces a fascinating new rhythm to the game. Another faction offers free credits to the player so long as developers and settlers are sitting on their construction stack between rounds. This isn’t huge, but it does offer incentives to players to find new ways to manipulate their civilizations for advantages.

There are more tiles added to the bag in Rivalry relative to Ambition–sixteen!–and these offer similar novelties, including new 6-cost technologies that reward different strategies and some more worlds that score bonus points in addition to their face value.

One of the new Rivalry worlds. This one can get you a second leader die!

I loved the previous expansion–Ambition–and one of the reasons I loved it was because it added to the base game but did not significantly increase rules overhead. I’ve taught Roll for the Galaxy to new players and used the Ambition expansion right away (sans goals), and there is no appreciable extra brain burn. I love that about Ambition.

Even though the new Pioneer dice are very similar to the Entrepreneur and Leader dice in Ambition, the new tiles in Rivalry offer some abilities that are harder for new players to wrap their minds around, and especially the new faction tiles can throw new players a curve. They feel a little like trick-shot strategies rather than the more straightforward ones encouraged by the base game and Ambition factions. While I had no qualms about introducing players to Roll for the Galaxy even with Ambition mixed in, I might have more reservations with the basic Rivalry tiles. Still, for experienced players, these new tiles are a boon. Not only do they increase variety in the bag, but they also increase variety in strategies–each new tile isn’t just a new tile in itself; it represents countless interactions with all the other tiles, new and old, which brings new situations and a good deal of freshness to the game. Even though base game variety is already quite high, these new tiles are welcome indeed.

The alien orb is a customizable die. The faces swap out, which is easily done using the included tools.

If the basic tiles and dice are the expansion everyone was asking for, the alien orb is the expansion that no one was asking for but probably would have been if they could have foreseen it. Customizable dice are still something new in hobby games–Rattlebones and Dice Forge have used them before, but that’s about it–so they seem unexpected, even in a dice game like Roll for the Galaxy.

However, unexpected does not mean unwelcome, and they fit the manipulable dice realm of Roll for the Galaxy perfectly. The alien orb game is decidedly a game for experienced Roll players, but it adds some fascinating new wrinkles and considerations to the game. First of all, the orb die is rolled in front of players’ screens, which gives players information about the phases that might be chosen in a round. If an extra explorer is rolled, there’s a chance that player will call for explore. If a player just loaded up their worlds with goods using their orb, there’s a chance that player will call ship. The alien orb doesn’t decrease the mind games of original Roll; it just offers another data point, and this is welcome. Roll doesn’t feel quite as solitary as its parent game Race for the Galaxy, but it still trends in that direction. The alien orb die keeps players glancing around the table even more, which is all to the good in my book.

New (and larger) screens offer full details on the new phases of the game as well as including information on all the dice included in the game.

Then there are the upgradeable die faces, and even if I had played thirty or fifty or a hundred games with these die faces, I don’t think I would have exhausted their possibilities. That’s because the die faces fall in several different colors of similar abilities, and each color can tailor your alien orb die to a particular strategy. There are faces that give you bonuses like money and talent counters when they’re rolled. There are faces that give you virtual workers if you perform specific tasks like exploring or shipping. There are faces that reduce the costs of developing technologies or settling planets, and there are other faces that immediately allow you to place dice as goods on worlds, ready to ship. All of these are amazing abilities, and they make players feel like high rollers (!) every time they show up. The cool thing here is that everybody gets to participate. Even players who choose not to upgrade their orbs at all still get benefits each round. The alien orb adds a little jolt of prosperity into the game, and it does it in the best way for a dice game to do it: more dice.

Rivalry replaces the player strips, includes a new phase tile, and include a new priority track for the new expansion material.

The alien orbs really do shift some of the strategic space in the game. While players are in control of determining which faces appear on their orbs, and thus what strategies their orbs are likely to encourage, which face shows up on any given turn also shapes what phases players will choose and also what opportunities might be ripe. Even if I was planning to ship, getting a one-die discount on every planet I settle might be too good a prospect to ignore. Maybe I can trust someone else to choose ship for me…? I love the possibilities that the alien orb die opens up, especially when you consider that the better die faces also provide end-game points, making upgrading the die more than just an investment in strategic infrastructure.

With these possibilities, though, there is some added complexity, and in some cases, this is considerable. First of all, the included player aid for the orb game is one cardboard sheet the size of the rulebook, and it’s a full description of all the die faces and has very small print. Aside from taking up more space on the table, that’s a lot of information for players to be responsible for. I don’t think this will be too much complexity for the veteran Roll player, who has all the other aspects of the game down pat, but if even one player has a hint of doubt about the rules of the game, there’s no way I’d introduce the alien orb to them. It already lengthens the game (increasing the number of VP chips per player and the empire threshold to 15), and the inevitable rules questions about die faces adds even more time to the game. That’s not to say that this additional time isn’t worth it–for veteran players, it is, or it certainly can be. I just probably would wait until players are comfortable with the rules before using it.

The player aids for the deal game (left) and orb game (right). This is a lot of new information to be responsible for.

And beyond this initial complexity, there’s the retraining necessary of adding an additional phase to the game. With Ambition, it was one of the hardest things to get stuck in players’ heads that the dollar sign meant you got that die back in your cup after it performed the pictured action. With a new dollar-sign phase, now the dollar sign doesn’t mean that any more, and it can be hard for players to shift gears, especially when one game (with the new tiles and dice but no alien orb or deal), the dollar sign means what it always has, and the next game (with alien orb or deal) the dollar sign is now a specific phase to assign to. I’m sure players will get used to it the more they play, but this shift tripped me up too. I’m sure there were times I accidentally placed dollar-sign dice back in the cup, and I’m sure other players did the same. This is difficult to police because as of the last expansion, this behavior was following the rules. This is just something to watch out for, especially when the alien orb (and deal) is new to you.

If the new tiles are what players were asking for and the alien orb game is the game that players didn’t know they always wanted, the deal game seems similar to the way the original alien orb expansion was received by players of Race for the Galaxy. When the Alien Artifacts expansion was released, players loved the new cards, but the orb game mostly resulted in a puzzled “Huh?” It changed Race for the Galaxy into something new, and anything that interferes with the game as it is usually played–especially a beloved (and generally fast-playing) game like Race–is immediately suspect. Some praised the orb; some hated the orb. But today, I’m not sure who (if anyone) still uses the orb on a regular basis. It seems more of a curio than anything else.

The deal game in Rivalry feels a little like that. It’s weird, it’s different, it changes the flow of the game…and it might push it too far beyond what normal players of Roll for the Galaxy are looking for. The deal game is the expansion that I don’t think anyone was asking for.

The three rulebooks for Roll.

That doesn’t mean it’s not clever. It introduces some interesting interaction to the game. The deal game is essentially asset trading brokered by a middleman. You can trade dice you don’t like for dice you do, or trade tiles you’re not using for dice, and so on. Every deal, though, is limited to what the deal dice are showing, and every deal is two sided. So if I trade white dice for red dice, this is a great deal for me (and other players can even pile on my deal); but the chances of someone else jumping in on the other side of the deal aren’t great, so the die I use to deal will likely be sitting there for three turns, unable to be used for other things.

This is perhaps the most interesting part of the deal game: do you make obviously lopsided deals that will tie your dice up for several rounds? Or do you make deals that will entice other players to fulfill the other side of the deal, releasing your dice sooner? And if you make a lopsided deal, a deal isn’t limited to just you: other players can jump in on your side, and they can even jump in later, tying up their dice for fewer turns, allowing you to do the hard work while reaping the reward after you.

I’ll admit that I didn’t love the deal game, and I don’t plan to use this module often. I find the opportunities it presents difficult to parse, and even when it seems like a deal is a no-brainer to me (white dice for black dice!), there’s always a niggling thought in the back of my mind: There’s something here I’m missing. Because the assets that you can swap are difficult to compare–how much is a development tile worth? or a blue die? How about the ability to extend my credit track by 3?–and because there are other factors at work (dice tied up for multiple rounds, talent counters, and credits), it’s hard to feel confident in any deal I make. I recognize that this probably gets easier the more you play, and even if you make deals flying by the seat of your pants, you can still feel good about it in the moment. The die you need at the right time, or having tiles in your construction zone, or a stockpile of talent counters can counteract the FOMO of not getting the most bang for your buck. But it’s still tough to read the deal opportunities well.

You can grab these new worlds and developments through the deal dice.

Perhaps the biggest reason I don’t intend to use the deal game much is it just feels like a distraction. Unlike the alien orb game, the deal game has the same end-game condition as a regular game of Roll for the Galaxy. And getting involved in deals just doesn’t feel central to the game. Yes, it can be helpful, but I found myself looking at the deal board to see if there was a particularly juicy opportunity, but mostly just focusing on what Roll is usually about: developing technologies, settling worlds, and producing and consuming goods. Deals can help you to do each of those things a little better, but despite having these new opportunities, I and the other players found ourselves returning to the Roll we already knew. Granted, we probably missed out on something, but there is enough information to parse already in the game–what dice faces you’ve rolled, how you can manipulate your dice to do what you want, reading what the other players are likely to do, taking your special powers into account–that the deal game feels like a bridge too far. What it introduces to Roll feels like one element too many, and while it is obviously clever and seems balanced, it adds time and difficulty, upsetting the decision to playtime ratio that is one of Roll’s chief selling points. The orb die feels like it joins the flow of the game; the deal game feels like it disrupts it.

The components for these three expansions are commensurate with Roll for the Galaxy and the Ambition expansion–that is to say, they are mostly very good. I was impressed the first time I opened my copy of Roll for the Galaxy how much love and care went into the game, and I continue to be amazed now. There are so many dice included, even though the probability of them all being used in any given game is next to zero. However, because there is a possibility that they will be used, every contingency is covered. That mentality of abundance has extended to the talent counters, the deal dice, and the dice faces for the alien orb–there are more of each of these than I imagine most players will use, yet plenty are supplied just in case to allow players to fully explore any–and I mean any–given strategy. There are new phase strips that include the new research/deal phases, new (and larger) screens that include aid information about the orb and deal games (as well as all the dice from Ambition and Rivalry), and there are now enough faction and start world tiles that you will likely never have to play the same setup twice. Rivalry is a smorgasbord of options, and while the price tag is high, it feels like Rio Grande has spared no expense in making this enthusiast’s expansion. It is a love letter to the game, and it shows.

There are so many dice and counters in Roll for the Galaxy when you have both Ambition and Rivalry that I had to introduce an overflow container just to hold them all. As I said, abundance is the word here.

Which brings me now to the big question: is Rivalry necessary?

For these expansions: 1) I will use the basic tiles and dice frequently if not always. I will even bear the grueling teach with new players if it means not having to sort the tiles each game, although I might set the new faction tiles aside in that case. 2) I will use the alien orb game occasionally: I like the flavor it adds, although the complexity is something I will only attempt with experienced players, and then only if in the mood. 3) I will probably seldom use the deal game: it’s interesting to explore and a fascinating extension of the design space, but it pushes Roll in a direction I’m not sure I want to follow it. I have other economic games of asset trading and valuation, and the deal game lengthens and complicates Roll in ways that push it out of the groups it’s suited for. (That being said, my opinion on the deal game may change with more experience.) I would under no circumstances be compelled to combine the base game, the orb game, and the deal game into one. Absolutely not. Ever.

This raises the question of who this expansion is for. While the earlier Ambition expansion is an easy recommendation for fans of Roll for the Galaxy, even for players who are fairly new to it, Rivalry is a recommendation only for super fans or hard-core fans. Ambition is easy to mix in and leave mixed in even if new players are at the table. Rivalry is only likely to pay off for players who love Roll for the Galaxy, who play it frequently, and who have a group who feels the same way. I’ve long respected Rio Grande Games for releasing games that have legs–that is, games that can sustain frequent play and that get better with age. (The corollary to this is that I keep telling myself I won’t preorder their games, because they often take longer to make than estimated, and over the years their games have held up many, many of my game orders.) Roll for the Galaxy already has considerable legs. Rivalry is the kind of expansion that has enough options that it should make Roll run forever. For players who play it all the time, that is wonderful. For players who dabble here and there, Rivalry has a higher MSRP than many full board games. If you or your group often flits from game to game, sipping new flavors instead of draining full glasses, then you’re better off taking a pass on Rivalry. In order to get the most out of this expansion, you need a familiarity with Roll that only comes through extensive play.

Even more challenging than parsing the options in the deal game is fitting everything back in the box. This game is PACKED with stuff, and there is not a little lid lift (thanks to the Plano organizers).

For me, Roll for the Galaxy is among my favorite games, and I’ve already played it forty or so times. I feel entirely comfortable within the system, and I don’t mind new challenges. Yet even I find aspects of Rivalry overwhelming. I’m not sure I’ll ever have the capacity to confidently weigh which assets in a deal swap are most advantageous beyond a tactical gut reaction. With experience, I think I can have a more complete understanding of the alien orb die and its possibilities, but with five or so orb games under my belt, I wouldn’t say I’m there yet. If everyone in my group were as enthusiastic about Roll for the Galaxy as I am, and we played it every or every other game night, I think this expansion would be a wonderful way to see how far this system could be stretched and to see what new frontiers (!) are available to players. But my group, I’ve found, is not as excited as I am, and with new players entering and leaving my group frequently, it makes deep exploration difficult.

So I’m torn on Rivalry. For myself, I think the included concepts are brilliant, and at least the new tiles and dice would be an inclusion every time. But if I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure how much use I’ll get out of the alien orb and especially the deal game. They are for experienced Roll for the Galaxy players who play it often as an experienced group. If that is you, Rivalry is a pretty easy recommendation. If Roll is a game you never tire of, then the potential of Rivalry is nigh limitless. Roll is already a game whose possibilities are hard to exhaust, and Rivalry only builds on this robust framework by extending the options that are there as well as offering fresh directions for the system. For me, Rivalry is more of an aspiration, something to introduce once everyone is up to speed, a potentiality that may never materialize. Rivalry extends the life of the game for super fans and will give them plenty to explore, even if no further expansions are released. For everyone else, I’m not sure they will get the mileage needed to justify the expense.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Rio Grande Games for providing us with a copy of Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry for review.

  • Basic Game: 9.0
  • Alien Orb: 8.5
  • Deal Game: 7
  • User Ratings (0 Votes) 0
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Summary

Pros:

New dice, tiles, factions, and home worlds offer new strategic possibilities with very little new rules overhead
The alien orb is a cool addition to a dice game--customizable dice are still fairly new, so this feels fresh and exciting
There are so many options and new setups enabled by this expansion that there will be no exhausting the game

Cons:

The orb and deal games introduce a good deal of complexity to the game
The deal game feels like a distraction from the core of Roll for the Galaxy
The MSRP for the expansion is high (although justified by the components)
Not an easy expansion to add for new players

8.2 For enthusiasts only

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

Discussion4 Comments

  1. Good overview and I appreciate seeing that box packed w/ game components. Eliminating the extra boxes is always a good thing when space is tight.

  2. I wonder if anyone will try combining the Objectives module (from Ambition) with either/both of the Orb and Deal modules.

    • That wouldn’t be too difficult. The orb and deal modules are the ones that I think are too much together, but especially if you’re already used to the objectives, they won’t complicate the orb or deal game too much.

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