MASTER of the GALAXY is an ARES GAMES bag-building 4X* strategy game for 2 to 4 players (okay with 3, better with 4, poor with 2) aged 13+ designed by Konstantin Seleznev and Timofey Bokarev. It has some superb alien illustrations by Anton Kvasovarov and Anastasia Mazeina. Credits to www.aresgames.eu and www.igrology.ru
Ares Games are known for their stunning miniatures games: Swords & Sorcery; War of the Ring; Wings of Glory; Sails of Glory and the soon to be published Tripods & Triplanes (due out in July).
Igrology publish: Masters of the Night; Orconomics; Are You Human; Mind Maze; Cult; Five Seals of Magic; Boars on the Run; Swintus; Desktopia; Nightmarium and Septikon - Uranium Wars.
* 4X Games Genre: These are generally games with a longer playing time and usually depend more on economical and technological micromanagement than actual combat, although combat is required if Peace breaks out. The 4 Xs are: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate
The components are of very good quality as you would expect from Ares. The Space Bases (player pieces) are in sets of three of each type in one of four colours, thus the player taking the Purple Race gets 3 of each Factory, Pyramid and Globe in purple, the Brown, Orange and Grey Races comprise the same sets but in their own colour. The cards are in sets denoted by their coloured backs and titles: Blue=Leader; Red (Landscape printed)=Conflict; Black=Government; Yellow=Commerce; Green=Expansion; Lighter Blue=Progress and Purple=Species. All counters are of chunky board and the resource cubes are translucent crystal plastic in five colours: Red, Blue, Yellow, White and Black. Depending on the lighting in your play area the Black cubes are sometimes hard to distinguish. Each resource has a different effect.
Yellow=Economy/Finances, Trade etc.
White=Industry/Workers, mining etc.
Black=Bureaucrats, secret services, crime etc. These are useful if you want to remove another of your cubes from the board and can often be used on Leader and other cards.
Like so many games set in space the premise is Galactic Supremacy. There are nine races: Crystallides, Cybreds, Humans, Myrmicoids, Omok, Rocs, Shabazi, Yclopes, and Zong. The Species deck is shuffled and players take turns to discover which species they will lead to victory (or narrow defeat or complete annihilation). The general mechanic for drawing all cards is take 2 select one and put the other on the bottom of the deck. If you don't like either of the cards drawn then put both to the bottom of the deck and take the top card from the deck, this you must accept. All cards taken, no matter how you gain them, are placed face up in front of you, no cards are held in hand though there is a limit of seven cards (including your Species card), above the 7 must be discarded (by choice).
The board shows the Galaxy with 16 Planets some with none, one or more Moons, the corner four Planets being coloured for the Player Start Positions on which one Base is placed (it doesn't matter which shape of Base you use as they are all the same in the game, it's just aesthetically pleasing to see different constructions (plus there is always the possibility of an expansion in which the different shapes have different meanings). These planets are linked by coloured arrows with points on various ends and by routes, some longer than others, made up of cube-sized squares. The route spaces themselves are transparent, taking on the colours of the Galaxy dependent on where they are on the board, and at times they, like the Black cubes, can be difficult to make out in certain lighting.
On the setup page, the one with the map and all the components surrounding it, the card decks are all shown face down, but a note at the top of the page is a reminder to flip all decks face up. Just wondering why the photo of the setup shows it as it does because the decks should be face up when you are starting play. This way you see the 2 cards you draw but can also see the third (top) card on the deck so your choice is from three, you just don't put the top card on the bottom of the deck if you select one of your first two options.
There are three ways to win:
Expansion - placing all 9 of your pieces on the board. Our verdict: Definitely the harder of the three to accomplish.
Domination - Collecting five of the same supremacy symbols on cards and on Planets. Our verdict: Skill and some Luck, but easy with a good strategy.
Conquest - Capture another player's Start system. Our verdict: Planning and Luck but possibly just about the easiest when you are playing your first few games.
Player's Turns are quite quick consisting of just three short phases:
1. Draw cubes from your own bag (each player has their own bag containing 25 cubes)
2. Allocate those resources
3. Discard and Use cards; cards often activate when discarded.
It took us a while to get used to double-checking each card when we gained it. Cards are activated/triggered and their abilities take effect at various times, sometimes when first gained, sometimes when discarded etc. This is essential to understand because you may only have seven cards in front of you. We all liked the card drawing mechanic, although sometimes having a choice can be more frustrating and aggravating than just taking the top card and hoping for one you can use.
There are five different Supremacy symbols:
Green World Icon = Cultural
Purple Diamond in a Triangle = Economic
Orange Dove = Diplomatic
Blue Atom icon = Scientific
Red Explosion = Military
Cards can have up to three Resource tracks on them. As you draw cubes from your bag you select where to place them. Usually this will either be on the board on the route-arms or on the tracks on the cards. On the Routes you can only place one colour of cube and that has to be the same colour as either the Planet you are beginning from or the Planet you are heading towards. Example: Going from the White Planet with one Moon to the Yellow Planet with three Moons you require either three White or three Yellow cubes. These can be placed one or more at a time depending on what cubes you have available. If you complete a route and have a Base available you may place it immediately; it doesn't require the spending of any resources to position it but all resources spent on the route remain in place.
Bases have to be built. All Species cards have three 'Project' tracks. One of these (top right) is for Building Bases. When you have filled the requirement you put a Base on the top icon, just above the resource squares, and then remove the resources back to your bag. You can build Bases on other cards and you can place resources on the card you have a base on but you cannot complete a second base until you have placed the first one (ie no more than one Base on a card at the same time).
One Track (under the illustration) is for gaining a Development card and the third, called an Agenda, (under the second track and next to the bottom of the card) is for collecting Supremacy Symbols - these are moved along their associated track on the Supremacy board, winning the game for you if ytou reach five of one type/colour. The effect of the Agenda are only in play while you have cubes on the associated track. Some cards include within their Project tracks spaces that have a 4-point star in them, this means that the resource placed there will be used up on completion (or cancellation) and removed from the game while the cubes on plain coloured spaces are returned to their owner's bag.
Some Species require more resource cubes than others to build a Base. Humans for instance need 3, one of each Blue, Yellow and Red. Whereas Myrmicoids only need 2 resources but both must be White. Rocs Crystallides and Yclopes each need 4 resources, Shabazi and Zong require 2 and Cubreds and Omok need 3. All requiring different colour sets than the others. The same goes for their Development card costs and Supremacy Symbols tracks. Like the Routes on the board you do not have to fill the tracks all at once but once you have placed a resource you may not remove it until the Project/Agenda is completed unless special circumstances okay it - another Player grabs the Planet you are heading towards or a Leader uses an ability etc.
There are several minor mechanics running throughout the game. Such as placing cubes on the Moons of Planets you control. If you place a cube the same colour as the colour of the Planet you place more cubes from supply into your bag than you would if you used a cube of a different colour to the planet.
Depending on where the points of the Arrows between Planets are positioned you can gain supremacy and then a forward movement on the Supremacy Symbols track of the symbol shown on the arrow. There are five tracks on the symbol card each with a different symbol and colour which match the symbol counters each player begins the game with - one symbol counter of each colour for each player. Gaining a full track of one colour is a game winner.
Combat is decided in a similar way to building except that you place a card between two Planets, turning it to your advantage if you are the one placing it, with both players having to play cubes into the necessary spaces on the Conflict card.
This is a game with many options which is something I like to find in a game, I prefer to have options each turn rather than just go through the same routine, and there are strategies and tactics you can implement. However much of the game depends on the luck of the draw, and drawing just three cubes a turn really does cut those options down considerably.
Considering the number of components and possibilities it would have been better if there were ways of augmenting the number of cubes you have to manipulate on your turn. At the beginning of the game drawing Black cubes from your bag can be a major setback, especially if you do it once or more times and your opponents luckily don't. We have tried a few things you can do to prevent this. One is to put Black cubes drawn back into the bag if you want to, another is to not put the Black cubes into the bag until the third or fourth turns, depending on how established you want to be before putting them into the mix. With 5 Black cubes in the bag of 25 you have a one in five chance of drawing one out. If you wait until the third turn you will have removed 6 cubes from the bag so you will only have 19 cubes in it when the Black cubes are added, making it just under one in four. On the fourth turn with 9 cards removed and just 16 cubes in the bag then the odds of drawing a Black cube will be one in three (as near as dammit!) thus the longer you go before adding them in the more chance you have of drawing them out, but of course you will have had two or three turns of drawing only coloured cubes. These are not game rules they are our ideas which you might like to try.
There are not a lot of pages in the 11" square Rules book, just 20 including all outer and inner covers. The text is all white and of a large font on a Galaxy blue background but even so there seem to be so many minute rules that affect almost every aspect of play they are hard to keep fully in your head. Having a rules lawyer player who also has an eidetic memory would be a great good fortune particularly to new players.
In my personal opinion, and to be fair, that of the majority of my regular playing group, the game is possibly a little long in play time, with players getting irritable or frustrated at not drawing the needed cubes and thus having no turn so as to speak of. There has the feel that there is a good game in this mix but the rules and with random luck driving it my advice would be to find someone who has a copy or go to a games event (in a store or a convention) and hope someone is demoing it. At £30.00 it isn't a bank-breaker but this is still a 'try before you buy' game.
ARES are, as previously noted, better known for their miniatures based games. They have published several non-miniatures games with different degrees of success, but they don't come as easy to mind as their excellent range of minis-based games. The number and quality of the components pushes the retail price up of Masters of the Galaxy to between £30.00 and £35.00 online. I searched several of the web pages for the UKs leading stores and could locate just one advertising MASTERS of the GALAXY for sale and that was at a massively marked up £42.07 but with an 'out of stock' notice. I don't think it qualifies as a £42.00 game even though it is well presented.