Race for the Galaxy
Card Game; 2-4 Players; Ages 12+
In Race for the Galaxy, players build galactic civilizations by game cards that represent worlds or technical and social developments. Each round consists of one or more of five possible phases. In each round, each player secretly and simultaneously chooses one of seven different action cards and then reveals it. Only the selected phases occur. For these phases, every player performs the phase's action, while the selecting player(s) also get a bonus for that phase. For example, if at least one player chooses the Develop action, then the Develop phase will occur; otherwise it is skipped. In it, each player may simultaneously select a development from his hand of cards to build. After revealing the cards, each player adds his development to his tableau of cards on the table and then discards cards from his hand equal to its cost. Each player who chose Develop discards one card fewer as his bonus.Explore allows a player to draw cards and select which of them to add to his hand. Settle allows a player to place a world in his tableau. Some worlds produce goods, represented by face down cards, when Produce is selected. These goods can be discarded for victory points or sold to add cards to the player's hand by selecting Consume. With cards, players can settle new worlds and build more developments, gaining both victory points and card powers that provide advantages in certain phases. The player who best manages his cards, phase and bonus selections, and card powers to build the greatest space empire, wins. The winner is the player with the most victory points.
Counter Magazine Review
2-4 players, 45 minutes
designed by Tom Lehmann
reviewed by Alan How
This is a card game from the clever mind of Tom Lehmann. He was involved in a design for the Puerto Rico card game, and used his knowledge of a previous game development for that game. San Juan was published by Andreas Seyfarth, but the development process that Tom had built into previous games was used in creating Race for the Galaxy.
About 10 years ago, Mike Siggins and I took part in a play test of Tom's earlier space development game. I'm not sure what it was called then, but after that one game I really wanted to play the game again - make that play, own and marvel at that the game, it was so good. Tom had shown some of the artwork for the cards, which was fantastic and I dreamt of seeing the game. It was more complicated and involved than Race for the Galaxy, which given the apparent learning curve of Race for the Galaxy might mean that others would be glad the earlier game was dropped. What triggered the shelving of the game was that (I recall) Wizards of the Coast brought out a patent on collectable card games and this was thought to capture Tom's game and so the game became uneconomic to produce. I might be wrong about some of the details, but the outline is about right.
Roll on ten years and Race for the Galaxy is published after countless tests raising the expectation of the game. San Juan fans will recognise many of the systems in Race for the Galaxy, but there are many differences too. (I think there is far more to Race for the Galaxy, and I really like San Juan).
Players aim to score victory points by playing cards representing planets, advances on planets and combinations of cards that increase the scores when connected cards are played. The game starts off with one planet for each player and a stack of cards for the actions that each player can play each round. The action cards are identical and each player selects one of these to play each round. All cards are revealed and all actions are played affecting all players. The sequence of their resolution is always the same, but the actions give a small but useful bonus to the player who played each card. For example, when you decide to develop (which allows you to play a develop card), the cost is reduced by 1 card in this phase.
Basically the game is about getting planets and advances played on to the table. The cost of each card is paid for by cards in your hand, which is the same system used in San Juan. The more valuable cards - in terms of victory points - cost more cards, but by playing related cards earlier in the game, the cost can be reduced. So each round players are considering whether to build up their hand of cards (10 can be held over each round), play them and put more cards on their display or perhaps score some victory points. Cards are played simultaneously before the round begins and played face down. Just before you boldly select your action for this round, you should consider what your opponents might be up to and what actions they are likely to play, as this means that you can anticipate their move and play accordingly. At the beginning of the game, when everybody has the same position, one or more players may choose the Explore action. There are two versions of this action card and this affects the bonus for the person choosing the Explore action, but every player will draw 2 cards and discard 1, increasing hand size by one. As this action occurs at the beginning of a round, you have more cards for later options. So perhaps you don't need to use one of your Explore action cards and will choose the Develop action. This allows you to play a Develop card from your hand - which provides a game benefit but few victory points - while the bonus for the players who select this action is one reduced cost (so pay one less card). If you have already had an Explore action then you benefit by having received a card from that action and then play one less card for your develop action. Meanwhile the person who played the Explore action would have received more cards as their bonus (or a wider choice of cards ) depending on the Explore action they had chosen, but would be allowed to Develop as you played this action but without the benefit of your discount of one card.
Of course other players may be thinking the same as you and there are times when your moves are extremely limited, such as when you have no cards or a large hand and to play other than for your best outcome would not be sensible. You have to consider these options and as you build up games (which has happened quickly for me); it is usually a quick decision to take.
The other actions are Settle, which allows you to play Worlds from your hand; Consume, which allow you to use goods (produced in earlier turns) and victory points; and Produce, which produce goods for you on Worlds that allow roduction. Each of these actions provides a useful bonus, but also allows all players to carry out the basic action. The sequence of action cards is well thought out. As my earlier example showed in the early stage of a game, you can see the different outcomes from playing action cards that help you and everyone else. As you have 100% control on what action cards you play (they are all available at the beginning of each new round), you can always carry out the action that is most important for you. But if you can piggyback on the other players' actions you can make faster progress. Actions that no-one chose are ignored, while multiply chosen actions only take place once.
As the tableau of cards is played, you gradually get more options, but higher scores are achieved when you have connected sets of cards that provide more victory points. So you might choose the Explore action that allows you to select 1 from 7 cards of the deck, increasing your chance that you will gain a good match for the route you are taking. This means that those cards are sought after and your opponents can see where you are going but they are equally likely to be following their own route on how to maximise their position. Often you will be on non intersecting courses.
The game ends when you reach the number of victory points that are the target for each game, which vary with the number of players, or one player has laid out 12 cards on their tableau.
There is a lot of information to display on each card. The phase of the game that the card is playable is highlighted on the left hand side of the card, which makes it easy to see when the card can be played. The type of card - planet, development card - is shown by a different shaped symbol, circles for worlds and diamonds for developments, which also eases the learning process. Each type of planet - military, non-military, windfall and production worlds have different coloured centres to the circles. There are four coloured production world types - all in different colours and then down the side of each card are symbols showing the impact of each card in the round that it is played. There are special planets that provide victory points for combinations of cards. The information is beautifully displayed on the cards, but even so there is a reasonable amount to take in and at the learning stage of the game, it can be daunting.
So what makes the game feel more complicated to learn and play easily? In card games, this can happen if a commonly used card mechanism is ignored or reversed, such as in Sticheln where you do not have to follow suit. I am a little puzzled as the rules are well described with excellent illustrations and examples. There is also a very good round and card summary. And the rules are well written to encourage you to get into a game. While each aspect of the cards is easy to assimilate, the combinations may be more challenging for some people to absorb. In my opinion you get to learn these after a few games and as games don't last too long, this is well worth the learning time as the game is so good.
Rio Grande Games have announced that there are more cards to come (hoorah!) but while the game is already rich in options I cannot wait for more still. The game is not collectible but it just feels like you have a great big pile of cards already as the basic game has 109 cards for you to combine in a multitude of ways. Race for the Galaxy scales well from 2 to 4 and is especially good with 2 players. There is a set-up version of the game to get you started as well as a more experienced option for 2 players, where you play 2 actions per round each which is terrific. The game is fairly addictive - at least for me - and it is easy to play several games in a row, which doesn't happen too many times so you'll probably be shocked to know that I liked this game. It plays well, quickly and is well packaged in all respects and with so many options to pursue you do not see the same ones occur often so has high replayability. Like all card games there is luck, but this is of the type where you make the best of situations and then go! It's a very good game so try it out.