Game Review: Mine the Moons of Jupiter with “Galilean Moons”

The latest finding from astronomers is that the planet Jupiter has 79 moons. Seventy-nine moons! Fortunately, you’re only sending robots to mine four of Jupiter’s biggest moons in the terrific game “Galilean Moons” from Lukus Adams and Fantasy Workhouse Games. The game involves players seeking to establish bases so they cam mine the moons of Ganymede, Calisto, Io and Europa for invaluable gems: Collect sets of gems for maximum points, but having your robots invade and claim territory on each moon gains lots of points too. The game works with 2-4 players, and includes Dr. Icarus, a simple AI that can be added to competitive play or used as an opponent for solo play. I competed against Dr. Icarus multiple times and that’s what I’ll be writing about herein.

First off, to address the elephant in the room, there’s a lot of similarity between the core mechanic of Galilean Moons and Ticket to Ride: You’re collecting sets to gain enough power to be able to take over sectors on one or more moons, seeking to have not the longest train line, but the most productive mines. Each turn you can invade an empty sector, a sector with a neutral base, or a sector held by an opponent – like that nefarious Dr. Icarus – if you have sufficient power to overcome them. You can also mine the gem that’s in that sector once you have at least one robot present, rally (move ‘bots to or from a specific sector, allowing you to have two for quick mining, then pull one back for more offensive tactical options), or draw more cards to expand your hand.

GALILEAN MOONS COMPONENTS

But before we get too far into the mechanics, let’s start with the basic components and setup. To begin, here are the all-important gem cards (actually called Command Cards in the rulebook):

galilean moons board game - gem command cards

Each gem has a color and symbol. Green is Ecology, and there are 6 of those sectors spread randomly across the four moons (denoted by the “6x” on the lower portion of the card), pink is Seismic and they’re less common, with only 2 sectors available for mining. The third card is a wildcard. You can figure out how that one works!

Each player starts with a single technology card and can acquire more as the game proceeds. They offer unique powers or capabilities to each player, as shown:

galilean moons board game - tech cards

For example, Tunnels, the leftmost, is terrifically valuable because one of our goals in the game is to collect the most disparate set of gems possible. With Tunnels, you can sneak into an adjacent sector and mine their gem without having to invade or occupy the space. Rewind lets you grab a card from the discard pile if you otherwise run out, and Invaders lets you draw one additional Command Card (what I call the gem cards) just before invading. With any luck, that bolsters your invasion force and helps ensure success as you seek to have your robots spread out and take over the moons!

Each moon has a different number of sectors, and some sectors start with neutral bases that make them harder to invade. All are randomly assigned a gem for mining by distributing all of the circular tokens. Here’s Europa, all ready for play:

galilean moons board game - close up of Europa

Notice that the dominant player on Europa at the end of the game will score 4 victory points, the second most dominant 2VP, and everyone else nada. The two starting bases add +2 to the defense of those sectors, meaning that the purple and blue sectors would cost 1 to invade since they’re unoccupied, but the green and yellow would cost 3 each to invade. One huge benefit is that if you do invade a sector with a neutral base, you remove the base and store it: Each is worth a whopping 4VP at the end of the game. I found it was a smart strategy to aggressively invade these sectors to accumulate points. Even better, if you have control of three or more sectors, the inner sector (or sectors!) gain a free base to make them more able to withstand attacks from opponents.

GALILEAN MOONS INITIAL SETUP (SOLO PLAY)

Fully set up, here’s how the board looks:

galilean moons board game - ready to play set up

I’ll be playing blue, so you can see my 10 robots, ready to stomp onto the appropriate sectors. Dr. Icarus is yellow, and his mechanism is a bit different: You roll a 4-sided die to determine which moon he’s focused on, draw a Command Card to identify which gem he’s seeking, then either invade (if it’s empty) or add a targeting token (the triangular tokens, above) which lets him surreptitiously build up forces prior to an invasion. If he seeks to invade a space you control, for example, it’ll take him a few rounds to build up target tokens before he’s strong enough to succeed.

I have also been dealt a random technology card and four Command Cards, one of which is a wildcard. Dr. Icarus also gets a technology card, but he doesn’t accumulate Command Cards, instead placing target tokens as he prepares for invasion and mining actions. For both players, those robots are a constrained resource, so if you run out, you can’t add more until you recall one or more from other sectors on one of the four moons.

A few turns into the solo game, you can see that Dr. Icarus has targeted two sectors of the moon (the triangle tokens), both because the presence of the neutral base means it requires more than one Command Card to invade. Meanwhile, I’ve taken the sectors that don’t have bases and denote that with my two giant mining robots:

galilean moons board game - typical game turn, Ganymede

It’s my goal to invade either the yellow sector adjacent to my robots (even though Icarus already has a targeting token. They’re ignored until enough accumulate for him to invade the sector) or the other green sector. Why? Because once I have three adjacent, then the middle sector will gain a base and be better defended. A valuable tactic that means all players will seek strength in numbers, an interesting mechanism.

GAMEPLAY FOR GALILEAN MOONS

In fact, with the cards shown below, I have the equivalent of 3 green Ecology, which means I have enough power to invade the second green sector, as my robot placement shows. Once I do this, the cards are discarded, the base is pulled off the board – gaining me 4VP – and then the middle sector gains a new mine:

galilean moons board game - time to invade

A really good move, and on the next round I can safely mine both pink and green, very helpful for my goal of having one of each of the six gems to create the most valuable collection possible (as denoted on the top left of the board). It’s important to note that any one gem is worth zero, the value comes as you create a more and more diverse collection.

Dr. Icarus, meanwhile, is doing his best to gain sectors and mine them to earn points too. Every time it’s his turn and he draws a wildcard, he then goes after every sector on that moon too, so that’s a fairly alarming turn of events. Io, so far, is evenly matched with one of my robots and one of his, while I’m the only presence on Europa for now:

galilean moons board game - meanwhile, on io

The two Kronos (blue) Command Cards are perfect, though, because it means I can invade his sector and kick Icarus off Io! Take that, you mad scientist you! (Why? Because one card lets you invade an empty sector, two lets you invade a sector with one robot, three lets you invade a sector with two robots or a neutral base, and five lets you invade a sector with an enemy base (worth 2 defense) and robot)

Further along in the game things are looking rather grim for our friends on Io: Dr. Icarus has taken over!

galilean moons board game - icarus has overrun europa

As I said earlier, Icarus drawing those wild cards kind of stinks because it gives him +1 in every sector, making it easy to target everything, then invade everything. This now means he’ll get 6VP and I’ll get none from Io, not too optimal. If he already has a sector and draws the matching Command Card, he’ll mine for that gem, so this also gives him the chance to collect green, blue, and red.

The passage of time is tracked by the draw deck: Every time you have to shuffle it, you advance the time token (on the lower right of the board). Once you’ve shuffled a third time, each person gets one more turn and the game’s over. Here’s my end setup:

galilean moons board game - end of game

Notice both of us have a lot of those 4VP bases we’ve taken over through invasion (the dark hexagonal tokens), and a variety of gems. No surprise, my targeted collection has worked a lot better than Dr. Icarus and his random set building: He has blue and red, while I have two sets of all six gems. The end score involves calculating the dominant and second player on each moon, adding up the defeated bases, then adding the gem combinations. Dr. Icarus did okay but I ended up doing very well with 75 points. Yes, the scoreboard along the edge only goes up to 50, for no obvious reason.

Now to be fair, I played against the simplest of the Dr. Icarus strategies, allowing him to have one action per turn. It was surprising he did this well, actually, because there was a point mid-way when he had barely any presence on the board. Giving him two actions to mirror a player’s two actions would be better and more challenging, and you can even allow him to have three actions if you really want a tougher AI opponent.

SUMMARY AND CLOSING THOUGHTS

I really enjoyed playing Galilean Moons, though I feel like it’s a base game in search of some fun and interesting expansions. The mechanisms all work very well, but there’s a methodical rhythm to the play that takes away from the fun and thematic nature of the game. The components are very nice and the retro Deco style is fantastic; it’s got a great table presence. But some more variability would be great. Maybe meteors that randomly rain down and destroy anything in a sector? Or a peculiar fungus that destroys all pink, green, or purple gems in storage? Something like that would help this game. As is, though, it’s still fun and engaging, and I’ll definitely keep playing it as I ratchet up the challenge level with Dr. Icarus.

GALILEAN MOONS, 1-4 players, designed by Lukus Adams and Fantasy Workhouse Games. $50 through Galilean Moons on Facebook.

Disclosure: Fantasy Workhouse Games sent me a copy of the game in return for this candid review.

dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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