You are a childhood dream come true, a maniacal space dictator, directing your citizens to build the biggest, best space empire ever to grace a tabletop! You do this by seeing what available workers you have (by rolling amazing, colourful, custom dice), and how best to use them. I like to think of the dice as students, graduating from University. You have an idea of their direction, but they might surprise you by going off on a tangent. This means that you’d expect the red, military dice to help you acquire new planets, but it actually ends up producing goods somewhere! Managing this and making the best of what you roll is a key part of the game.
Shaking in my Galactic Boots
Emmet has talked before about teaching games. He evoked the slight panic you feel when you teach a new game, the nerves you have about having everyone else’s enjoyment lie in your trembling, mildly sweaty hands. Teaching games is a challenge for many reasons. The challenge for me is teaching the mechanics of how the game works versus teaching how the game plays: what kind of strategies to pursue, what’s a good move in that situation, which card, tile or dice to choose. You could call the first teaching, and perhaps the second coaching. But it’s a balance, teach or coach too much, and the cascade of information will drown your student in a sea of colourful meeples.
Knowing the mechanics of a game does not mean knowing how to play the game. It’s something I struggle with: I want to teach, I want the players to explore the game in their own time, on their own terms, but sometimes this doesn’t result in a fun experience. It can result in frustration and idleness. I’ve experienced this myself recently. When confronted with so many options, it’s hard for the players to put it all together.
A Special Game
This seems especially true in Roll for the Galaxy. I’ve played and taught the game a handful of times, which is usually more than enough opportunities to learn how to play and teach properly. Most recently I was playing a three player game and Eoin, seemed to see how the different parts clicked into place. But Gill, who’s new to board games, seemed to find the concepts that little bit more difficult to grasp.
I don’t know what it is about Roll for the Galaxy that seems to make it so hard to teach. Maybe it isn’t hard to teach, but I certainly seem to struggle with teaching it. I’ve tried a number of approaches, and only recently do I think I’ve got it right. I think some of the confusion comes from the turn structure. In each turn, there are a number of things that might happen: exploring, developing new technology, settling planets, producing goods on planets or shipping those goods. The key point here is they MIGHT happen. Each player needs to choose which phases will happen, and which won’t. As a first time player, how do you know what you want if you just know the mechanics of the game?
For this game of Roll for the Galaxy, I tried something I never really try: I coached. I had taught the mechanics, but I hadn’t taught them how to play this game. So I tried to guide them through a few turns, point out what they could do on each turn, what their options were for each tile and which might best suit their strategy. By looking at Eoin and Gill’s tiles, and seeing what they saw, I made some suggestions. I gave advice on what to build, what to focus on, and how they should think about progressing their empire. I generally don’t like doing this, as I feel like I’m taking the interesting decisions away from the player but in this case it really seemed to work.
Gill got up to speed in a few turns, and got a nice produce/consume cycle going with novelty goods. What this means is Gill is a relatively benevolent dictator, directing her galactic empire to become a capitalist paradise of lovely blue dice being produced and consumed. I also coached Eoin a bit too, though he walked the path of war monger, pushing his angry red dice onto the front lines of combat, conquering unsuspecting worlds in waves of fire and destruction. As for me, I never got to grips with my own galactic empire. The guiding hand of Emperor Paddy was the feeble, indecisive, trembling hand of failure, a directionless amalgamation of planets that history won’t want to remember.
In the end I finished the game in the glorious 3rd place out of 3, with both Eoin and Gill finishing ahead of me in 1st and 2nd. They both followed completely different strategies, but both are solid strategies for any game of Roll for the Galaxy: a bright blue dice fuelled capitalist paradise and a deep, blood red dice empire of a vicious war monger, while I… struggled with some dour strategy that was as dull as the brown dice I seemed to be generating.
Which goes to show, even when you know the mechanics, even when you know how to play, and even when you have a few games under your belt, that doesn’t guarantee a win! This is a huge strong point of the game. It means that even with more experience of the game, it still remains competitive for everyone involved.
I actually didn’t have a beer on hand for this session, but as with most situations when I don’t have a beer on hand, I wish I had. But what kind of beer would match this galactic game? I didn’t want to take too long drinking it, that’s for sure, as it’s not a long game, which rules out my current favourites: imperial stouts. Probably something light, that I could take a sip of real quick between explanations. At this point, I’m leaning toward an IPA or pale ale, but I mentioned that there’s something a bit funky about Roll for the Galaxy and teaching it. This leads me to a single conclusion; a light, easy to drink beer, something refreshing but something a bit funky? A Belgian ale would have gone down just right here. Beavertown Applelation, a Bramley Apple Saison is a beer of that would fit in nicely here, and to top it all off, the can label looks like a star field too!
What do you guys think of this style of article? Did you enjoy it? Have you experience with Roll for the Galaxy and have your ever taught it? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.