The HeroCard Galaxy Board Game
Once you know the rules of the card-battle system for HeroCard, learning the rules for the board game is pretty easy. For starters, the board game utilizes the same four phases of play: Discard, Draw, Clear, and Action. The first three phases are identical to the card game, and the Action phase is very similar, but allows you some additional actions. Before I get into that, though, I should probably tell you the point of the game.
Each player takes on the role of one of the heroes, with the goal of trying to take over the galaxy. You do this by accumulating planets of various different colors in the attempt to create a winning ‘hand’ of planets. You can win with one planet of each of the five colors, four planets of the same color, or two planets of one color and three of another; in essense, a straight, a four of a kind, or a full house, respectively. The HeroCard battling system is used for combat resolution, and combat occurs primarily when there’s a planet that more than one person wants.
Now, back to the Action phase. During the action phase you can attack other players, claim unoccupied, uncontrolled planets, draw technology cards, discover new planets, garrison your owned planets, and move around the board and amongst the planets. Attacking, as I’ve said, is handled using the HeroCard system; you declare your intentions to attack a hero or planet, and you play your attack cards as normal. If another hero is present, that hero gets the chance to respond with block cards. If you occupy a planet in Discover Space (four boxes in the middle of the board where unclaimed planets show up), you can claim that planet for your own; the planet has to be empty except for you in order for this action to work, and if it’s not you’ll have to attack. You can draw technology cards as well. When you do so, you draw four and take two, which helps to cut down on random chance, and technologies can really turn the tide of a game. Technologies come in two flavors: actions and planetary defense cards. Actions are used like any other action card, and use up your attribute points. Planetary defenses, on the other hand, are put in garrisons on your planets, and help to defend them (as the name implies). If you’re out in Discover Space, you can discover a planet from the planet queue, moving it to your part of discovery space. If you’re on one of your own planets, you can garrison the planet in order to put cards from your hand under that planet for its defense. This is extremely useful and often used, as otherwise you have to actually be on a planet in order to defend it from someone else’s attack. Finally, you can move once per turn, either throughout discovery space or amongst the claimed planets. These actions, of course, add to the resource management aspect of the game, as some of them (claiming a planet or drawing technology) are Exclusive actions. This means that, if you perform one of these actions, you generally can’t perform the other, or attack, during that turn.
As with the basic card game, I like the board game version of HeroCard Galaxy a lot. The strategy is deeper and the gameplay a little less abstract, and it’s generally pretty difficult for a player to get into a position that they just can’t dig themselves out of. I like the addition of technology cards, which are typically low-cost, high-effect cards, and even get put in your own discard pile once they’re used (which gets shuffled and used as your action deck when your action deck runs out). Be warned, though, that the game is long; the box indicates 1-2 hours, but I played a game recently that took three and a half hours to complete. Also be warned that strategy is king in this game. You have to keep your eye on the goal, and think a few steps ahead.
One thing that I was concerned about before playing was the fact that the players could, in theory, simply sit in discovery space claiming free planets until someone won, with little to no interaction. In practice, this simply won’t happen. If you’re playing with people who have any desire whatsoever to win, once somebody looks like they could win soon, the others will try to prevent that. Preventing a quick win is usually pretty easy; as easy as taking away one of the leader’s planets, in fact. I have seen players turtle their planets, fortifying them with garrisoned cards until attacking the planet was simply a bad idea. However, there are technology cards (EMP Disruptor and, to a lesser extent, Orbital Bombardment) that can counter this strategy pretty handily. In fact, it was discovered that two technology cards (EMP Disruptor and Hyperdrive), when used in concert, could pretty much get you any claimed planet in play without a fight, provided nobody else was occupying that planet first.
The heroes each have their own advantages in card play, but these differences become more pronounced in the board game. The Cosmic Cult is still the easiest to play, while the Mechagen’s ability to attack multiple times in a single round can be quite devastating. The Crab’s strength comes in powerful garrisons for owned planets, combined with a strong offense for taking other peoples’ planets awy. The EGG is still the hardest to play, primarily because it’s such a reactionary hero. Most of its attack and block cards are dependent upon the opponent already having some cards in his attribute stacks, which can be either problematic or incredibly powerful, in equal portions. However, the EGG does have the advantage of having the most ‘special effect’ type cards; that is, cards that do things other than simple attack and defense. Some of these cards (like Exhaustion or Energy Drain) can be very useful in combinations.
What I Liked
The components are great; very sturdy and attractive. Not only that, but the quick-reference cards that come with the game are extraordinarily useful and well-designed. As for the game itself, I enjoy the depth of strategy and the constantly shifting landscape that the game provides. I like getting new, shiny things every turn, and the thrill of taking an opponent’s planet by force or, better yet, without firing a shot is great.
What I Didn’t Like
Not much that hasn’t already been mentioned. I’m not sure that the EGG is as useful in the board game as it is in the card game (I’ll have to look further into that). Also, this game takes a fair amount of time to play with more than two people, and that might turn some people off. Finally, the heroes in Galaxy seem a little abstract in terms of what they do. It’s difficult to imagine the battle when terms like ‘Warding Intelligence’, ‘Dimensional Shunt’, or ’4D Weapon’ are the norm; they’re not that descriptive. Some of this, however, is due to the limitations of the genre.
The Bottom Line
You could do a lot worse than HeroCard Galaxy. It’s a fun, deep, involving game that can be played either as a fast-paced straight combat game or as a slower-paced strategic board game, and it’s got a cool sci-fi theme (for those who like space sci-fi). I have no problem recommending this game, and I’m itching to try some of the other games in the HeroCard line.