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Subject: Racing and Rolling for the Galaxy rss

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Neil Mehta
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A review based on 5 plays, all with 2 players.

Edit: see the end of the review for an update after 37 plays.

History

Race for the Galaxy, including the first three expansions, is my favorite game of all time, a title held in part because of my emotional history with the game. I have racked up hundreds of plays, most of those with my close friend Andrew, who shared housing with me when I was in graduate school. We adopted a daily regimen of three games. Each game took 15 minutes flat, and on occasion we would even squeeze in a fourth play in under an hour. We played breezily and happily, admiring or deriding each other’s galactic civilization while making moves based purely on intuition. We had a blast.

This is not to say that the gameplay was irrelevant; on the contrary. Andrew and I are both serious gamers, and nothing less than a marvelous game could have seen that much floor time (we played on carpet, not table). These are the key features that contribute to my adoration of Race for the Galaxy:

- Clever indirect interaction. To play well, you must choose a role based on its relative value, its value for you minus its value for your opponent. This requires constant attention to said opponent. And you truly are racing – racing to complete goals before your opponent, and sometimes racing to end the game at a timely moment.

- Low downtime. I appreciate the swift flow of games like Caverna and Puerto Rico, but simultaneous play is, by my lights, better still. (No doubt this explains my enjoyment of real-time games like Galaxy Trucker.)

- A spectacular arc. You begin with a lone world and a few cards. You end with a dozen worlds with looping powers; a purring engine, a perpetual motion machine that spits out points.

- Frequent tense decisions. Cards are the primary currency of the game, so to add one card to your tableau you may need to discard 5 others.

- Finally, and most importantly, enormous breadth. Let us stipulate that depth refers to how much productive analysis can be done in a typical position, while breadth refers to how many different types of typical positions normally arise per game. With the full complement of expansions, Race for the Galaxy includes hundreds of cards, and in a normal game you add only twelve to your tableau.

These cards support wildly different strategies. You might settle many cheap worlds and crank out points via a produce-consume cycle; create a towering military and explore heavily to score a few select powerhouse worlds; or build a self-sustaining infrastructure of developments that reward further developing. Better still, while most cards are carefully designed to support certain strategies – blue worlds support production and consumption, while military worlds do not – a few cards break these rules, making room for crazy hybrid strategies. One starting world lets you settle most military worlds as if they were civilian worlds, for example, an ability which drastically alters the space of possibilities.

After hundreds of plays, however, I am well and tired of Race for the Galaxy. It retains its status as my favorite game, for I judge games based on their merits relative to my tastes. There is no game, at least none that I have found so far, that could maintain my interest forever, and so it is only to the credit of Race for the Galaxy that I have played it to exhaustion. Still, I have played it to exhaustion.

So it was with hope and skepticism that I approached Roll for the Galaxy: hope that the game might be a worthy successor, skepticism on the same front.

Overview

As in Race, players are building a galactic empire. Players start with either three worlds or two worlds and a development, and the end of the game is triggered when (among other things) a player completes any combination of twelve worlds and developments. Players build these by using dice, which represent workers. Dice spent on any particular turn are returned to the player’s citizenry, where they must be re-hired with credits, while unspent dice will be re-rolled and available for immediate use on the next turn.

The possible phases of a turn are

(1) exploring (searching for new worlds/developments to build),
(2) developing (constructing and completing developments by placing dice equal to the cost of the world),
(3) settling (identical to developing, except that you construct worlds),
(4) producing (placing goods on worlds), and
(5) shipping (removing goods for credits or points).

But players must jointly decide which phases occur on any given turn. To this end, players roll their dice, and the face of each die shows the phase to which it will be assigned as a default. Each player then selects one phase that will occur by placing a die showing any face on that phase. In addition, players may use any reassign powers – each player begins with one weak reassign power, and many developments add more such powers – to move dice from one phase to another. This all occurs secretly and simultaneously. Finally, all players reveal their chosen phases and dice placements. Only chosen phases will occur, though in the two-player game, an extra phase will be chosen randomly by the roll of a die.

The turn then proceeds briskly. Each chosen phase occurs in order, and players may use any dice assigned to that phase for the associated action.

Recall that one’s spent dice will now be idly lounging in one’s citizenry. At the end of the turn, however, players may pay credits to return any such dice to the pool of active dice.

Rinse and repeat.

Components

The dice are numerous and brightly colored. They feel wonderful, as dice usually do. The game even includes tough but attractive plastic cups for holding the dice, and the shaking of the dice in these cups is pleasing to the ear. Meanwhile, the worlds and developments are represented by thick, sturdy tiles with lovely artwork. Other assorted components include player screens with a helpful rules overview, wooden player markers to track credits, and cardboard strips for each player to track phases.

My only complaint concerns the phase strips, which are thin and tend to slide around. Otherwise, the components are outstanding: functional and beautiful.

Noteworthy mechanisms

Let me attempt to convey the feel of the game by drawing your attention to some important mechanisms.

- The dice place soft constraints on your options, nudging but not forcing you in a particular direction. For even at the start of the game you can normally change two of your dice: one by using it to select any phase and another by using your starting reassign power. As a result, the phase selection phase offers an abundance of choices – but not so many as to overwhelm.

- Except for the tiles representing starting worlds and developments, each tile is double-sided: one side has a world, and the other has a development. So every exploration offers a choice, and often an interesting one.

- Dice of different colors have different faces and consequently tend to support different phases. This adds some small interesting decisions, such as decisions about which dice to purchase with your credits.

- Settling worlds always adds more dice to your pool, while building developments always grants some special power, such as the ability to reassign dice. There is an delicate balance to be struck between obtaining credits (usually by producing and shipping goods), dice, and special powers. An increase in dice adds to your potential economy, but spent dice are of no present use if you cannot purchase them. An increase in credits adds to your pool of dice for the next turn, but your maximum dice are limited by the size of your pool. And special powers require individual consideration. The dizzying act of balancing this dice-driven economy is one of the most fun aspects of the game.

The mandatory comparison

How, then, does Roll stack up to Race?

- The dice add a large scoop of sensory pleasure to the game. Shaking dice in cups is fun!

- Phase selection is far more interesting and has a puzzle-like feel. It offers many more possibilities, in part because of the reassignment powers, and rewards players who can predict the moves of their opponents.

- Roll is far easier to teach and learn. It has very few of the symbols that leave new Race players dazed. In part, this is because …

- In Race, worlds and developments may, and usually do, have standing special powers. In Roll, only developments have standing special powers. The change is enormous! It radically streamlines the game, but also radically cuts down on the explosive sense of economic growth. You no longer have 10 special powers feeding into one another; you have perhaps 2 or 3.

This will appeal very much to those who like leaner games. I am not such a person. This changed feature is the single largest disappointment that I find in Roll.

- Cards are no longer currency, robbing the game of some of its tension. When you settle a 6-cost development, no longer must you choose which one precious world to keep as you reluctantly discard the remainder of your hand. Instead, the other worlds and developments available for your construction are entirely unaffected.

This again streamlines the game and removes the temptation to over-think. Many will appreciate the simplification. I do not.

Final thoughts

I rate Roll for the Galaxy an 8.0 out of 10. It is, in other words, a truly excellent game, one which gives me a special sense of excitement whenever I pull it from the shelf. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing Roll for the Galaxy thus far, and I am confident that I will be able to play it at least 25 times more before fatigue sets in.

But not hundreds. The changes from Race to Roll have predominantly, though not exclusively, been in the direction of simplification, which is most of benefit for new players and those who like the streamlined; those who, like W. V. O. Quine, have a taste for desert landscapes.

When it comes to games, I find that I prefer lush gardens. And so Roll does not fill the shoes of Race; not for me. But that’s all right. Race for the Galaxy remains my favorite game of all time, and a game can be very, very good while still being worse than that.

Edit: As I'm now at 37 plays, it's high time for a reassessment. I have to say that I'm very impressed with the staying power of Roll. It has a lot of depth that's emerged only over the course of these dozens of plays, and the role-selection phase especially has a lot of interesting quirks.

I also see that my initial assessment was not entirely fair in one respect. I rate Race a 10 only if at least the first two expansions are included, but a more fair comparison might be vanilla Race against vanilla Roll. There I think Roll wins, since the expansions add loads of variety and (except for The Brink of War) really balance and enrich Race strategically.

Then again, who cares whether the comparison is fair? If I like Race with its expansions better than Roll which currently doesn't have any, then that's how the chips fall.

Looking towards the future, then, I'm eagerly anticipating the Ambition expansion. And if one or two more high-quality expansions come down the pipeline afterwards I could see Roll rising a lot higher for me - I'd even say it has a slim chance of unseating Race. Regardless, even the base game has plenty left for me to explore.

I've now bumped my rating of Roll up to 9.
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Xelto G
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Thanks for actually providing a thoughtful comparison between the two. Most of the comparisons posted here are strongly slanted towards one of the two games, sometimes insultingly so.

I happen to be someone who prefers Roll to Race, so obviously I'm going to disagree with the final analysis. But I appreciate the fact that you've got some solid reasons for why you prefer the one you do.
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Bruce Nettleton
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Good, well reasoned and well written review.

I think that it's only partially correct to say that the worlds in roll have no special powers. Different worlds place different colored dice in the player's supply, leading to higher or lower probabilities of triggering certain phases or development abilities. I understand that this is not the same as a fixed ability like those provided by many of the worlds in Race. On the other hand, it is a strategic layer in the dice game which has no parallel in the card game.

I give the slight nod to Roll, mostly because it's easier to get to the table, and because I love risk management over determinism as a strategic element in my games.
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Kirk Bauer
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Quote:
- Cards are no longer currency, robbing the game of some of its tension. When you settle a 6-cost development, no longer must you choose which one precious world to keep as you reluctantly discard the remainder of your hand. Instead, the other worlds and developments available for your construction are entirely unaffected.

This again streamlines the game and removes the temptation to over-think. Many will appreciate the simplification.


Funny enough this is the single reason I dislike Race for the Galaxy, and sure enough I liked this game much more.
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Simon Kamber
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opotamus wrote:

- Cards are no longer currency, robbing the game of some of its tension. When you settle a 6-cost development, no longer must you choose which one precious world to keep as you reluctantly discard the remainder of your hand. Instead, the other worlds and developments available for your construction are entirely unaffected.


I am not sure I agree. You no longer pay costs with cards, but you get some of the tension back when you have to 'fuel' your explores with tiles, and cannot (usually) change the order of the tiles in your construction zone. If you have drawn a good 6-cost tile, the decision about whether to develop it before your engine is fully ready, or discard it so you can develop something else, can be just as bad as deciding whether to discard a good card in Race.
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Neil Mehta
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Simon, I grant that choices about when to abandon tiles in Roll can be agonizing. But Race provides the agonizing choice virtually every time you settle or develop, whereas Roll provides it infrequently.
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Scott Russell
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opotamus wrote:
Simon, I grant that choices about when to abandon tiles in Roll can be agonizing. But Race provides the agonizing choice virtually every time you settle or develop, whereas Roll provides it infrequently.


When I am teaching this and players start agonizing, I tell them to start looking at it differently. In any given hand, you should usually only look at one or two of the cards as something to build, the rest are just money.
 
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Dulkal wrote:
opotamus wrote:

- Cards are no longer currency, robbing the game of some of its tension. When you settle a 6-cost development, no longer must you choose which one precious world to keep as you reluctantly discard the remainder of your hand. Instead, the other worlds and developments available for your construction are entirely unaffected.


I am not sure I agree. You no longer pay costs with cards, but you get some of the tension back when you have to 'fuel' your explores with tiles, and cannot (usually) change the order of the tiles in your construction zone. If you have drawn a good 6-cost tile, the decision about whether to develop it before your engine is fully ready, or discard it so you can develop something else, can be just as bad as deciding whether to discard a good card in Race.
To me, the tension comes in where if you have too many dice locked into ongoing building for devs and/or worlds, should you cut your losses so you can free up some dice and be more efficient in other areas, or press your luck that you'll be able to finish something, get them back, AND get something out of it?
 
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Jimmy Okolica
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Quote:

I rate Roll for the Galaxy an 8.0 out of 10. It is, in other words, a truly excellent game, one which gives me a special sense of excitement whenever I pull it from the shelf. I have thoroughly enjoyed playing Roll for the Galaxy thus far, and I am confident that I will be able to play it at least 25 times more before fatigue sets in.

But not hundreds. The changes from Race to Roll have predominantly, though not exclusively, been in the direction of simplification, which is most of benefit for new players and those who like the streamlined; those who, like W. V. O. Quine, have a taste for desert landscapes.


+1... I'm not sure if fatigue will set in at 30 plays or 50 - 60, but I suspect you're right that it won't get into the 100s without expansions.

Still, all the positives you point too, especially how much easier it is to teach means it's much more likely for me to play it. I'll never say no to Race and it's still in my top two for short 2-player games with my life-partner, but if I'm playing with new people, Roll wins hands-down.
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Serge Levert
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
Quote:
Roll for the Galaxy thus far, and I am confident that I will be able to play it at least 25 times more before fatigue sets in.

But not hundreds. The changes from Race to Roll have predominantly, though not exclusively, been in the direction of simplification,
+1... I'm not sure if fatigue will set in at 30 plays or 50 - 60, but I suspect you're right that it won't get into the 100s without expansions.

I'm at 63 plays now and i'm amazed at the depth Roll is hinting at. I feel like i've only experienced the tip of the iceberg. At the moment i believe the Roll base game is likely more replayable than the Race base game. Couple hundred plays minimum, possibly ~500.
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Kirk Bauer
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entranced wrote:
I'm at 63 plays now and i'm amazed at the depth Roll is hinting at. I feel like i've only experienced the tip of the iceberg. At the moment i believe the Roll base game is likely more replayable than the Race base game. Couple hundred plays minimum, possibly ~500.


Serious question: how could you possibly have had time to play it so many times already? I have been gaming for 20 years and there are only a few games I have ever played that much. One is Hanabi, but even then that has been over 2-3 years now (before it was out in the US).
 
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kirkbauer wrote:
entranced wrote:
I'm at 63 plays now and i'm amazed at the depth Roll is hinting at. I feel like i've only experienced the tip of the iceberg. At the moment i believe the Roll base game is likely more replayable than the Race base game. Couple hundred plays minimum, possibly ~500.


Serious question: how could you possibly have had time to play it so many times already? I have been gaming for 20 years and there are only a few games I have ever played that much. One is Hanabi, but even then that has been over 2-3 years now (before it was out in the US).
this game's been out to the general public for about 3.5 months now (a thread mentions at distributors at mid-Nov. 2014). Averages out to 18 plays per month. Certainly possible, if a bit implausible. The thing is, if you have the right group or audience that's go for the game, and you meet often enough, that's certainly getting all your ducks lined up in a row! wow
Case in point is I used to know a gamer who kept up to date with Dominion expansions as they came out up to Prosperity. We'd easily get in back to back to back games, esp. 2p when everyone else left, which really pumped up my plays for those.


I myself am down to gaming only every other week, if even that. Many of my plays will need to come from conventions that roll around every few months or so (and even then, it's an average 3 hour drive one way for many of them) .


I know with RftG (big 'R' for Race), many of us counted our 200 to 1000+ games from Keldon's AI
 
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Serge Levert
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kirkbauer wrote:
entranced wrote:
I'm at 63 plays now and i'm amazed at the depth Roll is hinting at. I feel like i've only experienced the tip of the iceberg. At the moment i believe the Roll base game is likely more replayable than the Race base game. Couple hundred plays minimum, possibly ~500.
Serious question: how could you possibly have had time to play it so many times already? I have been gaming for 20 years and there are only a few games I have ever played that much. One is Hanabi, but even then that has been over 2-3 years now (before it was out in the US).

Most of my free time is devoted to gaming. This number of plays is actually low by my standards. I work more hours than i used to, and in the available time i've occasionally had trouble finding willing Roll opponents among all my playgroups. I did not have the latter problem with Race.

Doing some math, i average 690 game plays per year (you = 327, if you track all your plays since you started in 2012), or 57 (27) per month, or 1.9 (0.9) per day. Roll has been available to me for 34 days, which, interestingly enough, is almost exactly 63 plays.

It looks like the answer to your question is: i play twice as often as you do. Or one of the answers.

Another answer is that i like to specialize - i have 2200 ftf plays of Race for the Galaxy. As rrenaud says, "[...] I am a gamer who prefers depth over breadth. I'd rather play my 4000th game of Race for the Galaxy [...] in place of learning a new game that is likely not as good."
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ackmondual wrote:
this game's been out to the general public for about 3.5 months now (a thread mentions at distributors at mid-Nov. 2014). Averages out to 18 plays per month. Certainly possible, if a bit implausible.

Hehe, how about averaging triple that - 56 plays per month. Implausible now? :)

ackmondual wrote:
The thing is, if you have the right group or audience that's go for the game, and you meet often enough, that's certainly getting all your ducks lined up in a row! :wow:

Yeah, i've played Roll with 18 unique players, in 2 different playgroups. I'd play daily if i could. As it stands, i can usually find opponents about 3-4 days a week.
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Kirk Bauer
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entranced wrote:
Doing some math, i average 690 game plays per year (you = 327, if you track all your plays since you started in 2012), or 57 (27) per month, or 1.9 (0.9) per day.


Wow, nice! I had never done the math on my end before. I wish I had logged games way back when, but oh well
 
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Neil Mehta
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I've now added some further reflections after 37 plays of Roll.
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