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Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm» Forums » Reviews

Subject: RFTG: TGS Solitaire Game Review rss

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Garrett Rooney
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I've been excited about the release of The Gathering Storm for a number of reasons, but the main thing I've been excited about is the solitaire rules. You see, while my wonderful wife is willing to play many games with me, she's just not into sci-fi type stuff to the degree necessary to buckle down and learn a game of this complexity. While I usually get my RFTG fix with friends at work, sometimes it'd be nice to get in a game or two at home, so the solitaire game seemed like just the thing I was waiting for.

First, it's probably worth talking about the various other solitaire variants for RFTG that are floating around here on BGG. Apparently many other people also wanted a solitaire version of RFTG, because writing your own set of solitaire rules seems to have become quite the thing to do. Each variant comes up with its own set of guidelines for chosing actions for your opponent, selecting cards for your opponent to play and determining when the game has ended. While some of these games are quite enjoyable, I found them somewhat wanting. The typical ways for selecting the opponent's actions tend to involve drawing action cards at random, which doesn't really emulate a real player very well. Selecting cards for the opponent to play tends to be difficult, and often risks revealing more than you'd wish about what your opponent is actually holding in their hand. In the end, many of them either end up making you feel like you're playing two hands, or like you're playing random cards for your opponent, both of which are a bit of a departure from the way the real game feels. Now this isn't to say that these are not solveable problems, but solving them in a way that makes the solitaire game feel like the multiplayer game is difficult and a lot of work. Fortunately, the game's designers have done it for you, so you don't have to ;-)

The official solitaire version of RFTG is pretty different from any of the unofficial variants that I've tried. It's centered around a bunch of new components that combine to provide you with a reasonably accurate simulation of the kind of actions an opponent would take in a game and how many victory points and cards in play those actions would result in. The actions taken by the robot opponent are selected by a special set of dice. The dice each select an action to be taken by the robot, either a specific action, a wild card action (which indicates that the robot chose one of your actions) or a robot icon which indicates that the robot selected an action that is associated with their start world. The results of each phase of the game are controlled by a special play mat, which contains a set of results for each potential phase in a round. The results are split up into results that occur when the robot selected the action, when the robot selected the action twice, or when the robot is performing the action because you selected it for them.

Ok, so you select actions via dice, and then you determine what the robot does in each phase based on whether they chose it explicitly or you chose it and they didn't. Once you've figured out what the robot will be doing in each phase, what happens? Well, you play as normal, and the robot keeps track of its current state in various ways. The robot has a credit count (from 0 to 4), an economy size (from 0 to 5), and a stack of cards in its hand. Generally speaking, exploring will cause the robot to put more cards into its stack, developing will cause it to try to play a development, settling will cause it to try to play a planet, consuming will earn victory points based on the robot's economy size, and producing will increase the robot's economy size. The details for each phase change depending on who picked it, and more importantly change based on the robot's home world. For example, military slanted home worlds result in a robot that tries to settle military worlds and explores more often to find them. Other home worlds alter the actions and probabilities of each action being selected based on how a player using that home world would likely act.

Finally we have the endgame. In this case the solitaire game is pretty much the same as the multiplayer game. The game is over when either player has 12 cards in their tableau or when the 24 available victory point chips have been used up. Tallying up the score is simply a matter of adding victory point chips to the value of each player's cards in play, with the robot's six point developments' value being controlled by the difficulty level you're playing at.

How well does this work in practice? Well, the robot play mat and it's iconography are somewhat complicated, so the first couple of games will clearly be spent getting used to that. Additionally, the mechanics of playing the robot are sufficiently different from the multiplayer version of the game that there is definitely an adjustment to be made. That said, once you've gotten the hang of it the solitaire version of the game really does feel relatively close to the normal two player game. The robot acts similarly to how a real player would act, and the difficulty level, which can be adjusted by controlling how many points the robot gets for six point development, is sufficient that you probably wouldn't win all the time, which seems about right since a game you can always win isn't that much fun anyway. Are there drawbacks? Sure, of course there are. The robot doesn't have any grasp of strategy, so while its choice of actions is weighted towards what a player with that homeworld would probably do that doesn't mean it's going to take the obviously correct action all the time. A few lucky rolls can leave the robot on the verge of victory just long enough for you to win the game. This seems unavoidable though, without making the game too complicated to be practical. Similarly, because the robot's actions are randomized you can't base your choices on how your opponent is likely to act. Well, to be fair you could, but you're basing your choice off of your knowledge of the odds of the robot making a particular move, not based on what your opponent would logically do as you would in a multiplayer game.

In the end, the solitare version of RFTG is a reasonably good replication of the multiplayer game. It can't completely replicate the experience of plaing with a real opponent, but it does come close enough to the real thing to provide you with a fun game to play when you can't find a willing opponent.
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Douglas Buel
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I thumbed-up your review, but I would suggest that you maybe try some games against robot Old Earth and see if you still have the same opinion when you're done.
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Garrett Rooney
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As requested, I just played a couple of games against Old Earth. Beat it barely with Ancient Race, got my clock cleaned with New Sparta. Is it hard to beat? Sure, those consume 2x rolls at the end that bring in 8-10 points a pop are a real pain. On the other hand, I've seen produce/consume strategies in the multiplayer game pull in that many points per consume 2x on multiple occasions, so while it may be difficult to beat it's certainly not impossible and more to the point it's not an unrealistic representation of what a multiplayer game can be like.
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Chris Ingersoll
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So far the only real problems I've had with the solitaire version is when the robot conquers a military world that is WAY out of its actual Military range based on its tableau.
 
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Garrett Rooney
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You should keep in mind that the cards the robot has in its tableau don't have any real relationship to its actions. For example, a real military strategy player would be doing targeted explore +5s to grab the appropriate military worlds or military power improving developments to play, where the robot just gets random military worlds and developments that happen to come into its hand. This should even out in the end, sometimes it pulls wildly underpowered military worlds, sometimes it pulls wildly overpowered ones, but over the course of the game it should be similar to what a real player would have ended up with.

Of course, it's not going to be perfect, but what do you expect from an AI made out of cardboard and plastic, after all ;-)
 
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R N
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Compare:
Earth's Lost Colony
Robot: Produce (+1 econ)

Old Earth
Robot: Consume 2X (+1 econ, +many VP's)

I know it's a bit more complicated than that, but not by enough to offset this pretty key difference (IMO).

However, I do agree with the OP on the solitare game feeling a lot like a 2P (although ironically more predictable!).
 
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Garrett Rooney
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slacks wrote:
However, I do agree with the OP on the solitare game feeling a lot like a 2P (although ironically more predictable!).

And that's exactly the point in my opinion. I totally agree that the Old Earth robot is a more powerful opponent than the Earth's Lost Colony robot, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The difference between the two is aligned with the differences between the two worlds, the Old Earth consume power lends itself to big Consume 2X actions, Earth's Lost Colony doesn't quite so much. In a multiplayer game against a competent Old Earth player I'd be surprised to see an end game that didn't involve a few consume 2Xs that scored 8-10 points each. Yes it's hard to beat, no that doesn't make it a poor simulation of the multiplayer game.

If the concern is that ELC is easier to beat than OE, then sure, I can see something of an argument there, but it seems like a lot of the complaints are that OE is hard to beat on an absolute scale, not on a relative one.
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Mathew Gibson
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Personally, I find the Solitaire version offered inTGS to be pretty much worthless.

It is very very hard to beat on even the moderate level. By the time the VP chits run out (the usual way the game ends) the Robot has 40+ as a score easily. This is very hard to match. I have beaten the obot once in about 40 plays, and I'm not a bad player. You need to have a lot of luck to even get close, with Development and World flips coming up with nothing or low-value cards for its tableau. The fewer 2X you roll for it, the better, as well.

The second thing is that it has no real strategy. One of the keys to success in RftG is predicting what your opponent will pick for their turn and making the most of this. This is practically impossible when you roll the dice. This means that I cannot even use the Solitaire system as a way of 'playing through' a hand to practice making choices and testing strategies.

Back to playing with a fake second hand ...

 
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Wei-Hwa Huang
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kissybooboo wrote:
I have beaten the obot once in about 40 plays, and I'm not a bad player.


I think that is a self-contradictory statement. :-)

Perhaps you fancy yourself not a bad player at the non-solitaire game, but the evidence clearly shows that you are a bad player at the solitaire game. However, I believe that if you get better at the solitaire game, you will find your non-solitaire game improving too.

If you'd like some more concrete help, if you find that the Robot is getting a 40+ score easily, what that means is that your games are averaging 8 turns. Try to bring that average down. A skilled player can end the game in 6 turns and occasionally 5. Focus less on getting as many points as you can, and focus more on getting more points than the robot. (Yes, those sound like the same thing, but they aren't.)
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Dr. Dam
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I've just played through 50 plays against the robot at the Easy level and came out with a 36% win percentage.

Most of my losses were in the 1st 20 plays and I now have a much greater appreciation for the game and how to tackle the robot.

I reckon I'd be able to go close to a 50-55% win percentage if I played the next 50 games at Easy.

But I plan to do 50 at Medium next.
 
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