Christopher Rao
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RACE FOR THE GALAXY REVIEW


courtesy Surya

Pre- and post-Essen buzz called RftG “San Juan on Steroids” or “San Juan in Space.” Both are fair comparisons. And yet RftG is very much its own game, taking liberally from these classics and still injecting enough rocket fuel inventiveness of its own to have a quite different feel than these or other games. In some ways, it’s even more complex than Puerto Rico, much less San Juan. Imagine, for example, that in Settler phase in PR, some plantations could simply be taken, but others had to be taken militarily. And imagine that there were various types of sugar mills, not just small and large, and that one of these mills gave you bonus for trading indigo, while another let you draw an extra card if you chose prospector, while another let you ship just one barrel of sugar for 2 VPs. Welcome to the world of Race for the Galaxy.

This is an extremely long review (even by my standards!). After my standard Game Review Checklist I go into great detail about some sample card combinations, and how they shed light onto the (many) strengths and (few) weaknesses of the game. Consider this an appendix of sorts.

Regardless, to cut to the chase, this is a fabulous game with an extremely steep learning curve. It is unclear after about a dozen plays whether it will continue to feel fresh after 20 more plays, or 50, or 200. All I can say is that the ideas and execution are so good that I look forward to this journey.


courtesy Rokkr

There are other reviews that go over the rules in some detail. The basics are that you start with one of five unique home worlds, and choose roles simultaneously. The roles are similar to San Juan, but each player gets to take any role they want, and the table as a whole only executes the roles actually chosen by the players. This leads to a fair amount of fun guesswork (such as in both SJ and PR) about what other players are likely to choose to maximize their own competitive advantages. The game ends either when one player plays 12 cards (like San Juan) or when the pile of VP chips is exhausted (like Puerto Rico, but only 12 per player).


courtesy Rokkr

Let me also emphasize just how long it took me to understand even some basic mechanics of the game, which continually slowed me down. My big confusion had to do with the color-coding of Worlds, and was probably far more painful than it should have been simply because I am horribly, wretchedly color-blind. Here’s how it goes: There are 4 types of goods, each of which can be found on its own colored world (blue, brown, green, yellow). So far so good.

The color is inside the circle in the upper-left hand corner of the card if the world produces during produce phase, but if it’s instead a Windfall World, then the inside of the circle is white, and the applicable color is instead found in a “halo” around the circle. Well … ok.

Whether the world is standard or Windfall, it may also be a world that may be purchased with cards (signified by a black number, for number of cards), or must be subdued with military force (signified by a red number, for military strength. In this case, no cards are spent; the player simply must possess enough military strength in his/her cards in play to subdue it. So there are essentially 3 different axes here: type of good (4 options), standard or windfall production (binary), and purchase or military (binary again). Oh, and just to be fun, there are also some worlds that have no production at all, instead bestowing various special abilities – places with names like Pirate World, Galactic Resort and Alien Rosetta Stone World (you almost expect Yul Brynner to play the Gunslinger!). These worlds have a gray background to their circle, and no halo. It’s a lot to get, but once you get these down, the rest of it comes fairly easily.


courtesy Faerun

The back story of RftG is that the game was originally designed to be the Puerto Rico card game, but after Seyfarth published San Juan himself, Thomas Lehmann re-themed his version as a space game. It's got a lot of the same mechanics as San Juan, with several nifty differences that make it more complex – and in some ways more complex even then Puerto Rico:

1 Everyone has a hand of cards representing all the possible roles - so you can always choose the role you want and get its benefit. Even if two or more people choose the same role. The trick is that only the roles that are chosen are executed (like in both San Juan and Puerto Rico). But with simultaneous secret selection, there's some fun guesswork about whether your competitors will choose a role you need so that you can choose another one. If you guess wrong, you may have to wait another turn to do what you want.

2 Instead of one build role, there are two roles that give you cards to put in your play area - one for settling planets and one for building. Both types of cards count for VPs, and count towards the 12-card end game condition. But because there are two different roles, and both can be chosen on the same round, it's possible for two different cards to be played by the same player on one turn. So if someone already has ten cards played, the game may end the next turn.

3 There's combat! Well, kind of. There are various types of planets to settle (which confused me to no end for the first 2 or 3 times I played). Some planets are paid for with cards out of your hand, just like San Juan, but some require you to have X number of military units. These units are not (usually) spent, but are more like strength of a standing army. So you build cards which have a special military capability, and those cards let you settle other hostile planets. This offers lots of very interesting strategies. For example, you can choose an economic strategy - trading commodities for lots of points, but not build up a military (you can never get attacked, after all). Or you can focus on the military, so that you get new planets. Those planets may or may not produce commodities (some produce only when they are initially settled – these are called “windfall planets” because of the initial windfall -- unless you have a special card that lets them produce in the production phase or unless you yourself chose production, in which case you get produce on one windfall planet that would not have otherwise produced.


courtesy Nobi

4 There is no random trade chart to tell you how many cards you get for trading in ("consuming") your commodities, but instead lots of cards that increase your payment for certain types of commodities. There are still just four commodities, but they're weird, such as Novelties and Alien Technology - reminded me quite a bit of Merchant of Venus.

5 There is a 10-card hand limit. Despite this, I actually misplayed so badly one round that I ended up having to discard 8 cards at once! Basically, I didn't realize that I could actually settle a planet out of my planet by spending cards - I thought I needed military, but I didn't. The cards are mostly-language independent. Which means there are many icons to get used to, and some colors signifying how to settle a planet; this is a pain in the neck for me because I'm really color-blind.

GAME REVIEW CHECKLIST


courtesy visard

As with Puerto Rico, Caylus, and Leonardo Da Vinci, I find it hard to have a firm opinion after only a dozen plays because I’m still trying to understand so much about the strategy of the game. For this reason my opinions here are still percolating to some degree. My hunch about my final rating has shifted from 7 to 10 throughout all these tests, and may rest lower (or higher) than the 9 I give it now.


1. DEPTH/COMPLEXITY
EDIT: upon reflection, increased from 9 to 10
"How many and how compelling are the decisions you make per minute?"

After being utterly lost the first few plays, I can now play a remarkably satisfying 2-player game in about 20-30 minutes. Once you get it, you get it. And the rest is pure strategy and tactics.

- Analysis Paralysis/Downtime?
Very little. It’s simultaneous action, and like both PR and SJ, at least when you’re screwed, you know it, and can take some satisfaction in knowing that it will all be over soon.

2. MECHANICS
"How intuitive, elegant and flowing are the moves that bring your tactics to life?"

So for me the lineage of PR and SJ is about as good as it gets for pure mechanics. So 8 is fairly low. There are a number of things, such as all the different types of planets, that were completely non-intuitive for me. But again, once you get it, you get it. I’m not sure if it could have been done in a simpler way, but regardless the mechanics don’t slow me down much at all now. I still have a little bit of a hard time processing that when you choose some roles, you choose a “flavor” of that role – Explore A or Explore B, Consume A or Consume B. I’m sure that I’ll get over that too in another 20 or 30 plays.


courtesy henk.rolleman

3. INTERACTION (2 player), (4 player)
"To what degree does it facilitate a rich social experience?"

This is highly variable depending on number of players. And, probably, familiarity with the game. The thing about being to choose any role is that you care a bit less about what other people do. It’s a race, it feels like a race, and you often just run your race.

The 2-player version exacerbates this because you choose 2 roles, as in SJ. Because you can choose any 2 roles, you tend to notice your opponent a bit less than in a 4-player game (I’ve never played 3-player). I don’t think it’s much of a problem with the 2-player version because the decisions are so compelling and the whole game lasts about 20 minutes. Plus, the more that you play, the less you’re distracted by understanding the mechanics, the various card combinations, etc. Then it has more of the jockeying for position that PR and SJ have.

4. ORIGINALITY
"How fresh and unique are the strategy, mechanics and theme?"

There are frankly derivative parts, but the unique parts are just terrific. The balance of different strategies is wonderful – not just the number of strategies, but the feel of them as well.

- What's the freshest part of the game?
Probably adding the military element. It’s risky to try a military strategy because you perpetually seem to either not have quite enough military power to conquer the worlds in your hand or not have any worlds big enough to conquer with the military that you’ve amassed. There are, however, some cards to solve this conundrum. And when this strategy works it’s like you’re playing a whole different game. Produce? Who cares? Trade why? You just lay down cards for free, one after the other. The mechanics are great, but what’s better is how different it plays from the standards VP or building strategies. It’s like a whole another meta-strategy to the PR/SJ system.


courtesy Nobi

5. AMBIENCE
"How much do the theme, aesthetics and bits add the overall experience?"

The cards are excellent quality. I like the art (though opinion is divided on that I understand). And the theme flows through quite nicely, as outlined in the previous paragraph.

6. AUDIENCE
"Who would love this game?"

Well, obviously people who like PR and/or SJ, and want some greater complexity within the same general game system. If you like Atlantic Star or other games that value puzzling over interaction, you may also really like this game. If you like the wondrous card combinations of Magic: The Gathering, you may like this game.

If you yearn for player interaction in games, or if you are frustrated by lack of player control in a game with a random draw deck, or if you don’t want to bother with a very steep learning curve for a fairly short card game, this may not be for you. Although it’s like St. Petersburg in some respects as well, because you play cards out of your hand, there’s not much way to directly effect another player’s game, especially with 2 players.

- Does it hit a sweet spot? Which one?
Oh yes! So far I’d have to say it’s the deepest game I’ve played that can play at about 10 minutes a player.

- Luck (& Chaos) : Player Control
This is another potential weakness. I’m not sure yet. Basically I think that the good parts of the game are so outstanding that I’m willing to trust that the player control issues will go away as I keep playing – either that or they just won’t bother me as much.

SUMMARY


courtesy Nobi

As with most all great games, the math is simply dead on. The balance of all the cards, and the interwoven strategies, make the decisions painfully difficult. The game is a race, and feels like one. It’s over so fast I don’t really mind the “multi-player solitaire” aspect to it – and I suspect that as I play more and understand the game better I’ll feel able to effect other players more as well. The one other issue is the luck/player control issue, made worse by having several unique cards which seem integral to particular strategies. Frankly, this seems like less of an issue each time I play however.

In sum, there may be slight flaws in the game, but nothing to keep me from playing and playing and playing

This was my one Essen purchase form bgg.con. And since I didn’t have a chance to play Agricola there, I have a feeling I’ll be playing a whole lot of RftG till Zman ships Agricola!

APPENDIX – A DETAILED LOOK AT CARD INTERACTIONS, FOCUSSING ON GENE WORLDS


courtesy Nobi

Once you grok the whole idea of variable types of productions having different characteristics and not just different trade values, and once you assimilate the complex weave of inconography, the game plays very quick. The thing that helps with the iconography is that the five different turn phases are listed on the right border of each card, along with a $ sign between phases III and IV. The $ is listed separately, despite essentially being part of Phase IV, because a card that gives you a bonus to sell a good on Phase IV will never allow you to sell on Consume- Trade phase unless you yourself have chosen that phase. There are many cards that let you trade goods for VPs when someone else chooses either Consume – Trade or Consume – 2xVPs, but not a one only one, for game balance reasons, that lets you ever trade except when you choose Consume – Trade. On the other hand that action is always available to you. After playing lots of Puerto Rico (and San Juan, and Notre Dame, and more recently, Year of the Dragon), this can be a hard concept to get your head around. Also like Puerto Rico, you can never ever sell two goods in one phase. You can, however, sell one good, then ship several others (well, consume, but it’s the same damn thing) if you choose Consume – Trade.

tradeEDIT - Thanks to Osidarta for pointing out that it's untrue that there are no cards that let you trade without choosing that role:

The Black Market Trading World does let you trade any one card for its listed trade price (2 for Novelties, 3 for Rare Elements, 4 for Genes, 5 for Alien Tech), though without any of the many bonuses. The $6 trade league, however, does let you discard a good for the trade price plus any $ powers you may have (including its own "small market" +$1 power). There are also many cards that let you trade a good for VPs and get a card for doing so, two that let you trade a good directly for one card in hand and one card, New Vinland, that lets you trade any one good for two cards in hand. Each of these three cards are blue Novelty planets, which segues nicely with the Novelty = trade strategy. Although Novelties sell like indigo, there are numerous bonuses that stack so that you can sell Noveleties for as much as $7 or $8!

This one I actually caught, but forgot to make the change before going to bed. Well, it was 4:15 a.m. - that's my mea culpa and I'm sticking to it!


courtesy Gamer DC

There are games that get faster and faster as you play – while keeping their inherent challenge and complexity – and games that actually bog down even after repeated plays. While the learning curve is quite steep, especially for a quickish card game, it’s well worth it. And once you have the basic rules and card combinations down, you can focus more on the numerous strategies that RftG allows for.

Another feature is that different strategies actually feel different. Just as the shipping and building strategies feel quite different when playing Puerto Rico (something that’s missing to a large degree in San Juan), the combat and economic strategies feel very distinct in RftG. Moreover, there are many subtle sub-strategies here. Like Puerto Rico, the game can end when the victory point supply is exhausted (12 VPs / player), and so a shipping strategy is quite viable – as is building your 12th card before someone else’s shipping strategy really takes off.


courtesy marioaguila

There are no colonists, but the production element is actually considerably more complex than even Puerto Rico (much less San Juan!). There are the Windfall Worlds, which create several neat nuances, as well as numerous card combinations that are good-specific. For example, if someone Settles a Windfall Worlds on turn one – or starts out with Alpha Centauri (the only starting world that comes with Windfall – rare elements), then consuming quickly before others produce is a viable option (like trading or shipping corn on turn one of PR).

Having a Windfall World or two in play – and the type of goods they produce – also helps determine whether you will need to choose Produce, or just wait for an opponent to do this. Because if your best production comes from a Windfall World, you will probably need to choose Produce yourself. Unless, that is, you have a card that lets you produce on the Windfall World you need anyway.

To illustrate the scope of the card combinations: the development “Genetics Lab” (cost 2, 1 VP) doesn’t actually produce Genes, but does allow you to produce on one Genes Windfall World. It also gives you an extra $1 each time you sell a Genes good. So while it will sell Genes from Plague World (a standard world that always produces whenever any player chooses Produce, not a Windfall World) at a higher price, it does not make full use of the power of the Genetics Lab. Also, Plague World’s special ability is that you can always trade 1 Genes good from it for 1 VP when any player chooses either Consume card – and draw a card in addition to getting your victory point. So if you use the Lab to sell from Plague World, you underutilize both cards. Plague World, BTW costs 3 but gives no inherent VPs – but it’s production and special ability make up for it.


courtesy Nobi

So you will want to leverage your Genetics Lab, if possible, by playing cards whose production and abilities segue with it nicely – just like you want to leverage your buildings in PR/SJ. But to give you an idea of just how complex these inter-relationships are, let’s look at ALL 6 Genes Windfall Worlds (out of the 114 card deck). For starters, 5 of the 7 require military conquest, which is far less dependable than simple “purchase” - of the 7 Rare Elements Windfall Worlds, by contrast, only 2 of them require military conquest, and both of those have only 1 strength).

Choosing the Settle action offers no -1 discount like the Develop (think: Builder) action; it does, however, let you draw a card when you successfully Settle a world. So unlike building/developing in this game or PR or SJ, it is possible to never ever get any Military might (the only other way to conquer a military world is if you draw and play the one card in the game that lets you avoid such bloodshed, the Contact Specialist (essentially a diplomat who lets you “buy” Military Worlds with cards out of hand).

The two non-military Genes Windfall worlds are Empath World (cost 1, 1 VP), and Pre-Sentient Race (cost 2, 1 VP). The Empath World at first seems a better value, but it also permanently reduces your military might by -1 (definitely not the Babylon 5 universe!). The easiest military conquest is The Last of the Uplift Gnarssh, requiring a military of 1, but giving no inherent VPs. There are 3 virtually identical Reptilian Uplift Race worlds , each with 2 strength, each giving 2 VPs. Finally there is a Rebel Warrior Race world with 3 strength, giving 2 VPs – and gives you a permanent +1 military bonus.


courtesy Garth M
Hey wait a minute! That's combat from another space game. How'd that get into this review?

Now for the 5 non-Windfall Genes worlds, of which only one is a military world: One is Plague World, discussed above (3/0). Then there’s Malevolent Lifeforms (military world, 4 strength, 2 VPs), with a special ability that during the Explore phase (think: Councilor) you may look at one extra card (but keep the same amount as you would otherwise). Distant World also costs 4, gives 2 VPs, and its special ability is that if you trade Novelty Goods (normally for 2 cards), you get +3 for the trade, for a total of +5. This sounds really good, but remember that you will also likely have a Genes good to trade (because Distant World produces Genes) for 4 cards. So this is most useful if for some reason (and being a complex game, there are many ways to skin a cat here) you end up with a Novelty good. Otherwise, it’s just 1 extra card. Finally, Lost Species Ark World (5/3) has the uber-ability that each time you produce on it, you draw two cards (its own little mini-Factory a la Puerto Rico).

The military bonuses are good if you can find big hostile worlds to conquer (there’s a 6 strength, 6 VP Rebel Base, and even a 7 strength, 7 VP Rebel Homeworld). As you can imagine, focusing on fighting rebels has its own specific card combo – the $6 Galactic Imperium development, which gives you +4 military only against rebels plus 2 VPs per rebel military world conquered and 1 VP per other military world conquered. Like San Juan, all value 6 developments (think: Buildings) offer various end-game VP bonuses; unlike San Juan (and PR), most of the $6 Developments also give you abilities along the way – making it a more interesting question as to whether you play it early or late game.

I started this long analysis by describing the development Genetics Lab ($2/1), of which there are two in the deck. There are two other important developments that work well with Genes: Research Labs ($4/2) let you keep an extra card on each Explore phase and let you trade 1 gene for a VP during Consume phase and gives you one extra card for each Alien Technology good you produce on Produce phase. Finally, the big special ability, the $6 Pan-Galactic League (only 1 in the deck, along with 1 $6 card for each of the 3 other goods types) does the following: - 2 VP for each Genes world (Windfall or not), 1 VP for each Military Windfall world and 3 VPs for the Contact Specialist (remember, there’s just one per deck). On Produce phase, it also lets you draw 1 card for each Genes World (Windfall or not) you have in play.


courtesy Nobi

Unlike the $6 cards for the other 3 goods, however, the Pan-Galactic League also has a downside – it permanently reduces your military strength by -1. If you combine it with the Contact Specialist for the 3 VP, then you’ll reduce your military by -2. This is ok, however, because, remember, the Specialist lets you buy military worlds at a -1 discount instead of attacking them. Unless you also want to attack alien worlds (producers of Alien Technology), because the Specialist’s ability doesn’t work with Aliens (not in his union contract, I guess).

So what to make of all these card combinations? Mostly they’re great. They add to replay value considerably, they are pretty well-balanced (just like the big buildings in PR/SJ), and perhaps best of all they mainly make different strategies feel qualitatively different so there’s more style and less of a pure math game, which makes many Euros feel similar to each other over time.


courtesy dipdragon
How many of you have strong feelings about this game? I don't and I own it! Perhaps not one of Kramer/Kiesling's better games....

Clearly, for example, Genes may work best as part of a trading/diplomacy strategy where you “conquer” the many hostile genes Windfall worlds with diplomacy discounts instead of arms. This also means that you will probably not be going after aliens (there are only 8 alien worlds, of which 4 are hostile – very hostile, with strengths of 2, 4, 5 and 6). It also means that going for the $6 Galactic Imperium (which gives a +4 military bonus vs. rebels) is generally sub-optimal but doable (you can, for example, use the Specialist to talk sense into those pesky rebels. It also means that the $6 New Galactic Order (which gives you a +2 military and 1 VP per final military strength) is usually just a flat-out bad combination. Better are the various $6 trade-related buildings.

What don’t I like about this? It does bother me in any game with a random draw deck that an entire strategy hinges in no small part on one or two cards. Compare this, for example, to Ticket To Ride. In TTR there are 8 suits and enough route cards that there is never one particular must have card, at least in the early game. If you don’t get LA-NY, you may at least get LA-Chicago, and so forth. And in the late game, people are often just drawing out of desperation, which rarely succeeds. In San Juan, the deck is smaller, which makes the game feel less determined by luck of the draw.


courtesy Fawkes

When I was designing my own card game involving a random draw deck (Pink Godzilla Dev Kit), I struggled long and hard with this issue: the more unique cards you have, the greater variety of play experiences, leading (all other things being equal) to enhanced replayability. On the other hand, you also risk having so much chaos and perceived luck of the draw (two different, but related issues) that players feel that they lack player control. In my opinion, it is the lack of player control, rather than “luck,” per se, that frustrates many players in a game that requires a fair amount of strategy.

In my game, I tackled this problem by having more cards that did a wide variety of things, rather than a number of cards that have to be specifically tailored to one optimum use. Distant World (see above), for example, is a Genes World that gives a trade bonus only for Novelty goods. The world Galactic Engineers, on the other hand, is basically a Small Market from Puerto Rico, with the further ability that it lets you produce on any one Windfall World. Basically, although I appreciate the complexity of cards like Distant World that interweave different tactics and strategies so neatly, my own predilection is more towards broader cards such as Galactic Engineers, which offer plentiful options but allow for greater player control.


courtesy carthaginian

The Contact Specialist concerns me even more, because it is a sole card one of two cards that gives 3 VPs (!) only when used with a particular $6 “point factory.” This also creates a risk of determinism – that is, being forced into a particular strategy by a solid card combination early on. I struggled with a similar issue in designing my Dev Kit card game. That game involves creating up to 4 video games in 4 different genres (music, rpg, shooters, fighting). Early prototypes included bonuses for finishing one of each game genre or for finishing 4 of a single genre. We discovered through play-testing that this bonus – which seemed so intuitive for such a game – just gave players less choices, and made their experience less interesting. I’m still on the fence about cards like the Contact Specialist, the Artist Colony and the Galactic Trendsetters, unique cards which offer large amounts of VPs in connection with another unique point factory.

tradeEDIT: I was mistaken in saying that there is only one Contact Specialist, which is frankly embarrassing (b/c I thought I had double checked that). Thanks to Pickles for pointing this out. There is, however, only one Artist Colony world and one Galactic Trendsetters world, each worth 3 VPs when combined with VP factory "Galactic Renaissance" (sort of like a PR-style Customs House).The artist colony produces 1 trinket (think: corn) and the Galactic Trendsetters are the only card in the game that lets you trade in one card for 2 VPs (think: harbor) - most cards just let you trade 1 for 1 VP or 2 for 2 VPs. Although this technically makes my earlier point, it is less of an issue with these card combinations than with the contact specialist, because there are so many ways to make VP chips. Still, it bugs me to have two unique cards worth 3 VP each with that particular factor. The Galactic Renaissance Card, BTW, also gives 3 VPs for Research Labs (there are 2 in the deck) and 1 VP per 43 VP chips. Its special ability is that during explore phase it lets you look at two extra cards and take one more. This balances with giving VPs for two unique cards by letting you simply look at more cards. Balances, but still seems a bit inelegant to me.


courtesy TabbySunLion

One way that Lehmann deals with this is by having two Councilor options – in option A, you draw 3 and keep 2. In option B, you draw 7 and keep 1. In both options other players draw 2 and keep 1 (unless they have bonuses specific to this phase). Let me say that although 7 cards is about 6-7% of the deck, it’s still quite frustrating when you can’t seem to draw the card or cards you need. I must say, however, that the more I play (I’m up to about a dozen plays by now, mostly 2 player), the more convinced I am that this is fairly balanced. And although the 3 VPs for the Contact Specialist Galactic Trendsetters & Artist Colony still bugs me in some mostly abstract way (it seems inelegant), it doesn’t usually seem to be a game-decider.

Cheers,
topherr
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Giles Pritchard
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Fantastic review Christopher,

Thanks very much for taking the time!

Cheers,

Giles.
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Robert R
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Great job. I'm not bothered at all by the multiplayer solitaire aspect of the game. There are many games out there by now with this that I now don't see it as a flaw but just a characteristic of the game.

Wish I could play this more....
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Jonathan Pickles
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There are 2 Contact Specialists in the dack as well as 2 of a few other developments, not that this really alters the point much.

I do tend to think of it the other way round - there is a low chance of me drawing a 6 cost development that helps my current strategy. If you do get lucky it can often be overwhelming - new Galactic order can be 10+ points with a military strategy.

I thought I would hate the randomness of not being able to really plan a strategy but hoping to get the right cards. In practice the game is fast & engaging enough that it does not bother me (yet).

In the expanded 5 or 6 player game this type of randomness will increase due to the bigger deck. I wonder if stripping out the 6 cost Devs & letting people choose them in some way would be an option - "Develop Option B, benefit you may choose & take a 6 cost development from the stock of these but must discard a card." (Maybe have to play it too?)

Any way slightly premature variant making. Lovely review.

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Eric Brosius
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I've played this game about 25 times (though I've never opened the box of the published version.)

Despite your concerns about random elements, I've been amazed at how consistently the better players win. I remember one session in which we played about 10 games in a row (took about 3 hours.) Tom Lehman himself was in the game, and he won a few, then went to bed. Then Mark Delano won a few, and left, and so forth. Essentially, the best player at the table would win and leave, and then the next best player would start winning.

Maybe this just reflected large differences in skill among the players at the table, but I think the luck factor is far smaller than it appears to be.
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Thomas Cauet
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Massive indeed and I enjoy the reading

Quote:
There are many cards that let you trade goods for VPs when someone else chooses either Consume – Trade or Consume – 2xVPs, but not a one, for game balance reasons, that lets you ever trade except when you choose Consume – Trade.


This is mainly true but you have 2 cards allowing you to Trade without selecting the "Consume - Trade": the trading federation and a grey world ("Contrebandiers" in French). They have an interesting dynamic since you can often switch from "Consume - Trade" to "Consume - Double VPs".
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Snowball
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Gender: pot*ato. My opinion is an opinion.
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I hate long reviews, but this one was informative and untertaining to read, shedding another light on the game.
Even though you seem extremely enthusiastic about the game, your opinion is well constructed and objective.

One point I disagree with -the steep learning curve- and I know it has already been mentionned in other views, reviews and comments on this game, but I disagree nonetheless . Eeven though the symbols on the cards are to be learned, one or two games should be enough to get it; for me, "steep learning curve" is an expression best reserved for games with 30+ pages rules booklets, or for Chess.
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Joakim Björklund
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topherr wrote:
If you like the wondrous card combinations of Magic: The Gathering, you may like this game.


This is true. I've only played it once (4-player game, I managed to win), but I immediately liked how the different cards interact and produce combos. I've played Magic since 1994, so it felt very familiar to me, and I think that my experience with Magic helped a lot in my first game. What's different from Magic is of course the lack of direct player interaction, and that's something I felt missing from the game. But maybe some expansion will add some more direct interaction in the future?

Great review!
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Peter Marchlewitz
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What an awesome read. I'm getting this game!
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Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Most excellent review of a most excellent game. Thanks.
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Joe Casadonte
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topherr wrote:
3. INTERACTION 5 of 10 (2 player), 7 of 10 (4 player)
"To what degree does it facilitate a rich social experience?"

This is highly variable depending on number of players. And, probably, familiarity with the game. The thing about being to choose any role is that you care a bit less about what other people do. It’s a race, it feels like a race, and you often just run your race.

The 2-player version exacerbates this because you choose 2 roles, as in SJ. Because you can choose any 2 roles, you tend to notice your opponent a bit less than in a 4-player game (I’ve never played 3-player). I don’t think it’s much of a problem with the 2-player version because the decisions are so compelling and the whole game lasts about 20 minutes. Plus, the more that you play, the less you’re distracted by understanding the mechanics, the various card combinations, etc. Then it has more of the jockeying for position that PR and SJ have.


Great review! I have had the exact opposite reaction to you here, though. I found the advanced 2-player version had me thinking much, much more about what my opponent was likely to do. It may primarily have to do with having only one opponent to "track", but rather than simply choosing the 2 actions I wanted to do, I often found myself considering what my opponent would choose, and then making my choice based on that. In any event, just a differing viewpoint.....
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Pierre Philippe Goyer
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WoW! Just bought the game yesterday and never played yet...reading.

This review is so fantastic that it sent me back to my game shop to buy a second copy of the game.shake


Owll
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Brad Tritone

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"Multi-Player Solitaire" - not that there's anything wrong with that.

I never heard that term before joining BGG. The face-value of it holds a negative connotation. But recently I've been thinking just how many games I've played thoughout my life that could also be considered M-PS, especially card games. Rummy in various forms is not only a M-PS, but also a race, similar to RftG. The game of Poker (if you play without betting) also seems like another M-PS. Games where you build your best hand/tableau, then compare scores with the other players, are everywhere. They also share another (sometimes overlooked) element with RftG... a single drawpile. Cards you get, your opponent doesn't get.

Let's see, did I have a point? Uh, no. Sorry. Time for my meds.
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Gregory Amstutz
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Bravo! A most excellent review. It has led me to update RftG from Love to Have to Must Have on my WL.
Very well done!
 
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Chris Franka
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JockiB wrote:
But maybe some expansion will add some more direct interaction in the future?


One of the RftG playtesters plays regularly in our group and has played with the planned expansions as part of that playtesting. Since I haven't seen him (or anyone else that has played the expansions) jump in and say so yet, I will say that he has told us that there is more direct interaction with the expansions. The idea I got is that players can play cards that affect production or cards already in play on other players' boards. I'm not sure exactly what all that entails (I only caught parts of the conversation), but the mental snapshot I got was one of cards that can be played to send other player worlds back to the deck. Whether this specifically happens, I'm not sure, but I feel pretty certain that there is more direct player interaction with the planned expansions.
 
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Small nit: The Galactic Renaissance gives 1 VP for every three VP chips
you have, not four.

I kinda see where you're coming from with regards to the apparent "inelegance" of having specific cards be rewarded by a 6. However, there are two things that I think are worth mentioning here:

1. Story and Theme. You didn't mention this much in your review, so I assume that it's probably not that important for you. However, it was certainly a consideration in the game design. For example, it's kinda obvious that the Mining League would give bonuses for the two Mining-related developments -- similarly, a Galactic Renaissance of a new age in artistic creativity would of course reward an Artist Colony and the Trendsetters.

2. Balance. About a year ago, I was commenting to Tom about comparing the Galactic Trendsetters (cost 5, 3VPs, consumes 1 good for 2 VPs) with the Tourist World (cost 4, 2VPs, consumes 2 goods for 3 VPs). About how my original impression was that the Galactic Renaissance was better, a 2:1 ratio being better than a 3:2 ratio, but after a lot more play experience, I felt that the Tourist World was actually getting a lot more play and more useful in situations. Tom mentioned, somewhat enigmatically, "There's a reason the Galactic Renaissance awards the Trendsetters and not the Tourists."

Along those lines, at one of the earliest drafts, the Artist Colony and the Secluded World were identical (much like how the Comet Zone and Mining World are now). But the Galactic Renaissance gave a bonus for Artist Colony, but not Secluded World. In other words, if you had both cards, and could settle only one of them, there would never be a reason to prefer Secluded World. I mentioned this to Tom, and in the next version, the Secluded World is as you see now. Now, if you have those two worlds and can only build one, there's a real decision there. That's part of what makes the strategy space so rich.
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Christopher Rao
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onigame wrote:
Small nit: The Galactic Renaissance gives 1 VP for every three VP chips
you have, not four.
Thank you. I corrected this.

onigame wrote:
I kinda see where you're coming from with regards to the apparent "inelegance" of having specific cards be rewarded by a 6. However, there are two things that I think are worth mentioning here:

1. Story and Theme. You didn't mention this much in your review, so I assume that it's probably not that important for you. However, it was certainly a consideration in the game design. For example, it's kinda obvious that the Mining League would give bonuses for the two Mining-related developments -- similarly, a Galactic Renaissance of a new age in artistic creativity would of course reward an Artist Colony and the Trendsetters.
I mentioned the thematic in passing, but certainly didn't give it its due. Yes, the story and theme are great. It's not that I don't care - Dungeons & Dragons is probably my favorite game, after all! - it's just that the review was running on 9 pages, single spaced, in Word. Thanks for making this point.

onigame wrote:
2. Balance. About a year ago, I was commenting to Tom about comparing the Galactic Trendsetters (cost 5, 3VPs, consumes 1 good for 2 VPs) with the Tourist World (cost 4, 2VPs, consumes 2 goods for 3 VPs). About how my original impression was that the Galactic Renaissance was better, a 2:1 ratio being better than a 3:2 ratio, but after a lot more play experience, I felt that the Tourist World was actually getting a lot more play and more useful in situations. Tom mentioned, somewhat enigmatically, "There's a reason the Galactic Renaissance awards the Trendsetters and not the Tourists."

Along those lines, at one of the earliest drafts, the Artist Colony and the Secluded World were identical (much like how the Comet Zone and Mining World are now). But the Galactic Renaissance gave a bonus for Artist Colony, but not Secluded World. In other words, if you had both cards, and could settle only one of them, there would never be a reason to prefer Secluded World. I mentioned this to Tom, and in the next version, the Secluded World is as you see now. Now, if you have those two worlds and can only build one, there's a real decision there. That's part of what makes the strategy space so rich.
Yes, the game balance and mathematical incentives are all first rate. Similar to playing Puerto Rico or Caylus (or Leonardo Da Vinci, an underrated game), I am truly struck by how much playtesting must have gone into the intricate balancing here.

I don't know the designer at all, but have enormous respect for what he's accomplished. When I say that the solution seemed a bit inelegant, I simply meant that in this case the designer chose a solution that emphasized game balance (very well!) while sacrificing a little bit of the fluidness that the rest of the game shows.

Cheers,
topherr
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onigame wrote:
2. Balance. About a year ago, I was commenting to Tom about comparing the Galactic Trendsetters (cost 5, 3VPs, consumes 1 good for 2 VPs) with the Tourist World (cost 4, 2VPs, consumes 2 goods for 3 VPs). About how my original impression was that the Galactic Renaissance was better, a 2:1 ratio being better than a 3:2 ratio, but after a lot more play experience, I felt that the Tourist World was actually getting a lot more play and more useful in situations. Tom mentioned, somewhat enigmatically, "There's a reason the Galactic Renaissance awards the Trendsetters and not the Tourists."


On a slight tangent, this was my initial impression too, but I've since realised that going from 4 to 5 cost is a very definite cutoff point. 5 cost cards are much harder to get out earlier in the game, so this should be taken into consideration when deciding value too. I had a good illustration of this when I got Galactic Trendsetters down for free on turn one with a Colony Ship, and proceeded to destroy everyone with it.

Back on topic of the 6-cost developments, there is a certain element of luck to them, but after a few plays you will start to remember what they do so you can form a strategy around them. For example, if I'm going for a military strategy, I may try to put down green worlds preferentially, knowing that this will give me three big developments that will give me points: New Military Order, Galactic Survey and Pan-Galactic League. If I can get just two or more alien worlds down, then Alien Tech Institute also becomes a possibility. So it's not the case that there is only a single big development that will be any good for you in a particular situation, there are often three or four, and you have a good chance of getting at least one if you try.
 
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Nick Bos
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Yay! My picture is being used laugh

Thanks for the review! Exactly my thoughts, although I haven't played it as much as you yet

I find it a brilliant 2 player game, even though there isn't a lot of interaction.
 
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Glad to be the 100th thumb...you just convinced me to put this on my wishlist.
 
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Scott Alden
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Great review! Thanks for posting.
 
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CanCon, BunnyCon...BorderCon!!!
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Great Review man - Can't wait for my copy to arrive.
 
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Spyros Gkiouzepas
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I think I just drunk an extra pangalactic gurgleblaster!!!

Nice review!!! First chance I'll try this game...


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Piero
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Never played this one, but after reading your review I was seduced into the race!blush

Good work!
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Simon Woodward
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Thanks for this very in-depth reviewcool

After my few limited plays of the game, I found it reminded me of a computer game the computer guys played while I was at university where you could program virtual robots in a simple computer language then set them to do battle with each other.

In RftG it's like you are being given all these little bits of robots and then you have to plug them together as best you can to generate VPs. Then you just turn the handle (and win the game!).

Sometimes they all plug together beautifully and you get 60+ VP, other times they never quite fit and you are constantly trying to cobble together something that gets you there while threatening to fall apart.

It's so cool

 
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