Note: A preview copy was provided by the publisher. I have 4 Total Plays at 2, 3, and 4 Players. This is a prototype, meaning the rules and components are not final. For example, the score track has changed since this prototype was printed and the basic wood pieces will be replaced by lavish minis.
Recently, I shared my 1st impressions of Galactic Renaissance where I mostly compared it to Inis, the other design in this Political Trilogy from designer Christian Martinez and publisher Matagot. In this preview, I intend to spend less time comparing to the two games and more time focusing on Galactic Renaissance itself. Let’s see where this takes us…
Long ago, the galactic empire fell into ruin. Peoples and their planets lost contact with each other, and the galaxy entered a period not unlike the dark ages. Intergalactic progress and cooperation was stymied and, for better or worse, aliens were no longer able to meddle in each other’s business. But from the ashes of a space dynasty eventually arises a renaissance. Portals are rediscovered. Secrets and knowledge are uncovered. Political relationships are reforged. And a new Galactic Senate is born — not one of compulsory conquest, but of peaceful and voluntary coalition.
Each player represents a unique planet and controls aspirational emissaries. These emissaries are sent throughout the galaxy to gain allies, establish institutes, discover foundations, and reawaken specialists — the ancient ones from the now dead empire who remain frozen in stasis to preserve wisdom and knowledge. While the shared vision is to peacefully rebuild an interstellar civilization, each player wants to come out as top dog in the Senate, and sometimes you need to step on some alien toes to get there.
Players are racing to 30 points by striving to fulfill the Senate Policies (scoring objective cards), which notably expand and change a bit during the game. The deck of these cards is fairly large (16 total) and you only ever play with a combination of 5, so you’ll encounter a fair amount of variety here from one play to the next. It’s not too unpredictable, though, as these cards generally encourage you to spread out across more planets with your emissaries and institutes. Sometimes your mere presence on a planet will suffice, other times the scoring requirements get more specific (e.g. have majority or minority on a planet, build an institute on a planet, be on planets with specific features like foundations or portals, etc.).
The manner in which you score points and win the game is refreshingly unique on multiple facets:
- You not only need to reach 30 points first to win, but you also need to score 10 points in a single final turn to seal the deal. So although you may have a lead on everyone else on the score track, they can catch up by weakening your single turn scoring potential. It’s a bit reminiscent of Inis’s pretender token, but notably much more mild in its king making / bash-the-leader potential.
- As the leading player races up the score track, they will unlock or transform the scoring objective cards for everyone. At 6 points, the third scoring card is revealed. At 13 points, the first scoring card is swapped out for a new one. At 20 points, the second scoring card is swapped out for a new one. Until they are revealed, nobody knows what objective cards will come out next, so it helps to put yourself in a flexible position during these transitions.
- The main way you trigger scoring is by playing your Senator card, and each time you play it you’ll have to cycle through your entire deck to reach it again. So players who can manage to accelerate their deck cycling while adapting to the scoring cards will have the best chance of crossing the finish line.
Your turns start out quite simple:
- Play a card and perform one of its actions
- Resolve any disorder
- Discard your played card to the bottom of your draw pile (plus one more from your hand, if you wish)
- Draw back up to your hand limit
That said, early decisions can have a huge impact on your strategy. The game actually starts with an interesting draft where you lay out a bunch of unique home worlds, powerful specialist cards, and starting emissary quantities. Players take turns claiming an option until they possess one of each category. If my two opponents lunge for home worlds before me (thanks to some tempting planet abilities), I can now ignore that category until the end because the remaining two options are exclusively for me to choose from. If I can manage to select a specialist card that combos well with one of those planets (or strengthens my ability to milk a score card on display), then that’ll be my first choice. This starting phase certainly favors more experienced players who understand the hidden nuances, but it absolutely doesn’t determine the winner.
Play begins with your most basic single-action turns: recruit more emissaries from your supply, explore a new planet, spread your emissaries around, claim planet ability tokens by having majority pieces there, build an institute, gain another specialist card into your deck… those kinds of things. Emissaries and institutes give you vital presence throughout the galaxy, which is what you’ll need to earn points from the objective cards. While emissaries are mobile and flexible, institutes are stationary buildings which increase your hand size and allow you to recruit directly to more planets than your home world. Gaining allies (claiming planet ability tiles) will open up your options (assuming you have a card to play that lets you activate a planet ability). And awakening specialists is like injecting alien steroids into your deck. To be honest, all of these actions feel satisfyingly powerful — that of gaining specialists, increasing your hand size, and growing your planet tableau.
Those who enjoy a meaty engine builder or snowballing combotastic turns will find much to love here. Where early turns often see players throwing down one card for a single action and an occasional handful of pitiful points, late turns will see them executing a half dozen actions across multiple cards and planet tiles as they rocket up the score track. That’s because some actions, if chosen, will grant you the ability to take another action (I.e. play another card). These are mainly found across the specialist cards and planet tokens, which players gain more of over time. You’ll get a taste of the vastness of outer space as growing planet tiles consume your table and single turn combos stretch on into eternity.
Inevitably, downtime noticeably increases as the game nears its completion or when more players are at the table. Where two experienced players can certainly knock a game out in roughly 90 minutes, at three and four players it seems more likely that you’ll cross two hours and even approach three. Where many games can buckle under the weight of slow downtimes or long play sessions, Galactic Renaissance handles it fairly well. I believe I prefer it most at 3 players, which strikes a nice balance between player competition and game length, but I certainly enjoyed it at 2 and 4 as well. Those who want to bask in maximum conflict will surely find it in the epic 4 player game.
Conflict itself is another standout feature of the Galactic Renaissance experience. Each planet displays a stability threshold represented by a number of spaces. These spaces do not limit how many emissaries, institutes, and foundations are allowed on a planet; rather, they simply indicate the planet’s tolerance for interstellar interlopers. If you ever end your turn with a planet’s stability threshold exceeded, then a disorder phase is triggered. Starting with the active player, every player must take a disorder action (even if the planet becomes stable again during the disorder phase). That means that somebody (usually multiple somebodies) is getting kicked off the planet, unless you happen to have a disorder card in your hand to play and avoid your mandatory evacuation. Usually, you’ll either have to remove an emissary, remove an institute, or retreat to an allied planet. If a player only has one piece on a planet, you can do a lot of damage by getting them kicked off (often costing them the chance to score 1-3 points from that planet). What’s even crazier is that you can retreat to an allied planet with too many emissaries and cause that planet to become unstable. It’s possible to trigger a cascade of disorder if you are so inclined for such chaos.
Notably, disorder is not only more common with more players, but it is also more worthwhile. Where many of the scoring objective cards require you to be on a shared planet (meaning more than one player has pieces on it), it often feels like a waste to crowd out an opponent if their departure means the planet is no longer shared. The only reason to do something like that is if this rival could potentially win the game on their next turn and you are forced to sacrifice your own scoring potential to keep your hope of a comeback alive. In a 3 or 4 player game, you are more frequently incentivized to sow chaos across the galaxy because planets often possess 3 or more player colors, and nobody cares if that 3rd or 4th player gets booted (except for them, of course ;).
Even after spending many hours with the game across several plays, I’m still finding myself learning and improving. There are plenty of strategies and tactics to dig up in this galactic sandbox. You’ll discover and gleefully spam tricks that allow you to cycle through your deck faster to get back to that Senator card ASAP. You’ll meddle in the business of others and spread disorder across planets where opponents are weakly clinging on in desperation. You’ll seek to undermine their scoring potential while carefully planting seeds for your next scoring harvest. It’s not as blatant or brutal as Inis, but the interaction here can still be very effective.
While Galactic Renaissance preserves much of the political and positional spirit of Inis, it manages to carve out its own legacy. If Inis is a knife fight in a Celtic phone booth between prospective kings atop a hill, Galactic Renaissance is a space race between growing snowballs as they roll down that hill. Both games serve as loud and clear evidence that Christian Martinez is a designer to keep an eye on and that Matagot knows how to make an epic board game. I, for one, am excited to see and experience this game further, especially in its final form.
Galactic Renaissance launches on Kickstarter on March 21st. Check it out here.
Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing excellent board games, including the upcoming Zoo Vadis by Reiner Knizia. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share classy board games that bite.