Jonathan Franklin: Review of Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry
Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry [expansion]
Designer: Wei-Hwa Huang & Tom Lehmann
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Time: 45 minutes
Times played: 9+, with review copy provided by Rio Grande Games
I am a Tom Lehman and Wei-Hwa Huang fan. I like/love all their games and my game group adores Roll. They playtest their games into the ground, which means you are getting a tremendous game out of the box and any balance issues are almost certainly your own misperceptions due to an inadequate number of plays. Their games reward replaying over and over because you can try new things, find new combos, and have fun regardless of whether you win or lose.
Roll for the Galaxy is a game that sits at the crossroads of Control Avenue and RNG Street. It permits planning, strategies, and requires an awareness of what the other players are up to. At the same time, you might find yourself cursing your rolls if they don’t align with where you thought you were heading. Unlike other dice games, you can sacrifice dice to convert other ones to what you want, so you can have more less good dice or fewer better dice for your plan.
The first expansion, Ambition added more of what the game already had along with some new dice types, goals, and felt a bit like what The Gathering Storm added to Race.
Rivalry opens up the game in new and exciting ways, adding new dimensions to the game, rather than just ‘more of what you already like’. Rivalry turns a superfiller into a hearty side dish if not a main course. There is more to think about, more control, more options, and ultimately a satisfying experience, especially if Roll is in heavy rotation in your group.
Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry is a collection of three expansions that have different facets and really highlight the nature of different types of expansions.
- New tiles – the add and forget expansion that gives more options without fundamentally changing the game. The new blue pioneer/settler dice, which also match novelty goods, permit the designers to expand the game with virtually no rules overhead.
- The Orb – adds a new step and phase to the game. More effort to teach than the base game, but ultimately takes the game from a super-filler to a full weeknight after-dinner game. Maybe not an ‘every play’ expansion, but easy to add or remove while adding new and interesting decision points.
- The Deal – adds a new step and quite a bit more to think about – it increases interactivity as well as options in a rather open-ended way.
- The Orb + the Deal – the Full Monty should only be played after playing the Orb and the Deal a few times each without the other.
I played all the Rivalry expansion games with the base game and the Ambition expansion, but without the goals from the Ambition expansion, to better focus on what the new aspects of Rivalry bring to the table.
Here are a few highlights shared by the Orb and Deal expansions,
- If dice with two symbols on a face are assigned to a phase that does not occur, they may be moved to the other phase on the face.
- The $ sign no longer means if you use that die for the shown phase, it goes back in your cup. Both the Orb and the Deal now have a $ phase and the rule above applies. In the Orb game, the $ is Research. In the Deal game, the $ is Deal.
- You may freely assign one die to the $ phase without dictating . This means you don’t need to set aside another die to assign a non-$ die to the $ symbol.
- Black dice match any color for consume and the orange dice match no colors for consume, just as in Ambition. The new dark blue dice only match novelty (light blue/cyan) goods for consume.
The Orb is a seemingly simple expansion that adds a die roll for each player prior to the rest of their roll. The ‘orb’ is a single larger yellow ‘Alien’ die that has removable faces, a Rio Grande innovation from Rattlebones. Everyone starts with the same faces on their orb, but there are several ways to customize them, so you could add faces that make settling planets or building developments cheaper. Or you could add faces that give you more money or more orb upgrades. Or . . .
The Orb expansion is like pressing the accelerator in a car. You can do more once you have an upgraded orb, so the game is played to 15 buildings or running out of chips after starting with 15 per person. This was an excellent decision because it means you have a few turns to use your upgraded orb, which in turn makes the upgrades worthwhile. The game is not much longer, but there is a new phase, the $ phase. Dice assigned to this phase are spent to upgrade your orb faces. The rules are clear, but going into the details of how dice actions have changed or that you can always reassign to $ are a bit too much for a review of how the expansion feels, rather than a regurgitation of the rules.
I liked several aspects of the Orb technology expansion.
The die faces are exciting. Unlike a game where the variable player powers are mundane, the orb lets you work toward 18 different die faces by spending 1 or 2 points per die face swap. There are three levels, so it feels like working your way up a tech tree. There is a benefit in staying on the same tech path, as moving from a green die face to a white one costs extra. If you upgrade to a high level face, such as -2 for every settle this turn, you can augment your die so that other faces adjacent to the -2 point to it and mirror its power. That means you have have a die with one great face and four that mimic it, for a ⅚ chance of hit!
Going from a base face to a 1 pip face costs a point. Going from a 1 pip face to a 2 pip face of the same color costs another point. Going from a 2 pip face to a 4 pip face of the same color costs 2 points. So with 4 points, you can upgrade a base face to a top level face. There are no 3 pip faces, just 1, 2, and 4. At the end game, even though the triggers are running out of 15 * #of players chips or 15 building, almost all 2 pip faces on your orb score 1 VP and all 4 pip faces score 2 VP.
It feels powerful and because each player rolls just one die in the open before all the other dice, it adds quite a bit of excitement. In addition, the designers are meticulous about playtesting and we had no gripes or comments about imbalance through the 5+ games of Orb technology that we played. In addition, when combined with the starting tiles, you really feel that you have a highly customized civilization expanding across the galaxy. Another aspect of the orb is that it helps other players predict which phase you will call. If you roll a -2 on each development, I might assume you will call develop, for fear that if no one else does, it will be wasted. This lets me choose settle while still planning for a develop phase. I am not sure how much more telegraphed phase selection is with the orb compared to the base game, but it feels stronger.
For us, the Orb was the better of the two major expansions to start with. It is contained, clear, and instantly gratifying without any AP or doublethink.
The Deal is a bit more advanced than the Orb and provides quite a bit more to think about than the Orb. The Deal is made up of a mat, seven dice (that are modular, but their faces don’t change and they have a set configuration), and and a few other pieces to support the options presented by the Deal phase.
The Deal is a new phase, $, during which you may place two of the seven dice next to each other on the mat. Contrary to what I expected, you get the benefit of the deal when you place the dice – you don’t need to wait for someone to accept the deal for you to get the benefit, you get it immediately.
There are six white modular-style dice with faces that offer more mundane items for you to give up or to accept and a black modular-style die with better items, such as get two dice, $3, or a purple die and $1. Those dice that are not assigned to a deal are rolled every turn, so they offer new options. The deal is you place two dice next to each other. You are giving up what is on the die on the left side to get what is on the die on the right side. If you reverse the left and right dice, you are now giving up what you would have been getting and getting what you would have been giving up. Because the black die is better, you need to pay an extra $1 to get what is on the black die face or gain an extra $1 if you give up what is on the black die face. Unlike the Orb, the Deal has a base end game condition of 12 tiles and starts with 12 chips per player.
There are three possible deal actions,
- Open a deal (place Deal dice and the die that you had on that phase on the mat), pay the price on the left die and take the reward on the right die. This costs you priority on a priority track.
- Join an existing deal and get the benefit of it without losing priority, joining on either the initial side or the other side.
- Refuse to deal, in which case you put your die back in your citizenry and gain a $1, effectively a wash unless you gave up a white and can now spend the $1 to get a purple or black out of the citizenry.
If there are equal dice on both sides of the deal, the deal closes and both sides get goodies with the person closing the deal on the ‘other side from the opener getting more, as incentive to close the deal. Otherwise, the deal ages, which means the Deal dice slide from the first position to the second position on a three position track. Players may join the Deal later and gain additional benefits if it closes in either of those positions. If the Deal dice slide out of the third slot and back into the pool, the players gain a minor benefit, a one-time wild die token (called a talent token) for each die they committed to the deal, but their dice were locked up for three turns. The rewards for closing a deal are better than those for letting it age out, so there is definitely quite a bit more to think about in terms of reward balancing and short term vs. long term needs.
I liked the Deal option and felt that if I played it a ton, I would get better at it, but the decision space was quite large and I sometimes slowed the game down a bit more than I wanted to while I thought through the possibilities. I think it is best to play quickly and not overthink the deal phase, unless you are all ok with that level of analysis and turn length. This is not knock, but each round there are up to 7 dice, so up to 42 possible deals to construct and because the dice are rerolled every round, there are new deals possible every round to consider.
I played the Deal phase three times and admired the design while sometimes avoiding the deal phase because I did not want my AP to slow the game down too much. When I did deal, it was often to pay the price on the white die and $1 to get what was on the black die. That felt like a worthwhile upgrade and also limited my options because I did not always have what was on the white dice to give up. There was often a dogpile effect, in that once someone opened a deal and moved to the back of the priority line, others would join the deal on the same side. I did not see many deals closed prior to aging out, but feel that was due to our relative inexperience with the Deal.
The Orb + Deal!
Amazingly enough, you can combine the two modules and have the combined Orb and Deal game. It is strongly recommended that you play the Orb and the Deal individually several times each before merging the two. You play to 15, as in the Orb, and each worker assigned to the $ can either be a dealer or a researcher (aka Orb upgrader). The only other rule is that you roll the open market dice before you roll your Orbs. Sadly, I was unable to play this, as we often had new players for one or the other modules and the play time meant that after two games, people wanted to move on.
Roll for the Galaxy: Rivalry is a tremendous design that includes more tiles, more dice, and two combinable modules that have distinctive feelings. This is not a ‘play every time’ expansion for me, other than the dice and tiles. I think the Orb is an exciting addition and gives the game a freshness and new direction with or without the goals from Ambition. I could see playing it about 50% of the time as it adds quite a bit of bang for the minimal additional playtime. I appreciate the Deal and think others will like it more than the Orb because it really opens up the decision space to make your engine hum, so long as you are decisive. It is exciting to see the new directions Rivalry takes Roll.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Matt C.: I also love the game, it’s my favorite of the “for the Galaxy” series. The original is good, but I played it out and I found the expansions mixed. Jump Drive is great to introduce the series to new players (which I am often doing) but it seems to favor a bit of luck between players of comparable ability. It simply makes me want to play one of the more advanced games in the line. I don’t have a regular game group so I tend to be introducing the game to new players.
The Ambition expansion is fairly easy to add without adding complication (although I usually forgo the goal tiles) and I appreciate how Rivalries new dice bring some new options but still keep things manageable for a new player.
I do not have as much experience with the Orb or Deal versions to make a definitive call, but I very much enjoy the Orb experience. Having another “tech tree” option is something I enjoy in a game and the Orb serves that purpose. I particularly like how it is rolled in the open, giving other players a hint as to your possible role selection. Trying to get the right role selections to trigger can be a frustrating experience with the base game. (There’s always someone who gets the “right” combination of roles to trigger on a turn and others who many end up with a much more lackluster turn.) As for the Deal expansion, I like it in concept but think its additional complexity does not make for a good return on investment. I can see there is some fun there and could be of interest to very frequent players. I consider Roll for the Galaxy as a sort of super-filler and while the Orb manages to keep it under control, the Deal options seem to slow the game down enough such that it becomes more than that. I enjoy how the base game goes on at a nice clip, but the dice rolling aspect (while mitigated at times) and the common rich-get-richer situations make me gunshy of a longer version of the game.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! Jonathan F (Orb), Matt C (Orb)
I like it. Jonathan F (Deal)
Neutral. Matt C (Deal)
Not for me…