Review: Mini Gal4xy07 May 2019 0
Review: Mini Gal4xy
Released 25 Apr 2019
Studio des Ténèbres made Frost, a deckbuilding solitaire survival card game that was very well-received, especially on this site. That's why I was excited to look at their latest: Mini Gal4xy. In addition to its clever interpolation of "4X" into the title, the core idea of a simplified space 4X game for mobile is a great one. With isolated star systems there's no need for a complicated map, and sci-fi fluff gives you lots of flexibility in terms of making techs and units that work well but make sense in the universe. What's more, the game appears really polished, with a great Saturday-morning cartoon look. Unfortunately, a lot of the other parts don't show nearly as much polish.
In my first game, the decision points I was presented with in the parts of the game I was able to play were pretty dull. Unlock certain technologies and you can unlock certain exploitation slots on planets that let you get more resources. The planets are randomly generated and connected and the tech tree is procedurally generated too, not consistent from game to game. Since everything is random, it’s simply a matter of pattern recognition. The nearest planets require such and such tech unlocks. Those techs are behind these other techs. Save your resources, colonize those planets, rinse, repeat. If you somehow end up with a pile of the wrong resource, just swap it at 3:1 with any other resource. Playing a whole turn takes seconds because there are so few decisions to make.
It's a game of optimizing your response to a procedurally-generated puzzle. What's more, there's no AI to speak of. You get to choose the "barbarians" (in Civ terms) that you'll steamroll over to unlock new planets, but you don't actually fight any other empires. Instead, the name of the game is maximizing your point totals through careful development. Score high enough, and you can unlock new techs, rules, and alien races for your next go round.
With such a significant reliance on random chance, you get situations that feel unfair pretty frequently, and even your greatest accomplishments can feel unearned when the map was laid out in your favor. In one game, the procedural map locked me into a corner where the only planet I could colonize was locked behind a technology at the end of the tree, and the tech to colonize from my ships wasn't much closer. Cue turn after turn of slowly accumulating science points one by one. Obviously, that game was one of my lower-scoring ones.
Luckily, Mini Gal4xy starts to become more interesting once you've unlocked a few more technologies and a few more alien races. The races, in particular, take a page from the playbooks of Cosmic Encounter and Endless Legend by being dramatically different in their abilities and play styles. The Nomads don't have a home base and their ships are built unarmed but with colonizing capabilities. The Fermulons start without a ship but can explore neighboring planets by building an Observatory. It's an interesting challenge figuring out how to adapt to the limitations and take advantage of the strengths of each race, especially when they seem to break what you understand to be the basic rules of the game.
Understanding the basic rules was another problem, though. Despite the simplified gameplay, a lot of things are not explained and I often had questions that the game's icons could not answer. There's a tutorial, but it doesn't explain that the dots above each planet will light up when you can afford an improvement there, or why enemy ships sometimes attack your ships in system and sometimes wait for you to make the first move.
With improvements to the interface and more carefully-crafted procedural generation, Mini Gal4xy would definitely be worth your time just for the fun of figuring out how to make the limitations of each race bend to your favor. Unfortunately the game takes a third strike from persistent and occasionally game-breaking bugs.
Mini Gal4xy has a hard time with changes of focus, often being dumped from memory and reloading after the app has been closed for only a short time. Beyond that, sometimes just fighting a battle or ordering a ship to move will freeze the game, requiring a forced app closure. When I first started playing, these crashes would also erase my save game, rendering the game functionally unplayable, but a recent patch has corrected this particular bug (while significantly delaying the completion of this review!) Entering battles is still risky, not because my ships are outgunned or my enemies tenacious, but because battles still frequently cause freezes. Force quitting from these freezes sets you back to the beginning of your turn. This is particularly annoying when the only way forward is to fight, and that is literally impossible.
There's good ideas here. The basic systems are solid enough to handle alien races with dramatically different starting points, and a score-attack mini space 4X game is a great concept for mobile. This one's just not quite ready to launch.