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Subject: A year later: Why my wife and I STILL bring Race to the table rss

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Brian McCormick
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Right now I have a small "to-buy" list (I already own over 110 boardgames) and not too many new games are coming out that I really need to get (until Essen '11 magbe), so I felt I should look back at games I've already reviewed to see if my stance has held up over several months since the original review. In the case of Race for the Galaxy, it has been over 18 months since my original review. I have several other 1-year-old-or-older reviews, but Race for the Galaxy is one of the only games in my collection that has seen regular play for that length of time. In case you have any interest in reading what I wrote in December, 2009, you can read that particular review here: : This has become my favorite card-based game.



This is just as much a tribute to a great game as it is a review of a great game. If you've never played Race and if you're on the fence about its long-term value, perhaps this review is written for you. I make no apologies for being a big Race for the Galaxy fan. After all, the proof is in the pudding: over the past 18+ months this $60 game (that includes the cost of the two expansions I own plus the base game) has given me hundreds and hundreds of plays. I make no exaggeration with that number, honestly. I've taught it to half a dozen people, and it is one of the best 2p games that my wife and I own.


What stood the test of time?

With over 18 months of solid face-to-face play experience, I've been able to learn a lot about how Race works. I am by no means THE expert, but I believe I can offer insight that a review given after two or three plays simply won't have. Here are some key aspects to Race that I believe make it a top-tier game:

The game keeps changing - When my wife and I first learned this game, we treated it like any other economic/efficiency game (coming from an Agricola/Dominion foundation of 'hobby' boardgames). We gradually built our empire, we waiting for the right cards, we took a few VP chips here and there, and for the most part, everything in the galaxy was peachy keen. I won some. I lost some. Then, one day - just for the heck of it - I decided to build the fastest economy I could for the sole purpose of eating up the VP chips and ending the game a.s.a.p. Did it work? You bet it did (though this strategy can fail, too). So, my wife and I began to build powerful economies while keeping a lookout for those obvious military or 6-cost development combos that work so well. Again, I won some, and I lost some. Then, one day - just for the heck of it - I decided to truly RACE and see how quickly I could end the game. The value of the cards did not matter. I simply wanted to get to 12 first no matter what. Unlike my first "just for the heck of it" experiment, this strategy failed several times, but I kept at it. Eventually, I found some clever ways to end the game very quickly. There would be times when I would place my 12th card while my wife was still on card #7 or #8. This strategy would sometimes fail, too, and that's the beauty of Race for the Galaxy: the game keeps changing. When you are willing to explore the depth of this game, you will find new strategies and bizarre methods of obtaining victory. In this context, the expansions are very, very good, because they do indeed introduce new methods of winning, but they don't diminish or destroy any of the old ways of winning.

Strategy - Race is a strategic game. If you've heard otherwise, you've heard wrong. There are multiple layers of strategy to consider, and if you think the "luck of the draw" diminishes Race's value as a strategic game, you'll get schooled 99 times out of 100 by a more-experienced player. This viewpoint took my wife and I a few months to see, but we now see that it is the correct viewpoint. You see, a lot of the complaints I've heard levelled against Race are not actually targeted at Race. Rather, those complaints are targetted at a player's inability to overcome the problem. "If you can't draw a certain card, you're screwed" and "the luck of the draw is just too hard to fight against" are very commmon complaints. But these complainst aren't true. There are plenty of ways to mitigate a so-called "bad draw". What is a "bad draw", anyway? Are you not getting the cards you NEED? If your Race strategy is based upon the cards you NEED, then you aren't going to get very far. Instead of seeing Race's strategy as "broken" or even "non-existent", try to figure out how you can use the game's mechanics to secure victory.



Plays great with big groups or small groups - I mentioned before that Race is one of my favorite 2p games, right? Well, it is. However, my wife and I own (and love) a lot of 2p games because most of our boardgame sessions are just her and me. But a lot of our favorite 2p games either cannot be played with more (2 de Mayo) or they're not very good once you add more (Le Havre and Citadels). Race somehow manages to be an outstanding 2p game (with or without the "Advanced" 2-action rule) while also being great with 3p, 4p, or more (granted, it helps when everyone knows the rules). The feel of the game changes dramatically due to the added benefit of other players' Phase choices, and this has led to a lot of interesting second-guessing and rivalry. While our favorite mode is the tense 2p game, we thoroughly love playing with more people, too.

Icons, not text - The icons are a point of contention for a lot of Race's detractors. My philosophy on hobby boardgamers is that in most cases, if they want to play a game, they will bend over backwards through any and all 'confusing' rules simply to play the game. I've seen it time and time again where a boardgamer will say "that's too complicated" to one game and then turn around and suggest learning a twice-as-complicated game simply because they liked the theme or art style better. In other words: I don't really buy it when people give the icons crap. They work, and they work incredibly well. The fact that I can glance downward at 10+ cards or shuffle through my hand of 10+ cards and see what every card does in a span of a few seconds is an advantage that very few cardgames can claim.

Tension - Tension can come from a lot of different things in a boardgame. It can come with strict requirements at the end of the round (like feeding family members in Agricola). It can come from direct conflict and trying to out-maneuver your opponent. It can come from trying to second-guess what the other players are going to do. In almost every situation, I consider tension to be a good thing. Without tension, the boardgame really isn't all that fun. This is partly why my wife and I have stopped playing games like Agricola and Dominion: because we have fairly reliable strategies for playing these 2p, there is very little tension. Sure, we aren't sure which one will win, but the tension isn't what it used to be when we weren't sure which combos would work in Dominion or which choices took higher precedence in Agricola. In Race, the tension has always remained over these past 18+ months. It could be something as minor as the tension of counting on the Phase your opponent plays so that you can pull off a quick combo. It could be the tension of deciding which cards to use in your tableau and which cards to spend as money. It could be the tension of hoping your opponent doesn't Consume because you need just one more turn to pull off a game-winning economic combo.



Why play Race with all these new games coming out?

Race is several years old, and with so many new card-based games coming out (because apparently the deckbuilding genre is the hot new thing), does that make Race obsolete?

No, not at all. If anything, all of these new card games only highlight Race's excellent design. I'm not trying to say that Race is the best card-based game in all circumstances, but even though a ton of new cardgames have arrived (even some that directly imitate Race like Glory to Rome and 51st State), Race is still worthy of your attention.

If I had to pick just one reason why I love Race so much...here is what I would say:

Race is fair. Let me tell you a quick story. It is a story of Street Fighter 2. I grew up with the SNES, so I played Street Fighter II both in the arcades and on the home consoles. I know all about Street Fighter II. But I wasn't good at Street Fighter II. Sometimes I would button-mash my way to victory, but I didn't fully understand how to play. I didn't write the game off as bad, but I had to admit that I wasn't very good at it and that I did not understand it. Fast-foward 15 years to present day: I found a Street Fighter II guide at a thrift store (for the SNES, Genesis, and Arcade versions). I still had my Genesis cartridge, so I though I'd give it a try. Reading the guide completely changed my view on Street Fighter II. Never before would I have imagined that the game had so much depth, but here in this guide, it was all laid before my eyes. I learned about combos (which didn't officially exist in the case). I learned about deep hits and deep-cross hits. I learned about attack priority and various tricks of the trade. In just a few short days, Street Fighter II blossomed before my very eyes like a flower.

My experience with Race is similar to my experience with Street Fighter II (sans the 15 year waiting period and game guide). When I first played Race, I really liked it a lot, but I would often "button-mash" my way to victory by trying to find certain cards and do very obvious combos. However, as I played the game more and more, the depth of Race blossomed like a flower. I stopped button mashing. I began playing, and when I started playing, Race became very fair. I no longer complained about "bad draws" or people Consuming when I didn't want them to, because I understood that a good strategy would take these things into account.

I hope that my review/tribute to Race to the Galaxy has given you a fresh perspective on the game. All I can say is that I'm going to keep playing this game for years to come. Someday, I hope that you'll be able to see all that this game has to offer.

Thanks for reading.

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Jimmy Okolica
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While I agree with a lot of what you say, I have to disagree that card draws don't affect who wins. Yes, if players of unequal ability play, the better player will win 19 times out of 20. However, if players of equal ability play, card draw will have a lot to do with who wins. This is true of Race; it is true of Through the Ages; and it is true of Agricola. In all cases, the reason is the same; they are all card games.

Don't misunderstand me. The 3 games I listed are three of my favorite games. The randomness of the cards aids in replayability and if the games are well play-tested, the cards are balanced enough that randomness only very infrequently causes a bad game.

While I haven't played as many games as you have of Race, I've played more of Agricola and Through the Ages. I think what you say about others missing the depth of Race may be true for you with Agricola, especially if you add in the Farmers of the Moor expansion. Yes, there are times that card draw will decide Agricola the same way it will with Race, but 19 times out of 20, when players of unequal ability play Agricola, the better player will win.

just my two cents. YMMV
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Andrew
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Great review that highlights some of the standout features of Race for the Galaxy and answers some of the common complaints! You can really see the polish brought by thousands of playtest games over multiple independent groups.

Aurendrosl wrote:
When you are willing to explore the depth of this game, you will find new strategies and bizarre methods of obtaining victory.
...
Race is a strategic game. If you've heard otherwise, you've heard wrong.
...
In other words: I don't really buy it when people give the icons crap. They work, and they work incredibly well.
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Runcible Spoon
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First off, great review so have a thumbsup and

I largely agree with what you say, and my wife and I still bring this to the table a lot because of many of the reasons you list but as the following quote points out luck matters in this game...


Butterfly0038 wrote:
While I agree with a lot of what you say, I have to disagree that card draws don't affect who wins. Yes, if players of unequal ability play, the better player will win 19 times out of 20. However, if players of equal ability play, card draw will have a lot to do with who wins. This is true of Race; it is true of Through the Ages; and it is true of Agricola. In all cases, the reason is the same; they are all card games.just my two cents. YMMV


My wife and I have played some pretty good games where the split between VP chips/Worlds/Developments excepting 6 point developments was close and the victor drew a more suitable/abusable 6 point dev for their particular tableau and the game was decide by a narrow margin. The narrower the margin between equally experienced and skilled players the more it bespeaks of luck.

With all of that said I actually LIKE the luck in Race. I like LUCK in games. I don't need to win all the time and I am even happy to lose based on some luck. I do have my limits with my appreciation for luck, I am in the zero to low-medium amount of luck in games kind'a guy. So Race works for me and it works for my wife too (her views are pretty similar to mine on this topic).

Nevertheless, I hope you continue enjoying race with your wife, it is a great game that is made better with great company

EDIT: Oh yeah, and I agree the complaints about the icons ring hollow for me too. They seem suitable in my opinion.
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Ramsay Jackson
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this is a phenomenal re-review of this game.

it always pains me to hear people complain about this game on the geek, because i can remember back to when i too was naive to the brilliance that is this game and i just want them to take the necessary steps to get to the gaming bliss that is RftG.

also, i understand that by this point you may not see the need to add another layer of complexity to the game, but once you add Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War to the mix the game does go even deeper. though shuffling the massive stack of cards becomes an issue, i can promise you, you won't regret the addition.
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Runcible Spoon
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Greyrocks wrote:
this is a phenomenal re-review of this game.

it always pains me to hear people complain about this game on the geek, because i can remember back to when i too was naive to the brilliance that is this game and i just want them to take the necessary steps to get to the gaming bliss that is RftG.


Yes, gaming bliss...I like that phrase

Greyrocks wrote:
also, i understand that by this point you may not see the need to add another layer of complexity to the game, but once you add Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War to the mix the game does go even deeper. though shuffling the massive stack of cards becomes an issue, i can promise you, you won't regret the addition.


I own Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War but I haven't played it yet. I am sold on Race and the 1st two expansions (about 40 or 50 games with my wife at present), what should I be expecting, in your opinion in the 3rd expansion? You mention it goes deeper but I was just wondering if you would elaborate on that.
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Ramsay Jackson
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Runcible Spoon wrote:
I own Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War but I haven't played it yet. I am sold on Race and the 1st two expansions (about 40 or 50 games with my wife at present), what should I be expecting, in your opinion in the 3rd expansion? You mention it goes deeper but I was just wondering if you would elaborate on that.


the biggest change is the introduction of Prestige points which IMHO help mitigate some of the imbalance caused by some Produce-Consume engines. the Prestige points have been sewn elegantly into the game (including cards from earlier sets) so that no matter what type of tableau you're building, you can (and generally should) also be trying to generate prestige at the same time since the player with the most prestige is gaining a victory point every turn, and often a card draw as well.

there is a lot more to this expansion than just Prestige though and it all adds to the possible strategies and often gives the player even more control of their tableau. admittedly, your first few plays with BoW will feel a little frustrating as you'll have to keep track of a few new mechanics that don't take care of themselves. my fiancée and i kinda grumbled through our first few plays because we thought we'd jumped through the necessary hurdles just learning to play! but once you've gotten the new system figured out, you'll never play without all 3 expansions. promise.
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Runcible Spoon
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Greyrocks wrote:
Runcible Spoon wrote:
I own Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War but I haven't played it yet. I am sold on Race and the 1st two expansions (about 40 or 50 games with my wife at present), what should I be expecting, in your opinion in the 3rd expansion? You mention it goes deeper but I was just wondering if you would elaborate on that.


the biggest change is the introduction of Prestige points which IMHO help mitigate some of the imbalance caused by some Produce-Consume engines. the Prestige points have been sewn elegantly into the game (including cards from earlier sets) so that no matter what type of tableau you're building, you can (and generally should) also be trying to generate prestige at the same time since the player with the most prestige is gaining a victory point every turn, and often a card draw as well.

there is a lot more to this expansion than just Prestige though and it all adds to the possible strategies and often gives the player even more control of their tableau. admittedly, your first few plays with BoW will feel a little frustrating as you'll have to keep track of a few new mechanics that don't take care of themselves. my fiancée and i kinda grumbled through our first few plays because we thought we'd jumped through the necessary hurdles just learning to play! but once you've gotten the new system figured out, you'll never play without all 3 expansions. promise.


Awesome, thanks for taking the time write an elaborated response.

Thanks for the warning about the change in record keeping, I am not usually one to complain about stuff like that but I do believe you that it's a turning point and that I won't play without all 3 expansions again (until then Alien expansion comes out of course )

Besides, I wouldn't want to get into the deck and pull out an expansion card by card...gulp
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I like fan-boy reviews, and this is one of those. They show the enthusiasm some people have for good games.
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Jerry Kow
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Race for the Galaxy is a fanstastic game, my exact sentiments to the thread starter.

Having played more than 300 games, Rftg is among my favourites for its depth and variety. Will continue to play it, the only downside is finding players for it.

I have switched to playing the AI and it works very well too. You guys should try it, especially the AI allows you to get a preview of how the expansions works together. Great for those players who are on the fence about purchasing the expansions.

Cheers
Jerry
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Cynan de Leon
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You get a tip for comparing this to Street Fighter II. Ryu and Blanka for the win.
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Anders Olin
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Three years later and 1000+ plays later (half of them being on computer though), I still play this a couple of times a week!
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Jose Angel Garcia Gomez
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Race for the Galaxy is THE GAME. Most people have a favourite game and they played 20-30 times. We RftG lovers have played hundreds of sessions and still we are learning, discovering and enjoying it. This game should be higher in the ranking, because the usual criticism -symbols, luck, multiplayer solitaire- are not true.
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Brian McCormick
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Thanks everyone for all of your great comments.

It's always nice to see some fellow RftG fans.


Greyrocks wrote:
but once you add Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War to the mix the game does go even deeper. though shuffling the massive stack of cards becomes an issue, i can promise you, you won't regret the addition.

Since we already play with the first two expansion, I fear what a third would do to the game, not to mention the addition of Prestige. Now, down the line I will certainly get Brink of War, but for now my wife and I have barely even explored the strategies involving takeovers, even though we've had that expansion for quite a long while!

And of course, Alien Artifacts is coming out, so I'm eager to see what that offers.
 
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Warren Smith
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Great re-review
Though I'm primarily a RTFG solo player and don't have as many plays as you do, everything you say is true as far as I can see; yours is the review I've always wanted to write. I love how you overcome the common objections to RTFG so well!

I'm even more impressed by the fact that you haven't played with BoW yet! You're going to be so happy!! I'm not saying that you should rush out and get. Just know that the BoW expansion is chock-full of RFTG goodness waiting for you.

Looking forward the next re-reviw.
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Ramsay Jackson
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Aurendrosl wrote:
Since we already play with the first two expansion, I fear what a third would do to the game, not to mention the addition of Prestige. Now, down the line I will certainly get Brink of War, but for now my wife and I have barely even explored the strategies involving takeovers, even though we've had that expansion for quite a long while!

And of course, Alien Artifacts is coming out, so I'm eager to see what that offers.


we still almost never play with takeovers (too stressful), but we love BoW! believe me, the only thing to fear is the added counter maintenance because the new cards are just brilliant and only add to the enjoyment of the game.

i'm also very curious about the new alien artifacts expansion, but as big a fan as i am of all things RftG, i'm still going to wait for some reviews before i make that next investment.
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Serge Levert
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Greyrocks wrote:
i'm also very curious about the new alien artifacts expansion, but as big a fan as i am of all things RftG, i'm still going to wait for some reviews before i make that next investment.

For fans of RftG, i'm pretty sure AA would be the safest blind gaming purchase one could ever make.
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Brian McCormick
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PollutedMonkey wrote:
I just recently got into playing RFTG and it has quickly become one of my favorite games.

Regarding luck-of-the-draw I do very much prefer the draft variant. Were each player draft a deck first, so there's more consistency in your card draws.

Spectacular game. Great review.
Thanks for reading!

Though I can appreciate you wanting to mitigate the luck of the draw in order to get the very obvious combos, Race blossoms once you start coping with what you're dealt and you start using not-so-obvious combos.

To me, drafting a deck removes a very important aspect to Race: discarding what your opponent needs. When I see someone with a lot of military or a lot of CERTAIN type cards (Rebel, Uplift, etc), then I will often do a Search +5 just to cycle through the deck and discard some of the cards they need.
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Ramsay Jackson
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entranced wrote:
Greyrocks wrote:
i'm also very curious about the new alien artifacts expansion, but as big a fan as i am of all things RftG, i'm still going to wait for some reviews before i make that next investment.

For fans of RftG, i'm pretty sure AA would be the safest blind gaming purchase one could ever make.


yeah, who am i kidding? i'm going to buy it as soon as it's available! it and another copy of the base game so i don't have to reorganize...
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entranced wrote:
Greyrocks wrote:
i'm also very curious about the new alien artifacts expansion, but as big a fan as i am of all things RftG, i'm still going to wait for some reviews before i make that next investment.

For fans of RftG, i'm pretty sure AA would be the safest blind gaming purchase one could ever make.
The first 3 expansions were quite good. I have high confidence the 4th expansion won't be any different.
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Aurendrosl wrote:
When I see someone with a lot of military or a lot of CERTAIN type cards (Rebel, Uplift, etc), then I will often do a Search +5 just to cycle through the deck and discard some of the cards they need.
This doesn't make any sense. Please explain.
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Anjohl wrote:
borgemik wrote:
Aurendrosl wrote:
When I see someone with a lot of military or a lot of CERTAIN type cards (Rebel, Uplift, etc), then I will often do a Search +5 just to cycle through the deck and discard some of the cards they need.
This doesn't make any sense. Please explain.


He's burning off cards. By looking through 5 cards, you might hit on some key cards they need. Not really a viable strategy though, you only have a small chance of affecting their draw, since the next card after the top 5 could be even better.

My point exactly. A priori, cycling through the draw pile have exactly 0 effect on their draw. If anything, he should keep the cards they need, not discard them!

(I am not saying that Explore+5 is a bad selection, or that seeing more cards won't give you an advantage, but doing this for the sake of discarding other players' good cards is futile.)
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Brian McCormick
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borgemik wrote:
Aurendrosl wrote:
When I see someone with a lot of military or a lot of CERTAIN type cards (Rebel, Uplift, etc), then I will often do a Search +5 just to cycle through the deck and discard some of the cards they need.
This doesn't make any sense. Please explain.

(In light of the comments below, too)

I don't do this action for the sole purpose of killing off other people's cards, mind you. I benefit from the card draw. But it is a viable strategy against "card searchers" who want a specific card (like a 6-cost Dev with a bonus that fits their tableau). It has worked for me on several occasions. Sure, it is not a foolproof strategy, but no strategy in Race is 100% guaranteed.
 
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Chris Berger
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Aurendrosl wrote:
I don't do this action for the sole purpose of killing off other people's cards, mind you. I benefit from the card draw. But it is a viable strategy against "card searchers" who want a specific card (like a 6-cost Dev with a bonus that fits their tableau). It has worked for me on several occasions. Sure, it is not a foolproof strategy, but no strategy in Race is 100% guaranteed.


It's not a foolproof strategy because it's not a strategy at all. Burning random cards from the deck in hopes of discarding something that someone else might need does not decrease the chance of them getting what they need. When you've got a random population, randomly eliminating X members from that population does not, on average, change the composition of the population.
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Jimmy Okolica
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Anjohl wrote:
Butterfly0038 wrote:
While I agree with a lot of what you say, I have to disagree that card draws don't affect who wins. Yes, if players of unequal ability play, the better player will win 19 times out of 20. However, if players of equal ability play, card draw will have a lot to do with who wins. This is true of Race; it is true of Through the Ages; and it is true of Agricola. In all cases, the reason is the same; they are all card games.


19/20? I would estimate 13/20 maybe. 10/20 would represent a pure chance-based game, and 20/20 a pure skill based game. I would put Caylus around 17/20, so there's no way mathematically that Race can be a 19/20.



Why would you put Caylus at 17/20? It is a perfect information game and, after the initial set up, there is no randomization. Therefore, it is a pure skill based game.

While I agree that RftG has random elements, the combination of the the mix of cards and the interaction built into using other people's actions makes the game skill-based. Rather than having complete control of what you get, the game requires you to make the best of what you get. However, better play will win most of the time. Consider backgammon; it clearly has a random element, but the better player will win that game too (e.g., TD-Gammon in the 80s/early 90s could outplay most humans and only looked ahead two moves).
 
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