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Subject: Why do I hate Race for the Galaxy? rss

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Greg Reimann
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I played Race for the Galaxy two nights ago. I hated it. I have no desire to play it again, ever. But I want to know why.

This is a highly unusual occurrence. I like most games of all kinds, and will generally be up for just about anything that someone wants to play, In fact, there are only two games which I had such a negative reaction to on my initial play that I will run for the hills when they are brought out. Race for the Galaxy is on the list. (The other is Glory to Rome, which is what Race reminded me of.)

I don't want to bash on the game. Obviously, a lot of people really like it, and believe it is a deep game with lots of complex options and strategy. There will probably be a load of replies to this article that say that after a few more plays it would change my life and make me a better person. They might be right. I'm not here to argue. What is interesting to me is why would I personally react to so negatively to this game? Especially when, (A) I generally will play anything that comes to the table, and (B) I love some of the games I have seen Race compared to: Puerto Rico, Twilight Struggle, etc. What does this say about me as a gamer? And most importantly, are you a gamer like me? Because if you are, stay away from this game.

Alternatively, maybe this will inspire one of the Race lovers to come up with a better way to teach it to gamers like me.

Let's start by eliminating some possibilities.

Role Choosing Mechanic - I like Puerto Rico, so this isn't it.

Steep learning curve - I like T&E/Princes of Florence/Twilight Struggle, so that's not it.

Pasted on Theme - We're getting closer. I do like good themes, and Race did feel like the theme was pasted on, the actual game being played out on a set of obscure symbols on the cards, but I like plenty of games were the theme is not strong (T&E) and abstracts (GIPF series), so this can't be it either.

What kind of gamer doesn't like Race?
Ok, that didn't get us too far. Let's examine why I play games, maybe we can glean something from that. I'm not sure I'm even a "gamer," or if I am, I'm a pretty casual one. I'm generally not out to win (although I certainly don't mind winning), but rather I really like to sit back and appreciate the game itself. You see, I really like systems: mechanical systems, business systems, manufacturing systems, organizational systems. And I love games because I see a good game as a complex (or simple/elegant) system of rules that serve dual tasks -- to enable players to compete with each other or the game, and/or to simulate whatever the theme may be.

Because of this sort of approach, I'm inclined to play a lot of different games. I love the variety and learning new systems. I'm not likely to play any game enough to get good at it and I really don't want to become a student of a game and learn it inside out and backwards. I also love teaching games(systems) so I'm very sensitive to how they play for a newbie.

You should now be asking: "Why do you like those steep learning curve games you mentioned before?" And therein, I think we will find at least part of our answer.

A Learning Curve on Fun
Even in the steepest of learning curve games, the first-time player can still usually accomplish "something," even if they are playing against players who are much more advanced. In PR, a newbie can probably manage to make a good and ship it. In T&E, they can probably win a conflict or two. In most hex and counter war games, they can probably go so far as to construct and execute a strategy, maybe even kill a guy or two. In all these cases, they are participating in and appreciating the system (and having fun) before they are utterly crushed.

In my first game of Race, I could do nothing. The symbols were baffling, I couldn't manage to grasp the production process. I had no idea what was in the deck or what combinations were workable. I was reduced to exploring until I had enough cards to settle, and then settling. If you haven't played Race, this is equivalent to picking the prospector in Puerto Rico until you have enough money to build a building, then building it.... then doing it again.

As such, I wasn't participating in the system, and I couldn't understand what my opponents were doing enough to say, "Hey! I want to try that next game!" which is what has happened after my first play of most steep learning curve games.

And the worst part is, my opponents weren't crushing me, they were ignoring me. In most games, even when you are vastly outclassed, you can figure out how to be a fly that needs to be swatted. The only thing I managed to do was slow the game down a little because I took an extra 30 seconds to decide I was going to explore... again.

So you don't like Race because you're too stupid to get it?
Fine, I couldn't see the system or participate in the game, but what about Race made it so hard on me? The rules were explained relatively well. When I compare "Race" to "Rome," a couple of things stick out.

The "Cards are Money" mechanic
Ok, this mechanic I really do hate. No one else seems to mind, but it always warps my mind when I run into it. For two reasons:

1. It never fits the theme. As I said, I can accept weak or no theme, but the theme most often is a crutch for learning the mechanic (moving cylinders to a card is hard to remember, but loading barrels onto a ship makes sense.) The Cards are Money mechanic blows this out of the water:

"The round ones are planets, and the diamonds are improvements you can build"

"Got it."

"And you discard cards from your hand to settle planets."

"Wait, I pay planets to settle planets? Who am I paying off? And what's he doing with all these planets?"

2. When cards represent multiple things, everything is an agonizing evaluation. Experienced players immediately know what cards will help their current strategy and which won't and can discard those. But the newbie, who is desperately trying to be able to do *something.* Each card needs to be examined, decoded, and evaluated whether it needs to be used as money or as a card. And as a newbie, you are woefully ill-equipped to do any of this, making each new card you draw a depressing experience.

Glory to Rome takes this to the extreme, as a card can now be one of FOUR things, which just makes me want to cry.

A Big Scary Deck of Mystery
In both Race and Rome, the new player has NO IDEA what is in that draw deck. They don't even really know what to look for on each card. In PR, which has a bunch of buildings that do strange things, they are at least visible, so that the Newbie can think about them from the beginning of the game and imagine combinations and strategy. In Race and Rome, you have to play without knowing what is even possible.

Something constructive
My intention here is not to be a total downer, so let me try to leave you with some constructive comments.

- If you like Race, play Glory to Rome, and vice versa. You'll probably like it.

- If you are teaching Race to a newbie, artificially start them with some planets that get them in the game: either planets that work well together or some established production of some kind. Then give them a strategy to follow. I know one of the draws of Race is how many choices you get, but I need to be participating in the system before I can fathom the different choices.

- Take some time to show the newbie how and why your planet system is working together and theirs isn't (because theirs won't be). If you are playing with several experienced players, don't explain everybody’s. Just pick one person whose turn you will take slowly and explain in detail every time around. Maybe if this was done for me, I would be able to see the system and wouldn't hate the game.

And that’s why I hate Race for the Galaxy.

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James Ludlow
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theredwagoneer wrote:
And the worst part is, my opponents weren't crushing me, they were ignoring me.

Ignoring you isn't the same thing as trusting that you'll continue to give me a free card every turn.

Quote:
- If you like Race, play Glory to Rome, and vice versa. You'll probably like it.

Fairly likely, but I know people who only like one or the other.


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- If you are teaching Race to a newbie, artificially start them with some planets that get them in the game: either planets that work well together or some established production of some kind. Then give them a strategy to follow.

Obviously. That's why worlds 1-4 come with a preset 4-card newbie hand. If the person teaching you the game didn't give you one of these hands, he failed to properly introduce you to the game.
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Steve E.
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If you really feel so strongly in your dislike of the game I'm not sure anything I can say change that.

BUT, here I go anyway!

My own experience with Race was that I did not like it much at all until about my 8th play. At that point something clicked, the game seemed to come in to focus, and I haven't looked back.

Quote:
1. It never fits the theme. As I said, I can accept weak or no theme, but the theme most often is a crutch for learning the mechanic (moving cylinders to a card is hard to remember, but loading barrels onto a ship makes sense.) The Cards are Money mechanic blows this out of the water:

I don't feel it is as un-thematic as you think. Spending cards can represent focusing your empire's resources on a particular task instead of some other task or aim (i.e. conquering a rebel homeworld instead of participating in a Galactic Trade conference). Your empire does not have the resources to do both, so which option helps you the most? ...maybe a little abstract (read: weak), but it's in there if you want it.


Race takes a few plays to absorb. If you want to like the game, give it a while before deciding you cannot.
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Jeff Wood
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To me, your problem seems simply stated, based on what you have said regarding RftG and GtR.

You dislike games with multiple-purpose components, at least as cards. The RftG cards as building blocks *and* resources was a turn-off. I imagine Glory to Rome's very multi-purpose cards (building blocks, resources, VP's *and* roles) were also irritating, possibly at needing to make choices to what to do with the cards, and what options you would lose doing so.

I believe some dissatisfaction with the luck-based nature of drawing cards contributed, as the cards you get are very luck-based, and then having to 'sacrifice' the unique powers you drew was frustrating.

My 2 cents.
 
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Brad Miller
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Race has two main "systems", card generation systems and VP generation systems. Other than the "cards are goods, money, and stuff to build", should be right up your alley. Learn the symbology, get those engines going and Race for the Galaxy...
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Mark Jackson
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theredwagoneer wrote:
The "Cards are Money" mechanic
Ok, this mechanic I really do hate. No one else seems to mind, but it always warps my mind when I run into it. For two reasons:

1. It never fits the theme. As I said, I can accept weak or no theme, but the theme most often is a crutch for learning the mechanic (moving cylinders to a card is hard to remember, but loading barrels onto a ship makes sense.) The Cards are Money mechanic blows this out of the water:

"The round ones are planets, and the diamonds are improvements you can build"

"Got it."

"And you discard cards from your hand to settle planets."

"Wait, I pay planets to settle planets? Who am I paying off? And what's he doing with all these planets?"

I think I can help here - in an abstracted form, what you're doing is deciding NOT to explore another planet or develop another technology in order to put the resources of your empire behind a particular objective - settling Gambling World, say, or developing Replicant Robots.

Quote:
- If you are teaching Race to a newbie, artificially start them with some planets that get them in the game: either planets that work well together or some established production of some kind. Then give them a strategy to follow. I know one of the draws of Race is how many choices you get, but I need to be participating in the system before I can fathom the different choices.

As others have mentioned, if you were not taught like this, somebody goofed up big-time. Let me point you (and them!) to http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/253149, where Chris Farrell does a splendid job of teaching people how to teach RftG.
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Jacob Martin
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I have found that the one major error that experienced players make in largely non-interactive games like RftG is to neglect an explanation for the choices they are making. I always try to provide some commentary while I play with new players to try and give insight into thought processes and decisions that come with experience.

That said, I have also found that new players often don't give themselves the best chance of learning by not paying attention to their opponents. Trying to figure out a winning strategy for a game by yourself is not likely to occur while you are learning the mechanics of a game. This is particularly true for Race as the symbol system abstracts the gameplay from the cards themselves.

My advice for new players then is to pick a simple strategy and stick to it. This minimises the complexity of decisions that have to be made and frees up the brain to concentrate on what other, more experienced players are doing, and why. You probably won't come close to winning the first game, but let's face it, you weren't going to win anyway. You might, however, win your second or third - and you'll have a better idea of what makes the game work.
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Brent Cunningham
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I've only played this once, a two-player game, and I'm bound to give it another try eventually (and by eventually, I mean months from now,) maybe even with more players, but:

It gave me a headache.

1) I may not have been "taught" the game correctly, in that I don't think I was given a pre-determined hand of four cards. I do know that we each used on of 4 possible starting planets.

2) I agree that the game was quite confusing, mostly because I didn't have a good grasp of the reference symbols on the cards I suppose. Also, the person I played with had only played it maybe twice.

3) It was quite confusing to me how cards interacted with each other...when I played M:TG, I knew the cards well (of course, that was way back before there were 6,326,411 expansions,) and so was able to put together some pretty impressive decks (yeah, 5-color deck with a career record of 27-0, not bad.) But I digress...I guess more play, or just more perusal of the cards would alleviate this, but I'm just not sure I want to spend the time doing that.

4) I was not at all concerned with what my opponent was doing...not once did I look closely at what he had played. I just played cards and picked roles that I thought would benefit me, regardless of what effect they had on him. I guess if I'm playing a game (presumably against an opponent,) I want more interaction amongst the players.

5) I beat him badly...like landslide badly. I think the final was like 47-22 or something like that. He beat me on point value from cards, but I massacred him on the conditional points. I had six 6-cost cards out, and scored about 37 of my point total from them.

6) Not bloody likely to catch me playing this any time soon. Too many other games I'd rather play, or try. I think this one would have to win the "dice roll" for what game the group is playing. We each pick a game, then roll a die to see which gets played. In fact, I had such a little amount of fun playing this that I might just sit it out if it does get picked.
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Mark Jackson
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Hey, we're not saying that everyone will like and/or enjoy RftG. (Well, at least I'M not saying that.)

What we want to prevent is people not getting a chance to experience how good the game is... at that point, you're welcome to reject it as "not my cup of tea." (As I have done with Tikal, Euphrat & Tigris & San Juan.)
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theredwagoneer wrote:
A Learning Curve on Fun
The "Cards are Money" mechanic
Ok, this mechanic I really do hate. No one else seems to mind, but it always warps my mind when I run into it. For two reasons:

1. It never fits the theme. As I said, I can accept weak or no theme, but the theme most often is a crutch for learning the mechanic (moving cylinders to a card is hard to remember, but loading barrels onto a ship makes sense.) The Cards are Money mechanic blows this out of the water:

"The round ones are planets, and the diamonds are improvements you can build"

"Got it."

"And you discard cards from your hand to settle planets."

"Wait, I pay planets to settle planets? Who am I paying off? And what's he doing with all these planets?"

Alright, so here's how I tend to think of games where cards == money.

Cards represent knowledge. In the case of a development they are the blueprints to the technology, or represent an idea looking for funding. For planets, they represent the starmaps to get to that planet or establish trade routes.

But in order to ACT on that knowledge, resources have to be commited. A company cannot act on ALL of its good ideas and tips, it has to allocate resources to make them happen. In the 'cards are money' mechanic, discarding other cards represent the commiting of time, money and effort to THIS project versus THOSE projects. Later on, new information (cards) will come into your hand, and they can be evaluated then as opportunities to follow or resources to use to pay for them.

Quote:
2. When cards represent multiple things, everything is an agonizing evaluation. Experienced players immediately know what cards will help their current strategy and which won't and can discard those. But the newbie, who is desperately trying to be able to do *something.* Each card needs to be examined, decoded, and evaluated whether it needs to be used as money or as a card. And as a newbie, you are woefully ill-equipped to do any of this, making each new card you draw a depressing experience.

One of the reasons that the mantra of 'play the game multiple times' is repeated on BGG is the reason bolded above. Experience with all of the cards available means you can more quickly evaluate if the cards in your hand are opportunities to follow or should be used as raw materials. Another way to put that is that experience means you know what you are looking for, and though that can breed its own set of problems and enforce path-like thinking, it does at least mean that you can quickly look to determine if the cards in your hand meld into the strategy you're following.

Now, it's a bit unfair to expect a newbie to totally stumble through their first game, and if all the possible ways to get cards in hand are not explained to a new player, then the teacher has done an injustice.

Lets review which phases you can get cards into your hand. Note that this is something I always do with new players, because getting more cards to look at gives you more information and lets you make better decisions:

Phase I: Explore, everyone gets to look at some number of cards, and keep some of them (discarding the rest). Those who picked the action either get to look at a lot but not keep any extra, or they get to look at one extra and keep one extra. Some developments and worlds, once played, will let you look at and/or keep extra cards during this phase.

Phase II: Some developments let you take a card in hand. Others let you take a card as a rebate if you build a development.

Phase III: If you pick this role and play a planet, you get a 1 card rebate. Other powers on played developments and worlds will give you a rebate as well.

Phase IV / $: If you select the trade role, you get to draw a number of cards into your hand based on the color of the good you're selling, plus any bonuses from developments and worlds which add '+$'. This is the most common way to get a large influx of cards.

Phase IV / Consume: Consuming takes a good as 'input' and 'outputs' either victory point chips or cards in hand. Playing the IV/x2 card only double the VPs gained, not cards in hand. Some Phase IV powers give cards without requiring a good as input.

Phase V: Production. Some worlds give you cards in hand when they produce. Some worlds and developments always give you cards.

In my opinion, any rules explination that doesn't explain the multitude of ways to gain cards is remiss.

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A Big Scary Deck of Mystery
In both Race and Rome, the new player has NO IDEA what is in that draw deck. They don't even really know what to look for on each card. In PR, which has a bunch of buildings that do strange things, they are at least visible, so that the Newbie can think about them from the beginning of the game and imagine combinations and strategy. In Race and Rome, you have to play without knowing what is even possible.
Or go through the deck on your own for a few minutes.

Or play a few times to see cards, both in your own hand and on others boards.

One of the best resources for this game, and one I have a copy of in my set for review, is the 'periodic table' of all possible cards. It lacks card names, but lets me show how certain concepts are grouped (such as the spread of good types, the ratio of military to non-military, the fact that windfalls usually don't have consumption, etc).

Just like many other games, like Go, Poker or even PR -- the game is not clear until some thought has been put into it. A new player cannot presume to have enough information to make advanced decisions.

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- If you are teaching Race to a newbie, artificially start them with some planets that get them in the game: either planets that work well together or some established production of some kind. Then give them a strategy to follow. I know one of the draws of Race is how many choices you get, but I need to be participating in the system before I can fathom the different choices.
There are starting hands for planets 1-4, and for a totally green player, it's a really good idea to start them off with one of these hands. Most new players will put down all four of those starting cards which is a perfectly fine and valid course of play and usually a good start, though not necessarily a great one.

My own personal teaching style starts out with all of the starting hands out on the table as though we were in the middle of the game. I walk backwards through the phases (V, IV, III, II, I) because I prefer to explain how goods show up before explaining how to get planets to the table, and then by the time we hit explore, the concept of getting cards into your hand (see previous list) is more real, and more importantly, understood to not be the only way to get cards into your hand.

Quote:
- Take some time to show the newbie how and why your planet system is working together and theirs isn't (because theirs won't be). If you are playing with several experienced players, don't explain everybody’s. Just pick one person whose turn you will take slowly and explain in detail every time around. Maybe if this was done for me, I would be able to see the system and wouldn't hate the game.
It's hard to do that in a closed hand game, because the larger part of the decision tree is not what to play, but what to toss.

One concept that might help is if you had a 'dealer' who called each phase and explained at least what decisions should be made at any given point. We've done this since day one, and yes, it slows the game down just a little, and makes it feel more like a game and less like a frenetic game of spit.

Quote:
And that’s why I hate Race for the Galaxy.
Hate is a strong word, and I hope you don't hate other things in your life after only one exposure to them.

In all honesty, though you say you don't like studying games, I believe that given your love of systems and subsystems, there at least has to be some level of that in your enjoyment of these types of games.

But you may simply prefer games where all the information is fully visible, and there is no hidden data. RftG is full of hidden and obscured information. The only knowledge you have available to you in RftG is the cards that have passed through your own hand and the cards played by your opponents.

Further, you only know ONE (two in the advanced two player game) of the potentially three/four phases which will be played out this round. In the other role selection game you mention (PR), you know exactly which roles have been picked, and know with reasonable certainty what the effect of choosing a given role will be. You at least know that you get first crack at that role's effects once chosen. In RftG, you only know that you'll get a benefit from the role, but have no clue how others will use your selection to their advantage.

And that may frustrate a gamer used to knowing exactly how many barrels of sugar will ship onto the middle sized boat if they choose Captain.
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Greg Reimann
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Thanks for the replies. I guess I was taught wrong because I definitely only started with one planet.

I've tried to justify the card/money mechanic the way a few people have mentioned, as a sacrificed opportunity. but something still isn't clicking thematically. That would make sense if I had to pick from a set of cards and discard the rest, but I get to choose which opportunities I sacrifice and which remain possible? How can a sacrifice of a big opportunity then have the same worth as a small one?

Maybe I just overthink this. blush I don't know why it bugs me so much.

Anyway, thanks for the replies. Maybe I'll try it again someday and insist on being taught correctly, but I think I'm going to need a bit of time before I get up the gumption to delve in again.
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Greg Reimann
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Wow BT, thanks for the summary. Admittedly, I probably wouldn't have had as negative a reaction if you had been teaching it.

Quote:
Now, it's a bit unfair to expect a newbie to totally stumble through their first game, and if all the possible ways to get cards in hand are not explained to a new player, then the teacher has done an injustice.

In their defense, they probably did, but it didn't get emphasized as much as it probably should have been. Nobody said: "Your first order of business should be to find a way to get cards that's not exploring." That would have helped.

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Just like many other games, like Go, Poker or even PR -- the game is not clear until some thought has been put into it. A new player cannot presume to have enough information to make advanced decisions.

Absolutely, but the new player should have enough information to make some basic decision. That's what I was lacking.

Quote:
It's hard to do that in a closed hand game, because the larger part of the decision tree is not what to play, but what to toss.

I'm not sure I even needed to know their decision tree. I just needed to know what their planets were doing when the different roles came up. If I had at least been walked through that, I would at least be curious about how they set up their economy.

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Hate is a strong word, and I hope you don't hate other things in your life after only one exposure to them.

I don't. I'm usually very positive and happy-go-lucky. That's why I got so introspective when I had such a negative reaction.

Quote:
In all honesty, though you say you don't like studying games, I believe that given your love of systems and subsystems, there at least has to be some level of that in your enjoyment of these types of games.

Well, kind of. But I like to learn the game gradually, by playing. I don't like the idea of sitting with the deck and trying to figure out some way to function. With each play, I learn how to participate a little bit more, but if I feel like I didn't participate at all in the first game (I didn't build something, or sell something, or set up a factory, kingodom or whatever the game mechanic is) it's a huge turn-off. I guess what it comes down to is that I'm ok if games require study to win, but I don't like it when they require study to play.

Quote:

But you may simply prefer games where all the information is fully visible, and there is no hidden data.

It's not the hidden information that bothers me. I'm fine with that and I think it's rather neat. What I don't like is not having any idea at all what is likely to appear. Your periodic table sound like it would have really solved this problem head on. Not to mention, it would have gotten me categorizing cards off the bat instead of looking at them each as a bewildering isolated entity.

Thanks again.
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Something about your post made me think of an issue I've had with the farm in which I have a community-supported-agriculture share.

Every week, they divvy up the produce and send out a newsletter in which they trumpet all the various things they sent out (in the aggregate). The thing is, they don't have enough of the aggregate to give every participant a taste of it, so, from the participant's perspective (OK . . . from my perspective), the newsletter reads mostly as a list of what I did not receive.

I think this is human nature -- it's easy to focus more on what we're giving up than on what we're getting.

For me, in playing RFTG, I have to reconcile myself to giving up potential agendas (like, say, a military-based cosmic empire) and to focus on other things. Once I've steeled myself, I can pay with things like military-type cards and feel OK about it.

If I had to guess, I'd say that it's the "in your face" exposure to giving potential value up that's getting to you. Who knows, though? Maybe this isn't a game you enjoy. Best of luck regardless!
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I've played this game 4 times. One two player, one 3 player, and two four player.

I hated each game.

1. The symbols are confusing to learn
2. I didn't understand the strategy of the game
3. I even managed a 2nd place in one of the 4 player games...and didn't really understand HOW I'd done so well.
4. (probably the most important) I hate Puerto Rico (and San Juan)(I'm also developing a loathing for most Euro games lately)

I enjoy complex games, I enjoy and understand the 18xx series; I also enjoy the older Avalon Hill wargames. I even enjoy some of the newer games...but given the choice to play this game or waste an hour...I'll waste the hour.
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Burster of Bubbles, Destroyer of Dreams.
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It sounds like you dropped into a game with experienced players who did a horrible job teaching you.

If you decide to play again, insist on playing a game or two with the "starter hands" -- a pre-set selection of cards that all work well with your home planet in some fashion or other. That makes sure you have some reasonable things to do at the beginning without confusing you with cards that aren't possibly useful in your starting hand.
 
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B C Z
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theredwagoneer wrote:
Wow BT, thanks for the summary. Admittedly, I probably wouldn't have had as negative a reaction if you had been teaching it.
Thank you. I've taught this game to a few dozen people since purchasing it in December and learning it rapid-fire with my wife. Our learning process was different than being taught though. We both read the rules ahead of purchasing the game (by downloading them and printing them) and knew that we'd have to commit to getting over the learning curve quickly, which was easy on a train when there's not much else to do.

I think I've only lost one person in my explanation, and it's probably because they came in towards the end of the spiel and didn't want me to start over on their behalf.

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Now, it's a bit unfair to expect a newbie to totally stumble through their first game, and if all the possible ways to get cards in hand are not explained to a new player, then the teacher has done an injustice.

In their defense, they probably did, but it didn't get emphasized as much as it probably should have been. Nobody said: "Your first order of business should be to find a way to get cards that's not exploring." That would have helped.
Yeah, without cards, nothing else works. Many forget to state it outright.

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Just like many other games, like Go, Poker or even PR -- the game is not clear until some thought has been put into it. A new player cannot presume to have enough information to make advanced decisions.

Absolutely, but the new player should have enough information to make some basic decision. That's what I was lacking.
This is the primary reason that I give a player who's entirely green the starting hand associated with their homeworld, even if other players get random hands. Since they've seen those cards out 'in play' in a 'mock round' (as I explain each phase), they already understand what they will do each phase of play. Though the predictable pattern is 'Explore/+1+1' and then use those new cards as raw materials for the starting hands, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and it's actually a very strong play. All of the starting hands give a strong nudge towards a direction of play, and other cards that work well with that strategy will be obvious if they land in the newbie's hand. That's why the starting hands are marked for easy retrieval from the deck.

Indeed, if I know I'm going into a situation where I'll be teaching new players, the start hands are extracted when packing it up from the previous game. It's easy enough to shuffle them back in if they are not needed.

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It's hard to do that in a closed hand game, because the larger part of the decision tree is not what to play, but what to toss.

I'm not sure I even needed to know their decision tree. I just needed to know what their planets were doing when the different roles came up. If I had at least been walked through that, I would at least be curious about how they set up their economy.
I call this moderating the game, and I highly suggest it. One person gets the deck, they are the dealer, they call each phase in turn, and cover each power that's activated for each player (with that player's help). This 'patter' gives the newbie an understanding of places that a board position might be strong in, or weak in.

Examples:
During Explore, I will deal the appropriate number to each player...
Draw 2, Keep 1, no bonuses for you
Draw 3, Keep 2, because you played the card
Draw... Wow, 5, Keep only 1 though {has a lot of 'view' powers}
Draw 2, Keep 2 - that Research Lab is really helping you out...

By doing that, every player is aware of what happens on the Explore phase. We don't do it with experienced players, but we still announce our draw/keeps, so everyone knows.

Another Example:
We have a develop phase - everyone select a develop {everyone does plays it face down and prepares payment, if anny)
Then everyone announces what they played out and pays for it.
If a newbie says "What's that symbol do?" we explain it, esp if it's not been seen before.

A newbie won't necessarily use any card they haven't seen before, they'll use it as cash and focus on the easy to grasp stuff (development discounts, military world conquest, etc). Once they've seen cards in action a few times, then they'll start playing it themselves.

It's like introducing food to a child... They will stick with the familar - the goal of a good teacher is to slowly make everything familiar.

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In all honesty, though you say you don't like studying games, I believe that given your love of systems and subsystems, there at least has to be some level of that in your enjoyment of these types of games.

Well, kind of. But I like to learn the game gradually, by playing. I don't like the idea of sitting with the deck and trying to figure out some way to function. With each play, I learn how to participate a little bit more, but if I feel like I didn't participate at all in the first game (I didn't build something, or sell something, or set up a factory, kingodom or whatever the game mechanic is) it's a huge turn-off. I guess what it comes down to is that I'm ok if games require study to win, but I don't like it when they require study to play.
I contend that RftG has a steep, but learnable curve. You don't have to study the deck to learn the paths, and you probably won't see them all with just a flip through the deck. Instead, on the first few games, stick with a basic concept and try it out. Strong miltary, Developments that give cards or discounts for other developments or a small produce/consume engine should be the goals in the beginning, with the sub-goal being a desire to familiarize yourself with the playspace, both by looking at cards in hand (but not too carefully), and by watching what types of cards the more experienced players put out. Notice how the guy with Alpha Centauri seems to put out a lot of brown worlds. Notice how New Sparta builds quickly to a military strength of 4 or 5 and seems to trade off their windfalls to get cards and never seems to consume. Observe how Earth's Lost Colony tends to end up with multiple blue planets - or three different colors. All of this aids the learning process.

Unfortunately, most new players are so buried in learning the language that the don't take a moment to see what others are doing. Again, that's why my wife and I prefer to teach and play in a moderated fashion, so others can observe and compiment a good mix of cards.

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But you may simply prefer games where all the information is fully visible, and there is no hidden data.

It's not the hidden information that bothers me. I'm fine with that and I think it's rather neat. What I don't like is not having any idea at all what is likely to appear. Your periodic table sound like it would have really solved this problem head on. Not to mention, it would have gotten me categorizing cards off the bat instead of looking at them each as a bewildering isolated entity.

Thanks again.
Knowledge of the possibilities comes, as said, only with experience -- and there are still tricks I'm learning.

The periodic table isn't mine, it's a product of the lead playtester, and is available here:


There's also a PDF for 8.5x11 in the files section.

I find it a very useful aid for explaining the breakdown of the planets and developments, but do a lot of handwaving the first time I show it, lest I overwhelm the new player. Still, they can see that alien planets are less likely to be found, and cost more than the blue planets, which are cheap and plentiful. It lets me show that windfalls don't tend to have consumption and that military worlds don't generally produce. Again, lots of handwaving.

I sincerely hope you try the game again -- it has a lot to offer if you can get over the initial muddied waters.
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theredwagoneer wrote:
The symbols were baffling, I couldn't manage to grasp the production process. I had no idea what was in the deck or what combinations were workable. I was reduced to exploring until I had enough cards to settle, and then settling.
...
The rules were explained relatively well.
Like others above, I'm not sure I believe that last point.

I've only played this once, and likely won't play it again--I don't think it's my kind of thing--but the people who taught it to me (klellingson & his son) were experienced players, and I almost won. (Tied for first, lost on some tiebreaker.) Sure, I didn't know what was in the deck, but the variety of stuff in my opening hand was enough to say, "this says it will reduce the cost of that... that sounds good, so what do I need to do to get this into play?"

I'm pretty sure the difference isn't that my intellect dwarfs yours, which leaves A) the people who taught you the game did a lousy job, B) my initial draw of cards was a lot more interesting than yours, ha ha, or possibly C) you didn't approach it with the mindset of "I'll figure this out as I go along" rather than "I will play a competent first game." (Maybe you did; I don't know.)

gamemark wrote:
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- If you are teaching Race to a newbie, artificially start them with some planets that get them in the game: either planets that work well together or some established production of some kind. Then give them a strategy to follow. I know one of the draws of Race is how many choices you get, but I need to be participating in the system before I can fathom the different choices.
As others have mentioned, if you were not taught like this, somebody goofed up big-time.
Pshh. I wasn't taught this way! Kevin dealt out the cards normally, his son started to object, and Kevin said, "bah, he's a gamer, he'll catch on." With an intro like that, I was highly motivated to figure things out, ha ha. Maybe part of the problem was that they gave you enough information to make you think you'd understand how to play competently right off the starting line?
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Philip Thomas
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This is quite an interesting thread. I'm going to be teaching the game to others quite soon and this thread has some valuable lessons in how (not) to do it.

Firstly the obvious one: give them the starting hands.

Secondly, taking a bit of time over the rules explanation. There's a temptation not to explain at length but just jump into the game, but that could be dangerous.

Thirdly, explaining what you are doing during the game. I'm even considering playing with my hand open to aid this. This has the additional bonus of getting them to pay attention to your play. New players can be tempted to play entirely around their own cards and tableau, and the inevitable result is that they think the game has no interaction. Actually, every turn your role selection should be informed by what roles you think your opponent will pick, and what cards you choose to play/discard should take into account what your opponent is doing (If your oppponent is collecting Alien worlds, that is a factor in deciding whether to settle an Alien world...).
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Chris Martin
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loki2896 wrote:
largely non-interactive games like RftG
This is why I don't like it. I like to interact with people when I play a game, not "largely non-interact" with them. Put me down as one of that rare breed of sociable boardgamer
 
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Philip Thomas wrote:
This is quite an interesting thread. I'm going to be teaching the game to others quite soon and this thread has some valuable lessons in how (not) to do it.

The best advice I was given - and it's how I taught most of my game group to play - is that everyone signs on to play it 2 times in a row. The 2nd game makes SO much more sense than the first game AND you have the advantage of getting extra time learning the symbols.

The other ideas - starting hands, the backwards (V - > I) rules explanation, the "narrating" first game - are all good ideas... and will work better if you play 2 games in a row (it should take about 2 hours for 2 games with the rules explanation.)
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linoleum blownaparte
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Still, they can see that alien planets are less likely to be found, and cost more than the blue planets, which are cheap and plentiful. It lets me show that windfalls don't tend to have consumption and that military worlds don't generally produce.

Haha, I've played about 10-15 "know what I'm doing" games and am still at the level of "Hmm, Alien Tech Institute - ah, but I don't have any other military power to conquer all those hostile Alien worlds."

This game needs serious handholding for a newbie, it is no Settlers... You can throw someone into their first game with no guidance, and even if they understand the rules perfectly AND grasp the icons right away... they can still be lost!

This is one of those games where there's a big gap between understanding the rules and understanding the game.

Things to do when teaching to newbies:

1. Play some "training games" with hands face up and (for the first few turns) public phase choices.

2. Play with presets and give the newbie New Sparta.

3. Help the newbie with discards.

4. Have constant table-talk with experienced players explaining WHY they did this or that.


Rationale: this way of playing lets the newbie see and hear more people making more decisions so he learns not just from his own experience. Grasping the military strategy is one of the earliest "Aha" moments on the learning curve. New Sparta (with the preset) allows players to chalk up satisfying semi-competitive scores without having to deal with the consume cycle which is the least intuitive part of the game - icons, blank cards as specific goods, the difference between windfall and production, the difference between selling and consuming, the fact that consume comes before produce - it takes a while to grasp all this. This is a "learn by watching someone else" game mechanic.

There is of course as much strategy involved in what to discard as what to buy - don't leave the newbie hanging here. They may not understand the symbols, they may not understand card synergy, they definitely do not know what is in the deck. The newbie could have Pirate World in his tableau and not know how to resolve an Explore that gives him Lost Alien Whatever and Expanding Colony. As above, you can help almost as much by explaining why YOU did what you did, as by giving direct tips and hand-holding.

Finally, at the end of the game, take some time to talk about each tableau and what the strategy was - a lot of cards with Rare synergy, a Produce-Consume2 cycle with Tourist World, etc. Talk about the two endgame conditions and how tableau speed and consumption play off each other, and then talk about competitive phase selection e.g. "Explore +5 is good to dig for military worlds" and "Settle/Dev when others have few cards" and "Look out for who'll benefit most from your Consume or Produce."

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I can say that I felt just like you when I first experienced this game.

For me, just sitting down with the deck and going through it card by card made me feel a lot more excited about the game. I could enjoy the game a lot better once I knew what was *in* the game.
 
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Derek H
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chrisjwmartin wrote:
loki2896 wrote:
largely non-interactive games like RftG
This is why I don't like it. I like to interact with people when I play a game, not "largely non-interact" with them. Put me down as one of that rare breed of sociable boardgamer :D
Nah, its just you Chris. My son and I chatter all the time while playing this, so its probably more about what you are used to. Now, Chess - that's a "non-interactive game"!
 
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Miles Standish Proud congratulate me
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Yeah, BT did a good job of moderating there. I'll need to do the same next month as I'm running the tournament at WBC.

Regarding the use of cards as both money and buildings, I like it a lot. To me it adds a layer of dilemma. Have you played Goa? If so, what do you think about the expedition cards? These cards actually have 3 jobs!

theredwagoneer wrote:

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Hate is a strong word, and I hope you don't hate other things in your life after only one exposure to them.

I don't. I'm usually very positive and happy-go-lucky. That's why I got so introspective when I had such a negative reaction.

Maybe the people who taught the game just aren't good at explaining. I found that the 'happy-go-lucky' approach is a perfect fit for learning this game. On top of everything BT said I often add "just build the cards you understand and spend the others." It's what I did!
 
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Colin Hunter
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This game has been a big hit with our group. I would echo every one's thoughts so far on the matter. Starting hands a must for example. Some one mentioned that you play open handed. I would strongly suggest this.

In our group I have tought several people open handed. I generally do it in the second or third game once they understand the symbols. Both of us play with an open and he discuss their potential moves. This is a great way to teach people the actual strategy of the game. One of the reasons I don't do it in the first play is that often it is a bit much to expect people to learn the game and the strategy at the same time.

Also I don't think this game is any less newb friendly than Twilight struggle, infact I think it is far more friendly to newer players. In TS deck knowledge is absolutely critical and it is inportnt in RftG as well, not to the same degree.
 
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