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Subject: Beyond the Hype: a blissfully ignorant review of RftG rss

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Warren Forrest
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I don’t know how exactly I managed to miss all the hype surrounding the release of Race for the Galaxy, but somehow I was completely unaware of its existence until about mid-November.

Lucky me!

Why? Because it means I got to judge the game from an unbiased perspective. In fact, my brother bought it for me for my birthday, so I didn’t even have the pressure of thinking, “damn it, I paid good money for this and made a decision to purchase it, so I BETTER give it a chance!”

Anyway, I thought you all might be interested in a review of Race for the Galaxy from someone (mostly) unblemished by all the hype. I will warn you in advance, however, that this review contains no pithy jabs at either the pro-RftG or anti-RftG camps. Being a hater or booster of RftG is apparently quite the rage these days, and I could probably garner more thumbs/GG if I used a more acerbic, from-the-hip style of review than I will with this one. But this review is just the honest reactions and opinions of my gaming group to a game we all knew little-to-nothing about.

Initial Impressions:

“What a crappy box.”

Seriously, what’s up with the big empty box that’s useless for actually storing the game? RftG’s packaging is apparently all about being big and looking good on a store shelf. This is the first game I own where I’ve had to go buy an after-market box to carry it in. Plus, make no mistake, this game is already pretty darn expensive for the limited components you get (a deck of cards and some scoring chits, basically). When I bought San Juan I could justify it to myself because it was relatively cheap, but to be honest, if my brother hadn’t bought RftG for me I probably would have balked at buying the game for myself because of the price.

But enough about packaging and marketing issues, what about the product?

My first thoughts were probably best summarized by my fiancée, who looked at the cards, rules, and player aid sheets and remarked, dryly:

“OMGWTFBBQ?”

Her point was that we clearly weren’t in San Juan anymore. The game LOOKED confusing. Symbols, symbols, and more symbols made me remember that sickening feeling I get when I’m trying to persuade somebody new to play “Bang!”, only to then have to apologize repeatedly to them for the cards not being in English. My fear is that they'll lose patience, shake their head in disgust, and finally toss the symbol reference card aside and say, “Can we just play Monopoly instead?”

We probably studied the game for about 20 minutes before finally deciding it was late, we were tired, and maybe we’d give it a try tomorrow.


My feelings at this point:

- Annoyed by the crappy box.
- Unsure about the game.
- Worried it may be too complicated to attract new players.


First Plays:

My fiancée and I both read the rules through and were fairly confident we could at least stumble though a game. Coming from a San Juan / Puerto Rico background, we naturally related the various roles to what we already knew (ex. Explore = Counsel, Develop = Builder, Settle = Settler, etc…), and I think the only rule we actually got wrong was that if you take Develop or Settle x2 you do the roles twice, whereas we did it just once but with double the bonus. That mistake was my doing, but we caught it quickly.

In fact, I’d have to say that the rules are actually quite impressively clear. The wording is very precise, so if you read carefully there’s no doubt as to what exactly the rules are. Furthermore, the symbols that I had originally feared turned out to be very helpful. The designers did a very smart thing: for common or obvious actions they used symbols, while for anything more complex they added text. The result is that even as new players we could tell at a glance what most cards did, and only occasionally did we have to stop and consult the included “cheat sheet”.

Contrary to my initial impression, then, I realized that because of the consistency of the symbols the game was actually less difficult to learn than the comparatively much simpler San Juan. This is because in San Juan every single card must be read and its proper usage and effects committed to memory before it can be understood, while in RftG most cards visually tell you what they do, and when they do it, at a glance.

The only card that really stumped us was the Gambling World card, because we didn’t have a clue what the chart was for (now I know why my university instructors deduct marks for not titling charts!), but we eventually figuring out it was a chart of how many of each type of card there is in the game. A few other cards required careful re-reading, such as the Contact Specialist, but as I mentioned before the actual rules are very clear and precise, so our problem was not in understanding the rules, but rather in trying to figure out, “OK, so how will this help me in the game?”

We managed to get through 4 games in our first 4-hour session. The first game was a completely forgettable affair where we were just learning the rules, and I’m not sure either of us paid any attention to who was winning or even how well we were doing.

In the second game we both decided to try to apply some sort of strategy. I started with Earth’s Lost Colony and Consumer Markets, so I decided to try to focus on a novelty (ie. blue) production strategy, while my fiancée started with New Sparta and thus went with a military strategy. I ended up winning by large margin thanks to the combination of Free Trade Association and Consumer Markets.

In our third game I got New Sparta and my fiancée got Alpha Centauri. She tried a rare (ie. brown) production strategy, while I went for military. I got Drop Ships right away while she struggled to get any brown production cards, and the result was a horribly lop-sided affair where she ended up with just 7 cards built compared to my 13 cards including New Galactic Order (with 15 military), Galactic Imperium, Seti, and most of the Rebel planets. We didn’t even bother to count the score for this round.

Our fourth game was probably the first real game we felt like we actually played. By this point we were confident enough in the rules and feel of the game to start really considering what cards to play, rather than just blindly committing to a strategy and seeing what happened. I started with Epsilon Eridani and played a balanced game, relying on income from alien technology combined with a small military in order to both Develop/Settle for cheap while also scoring points during Consume using Deficit Spending. My fiancée started with Old Earth and went with a novelty production strategy. She latched on to Tourist World as her go-to point machine, which served her very well. In the end we both scored a lot of points, felt that we had actually managed to play the game (rather than just blindly plunking down cards), and managed a tense race that came down to the wire with my fiancée’s superior production just managing to edge out the point boost I got from my Alien Institute.

It was probably about 3:00am at this point, and we both realized that we had really had fun playing, especially the last game.

However…

As I said to my fiancée before we went to bed, “I understand how to play now, and I’m beginning to see some of the strategy involved, but I haven’t got the faintest clue how I’m supposed to affect you in the game.


My feelings at this point:

- Impressed by the clarity of the rules/icons.
- Impressed by the multiplicity of potential strategies (as opposed to the Guild Hall vs. City Hall dichotomy of San Juan).
- Still wondering if new players might be intimidated.
- Not sure how I’m supposed to play against my fiancée rather than just by myself.


Over the Next Week:

We spent Christmas vacation with my fiancée’s family and each night after everybody else went to bed we’d play more RftG. The more we played the game the more interested in it we got, and it was common for other people to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, discover us still playing, and remark, “are you guys STILL playing that space game?!” Then one morning when I went to wake up my fiancée she groggily remarked, “but, I need to trade my alien goods first”, referring to the fact that she had been dreaming about playing the game. It was pretty clear we were both addicted.

After about a dozen games or so we finally began to start paying more attention to each other’s cards. We started recognizing when the other player was planning to perform a certain action, and would start picking our cards based upon what we thought the other was going to do. This is the point at which comments like, “shoot, I thought you were going to Settle,” or, “I knew you were going to Consume x2, so I knew I better take it too,” began to be heard.

While it’s true that this is the point at which we started to understand how player interaction works in RftG (for example, I might build a Research Lab in response to her choosing a military strategy in order to benefit from her choosing Explore), I still have to admit that the player interaction is almost exclusively indirect and subtle. Only one card, the Mining Conglomerate, directly depends upon what your opponent is doing. Beyond that, the only other direct card interaction available is to hoard the 6-cost cards you know your opponent needs, but that's about it. Note that this isn't all a bad thing, because it means that you are primarily responsible for how well you do. You can't just blame a loss on a novice opponent for failing to play 'properly', or that you didn't get to sit left of the newbie, or that everybody else ganged up on you.

If I might jump ahead, for a moment, I personally suspect that the debates over whether the player interaction in RftG is “subtly innovative” or “multi-player solitaire” are just irrelevant, hype-fueled, mudslinging. If you're a contrarian looking for a reason to slag the hot new game everybody is talking about, just yell “it's multi-player solitaire”, while if you really enjoy the game yet can't emotionally handle the thought that somebody else might have different tastes, just yell “it's subtly innovative”. Personally, I just enjoyed the game and didn't mind that the player interaction is subtle and indirect. In fact, I appreciated it because it makes RftG different from other games in my collection, and to me it's always a good thing to have a wide selection of games that can appeal to many different tastes.

Probably the best analogy of the player interaction in the game is to compare RftG with an Olympic oval bike race. You can use strategy and tactics against your opponents in order to "draft" some benefits from their efforts, while simultaneously trying to prevent them from doing the same from you, but ultimately you're not allowed to ram them, punch them in the face, or shove a stick in their spokes. RftG, then, probably is best described as a "Non-Contact Race for the Galaxy".


My feelings at this point:

- Really having a lot of fun.
- The more I play, the more I want to play again.
- Beginning to sense just how well-balanced the game is.


Over the Next Month:

After New Year's, we came back from my fiancée’s parents and went to visit with my parents. The first day back I had to go to work right away, but when I got to my parent's home I discovered that while I was at work, my fiancée, my sisters and my brother had all already played several games of RftG. This confirmed my earlier evaluation that RftG is fairly easy for new players to learn. Guided by my fiancée, none of them found the rules or mechanics of the game difficult to learn.

The general opinion of all of them was that it was a really neat game that they wanted to play again, even though they all also admitted they had no real ideas yet exactly what the best strategies might be. It's worth noting, by the way, that nobody ever mentioned the issue of how much player interaction there is or isn't in the game (this is probably because none of them read BGG). I have noticed, though, that the games definitely tend to be quiet affairs, with little social chatter. There's not a lot of down-time in RftG, other than when one player is making a particularly tough decision and the others have already decided what they are doing. Also, there's not nearly as much coaching going on as you might find in other games, mostly because players don't know what cards their opponents have and thus usually cannot give meaningful tactical advice.

Perhaps the single biggest and most important experience I can relate regarding playing RftG is that my sister, who I normally have to bribe/beg/cajole into joining us in playing a board game, has instead eagerly accepted every single invitation to play a game of RftG! Seriously, this is a huge accomplishment for any game. My sister tends to be somewhat shy and a loner, and although normally I can persuade her to come out of her room to play a round or two of something, I haven't had to persuade her at all to play RftG. She'll drop everything to join us if we're going to play, and if we ask, “want to play again?” the answer is almost always yes. My other sister as well as my brother have also been equally as willing to join a game of RftG, although in their cases they tend to be more willing to play other games as well.

There has been a down-side to the success of RftG in my gaming group, however: over the past month, the cards are beginning to show some serious signs of wear. I don't think that this is automatically the fault of the quality of the card stock, however, since the cards are similar to good quality playing-cards. Rather, it is because the black backgrounds of the cards show wear on the edges far more readily than, say, my white bordered San Juan cards do. This black vs. white edge issue is a fairly widely-known phenomenon for all types of game or collector cards, one that most card companies and certainly most card collectors are aware of. Considering that replacement is such an expensive option, it's really a design oversight that should have been more seriously considered. In the meantime, we have instituted the policy that even during 3 or 4 player games players should handle all of their action cards, including those intended for 2 player games only. That way the cards all wear evenly and do not stand out from the others.


My feelings at this point:

- 40+ games played and still constantly wanting to play it again and again.
- Surprised and delighted by just how much others like it too.
- Worried about needing to buy a new copy (and laminating it for protection) once the expansions start to come out, lest the cards don't match.


Final Thoughts:

Without the benefit/detriment of knowing about all the hype beforehand, Race for the Galaxy has managed to become a huge hit with my gaming group based entirely upon its own merits as a game. We all love playing it. My goal in creating my personal game collection is to have a game for all occasions and player tastes, and RftG is definitely going to become my go-to game when I want a relatively deep game that will appeal to an audience more interested in constructive competition than in actively undermining each other.

It's really too bad that the cards are showing their wear due to the black edges. If it wasn't for the fact that expansions will be coming out, I wouldn't be too upset by this fact, but I know that when they do it will immediately be obvious which cards are new and which are old, which will especially be a problem if new action cards are introduced. In the future, I will probably start laminating the cards of every new game I get, just in case, in order to avoid ever having this problem again.

I realize that by giving RftG a 10/10 it's easy to dismiss my opinion as perhaps simply overly-optimistic or maybe hype-driven (it always sounds more credible to give out 9/10 instead). However, I'd be lying if I claimed that RftG has, over the past month of intensive playing, been anything other than "outstanding. Always want to play and expect this will never change," with our group. This game has been the biggest and most decisive hit in my game collection that we've played so far.

Rating: 10/10
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Alexander B.
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If you're that into the game, don't laminate the cards, just sleeve them.

I sleeved them, played the game about 25 times, and unsleeved them so as to use the sleeves for other games. Unlike you, I got tired of the game fairly quickly, and that seems to be the general feeling at my club also.

In any case, I'm glad you liked it.
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Thom Hall
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I also went with sleeves and was delighted when the boxes (Dragon Sleeves from Arcane Tinmen)for the sleeves fit perfectly inside the otherwise useless cardboard insert. Two boxes to hold cards and one lil plastic baggie for the tokens. I enjoyed your review.
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Agent J
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He's looking real sharp in his 1940's fedora. He's got nerves of steel, an iron will, and several other metal-themed attributes. His fur is water tight and he's always up for a fight.
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Good to hear from someone who missed the hype.

It's just subtle, that's all!

Now that that's out of the way, good review.
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Chris Rudram
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I was in a similar boat to you, though not played it as much as you have and never played it two player. Your feeling gel with mine.

Except on the box. The art is unattractive on the box itself, and I nearly didn't pick it up as it didn't grab me.

BUT the box size is standard (keeping costs down one imagines) and will also stand out more on the game store shelf than if it was a small box game. And these companies gotta sell their products. If I look at price per hour of play, this is easily one of the cheapest games I have ever bought.



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Justin
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Great review Warren. Like you I haven't been "exposed" to this game until your review showed up on the front page with a decent amount of thumbs. It was funny and well written. If I could, you would have gotten two thumbs!

OMGWTFBBQ?

I literally LOL'ed.

I loved it!
Justin
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Warren Forrest
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diamondspider wrote:
If you're that into the game, don't laminate the cards, just sleeve them.

I sleeved them, played the game about 25 times, and unsleeved them so as to use the sleeves for other games. Unlike you, I got tired of the game fairly quickly, and that seems to be the general feeling at my club also.

I've looked into sleeves, but in addition to more normal usage I tend to mis-treat and abuse my games as well, and so I suspect that full laminating may be the best option. For example, playing some of my games outside in wind and/or rain and/or blowing dust with groups of people who haven't bathed for days and/or are drunk is completely normal. Sleeves might not be up to such a task.

I can certainly understand RftG not being a big hit with everyone, or that many people may tire of it much sooner than we did. At its heart RftG is an economically driven game about maximizing productivity. My gaming group likes this kind of game because everybody is constantly moving forward - you never move backwards or lose something you have already acquired - and thus the contest is to see who can move forward faster. That's a flavour that may, understandably, seem bland to some, but we really love it.
 
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Easily the best review I've read of this game. I appreciated the way you tracked / revisited your unfolding impressions.
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Alexander B.
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W4st wrote:
diamondspider wrote:
If you're that into the game, don't laminate the cards, just sleeve them.

I sleeved them, played the game about 25 times, and unsleeved them so as to use the sleeves for other games. Unlike you, I got tired of the game fairly quickly, and that seems to be the general feeling at my club also.

I've looked into sleeves, but in addition to more normal usage I tend to mis-treat and abuse my games as well, and so I suspect that full laminating may be the best option. For example, playing some of my games outside in wind and/or rain and/or blowing dust with groups of people who haven't bathed for days and/or are drunk is completely normal. Sleeves might not be up to such a task.

I can certainly understand RftG not being a big hit with everyone, or that many people may tire of it much sooner than we did. At its heart RftG is an economically driven game about maximizing productivity. My gaming group likes this kind of game because everybody is constantly moving forward - you never move backwards or lose something you have already acquired - and thus the contest is to see who can move forward faster. That's a flavour that may, understandably, seem bland to some, but we really love it.


High quality sleeves are up to almost anything! You can also crush shuffle the entire stack with sleeves, since they have natural gaps caused by the thickness of the card being more than the sleeve itself. Sleeves really are the way to go.

As for games about maximizing productivity, that isn't what bugs me about the game. Or, rather, it is because I have so many other games that do this (better), even though I love doing it, I prefer a format that has less luck and is a bit easier to pick-up by new players.

Different strokes, certainly, but set me up with Leonardo da Vinci or Goa instead of 2 games of RFTG... I never seem to tire of those
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Scott Everts
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Great review. Our group is currently addicted to the game. We've played 1 game each gathering. And just starting to get the hang of seeing what others are doing and making role choices based on it.

Since we play often I might sleeve my copy too. I did put the action cards in sleeves since they get heavy handling. But with 4 player games we shuffle the deck several times each game and I'm getting afraid the cards won't hold up to that much handling.

The big problem is its hard to shuffle cards in sleeves.
 
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Roland Wood
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Sleeves shmeeves...The new expansion cards will only stand out for a couple of weeks until they too are broken in
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Tomas Syrovatka
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ScottE wrote:

The big problem is its hard to shuffle cards in sleeves.


Hm, in my Magic: the Gathering days I found out that shuffling sleeved cards is a lot easier. I really recommend standard UltraPro sleeves.

Back to the topic - great rewiew!!! Had lots of laughs and got interested in this game, good job!
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Champion Eternal
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I missed the hype too.

I was introduced to the game by a friend. I said, "Oh yeh-something like San Juan. Did you know San Juan is broken?" Played RftG once..didn't think much of it on that day, then I found myself thinking about it the next day...and wanting to play again.
 
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Jody Ludwick
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Warren-

Thanks for taking the time to post your trail of event in playing RftG, a most helpful review BTW. If I weren't so wrapped up in 1960:TMotP at the moment, I'd be ripping through the plastic wrap of my RftG.
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jody wrote:
Warren-

Thanks for taking the time to post your trail of event in playing RftG, a most helpful review BTW. If I weren't so wrapped up in 1960:TMotP at the moment, I'd be ripping through the plastic wrap of my RftG.


The same for me.
Let you wonder if I should give a chance to other games that I had a bad impression at first play.
 
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Kevin Gonzalez
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Thanks for the excellent review. I am a fan of Race for the Galaxy, although I've only played it 5 or 6 times. However, even if I weren't I'd still appreciate the thoughtfulness of your review and the way it shared your insights into the game as they developed over time. I'll be looking forward to your future contributions.

Well done!
 
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Bill Parker
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W4st wrote:
I will warn you in advance, however, that this review contains no pithy jabs at either the pro-RftG or anti-RftG camps. Being a hater or booster of RftG is apparently quite the rage these days, and I could probably garner more thumbs/GG if I used a more acerbic, from-the-hip style of review than I will with this one.

Well, you got that part dead wrong but the rest of the review was wonderful. Sometimes it does seem that people who have to make everything personal do tend to swallow up most of the oxygen around here so I'm glad to see how well your review was received by the community. Great job!
 
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Great review!
Champion Eternal wrote:
I was introduced to the game by a friend. I said, "Oh yeh-something like San Juan. Did you know San Juan is broken?"

It might be thread hijacking, but I'll bite. How's San Juan broken?
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Roland Wood
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OldestManOnMySpace wrote:
Great review!
Champion Eternal wrote:
I was introduced to the game by a friend. I said, "Oh yeh-something like San Juan. Did you know San Juan is broken?"

It might be thread hijacking, but I'll bite. How's San Juan broken?


Clearly, its box isn't big enough!
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Gerald Sunkin
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If you turn the cardboard insert upside down in the box you'll have room for all the bits even if you've sleeved the cards.

Jerry
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Brendon Faithfull
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I'm also a big fan of RtfG. The ironic thing for me is that the 2-player advanced rules are clearly the most fun the game has to offer. I've played 2, 2A, 3, and 4 player games, but the 2A games are by far the most fun.
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Warren Forrest
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hodji wrote:
W4st wrote:
I will warn you in advance, however, that this review contains no pithy jabs at either the pro-RftG or anti-RftG camps. Being a hater or booster of RftG is apparently quite the rage these days, and I could probably garner more thumbs/GG if I used a more acerbic, from-the-hip style of review than I will with this one.

Well, you got that part dead wrong but the rest of the review was wonderful. Sometimes it does seem that people who have to make everything personal do tend to swallow up most of the oxygen around here so I'm glad to see how well your review was received by the community. Great job!

You're right! I got up this morning, took a look at the overwhelmingly positive reception, and thought, "I better print a retraction for that first part!"
 
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Warren Forrest
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OldestManOnMySpace wrote:
Great review!
Champion Eternal wrote:
I was introduced to the game by a friend. I said, "Oh yeh-something like San Juan. Did you know San Juan is broken?"

It might be thread hijacking, but I'll bite. How's San Juan broken?

This has happened to me, but then I just sharpened the scoring pencil and kept playing.
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Carsten Buettemeier
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Card disease
I own RftG since three days now (also without being "hyped" before) and it seems that this could be the beginning of a wonderful friendship to this game. I played it this weekend the first time and - after decoding the symbols - it was a lot of of fun, similar to what this review describes in the beginning.

But how bad is the card disease after playing with them a couple of time? How does that especially for this game look like? Can you post an image?

Greets,
Carsten
 
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OldestManOnMySpace wrote:
It might be thread hijacking, but I'll bite. How's San Juan broken?


The Sugar and Coffee plants are undervalued. The five goods sell for average values of 1/1.4/1.8/2.2/2.6, and their prices also go up steadily at 1/2/3/4/5, but their VP values have skips at 1/1/2/2/3.

My set has an extra 1/2/2/3/3 token. This makes the average values 1/1.5/1.83/2.33/2.66, which helps a little bit.

;-)
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