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Subject: Race for the Galaxy and Deck Construction rss

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I was given RftG as a gift last February, early in the game's meteoric rise to fame. I realized in the last few days I'm probably going to trade it away. There is a lot of discussion already on BGG about the game's merits and lack thereof (player interaction, variety / complexity, replayability, etc). Those issues are not the main substance of the question I wish to pose here, but before I begin, let me provide a quick overview of my perspective on the game:

Iconography: very cool, easy to remember after one play.
Theme: hit or miss. Some throwaways, and some attention-grabbers.
Card combinations: Easy to wrap your head around if you've ever played a CCG. Lots of possibilities.
Player interaction: Subtle and indirect, but not non-existent. Most importantly, players must be able to gauge each other's probable actions.
Comparisons to SJ and PR: Haven't played SJ, and I'm much, much more impressed by PR than I am by RftG.
How many times have I played: 7
Pacing: fast but not exhilarating.

So that's out of the way, for anyone who was wondering. But if there's one thing that dampens my excitement for this game, it's the fact that we're all playing out of the same deck. This is only exacerbated by the "cards as money" mechanic.

So here's my question: would RftG be a better game if players could build their own decks?

I know that deck construction would increase the set of cards, double play time, and perhaps really screw with the role-selection mechanic (making opponents choices a lot more predictable if you were familiar with their deck or deck "type"). So introducing deck construction might be tantamount to initiating a thorough overhaul. As it is, I don't enjoy cobbling together a strategy in an environment where key cards are cycled through by all players at breakneck speeds. The cards you need might be drawn by another player or they might be drawn by you as face-down goods. Who knows. I suppose this makes RftG a "do the best with what you've got" game where you pursue a more general "type" of strategy. Perhaps some players even delight in the different permutations and narratives that arise from pursuing the same type of strategy in multiple playthroughs.

Are my old Mt:G habits just dying hard? When I see clever card combinations, I want to plan for them and set them up. I don't want to trip over them. Generally speaking, I've seen plenty of card-draw games with mechanics that transcend "the luck of the draw." But in Race I sometimes feel like the mechanics are a like a nice paint job over an over-taxed, single-deck system. When I was a teenager, we'd play Mt:G out of one deck if that's all we had with us and we were bored. It was a poor substitute for the real thing. Race feels a lot like that to me. The game seems like a quick fix, a distraction, a simulation, an approximation..., anything but the awesome game promised by the card interactions.

I just want my own deck. What's wrong with me?

 
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Steve E.
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Quote:
I just want my own deck. What's wrong with me?


Not a thing, you just want to play a different game.
 
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Wei-Hwa Huang
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Don't forget that one of RftG's ancestors is a "Duel for the Stars", a CCG.

We experimented with multiple deck construction rules during playtesting. After quite a bit of testing, we concluded that simple rules (e.g., everyone buys a set and plays from a custom-built deck of 40 cards) don't work -- mostly because we think the strategy space isn't balanced (there's a particular deck build that is way more powerful than anything else we came up with).

However, there is a variant that combines some aspects of deck-building that we were satisfied with. The variant will be mentioned in the rulebook for Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm.
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David desJardins
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JohnRayJr wrote:
When I was a teenager, we'd play Mt:G out of one deck if that's all we had with us and we were bored.


MTG isn't very well designed to be played from a single deck. From my perspective, that's a severe shortcoming. I don't have any interest in playing deck construction games. If you do, well, you certainly know where to find them.
 
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DaviddesJ wrote:
JohnRayJr wrote:
When I was a teenager, we'd play Mt:G out of one deck if that's all we had with us and we were bored.


MTG isn't very well designed to be played from a single deck. From my perspective, that's a severe shortcoming. I don't have any interest in playing deck construction games. If you do, well, you certainly know where to find them.


You're right that there's no shortage of CCGs. Let's not even go off on the whole 'economically-unsustainble' tangent. I've been sober 9 years.

I think your comment sort of skips around what I'm saying, which is that I'm trying to see how "mutliplayer from the same deck" can be good design. Sure, Race and Magic are quite different in some respects, but what about Race makes it "work" for you out of one deck? They're both card combination games. What's the crucial difference?
 
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I always wonder what kind of decks people would build for things other 'common stock games', like Poker if they could construct their own 'custom decks'. I suspect you'd see a plethora of flushes and royal straights.

Some games, like Bunco, had a concept of an individual deck for each player, but it wasn't 'built', it was just dealt out of the common stock.

Because RftG is based on information -- being able to see cards and act on that knowledge, it has a much more tactical feel (what can I do NOW) with strategic elements which come into play because you might encounter a given card or combination.

For example, most of the 4 and 5 point developments are always in the back of my mind as I build my empire. Will Diversified Economy help me with this board, or am I shutting off that avenue. Likewise, I have in mind which 6-? developments I should be hoping for.

Some tension comes up when I have to make the decision to switch from 'gain information' to 'gain end of game VPs', usually signified by switching Consumption from Trade to x2.

I'm glad to hear that RftG is going to have a deck building aspect in GS -- it will scratch that itch for some, but... it also means that the military player is guarenteed to have the military might and worlds they need/want to conquer. And that the player basing their strategy around cards which give them draws on Production will have them available.

Currently, you're not stumbling through the deck, you're deliberate searching the deck and seeing what fate puts into your hand. In my opinion, that's where much of the depth comes from. Just like Poker, where your fate is determined by the number of 'outs' you have, same holds true in any other common-stock game, RftG included.
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Colin Hunter
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I agree, I'm not convinced deck construction is a worth while mechanic and I say that as a regionally successful CCG player (at least in a couple games). However it has taken me years to understand why that is, but given this, RftG is already virtually infinitely replayable. Many ccgs, don't work without the constantly changing evnironment.
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Robert Wilson
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Hi, let me know if you do want to trade it, I've been looking for a copy everywhere so I'd be interested
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Greg Jones
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One nice thing about SJ and RftG is that even though you might think one strategy is the best strategy, you're forced to play different ones. The game enforces mandatory variety.
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James Conrad
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I think deck construction would take half the fun of the game away from me.... Please tell me I'm not the only evil person who finds half the fun of the game is throwing the 6 cost development card that would secure your opponent's victory into the discard pile.
 
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Colin Hunter
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conjam wrote:
I think deck construction would take half the fun of the game away from me.... Please tell me I'm not the only evil person who finds half the fun of the game is throwing the 6 cost development card that would secure your opponent's victory into the discard pile.

No half the fun is keeping them in hand to stop them getting them, now that is fun...
 
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JohnRayJr wrote:
I think your comment sort of skips around what I'm saying, which is that I'm trying to see how "mutliplayer from the same deck" can be good design.


What makes gin rummy a good design? 15 years ago, there weren't any "deck construction" games. It's not like playing cards were just invented so that people could play Magic: The Gathering.
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DaviddesJ wrote:
JohnRayJr wrote:
I think your comment sort of skips around what I'm saying, which is that I'm trying to see how "mutliplayer from the same deck" can be good design.


What makes gin rummy a good design?


I have no idea (?)

DaviddesJ wrote:
15 years ago, there weren't any "deck construction" games. It's not like playing cards were just invented so that people could play Magic: The Gathering.


Why the cryptic comparison to traditional playing cards? I'm not the most knowledgeable person on the subject, so I'll ask: how does collecting sets, groups, etc. relate to the kinds of complex effects generated by combinations in RftG?

(Also, my original post isn't supposed to uphold Magic: the Gathering as the high water mark of card game design)
 
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JohnRayJr wrote:
Why the cryptic comparison to traditional playing cards?


Boy, it astounds me that you think I'm being cryptic. You asked, paraphrased, "How can it be that a good game can be constructed from a deck of cards from which both players draw?" I think a good way to answer that question would be to look at the long tradition (100 years?) of games that do just that.
 
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DaviddesJ wrote:
JohnRayJr wrote:
Why the cryptic comparison to traditional playing cards?


Boy, it astounds me that you think I'm being cryptic. You asked, paraphrased, "How can it be that a good game can be constructed from a deck of cards from which both players draw?" I think a good way to answer that question would be to look at the long tradition (100 years?) of games that do just that.


Whoa there. Not trying to astound.

I get what you're saying. But I'm not asking that. I'm asking how games based on these kinds of complex combinations come off well in a single deck. They seem better suited to individual player decks to me, and I was wondering if anybody had a comment along the lines of "but it's so cool when blah blah blah" that I could mull over.
 
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JohnRayJr wrote:
I'm asking how games based on these kinds of complex combinations come off well in a single deck.


You don't like Gin Rummy because the melds aren't "complex" enough? Does Mahjong have "complex combinations"? I don't see why it matters how "complex" the combinations are. It seems unrelated to the question of whether players draw from the same deck or different decks. But maybe someone else can understand your point better.
 
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JohnRayJr wrote:
Sure, Race and Magic are quite different in some respects, but what about Race makes it "work" for you out of one deck? They're both card combination games. What's the crucial difference?


One big difference is that in Race, you discard cards as payment for placing cards out. The effect is that you're playing about 1 out of every four cards; the other 75% of the cards you see is just money.

In Magic, on the other hand, almost every card you see would eventually get played out and its abilities used, which makes it that much important that every single card you see have useful powers.

In Race, since you're choosing which cards to play for their powers and which cards to use as generic money, one could say that you are doing the "deck-building" in real-time, as you're playing the game, as opposed to doing it beforehand.

This has its pros and cons. The main con is that sometimes you can get unlucky; a big stream of cards that don't work well with your chosen strategy may leave you floundering. The main pro is that you don't have to spend your off-game hours fine-tuning every exact card that goes into the deck.
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onigame wrote:
(there's a particular deck build that is way more powerful than anything else we came up with).


Military (+alien)?

The upside of the military strategy is you get to play all or nearly all of the military worlds you see - you don't have to discard some to play others. The main downside is you have to run through large portions of the deck to find military worlds in the first place.

So if you built a deck with just all the military cards, and the 6-devs that work for them... powerhouse.

The other three main lines - trade, consume, and develop - I don't see as much potential there for breaking the game. Trading is usually a strategy to get a lot of cards (=more options), that's less potent here since you're stacking the deck in a particular direction anyway. Consume I guess would be helped by taking out all the unhelpful "VP/military trophy" worlds but not broken. Develop... I can sort of see it. Since you can put 2 of each development in the deck, you would have more predictability. Get all three II-rebate cards down fast and you could maybe be competitive?

Bottom line though is "deckbuilding" in RFTG would mean taking cards out and since the military player often cycles through the most cards, he/she would benefit most.
 
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And people said it was multiplayer solitaire before!

Each player with his own deck. Drawing from his own draw pile, discarding to his own discards. Hey, he might as well choose his own actions and ignore the other player's.

It is an important part of the game that you are competing for the same set of cards. Each world is unique (though some are less unique than others. Each 6-dev is unique. There are only 2 copies of the developments. Competing within the same set of cards is one of the best parts of the game.

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Linoleumblownaparte wrote:
onigame wrote:
(there's a particular deck build that is way more powerful than anything else we came up with).


Military (+alien)?


I deliberately didn't say because I think people will have more fun discovering it themselves.
 
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conjam wrote:
I think deck construction would take half the fun of the game away from me.... Please tell me I'm not the only evil person who finds half the fun of the game is throwing the 6 cost development card that would secure your opponent's victory into the discard pile.


and allow to get him a card after reshuffle i miss SJ chapel functionality in R4TG, but hand is enough fun.
 
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onigame wrote:
Don't forget that one of RftG's ancestors is a "Duel for the Stars", a CCG.
Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm.


i was looking for some information about D4TS but it is ungooglable. i'm curious what elements
came into race. i think more geeks would like to hear more about that unpublished game.
 
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JohnRayJr wrote:
DaviddesJ wrote:
JohnRayJr wrote:
Why the cryptic comparison to traditional playing cards?


Boy, it astounds me that you think I'm being cryptic. You asked, paraphrased, "How can it be that a good game can be constructed from a deck of cards from which both players draw?" I think a good way to answer that question would be to look at the long tradition (100 years?) of games that do just that.


Whoa there. Not trying to astound.

I get what you're saying. But I'm not asking that. I'm asking how games based on these kinds of complex combinations come off well in a single deck. They seem better suited to individual player decks to me, and I was wondering if anybody had a comment along the lines of "but it's so cool when blah blah blah" that I could mull over.


Let me preface this by saying that I'm a big fan of CCGs, and still play them when I can. There's something to be said about having a framework of rules in which players can come to the table with different strategies in mind and see how they play out against one another. Even better (for me, at least) when the game focuses more on the in-game decision making than anything else.

That said, Race for the Galaxy takes that concept and completely removes the deckbuilding aspect, as well as any preconceived notions of strategy at the door. If you sit down to a game of Race and say to yourself, "I'm going to win using a military strategy", or "I'm going to go the trade route and win by depleting the victory point pile", you've already lost.

If deckbuilding would be allowed in Race, the game would stagnate pretty quickly, IMO. You know how your deck is going to play out, you really don't care very much at all how your opponents are doing, or what they're doing (except for maybe guessing what action they'll play so you can leech off of them).

With the one deck concept, you have to be a whole lot more fluid, both in terms of thought-processes and strategy. You may get a great opening tableau of military your first three cards and then not get anything associated with military after that. So adaptation is key. That's why the game is so fascinating and why the single deck makes the game what it is.
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Zambo wrote:
With the one deck concept, you have to be a whole lot more fluid, both in terms of thought-processes and strategy. You may get a great opening tableau of military your first three cards and then not get anything associated with military after that. So adaptation is key. That's why the game is so fascinating and why the single deck makes the game what it is.


This sounds appealing to me, but I wonder if in my case the "cards as money" mechanic simply revs this concept too much. As an earlier reply said, you only play about 1/4 cards you draw. It's one thing to keep an eye on cards other players use, and another to have no way of knowing which chunk of cards is being burnt this round. On the other side of the equation, I certainly understand what James and Colin have said about withholding cards needed by others or discarding them as payment. Those are fun moves in the making. But everyone does it to everyone else, and as a piece of the larger design, it feels like it voids an attentiveness basic to many games, notably the traditional card games that David mentions (sidenote: I don't know how to play Gin Rummy, in case my earlier comment was misinterpreted).

I understand that RftG's mechanics doesn't "break" player's abilities to play out a great tableau: that would be a laughable claim. I just can't shake the feeling that there's a certain illusion to it all. Or, put another way, the particular combinations really take a back seat to riding the role selections of other players. Choice of action isn't irrelevant, but when everyone is adapting as best they can and "flying blind" with large quantities of discarded cards, the emphasis would seem to be on taking more actions and not necessarily better ones. I don't want RftG vets to pounce on me here, so I'm trying to be exact. On the whole I'm saying that the importance of the card combinations fades in favor of riding role selection (which of course simply means, making more combinations over the course of the game: racing). Games that favor highly adaptive players I can get behind. Games that require highly adaptive players and favor those who can best read each other's probable actions (guess, intuit, predict, whatever) lure me on with the "carrot" of adaptation amidst a wide range of strategies, when really I'm doing a different kind of work.

As an afterthought, I played a round of Jambo last night (not a favorite, but a solid game) and it occurred to me how much more I appreciated that game's "adapt as you go" feel. On the other hand, Jambo doesn't have the range of play that RftG does. And part of me still whispers, "why can't I have my own deck?" Is it time for me to invest in something like Blue Moon?
 
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byronczimmer wrote:
Currently, you're not stumbling through the deck, you're deliberate searching the deck and seeing what fate puts into your hand. In my opinion, that's where much of the depth comes from. Just like Poker, where your fate is determined by the number of 'outs' you have, same holds true in any other common-stock game, RftG included.


Now this really intrigues me. Since everyone is always saying "play RftG 15 times and you'll see the light," and since I have "only" played it 7 times, let me ask a question.

When you say you're playing with an eye towards having a number of "outs," does this mean you set up a larger "type" of combination, and a handful of different cards could act as the lynch pin? Because that's actually pretty interesting.
 
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