Galaxy: The Dark Ages
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Galaxy is an intergalactic combat and conquest card game, by the same design team that created Avalon Hill's critically acclaimed Titan: The Arena. The fate of whole worlds hangs in the balance. Three to five players have a popular, quick, and highly playable game, with depth of strategy, and wild-and-woolly player interaction that plays to a riotous conclusion in under an hour.
Game play is tense, and each card play is critical, because the most poorly defended home world is eliminated at the end of each of the game's five rounds of play. Power brokering and backstabbing are a staple of the game system; play is dictated by silent alliances and hidden agendas as players bank on their neighbors for support to protect home worlds or vanquish enemy strongholds. One playtester describes Galaxy as "Titan: The Arena on steroids."
This is an excellent game, simple to pick up and plenty of fun for players of all skill levels. Good players are handicapped by other players invariably ganging up against them. This game is the favourite of my casual gameplaying friends.
Although it is a reasonably simple game, the rule book is confusing. You need a lawyer to interpret it.
Galaxy is a card game, not a science fiction game. The theme is incidental to playing the game. Basically the game boils down to an eight suited deck of cards with individual card rankings and a few other special ability cards thrown in for good measure. Strategic possibilities abound. Both defensive and offensive play are rewarded.
The placement of bases -- the betting element in the game -- is ingenious. You pick the suits you want to survive the card play and then you develop a strategy to ensure their survival. There are numerous possibilities for play on every turn. The winner is almost always in doubt to the very end.
Yes the rules take a half hour to plow through the first time. After that the play is intuitive and you seldom have to consult the rulebook. It is worth the time. After you master the basics, you have a card game that blends the best of bridge, rummy and a poker betting component. In some ways it is a classic in its own right.
It is a bit more demanding than most card games, but that only enhances the tactical options you have on virtually every play of a card. If you like card games, but want more of a challenge, this is a great buy. It plays well with two or multiple players -- a rarity for most card games.
The biggest downside to Galaxy: The Dark Ages is the complexity of the rules. It will take some time to learn them, and the first game will probably be rather confused if learning the rules for the first time from the book. This complexity leads to incredibly subtle strategies and replayability.
This is also a fantastic game for the listed number of players, 2-5. The two-player game plays very differently from the five-player, but each one is wonderful.
This game is *not* light enough for most American families, I suspect. Any 'serious' gamer should just get a copy, however.
Galaxy: The Dark Ages is the much anticipated sequel to Titan: The Arena, that immensely popular game designed by Reiner Knizia and released by Avalon Hill. Sadly, the game is no longer available and is much sought after on various internet forums.
Before Avalon Hill was devoured by Hasbro, they were in the process of developing a sequel to the T:TA, to be known as Galaxy: The Arena. Fortunately, GMT managed to gain the rights to this title and enlisted the aid of the game's developer, Don Greenwood, as well as Reiner Knizia himself, to see the game to completion.
After a long wait, the game has finally been released. The components and quality of the rulebook does not disappoint. T:TA has been nearly universally bashed for the incredibly poor rule book, which required a PhD--or mind-bending perseverance--to comprehend. Fortunately, GMT has done a far superior job with the rulebook. Sure, there are some ambiguities, but nowhere near the omissions, contradictions and confusing explanations offered in the original T:TA rules.
G:DA plays VERY similarly to its predecessor. In fact, it is essentially the same game with a few 'bells and whistles' thrown in. The main differences in this new version are the addition of special powers for the lower valued cards (1 to 4) which can be invoked when played, and the ability to combat opposing cards if you meet certain conditions when you play a card. Other than that, the two games are essentially identical.
For those unfamiliar with T:TA, I'll give a brief explanation. In Galaxy, there are eight worlds up for control. Players struggle for control of these worlds by playing various spaceships (cards) onto these worlds. Cards come in values of 1 to 10, one set for each world, as well as some 'rogue' ally ships (wild cards) which can be played upon any world. I do like the addition of these 'ally' cards, as it does add some much-needed flexibility and options to the game system.
In addition to playing cards, players can also play one of their five 'bases' (poker chips) to the worlds, thereby exerting influence on that world. These bases can only be played on the current row which is under contention, however, and only onto a world where a base has not yet been played that round. The earlier a base is played, the more influence it exerts. For instance, if someone plays a base on a world in the first round, it is worth four points. If another base is played on that world in the next round, it is only worth three points. Thus, the temptation is to get your bases down early, but by waiting till later rounds, you will have a better idea of which worlds will survive. Bases on worlds which are eliminated are worthless.
A player who has the most influence on a world is named the Governor. That player gets to exercise that world's special power each time he plays a card to that world. These powers are similar to those in T:TA and can be quite useful. Some of the powers include:
A player may also place a 'hidden' base. This is done in lieu of playing a ship to a world by playing a card face-down and placing a base on it. If this world survives to the end of the game, this base is worth five points. A player has the option of revealing his secret base during the course of the game and retrieving the card back into his hand. The base is then placed at the top rung of the appropriate world and will be worth five points at game's end.
Finally, there are several 'Technology' cards which, when played, give the player a special power which usually remains in effect for the remainder of that round. These powers include such abilities as being able to retrieve a previously laid card, adding modifiers to a combat roll, drawing three extra cards, etc. Of course, since there are so few of these cards, it is quite possible one player could get lucky and be the beneficiary of several of these powers. There is one Technology card which allows a player to immediately draw three cards into his hand, thereby vastly increasing his hand size. This power is WAY too powerful as it gives that one player SO many more play options on his turn. As the game winds to a conclusion, this added hand capacity is of overwhelming benefit to that player. I am not fond of this card at all.
A round consists of players playing cards to the various worlds and placing bases. Previously laid cards in the current round can be covered by another card. Thus, the strength value of a ship played to a world can change during the course of a round as a new card is laid atop it.
A round ends when all worlds have a card played to it. Players examine the values of the ships played to the worlds, and the world which has the lowest valued ship that round is eliminated. That entire column is removed, including any bases played to that world. A new round then begins, with cards being played one row lower than the previous round.
This entire process continues until there are only three worlds remaining, at which time the game ends. Players then tally the value of their bases played to the surviving worlds, as well as their secret base, if it has survived. The player with the greatest total of influence (bases) is victorious.
Yes, this system is identical to T:TA. As mentioned, however, Galaxy adds a number of twists:
That's it. Those who weren't able to get their hands on a copy of T:TA should be thrilled that the game (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) is now available once again. Those who already own T:TA may not be as thrilled. The two games are so similar it is really difficult to justify purchasing both and keeping both on the gaming shelf. I really didn't get any greater sense of satisfaction out of Galaxy than I get out of T:TA. In fact, the game really adds several mechanisms and features that, in the end, really aren't necessary. Joey Konyha, one of my fellow Westbank Gamers who is a HUGE fan of T:TA, summed it up best: "It's Titan: The Arena with some extra stuff thrown in--and that extra stuff isn't necessary." After repeated playings, I must agree with his assessment. One problem with the new version is that this 'extra stuff' does make it more difficult for 'newbies' to understand the game and get a grip on its various strategies. T:TA was difficult enough for 'newbies' to grasp. All of the extra features crammed into Galaxy just make that task much tougher.
The combat system, although not without its merits and strategic possibilities, can--and often does--add considerable length to the game. Several of my games have approached two hours in length, which is simply WAY too long for a game of this magnitude. What happens is that ships (cards) are continuously attacked and eliminated, thereby requiring more cards to be played before a round will end. So, rounds are prolonged, adding unneeded (and undesired) length to the game.
Perhaps my main objection is that all these 'bells and whistles' which have been added result in a significant loss of control for the players. Let's examine some of these:
With discussions with one of the game's developers, I've come to understand just why these changes were made. GMT has a tradition as a "war game" company. The bulk of their customers are traditional war gamers. In order to make the game more appealing to their main customer base, it was felt that more combat and 'attack' features were needed. Perhaps this is a wise business decision, but, in my eyes, the game just doesn't measure up to Titan: The Arena. Although I'm happy to see the game given new life, even in this altered format, like most motion pictures, I still much prefer the original to the sequel.