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Zebulon Galactic Control: A Strategic Space Race For 2-4 Players!

Zebulon Galactic Control

Zebulon Galactic Control from Apocto Games!

(image credit: 3e0b328cccb588da8a9e6a81d0589c52_original via Kickstarter.com
All other photos were taken and edited by KristaG)

Zebulon Galactic Control is a game for 2-4 players contending to successfully bid for and complete 5 missions for the Central Core. As players race to complete their missions, they also have opportunities to delay and thwart their competition along the way. A strategy game filled with competing factions, space battles, and the occasional trap, can you outsmart your opponents, avoid traps set by the police, and be the first to return to the Dyson Sphere with 5 completed jobs? If you think the answer is yes, check out the Zebulon Galactic Control Kickstarter campaign from Brandon Monahan and Jacob Hardin of Apocto Games!

To start, I love that this is a game that has numerous options for set up thanks to the modular tile system and the freedom granted to players for tile placement (more on that during the set-up section of this review). This means there is a ton of replayability and the board can be as expansive or compact as players want it to be, which can mean a lot when dealing with spacial constraints! I also like that there are various play styles represented with the different factions present in the game. Each of these comes with different advantages as well as play styles. For example, the Diplomat has benefits when dealing with and manipulating credits whereas the Pirate has dominance when it comes to combat and the Navigator has an easier time with moving around and fuel costs. Out of the games I’ve played, I feel the Pirate and the Trapper were my favorite out of the factions though they differ drastically from one another and are, in my opinion, occasionally polar opposites depending on a player’s personal play style mixed with the upgrades granted them from the faction.

Set Up Example

An example of tile placement during set up. I really like the freedom of tile placement!

There are 2 different ways to play: the Basic Game (all Ship Upgrade Tracks are the same – great for introductory games) or the Advanced Game (each Faction has different abilities based on their upgrades). Once this is decided, the player order is determined through a dance off and each player – starting with the first player – chooses a faction from the 5 available ones and receives all of the color-coded components that go with it (3 traps, 4 ships, 7 Credits, 1 Destination Tracker, 1 Die, and a Ship Upgrade Tracker). The Central Tile containing the Dyson Sphere is then placed in the middle of the play area. Though it doesn’t specify to do this in the rules, I tend to separate my Inner and Outer Galaxy tiles into separate piles as it makes this next step easier. Starting again in turn order, players take turns placing a random Inner Galaxy tile around the center tile containing the yellow Dyson Sphere. As of the time of this review, a player’s starting position is based on the tile that they first place. Players may choose any of the planets on their start tile as their starting planet. Tiles may be placed however a player wants, which is really cool (see picture below to see what I mean by this)! Once the deck of Inner Galaxy tiles is exhausted, players then repeat this process with Outer Galaxy tiles until there are no tiles left. Outer Galaxy Tiles can be placed anywhere as long as they are touching another tile in some way. Trap and Reward cards are separated into their respective stacks and shuffled before placing them near the play area and in easy reach of all players. This step is then repeated with the Mission and Fuel cards. Next to the Mission and Fuel card decks, place a number of cards face up equal to the number of players plus one for each of the two respective decks.

Card Types

The 5 card types for Zebulon Galactic Empire: Trap, Reward, Credit, Fuel, and Mission

Game play is explained extensively in the rulebook, so I’m going to include a brief overview. On a player’s turn, they begin by taking a Fuel Card (either a $0 one or paying the cost) which they can either store for later use or use it to move. The player may then choose to do any of the following actions in any order unless otherwise specified: save the Fuel card and stay put, move, lay 1 Trap token, land on the same space as another player and battle, cash in a Reward card for $2 (on your turn or your opponent’s turn), play a Reward card (on your turn or an opponent’s), roll to complete a Mission card (this will end your turn if you succeed), or bid on a Mission card until one is purchased by you (only if on the Dyson Sphere – this will also end your turn!). Play itself moves clockwise around the table and continues until a player completes all 5 of their chosen Missions and makes their final trip to the Dyson Sphere. Once a player reaches the Dyson Sphere after completing 5 missions, the game ends and points are counted.

Completed Missions

A comparison of our completed Mission cards (hint: he won and I lost!!)
Top: 9 Points
Bottom: 6 points

Of course, just because a player is trying to make a mad dash back to the center tile, it doesn’t mean that the others can’t try to make that trip harder by laying traps, attacking, or trying to strategize other ways to outmaneuver them! There can definitely be some “take that” fun with the game. When it comes to scoring, having all 5 missions be of the same color is worth the most points. However, if a player’s Mission cards aren’t the same color, it doesn’t mean they are entirely out of the running as all completed Mission cards are tallied based on set collection: 1 Mission Card of any color is worth 1 point and any card after that is worth an additional 2 points (for example, 2 mission cards of the same color is worth 3 points and 3 matching colored cards is worth 5 points). If there’s a tie, the player with the most money at the end of the game wins.

As stated above, at the time of this review players begin the game on one of the planets from the first tile they lay. I really hope the designers keep this mechanic as it makes moving into the Dyson Sphere to initiate the first bid an actual race. During my first game, I wasn’t really thinking (it was also a learning game) and I placed myself farther away from the Dyson Sphere than my opponent, which means he had a much easier time getting there than I did and got dibs on the first bid for Mission cards! Once that first bidding session had ended, it set up a precedence for how the next bid would go (either me trying to screw him out of a matching colored Mission card or trying to score one that matched the color of my own Mission card). I kind of like picking my starting point and the fact that it starts the race from the very beginning instead of having to wait a whole extra turn to really get things moving as it would if we all started in the Dyson Sphere itself. Once thing I would change, however, is the rule about always having a zero cost Fuel card in the pool. I feel that it would force a player to be a little more money conscious if they have to keep in mind that they may have to buy fuel. For example, one of the times we pulled up Mission cards, one of the locations was a planet I was actually on (I was super excited!!) and, had that been the Mission up for bid, I probably would have gone all in on that Mission and been out of money if I won it. However, after that, I wouldn’t have any money for Fuel cards if there weren’t any $0 options. This would have seriously nerfed my moving abilities, but since I may have completed my first Mission and moved my ship up on the Ship Upgrade Track, I would have had one move regardless of having the extra Fuel. I feel being forced to move only one space at a time until I accumulated Credits through completing other Missions or got lucky to find a $0 Fuel card would make sense and be part of the consequences of my decisions – sort of like pushing my luck a little bit. Perhaps I’ll make that a house rule on my own!

Overall, I enjoyed it, which surprised me a little as it is not the type of game I usually go for. I like the depth and different strategies that can be employed to try and collect your victory (set collection for points, feisty battles to foil others’ flight paths, “traps and Police EVERYWHERE!”, bidding just so someone else is forced to take a Mission they don’t want, etc). I’d like to try it with the full set of 4 players as I’m sure the amount of traps, battles, Police involvement, and all out bidding wars would be pretty epic! For the price, I think it’s a great deal and the artwork is great! I’m happy to see that each planet represented in this galaxy is very different from the others and that the names actually matter unlike others I’ve played. I’d love to see the final product and hope to see this become a reality! This one is probably going to make it to another game night and shown some love!

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