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Galactic Warlords: Battle for Dominion Review

Quick Look: Galactic Warlords: Battle for Dominion

: This is a preview of Galactic Warlords. All components and rules are prototype and subject to change.

Designer: Babis Giannios
Artist: Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Publisher: Archona Games
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 13+
Playing Time: 30-90 
Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


tl;dr: A decent little Risk meets Mission: Red Planet, with one too many mechanics and a flawed rulebook. With time to fix both.

Getting to the Game: 
Setup for Galactic Warlords is not terribly difficult, and sets up a little differently depending on how many players are vying for galactic control. The pieces that were included in the review copy are not the final ones, but are different enough that it won't be confusing as to what goes where.

Teaching this game to new players is going to be a bit of a challenge. There are three separate, main game mechanics, which feels like one too many. Each one has a couple interconnected strategies, so it's a lot to grok for someone just sitting down to play. If your group handles medium-to-heavy-weight games often, it'll take 10-15 minutes to go through all the moving parts. If your clan leans more towards lighter fare, you'll want to budget more time.

Playing the Game
Actual gameplay feels very good. Each player takes on the role of one of the great houses of the galaxy. You're playing as a Warlord, hiring mercenary leaders and their respective grunts to take and hold planets for you. Each mercenary has a personal mission of one of the six planetary types that will grant you end-game bonus power for holding. How you get there, though, is somewhat of a slog.

As previously mentioned, there are three main gameplay mechanics. The reputation track, which rewards you with additional units or bonuses if you perform certain actions on your turn. The rewarded action changes after two uses, though, so you need to diversify to climb this ladder. Once a warlord reaches the 9th space on the track, the game ends.

Each warlord hires a single mercenary every turn. This mercenary gives you access to 2-4 actions that you're allowed to take, and gives you a few extra grunts to do your bidding. Deploying units to a planet, invading an occupied planet, drawing support cards, attacking other warlord's mercenaries, and even bombarding a planet's surface with artillery are all fair game. Each action costs infantry units, so you'll need to make sure you have enough men to carry out your orders. Once a warlord plays their fourth same-colored mercenary, the game immediately ends. It's important to note that playing a mercenary happens before you actually use their actions, so playing your fourth red mercenary will prevent you from using their actions. This forces you to decide if you're *really* ready for the game to end, as you won't get to do the things your last mercenary lets you do.

Finally, there's the actual domination mechanic. The game board is divided into 9 total sectors, and each has at least 2 planets in them. Each planet could be any of 6 different colors, which match the mission types of the mercenaries. The more matching mercenaries you have, the more compelled you'll feel to take over those planet types. This *could* lead to a completely peaceful game state, where I'm going for red and green, and you're going for yellow and blue. Since actual combat has very few incentives other than taking over the planet for your gang of mercenaries, you have to be pretty sure you want to take it over. I personally wanted more of a reason to fight, other than just denying my opponents the points they wanted. In fact, the game itself penalizes you for actually fighting, lowering the point value of the planet type simply for instigating combat. For a game with such an aggressive title, this felt like a very strange way to balance points.

That brings me to the actual combat. Like Risk, when a battle takes place, the attacker rolls dice for each attacking unit up to three. The defender rolls one die for each defending unit up to three. Each of the dice has 3 "hits," 1 "invader hits," and 2 "blanks." The invader hits side only triggers when the attacker is attacking with a tank unit, and each warlord is only given three of those in the entire game, and there's only one way to get one of them back. This seems like an odd use of an entire face of the dice, and I expect this rule to be tweaked a bit before the game finds its way to your table.

(NOTE: This rule was explained to me by the game developer after specifically asking about it. The rulebook contradicts this in a few places, stating that an invader can use the invader hit as an actual hit when then invading. Clarification will certainly happen in the final product.)

Combat is simultaneous, so if you attack with two units, and your opponent is defending with 2 units, it's possible to mutually destroy each other. If you successfully invade the planet, you're rewarded with control of that planet and... 1 step up the reputation ladder. Again, there are only 9 steps on that track, so it's not a useless reward, but it doesn't feel very satisfying.

When one of the three game-ending triggers happens, there's a final scoring phase where you compare your mercenaries' missions (colors) to the planets you've managed to take over, and gain points for matching, as well as accumulating points for controlling individual planets.

Artwork and Components: 
The game board and pieces I got for this demo copy are not final, so I can't weigh in too much on this aspect. I will say that there is placeholder artwork on the cards, and it's not awful. It could stand some better coloring and more thematic stylizing (it feels just a *touch* too cartoony for the theme of the game). Pieces are standard injection plastic (think Risk again), but this is all subject to change. The board art and player cards look very, very good, though.

The Good
There's depth to strategy here, and hunting for mercenaries that complement your own has the right amount of press-your-luck to it. Being forced to play a mercenary every turn means that you can't have someone just force a single strategy into the ground, which is also good for the game. The art style of the board and player cards I saw was great. I hope the mercenaries step up to match.

The Bad
When the plastic hits the cardboard, this game isn't "bad." We wanted to try it again after playing it, so that says something. It definitely feels like there's one too many things going on, and we often forgot about doing each of the many things that can happen when an action is taken. Combat isn't quite there yet, which is a shame because it feels central to the larger game. Interactivity is also a problem; this game could easily devolve into each player playing their own game, because again, combat isn't strictly necessary.

This is my first review for EBG, and I hate numbered scores. My group rates games on a "how often, given a weekly gaming night of three hours, would we play this game in a month." Which doesn't really fit well into a bite-sized chunk. So, I'm giving Galactic Warlords a score of Hire on a Probationary Period.

Edit (11/10/2017): One of the developers of the game contacted us through boardgamegeek to respond to this review. Of note were the fact that the rulebook currently has the endgame triggers incorrect: When any of the endgame conditions occur, the active player will be able to finish their turn completely. This feels like the right change to make, and I'm glad to see it.
The other response was to my comments about combat. I'll quote directly, because this part is important: 
When the combat system was added to the game, we instantly knew that we didn’t want it to become the driving mechanic of the game. Galactic Warlords is a game of set collecting and area control. And given the different style of plays and different setups (randomness of planets and Mercenary deck), the game can be very combat driven, but the combat itself was never meant to take primary aspect which is collecting the right mercenaries and deploying on the corresponding planets. 
On top of everything, given the story of the game, we felt that a ‘Cold War’- like battles (where there’s not much direct conflict, but everything is played out behind the curtains) are more appropriate with the theme.
Given that this was the developer's intent, I think they accomplished what they set out to do as far as combat goes. I will say that if combat is not a central theme to a game, perhaps it is incorrectly named.

Check out Galactic Warlords: Battle for Dominion on:


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About the Author:

Nicholas Leeman has been a board game evangelist for over 10 years now, converting friends and family alike to the hobby. He's also a trained actor and works summers as one of the PA announcers for the St. Paul Saints, a professional baseball team. He lives in Minneapolis, MN with his board gaming wife and son.
Galactic Warlords: Battle for Dominion Review Galactic Warlords: Battle for Dominion Review Reviewed by The Madjai on November 06, 2017 Rating: 5

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