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Race for the Galaxy» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A Solo Gamer Versus the AI: Some First Impressions rss

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JDM
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I've played Race for the Galaxy a few times, and I've played Roll for the Galaxy more. I just moved a few months ago, and that has caused me to look into solo gaming more seriously than I did when I had consistent access to my regular gaming group.

Now, I really enjoy Race. I will admit that it does have a reasonably high barrier for entry, considering the intimidating iconography and the fact that experienced players will probably whoop up on less experienced players quite a bit. But I've also thought that the complaints about the complexity of the iconography are a bit hyperbolic; it seemed more elegant than difficult for me, and once you get over that hump of the first few playthroughs, most of the symbols seem like second nature. The player aid is also outstanding in helping out with fringe cases and other questions, too, and the game, at its core, is pretty simple to explain.

And this week I started playing the official solitaire version of Race that comes with the game's first expansion, The Gathering Storm. Almost the entire rulebook in the expansion is dedicated to teaching you how to play the solitaire version, where you're essentially playing a two-player game against a robot whose actions are abstracted by dice and a series of programmed moves that are explained on the robot's player mat. You can see what the mat looks like here (and I won't go into the nitty gritty of how everything actually works with the mat right now).

The iconography here is a bit intimidating, again, but once you pass through the threshold of intimidation, the game runs very quickly and smoothly. Here are the major pros that I see with the game:

- It is brutally difficult. Especially for a newbie to the game like me, I struggle to win on the easiest setting. That's how I like my solitaire/co-ops games; I want to feel like I've actually achieved something meaningful, and that was definitely the case when I eked out my only one-point victory that I've had so far.

- It feels like you're playing against someone. The robot is dealt a starting planet that gives it specialized abilities, and you then have to take the specialization of your "opponent" into account when you're deciding how to choose your moves. I love that there are different difficulties AND different abilities for the robot to have, which leads me to my next point...

- It is immensely replayable. It doesn't take long to do a game, and every time that I've finished one game I've always immediately wanted to give it another try. But there are 9 starting planets that the robot can be just with the first expansion, and the next two expansions give even more planets to improve variability and replayability.

As for cons, there are a few that I would bring up:

- The robot can feel a bit "streaky"/lucky at times. The robot gets to develop/settle by flipping over a series of cards, and sometimes the robot can get crushingly good cards that will give it a strong points boost at a moment's notice. While you might applaud a real-life opponent for having the smarts to get out a really great card, sometimes the robot just lucks into an outstanding card at almost no cost. This can be a bit frustrating, but generally, on reflection, I've felt like there were things I could have done to mitigate the chances that the robot had the opportunity to get a good card in the first place.

- Some of the iconography doesn't feel totally self-contained or natural in the same way it did for the game. I was a bit confused by some of the robot's powers the first few times I played, and that was because I didn't understand what some symbols were meant to represent on the robot's mat. That's not a huge problem, but I did feel like it was more work to "get" how everything came together here.

If you're looking for an engaging, deep, quick, brutally tough one-player experience (that will also immensely improve your skills for Race for the Galaxy in multiplayer play), this is definitely worth taking a look. I know the Keldon AI gets a lot of love online, but I have really fallen in love with the physical, official solo version lately.

[NB: This was an older review that I wrote on Reddit, and I'm hoping to make an updated, fuller version of this review by the end of the year, when I've completed my 10x10. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about things you'd like to see in that review, or others!]
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David B
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My favorite solo game.
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Richard Smith
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My wife was on a 2 week trip to Europe while I had to work, so I played a lot of solitaire Race. The main thing I noticed is that when she got back, I was a better player.

It taught me that Race for the Galaxy was a RACE, and my fiddling around polishing my engine was not helping me as much as I had thought.

I think these solitaire rules were very well done.

Warm regards, Rick.
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Rus
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I seem to remember that Wei-Hwa (the developer of the solo robot) saying that he designed it to mimic, in an abstract way, the play of a good player, and that is very much how it feels. I would actually love to hear more details about the design and balance process of the robot. I think it is a very clever design.
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Iain
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This is on my list to pick up - I have RFTG but not the expansion. Unfortunately it seems to be unavailable at the moment!
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Tom Lehmann
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rbelikov wrote:
I seem to remember that Wei-Hwa (the developer of the solo robot) saying that he designed it to mimic, in an abstract way, the play of a good player, and that is very much how it feels.

Actually, I designed the solo robot and Wei-Hwa developed the test program we used to tune it (and got a developer credit and special thanks in the rules for his pains). Together, we then tested and tweaked it.

I'm pretty sure we've discussed how we went about doing this way back when in some GS thread: see this post.
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Rus
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
Actually, I designed the solo robot and Wei-Hwa developed the test program we used to tune it


Oops, sorry about the miscredit, Tom! I must have conflated some pieces of memory in my mind, maybe having to do with roll. (This is really your fault for putting out such a large amount of great RftG products, making it hard to keep who did exactly what straight in one's mind )

Thanks for the links!
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