Race for the Galaxy, with dice! And More!
Android, iOS, & Steam
# of Players
Rio Grande Games
Temple Gates Games
Roll for the Galaxy is a two to five player engine building game of dice management from Rio Grande Games, brought to the digital world by Temple Gates Games. Players in Roll must best utilize the dice rolls they get each turn to build up the best empire by earning victory points. The game ends when at least one player’s empire is full or the victory point pool has been depleted, this generally takes under ten minutes for a three player game.
Roll is a direct successor to Race for the Galaxy. “Race with dice” is a fair starting point for Roll, but Roll has more going on under the hood than that generalization suggests.
There are three main components of Roll for the Galaxy: dice, empire, actions. They, naturally, feed off of each other to create the overall Roll experience. The basic flow of the game is to use your dice to fulfill development and world settlement costs of cards in your construction area. You will begin the game with one development and one world. These are the primary way to score points, either directly through the cards themselves or, in the case of worlds, to be used to produce and sell goods for points. Of course, the developments and worlds offer other perks as well to help build your engine.
Much like Race, the finer point of Roll is in how you utilize the developments and worlds that come through your empire over the course of a game. The biggest strategic deviation from Race is how relatively few of these you will actually see during a game. The dice have replaced the cards as the currency of the game. You can add new cards to your construction area using the explore action which allows you to spend a die to either gain money or add a new card. The cards are double sided, one being a development and the other a world. This allows some flexibility when you draw one, but it’s a far cry from drawing six cards in Race and choosing which to keep and go after.
Ah yes, those dice I haven’t said much about so far, how do they work? For starters, each has one side of each of the five actions along with a wildcard side. All of your available dice are rolled at the start of the turn and the game can automatically place them in their corresponding action space for you, how handy! The tough decision comes in deciding which of the five actions to “lock.” The rub is that only actions that are locked by at least one player will actually get carried out during that turn. This borrows heavily from the “trying to deduce what actions your opponents are going to take” aspect from Race. When actions are taken, the dice you have on them are the currency.
For the explore action, a die can be traded for a new card to be placed in your construction area or for money (more on that shortly). Develop and settle allow you to put dice towards the costs of developments or worlds, respectively. Dice placed here stick around multiple turns until the full cost is paid, at which point the card is placed into your empire and your dice returned to your pool. The final two actions, produce and ship, work in tandem to generate goods on your worlds (produce) and sell them for victory points and/or money (ship).
The final wrinkle here is that for dice you used during a turn, you actually have to pay to return them to your cup to be rolled the next turn. They cost $1 per die and you can really get behind the eight ball if you don’t have the money necessary to provide a nice handful of digital dice to roll on a turn. This added cost is a sneaky, vital addition to the game.
With the basic rules understood, games of Roll play out a lot like games of Race; build up an engine and then do your best to turn the crank to produce loads of points before the game ends. And, of course, pushing to end the game quicker is certainly a viable path to victory here. Your engine could be one to enable speedy construction of high value worlds/developments, or maybe one that can allow you to produce and ship mass quantities of goods for big points. The strategy, and fun, of Roll for the Galaxy is in what strategy you choose, or rather which is handed to you by the cards you get to choose from.
That last point is my main sticking point with Roll and the reason why, thus far, it hasn’t come close to overtaking Race in my book. “Following the cards” is a very viable strategy in Race, but not necessarily the only strategy. In Roll, you get your hands on so few development/world cards that your strategy is influenced significantly more by what you see than what you actually want to do. As a part of the explore action, you are able to ditch cards in your construction area if you want to change paths, but this feels like such a slow turnaround that it doesn’t seem terribly viable to me. Perhaps this is simply a strategic path I need to explore more, but this was the biggest difference to me coming from having a few hundred games of Race under my belt and it has also been my biggest hurdle in really loving Roll.
All of that being said, there are plenty of people out there who prefer what Roll offers over what Race does. I can see that. The dice are integrated in a really smart manner, you are at the mercy of the roll to a point but there are many wrinkles to that blanket statement that it’s not really an issue to me. The big thing Roll has going for it ties right back to my biggest hold up; the limited decision space can be very appealing. As a huge fan of lighter tabletop games, I can absolutely see the appeal of not staring at a handful of cards and trying to suss out a strategy from scratch. This is the essence of Race and something Roll clearly seeks to subvert a bit, and certainly succeeds in doing so.
I can’t tell you if Roll will be more, less, or exactly as exciting to you as Race is/was. Sorry. I can tell you that it takes the same basic concept and wraps it up in something that is simultaneously different and similar enough to justify existing, which certainly isn’t the case for all spin-offs like this. This isn’t an easy line to walk in the “spiritual successor” or “same game wrapped in a different mechanic” world, but Roll of the Galaxy does a great job providing an experience that is familiar to Race fans while being able to stand on its own.
Barrier to Entry
The game is taught through a series of short tutorials which roll out game features one at a time until the whole picture becomes clear. You take actions yourself, it’s not simply walls of text instruction. The steps are very small, such as “here is how construction works.” These small bites allow you to stop and return if needed, which likely isn’t necessary given the pace at which you can play them all, but is a nice option to have.
Additionally, the game has in-app text rules as well as a single page overview of the specific differences in the digital version. If you’re curious, the two differences are in turn order and game end cleanup. There is also a link to the full PDF rules for the physical game.
Look and Feel
If you’ve played Race or Shards of Infinity, you know what to expect from Roll. The matching, and entirely functional, menu system is carried over and continues to work well here. The graphics are sharp and clean and the game does a great job of cramming a ton of information onto a tiny phone screen. Roll is a bit more cramped than Race with the additional details required, but the layout works really well once you are familiar and know where to look.
The controls are handled with drag-and-drop, occasionally needing to confirm a move. There is a nice button to auto-deploy your dice whenever it makes sense. This is a great convenience and of course you can move any dice that are placed with this move afterwards if you wish. In short, the app looks great and the controls work really well to go along with that.
Roll can be played online with friends or random players and games are set up via a lobby system. Games are cross platform and offer timeouts ranging from 30 minutes for a real-time experience to unlimited for asynchronous games.
Temple Gates Games’ games offer the best multiplayer experience out there and that is almost solely due to the incredibly snappy connection times their apps feature. The time between clicking your system notification to actually playing is second to none by a fairly wide margin. I will play any game they release online simply because the experience is so incredibly smooth. Roll follows suit as expected.
The game also features local pass-and-play, although I found this option to be a bit hidden in the game selection menu (hint: check the other tab).
Another recurring theme in Temple Gates Games’ releases are strong AI. They use neural nets to train their AI which allows for incredibly advanced strategies to appear while also allowing the AI to be scaled back to provide appropriate easy and medium challenges along with the truly difficult hard. Games are set up with one to four AI opponents, each allowed to be set to any AI level you choose with Easy, Medium, and Hard being the options. Games fly by at an incredibly quick rate which allows you to play full games in a very short time, which is a huge draw for some (this reviewer included).
The physical game has a couple of expansions (Ambition and Rivalry) which have been well received and add a lot to the base game. Neither are currently available in digital form. Temple Gates Games did port a few of the Race expansions but has of yet not ported any of the Shards of Infinity expansions. My best guess is that if Roll sells well, we will get expansions, but that is only a guess.
The Wrap Up
Roll for the Galaxy is another stellar title in Temple Gates Games’ catalog. They are batting 1.000. The game plays incredibly snappy, using nice visuals to display game information while providing very difficult AI to play against and also one of the best online experiences out there.
I have two main reasons why Roll might not be for you. First, the app is bare bones. It simply allows you to play the game online or off and there’s not much else there. No campaign, no achievements. If the rest of the implementation wasn’t so pixel perfect, I likely wouldn’t even be mentioning these issues. As it stands, however, when I’m given something great I simply want more of that greatness. The second reason you might not enjoy Roll is that the game isn’t going to be for everyone. If you are a massive Race fan then you probably have a curiosity around Roll, but there is no guarantee it will supplant your original favorite.
All told, Roll for the Galaxy is a great digital board game. It is one I will continue playing simply because of how easy it is to play, both online and off.