Open Seat Gaming: Ramble Review - Tiny Epic Galaxies + Beyond the Black (Solo Edition)
Welcome to the second half of our Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black dual review! Today I'll be covering my thoughts of playing TEG and BtB in solo mode.
Note: I also have the Kickstarter/deluxe editions of the game and expansion but I have not used the mini-expansions (Satellites/Super Weapons or Drones) in any of my playthroughs thus far so this review does not cover those in solo play.
If you haven't read Marti's multiplayer review, that's where all the game info is, so you should go back and read that first! I'm not gonna rehash the basic gameplay for the base game and expansion, I'll just touch on where it differs in solo play.
Thankfully, Gamelyn and Scott Almes are pretty good about making solo engines that build off of an AI rather than you playing against nothing and just trying to score at least a certain number of points. In some cases that means if the randomness goes your way the AI doesn't stand a chance, but also means you can end up getting creamed if it doesn't. With TEG, since it uses dice, I was afraid when I first learned the rules (before the expansion) that it would mean there would be issues. I'm happy to report that the rules for solo mode, and the addition of Beyond the Black, help to mitigate that.
As with the multiplayer version, you can reroll your own dice once per turn for free and spend energy to reroll them again if needed. Since the AI rolls dice on their turn you might think that's a problem, but the solo rules allow you to spend an energy and a culture to reroll any usable die result from the AI. You can do this as many times as you have resources to spend. So if they get a result that's terrible for you or great for them (or both) you can try rerolling it if you've kept up with your resources.
Similarly to the multiplayer mode, you can use culture on the AI's turn to follow its actions, but only usable actions. If they roll a move action and all their ships are already on planets, for example, then the die is not considered "usable" and you can't follow it. This helps give a strategy without allowing you to spend oodles of culture (which BtB has better ways of acquiring than the base game) to just follow everything all the time.
The AI has an empire just like you do, and when its energy maxes out (which it doesn't spend on anything else) the empire upgrades at the end of its turn. If it upgrades to the highest level, you lose. Each level of the empire has an effect that triggers whenever you roll the colony/empire die on the AI's turn. The higher the empire level, usually the nastier the effect is. The levels are also worth victory points just like yours and if the AI gets to 21 points before you do, you lose.
The AI also keeps track of its culture. It never spends this either and when the culture maxes out the AI takes another turn after its current one! Thankfully, it only uses 3 dice for this extra turn no matter how many it normally rolls, and the culture doesn't reset to 0 until after this extra turn (meaning if you roll any culture dice it doesn't do anything). Also, it can't trigger updating its empire via max energy or taking another turn via max culture during this bonus turn.
When you roll a move action for the AI, it takes a ship from its galaxy (it starts with all 4 available) and places it on the track of the leftmost planet that doesn't already have one of its ships. Therefore, when you roll the advancement icons later, the AI can make progress on planets just like you. If an AI ship reaches the end of a planet's track then the planet scores for the AI just like it does for a player. It never uses its planet's special abilities, though.
The backs of the player mats have the rogue galaxies that you face in solo mode. They range from Beginner to Epic in difficulty and the max energy/culture as well as the empire effects change for each one. I've defeated the Beginner and Easy galaxies so far and look forward to trying the rest!
With the addition of pilots and unexplored space, the AI gets a bit more nefarious. All the dice effects function the same when rolled by themselves. However, if you roll the same symbol twice in a row for the AI, instead of performing the action again it recruits the leftmost pilot for whatever ship matches the symbols rolled if it doesn't already have a pilot for that ship. The pilot doesn't have to match that ship either, it takes anyone. If the ship is already piloted it just carries out the second action instead.
Also, it doesn't directly explore like players do, it never goes onto the unexplored space mat. Instead, it takes the top card from the exploration deck (or all revealed cards if there are any) every time its empire upgrades, and there are some empire effects that let it draw cards as well. This plus the pilots it gets for free means you have to be wary of the exploration badge points at the end of the game.
The biggest change in solo mode with the expansion is that it comes with 5 new rogue galaxies, on the backs of the hangar mats. These have the same difficulty levels as the base game ones but have the new mechanics built into their empire effects (like the exploration cards as I mentioned above). I've played and beaten the Beginner and Easy galaxies (like the base game) and am equally excited to try out the remainder of these as the others!
Marti mentioned in her review that 21 points seems to fast for multiplayer, and I feel like that could be true. However, it seems like a fine goal for solo play. I don't find myself getting to 21 incredibly fast or incredibly slow. It's actually a good balance of not taking too long but allowing you to try everything before reaching it.
She also mentioned that there are some pilots that seem useless in 2-player. While I can agree that there are some that don't really work in solo (such as ones for other players landing on the same planet as you, given the AI never lands on planets), since the AI blindly recruits pilots regardless of their ship proficiency it doesn't really affect you all that much as the only player. If there's a pilot you don't want, just leave it there until it cycles to the left and the AI clears it for you. I never feel like I need to take any pilots out of the deck to make the solo mode playable or anything.
I never feel like it's hopeless either (though maybe there's more of that when playing the against the harder rogue galaxies, haha). With the plentiful ways to mitigate bad luck on your own dice and sometimes change the AI's dice as well you almost always have ways to get around bad rolls or to come back from nasty AI plays. I think this is a good thing because if the AI could have runaway streaks then it wouldn't be very fun to try and defeat it.
- New rogue galaxies add variety. There are 5 solo galaxies in the base game so adding another 5 was a lot of content to be given to solo play mode and I'm really glad we hit that stretch goal during the Kickstarter.
- Pilots and exploration cards add paths to victory. I think Marti touched on this in her article, but it's true for solo play as well. Pilots giving points that count toward the 21 needed to trigger end game means you have to grab less planets but also means the AI also gets closer as they roll their dice, so it's a nice duality.
- Solo play is still solid. The AI functions relatively the same as in the base game and the additions for the new mechanics make sense and add enough to the AI side of play that it's not just you with new stuff versus the AI with old stuff.
- Small pieces + big hands = things going everywhere. Literally the only con I could think of for this review is one that Marti also mentioned. Tiny Epic is great but I have large hands and small pieces are not conducive to being manipulated properly by large fingers, haha. Seriously, though, no real negatives here.
Value: I have nothing more to add that hasn't already been stated in Marti's Value section. This game and the expansion are great at any price from cheap to retail!
Try, Buy, Deny: This is the Tiny Epic game I've played the most, and I think comes in at my second favorite (behind Tiny Epic Western, and having not actually tried Tiny Epic Quest yet). The series as a whole is always packed full of theme and gameplay and TEG is no exception. It really feels like you're building your space empire and especially with the infusion of cards in BtB (that especially helped fix the culture drought that could happen in the base game) it's definitely a game and expansion I would recommend.
Scott - The Solitary Meeple