Brandt Fundak
United States
Cleveland
Ohio
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I've been addicted to gaming since August of 2009 and my family has gotten the memo. For Christmas they bought me a copy of Pandemic, which, while enjoyable, is not one of my favorite games (and it's the thought that counts right?) For Father's Day, they came through big time and bought me Race for the Galaxy, Tom Lehmann's game of galactic federation/empire building. With my love of Star Wars/Star Trek/Doctor Who, the game leapt off the shelf thematically for my wife and kids to appreciate their geeky dad, and my four year old (who is becoming quite the sci-fi dork himself) beamed as he presented me with my game. But while it's the thought that counts, the question has to be asked--is it any good?

The game comes with 4 decks of action cards (7 per player, with two extra for each player color for a 2 player variant), unremarkable victory point counters, and 4 play mats which serve to help remind players of how to read the cryptic looking symbols on the planets and developments. These mats are only slightly helpful, however, as I often find myself referring back to the rulebook when a particularly difficult symbol pops up. The star of this show, however, is the play deck filled with planets and developments. All of the cards have nice space themed artwork that does a good job of suggesting their card functions. One really cool thing about the cards is that they are categorized with certain identifiers like Imperium, Alien and Uplift among others that are reserved for future expansions of the game. I usually have mixed feelings about expansions, especially if the base game is really well made, but I appreciate that the opening is left for future (but unnecessary if you don't want it) expansion. The categorizations do not detract from game play although some of them are needed for some of the 6 cost developments for scoring bonus points at game end (more on that later.) One small issue I have with some of the cards is that the explanations for some of the cryptic play instructional symbology detract from the art on the cards. Cards like the Contact Specialist have a very specific power which is difficult to represent by symbols on the card, so an additional text box is included on the card explaining exactly what the card's power is. In the case of the Contact Specialist, it does not detract from the card artwork, but not all cards are so lucky. Still, this is a minor issue when considering the game play.

Although this game could probably be very confusing on first play (especially with the aforementioned cryptic symbology on the cards) once players have it down, the game plays quickly and is not difficult to play. Actions are determined by having players pick one of the seven action cards in their action deck and place it face down before the round begins. Once the players have made their selections, the cards are revealed simultaneously with the actions occurring in a pre-determined order and available to all players (although only the player playing the action gets the bonus as described on the card.) Cards in the game are used as either the developments or planets listed on the card with their requisite cost, or are discarded as part of the cost for playing the developments or planets. In addition, cards can also be used to represent one of four types of goods that can be produced by a planet during the course of a game during a "Produce" action. These goods can later be consumed for cards or for victory points as part of one of the two consumption actions. Certain planets can also be activated based on the military might a player may possess--for the most part, these worlds can only be conquered and not settled. The game ends when one player has played a combination of 12 planets/developments or when the finite set of victory points has been exhausted. Victory is determined by the amount of victory points a player has in hand at game end, which is a combination of the points listed on the developments and planets combined with the victory points gathered from consuming goods. The player with the most victory points at the end is the winner.

One of the things that I really like about Race for the Galaxy apart from the space theme is the fact that are several different ways to win this game, with many potential strategies. A player can try and use military might to drive the majority of their planetary settling (or is that conquering?), but this may prevent them from producing and consuming lots of goods for victory points, which are a more significant source of victory points than they first appear, especially when using the "Consume" action for double victory points. In addition, there are developments that cost 6 cards that give players victory point bonuses at the end and lots of them (including one that gives victory points for having 6 cost developments) so as you can see, there are many different paths to victory, which I think adds to the enjoyment of the game.

Since I am a lunchtime gamer, I am always on the lookout for games that are easy to transport and quickly played. To me, Race for the Galaxy is the best of breed of that category of games. Unfortunately, it has a steep learning curve and players may want to familiarize themselves with a game like San Juan (whose relationship with Race has been heavily documented and which I won't go into here) before diving in. That said, once the rules are understood and mastered, the game is quickly played and offers a variety of strategies to victory, which to me is the hallmark of a great game.

Race is currently in heavy rotation with my lunchtime gaming group and is probably one of my top five games right now. The quick gameplay, the varied strategies for victory and even the space theme make this game a "must have" in my opinion. I highly recommend it.
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Guido Gloor
Switzerland
Ostermundigen
Bern
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Really nice review I agree, the game is awesome! I just got it, too.

Just a minor note, three expansions for the game are meanwhile out, and they do make use of those texts on the cards that are less important in the base game alone:

Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm
Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium
Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War

These three make up the complete first arc of expansions. A second arc is planned in the future, but won't be compatible with the current expansions anymore.
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Asa Swain
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Queens
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If you don't like textboxes covering up the beautiful artwork, you'll be disappointed by the later expansions. As the card powers get more complicated, textboxes become more of a necessity. But overall the expansions do a good job of making a great game even better. Glad you're enjoying RftG, it's a wonderful lunchtime game.
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Brandt Fundak
United States
Cleveland
Ohio
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quartex wrote:
If you don't like textboxes covering up the beautiful artwork, you'll be disappointed by the later expansions. As the card powers get more complicated, textboxes become more of a necessity. But overall the expansions do a good job of making a great game even better. Glad you're enjoying RftG, it's a wonderful lunchtime game.


It doesn't horribly detract from the game, but is a flaw that I thought I would mention. This game is in my top 5 right now though.
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Serge Levert
Canada
Vancouver
British Columbia
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Just to show to the curious, the worst offenders:


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Brian McCormick
United States
Lansing
Michigan
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Great review. RftG is one of my favorite games. My wife and I have played the core game quite a bit, so we're going to take a stab at the first expansion, Gathering Storm.

And I'm glad you have a regular group to play RftG with. The lack of opponents (due to the perceived learning curve) is the biggest downside to RftG.
 
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