Galactic Emperor first came to my attention as ‘Twilight Imperium-lite’. Now, having played Twilight Imperium, and realizing that my opportunities for 7 – 8 hour long games were few, this sparked my interest. And Galactic Emperor really does have many of the mechanics of Twilight Imperium, it just doesn’t have the same epic level of confrontation. It feels more like players are battling in a single solar system, a smaller, more intense and faster conflict than the galaxy-spanning battles of Twlight Imperium. On the other hand, it does what it does well.
Apperance: I have the second edition printing of Galactic Emperor, which means that all the components are pretty good looking. There’s nothing exceptional about the components, from large tokens representing the various roles and technologies, to simple chits for victory points and cash. The best components in the game are the ships, and while there have been complaints about the ships being too large; we just move ships off the board when combat starts. Frankly, small ships would be a minus point to the game, so overall Galactic Emperor receives a bare pass. There’s really nothing to complain about or laud – it’s average.
Rules / Ease of Learning: Okay, for any experienced gamer, many of the rules will feel very familiar – role choice, resource production and combat are the main rules used in Galactic Emperor, so teaching the rules to such gamers is quite fast. The biggest hurdle is remembering the new names and the technology cards.
For beginner players, there are quite a few rules in the game, though they are easy to learn and the vast majority make sense within the context of the game. The only confusion is the role-choice, which really has little thematic element to the game, but does of course provide strategic decisions.
In brief, each round players have six (6) roles to choose from, with each role only being able to be taken once per round. However, all players may take the action associated with the role during the turn it is taken –with the player who chooses the role receiving a special benefit.
Roles are that of the Regent (first player choice and political influence), Scientist (technology), Steward (production), Merchant (selling goods and food production), Explorer (galaxy / tile placement) and Warlord (movement and combat). The various functions of each are relatively self-explanatory. More details can be found in other reviews.
Gameplay: Each game of Galactic Emperor plays at about 30 minutes per player, with the first game with new players adding about another 30-60 minutes to the entire game. Games flow quite fast, with players always engaged because they have something to do with each role choice. In addition, with so few turns available in the game, each turn is very important for players and quite intense.
The game seems to break into two sections quite well – the initial exploratory and growth phase where players attempt to develop their empires as quickly and efficiently as possible and the second phase; normally after the appearance of the black hole, where players begin to aggress.
Currently, there seems to be two major methods of winning – diplomacy and combat. The first requires players to gain specific technological cards that provide an advantage in diplomacy, allowing them to purchase a large number of influence markers and ‘steal’ galaxies from other players during the Regent phase. This particular strategy is weaker towards the end game where a diplomatic player is limited by the low number of influence markers he has left.
The second method – combat is quite a viable strategy. Space fleets in our games have ranged from large, destroyer and fighter-backed armadas with increased movement to hard hitting swarms of fighter fleets. Unlike Twilight Imperium; combat in Galactic Emperor is a great strategy. Obvously, it has to be begun with care since starting too soon can leave a player vulnerable to retaliation from other players.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in gameplay is the fact that there seems to be only a few options in terms of winning – both because the board is so small and the options for gaining victory points so limited, you are forced into one of these two strategies to gain victory points.
In addition, the technology cards are rather limited. While it makes sense to keep the game short, I’d be really interested to see what an expansion could do with both the victory conditions as well as the technology options.
Conclusion: Overall, we’ve all had a ton of fun playing Galactic Emperor, and while it is not Twilight Imperium, it’s a fun, galactic spanning sci-fi game that most importantly plays quite fast. It’s definitely a game that will hit the table more often than Twilight Imperium – if nothing more than because of player schedules.