Now that the Kickstarter campaign for One Deck Galaxy has been postponed until 21 January, I suddenly had time to print an play the beta version. In this game you set out to build a federation in space by building a fleet, colonizing worlds, developing technologies (or "borrowing" them from these worlds), all the while trying to stay ahead of an adversary.
At the start of the game you pick a civilization and a society. They all have their own technologies and milestones to unlock. You start with several coloured dice, for energy, materials and diplomacy, and with some discs for using your technologies. You also have a research lab and a shipyard. You'll produce and store science and fleets here, to spend on actions later on.
Every turn you roll your dice, then go exploring the galaxy. By placing dice in boxes on locations, you gain influence. Once you've got enough influence, you can add them as colonies to your civilization to add more dice, or use their technologies for dice mitigation or speeding up other actions.
Every round your adversary will build up influence as well. You can confront it by filling out boxes on its card. Once you've done that four times, you'll have won the game. But each time this will be harder to do. All the while the deck will thin out, and you'll lose when there's no galaxy left to explore. Finally the adversary will have its own win condition, to add some pressure if you didn't feel any yet.
Especially while learning the game, it will all be a rather abstract and mechanical exersize. You need to complete A before you can do B. But first to complete A you will have to do X, Y and Z. I did not get to the part where I could think in terms of "energy" or "diplomacy" yet or really feel I was building a galaxy. It is also hard to see which location to go for until you've got a deeper understanding of gameplay. Locations don't only bring you dice or tech. They are also one of four types. Another icon to take into consideration. As you'll want to collect each different type, but preferably also specialize in one.
After three plays I've got most rules internalized. I have also some broad idea of the strategy. But I have no idea how to execute it yet. There is so much going on in this game, on every card you explore and investigate, on your own society and technology cards, on how the adversary works and how you have to stay ahead of it. I'm playing against the easiest of adversaries and I don't stand a chance. The game looks brutally hard and has a steep learning curve. It will take a lot of plays to get to know the deck of locations and how to make the most of them, something that was relatively easy with predecessor One Deck Dungeon.
The game may share a few things with One Deck Dungeon, but gameplay feels completely different. You can really like Dungeon, and still find no joy in Galaxy. Or you may think Dungeon is a frustratingly random game and prefer a hard and thinky brainburner like this. Judge it on its own merits. Don't go by the looks to buy it or let it pass. It looks like a very good game, especially after these first plays, but not one that calls out to me to play. I see the beauty in simplicity. I'll go back to the dungeon for now.