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Subject: Boardgame Matchmaker Buyer's Guide: Eminent Domain vs Race for the Galaxy rss

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Paul Hackman
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This is the first written review for me under the Boardgame Matchmaker gimmick. Previously I have posted video reviews for Fjords, Alien Frontiers, Phoenicia, and Hacienda. My primary goal as a reviewer is to give the reader/viewer pertinent information about whether or not the game will fit in their collection and play well with their game group. What I try to do, then, is focus on the key mechanisms of the game that will either bring you joy or boredom depending on your tastes.

I enjoy doing the video reviews but they do take a lot of time and planning so I wanted to occasionally do a written review during the times when making a video wasn’t possible. However, I wanted the written reviews to be distinct somehow from the video reviews. So I settled on using the written reviews to compare two games side-by-side, something that would be a bit more difficult to pull off on video. So, here we go.

Race for the Galaxy vs. Eminent Domain

Why compare these games?

Theme – Both RftG and ED are set in outer space and involve the exploration, colonization, conquering, and resource exploitation of numerous planets. Both also allow for technological development so that players gradually grow more powerful as they build and colonize.

Components – Both RftG and ED are primarily card games with a few added chips or tiles. ED does add plastic ships which currently act merely as counters but are rumored to play a more important role in the upcoming expansion. Still, the games occupy a similar pricing tier.

Mechanisms – Although ED often gets associated with other deckbuilders that followed Dominion, I would argue that the primary mechanism is similar to RftG in the form of role selection. In fact the roles one chooses from in ED are very similar to the ones available in RftG.

Material Comparison


Box/Footprint – In general the components for both games are good quality. The ED box is slightly larger and is glossy as opposed to the matte finish on RftG. When you set the game up on the table neither game takes up much space. RftG is basically just a deck of cards in the center of the table along with a pile of victory point chips, however each player will need room for a tableau. ED utilizes a slender board to organize the five different piles of role cards. You will also need to make room for a pile of victory points, a pile of resources, a pile of small plastic ships and the technology cards. Each player will also have a tableau of planets, though likely not as large as the ones in RftG. So, overall, RftG is a bit more portable and space-saving, though ED will fit pretty much any gaming table.

Players/Time – Both base games advertise that they play with 2-4 players and games will last less than an hour and neither one seems to be exaggerating. Rare combinations of strategies or slow players might push either game beyond the hour limit, but it’s unlikely. Setup time for both games is fairly quick, so even with setup an hour-long game is achievable. Teaching the game will depend heavily on new players’ familiarity with deckbuilding (ED) or San Juan/Puerto Rico (RftG). In general, though, teaching RftG will take longer because you need to explain the different types of planets, some of the icons, and all the roles in some detail. Because players select their roles in secret, it is much more difficult to give new players advice during their first game. With ED you can teach as you play much easier. As far as number of players I’d say that RftG is more affected by player numbers than ED.

Both games scale the end game condition based on the number of players, but RftG also adds optional “advanced” rules for two players. Although two-player ED is different from four-player ED, the general feel of the game isn’t changed much by adding players. You might play your cards slightly differently because there will be more opportunities to act on your opponents’ turns but with any number of players the game basically feels the same. With each player you add to RftG (and the expansions allow you to go up to 6), however, the game feels more chaotic and less strategic. Advanced two-player RftG is completely different from any other type of RftG because you select two roles instead of one, but even without this rule a two-player game feels different because it is so important to pay attention to your opponent’s tableau. Ironically, the more players you add to RftG, the more it feels like a solitaire game as the amount of information you have to keep track of becomes too much so you just focus on your own cards. RftG can still be fun with 3 or 4 players, it just loses some of its strategic depth, which is probably its greatest asset. In my opinion, then, RftG is strongest as a two-player game, and I slightly prefer ED with four because of the increased interaction.

Components – Neither game has any component problems. Victory chips are thick cardboard in both games. The plastic ships are a nice touch in ED, but the generic painted discs used as resources aren’t very thematic or attractive. The most important component for each game, of course, is the cards. The cards are nearly identical in thickness, with a slight edge to ED. Much like the boxes, ED cards are glossy while RftG cards have a matte finish. I find the RftG cards a little more comfortable to hold and I generally prefer the matte look. Although RftG is infamous for its complicated icons, I actually find the graphic layout of the RftG cards much less cluttered and easier to use than ED once you understand what things mean. RftG cards use black text on a light grey background whereas ED uses white text on a darker grey background. For whatever reason I find the RftG choice superior for quick reading.

As far as artwork goes, both games look nice. ED has a more consistent style to its cards and brighter colors, but the actual pictures are somewhat generic. Though neither game overwhelms you with theme, the RftG cards tell a more specific story with their various depictions of different types of aliens. Neither set of cards is prone to wear, but since ED requires much more shuffling of the cards they would probably benefit more from sleeving than RftG cards. Overall, though I have no specific complaints about the ED cards, I seem to slightly prefer the RftG cards in just about every way.

Mechanical Comparison


Role Selection – Both games utilize the role selection mechanism made most famous in Puerto Rico. In RftG you select from Exploration, Development, Settle, Consume, and Produce. In ED you select from Survey, Warfare, Colonize, Produce/Trade, and Research. Both games also employ Puerto Rico’s mechanism of giving a bonus to the player who selects the role while still allowing all players to perform the basic action. Neither game includes the Puerto Rico mechanism of sweetening the roles that don’t get selected each round. The roles are quite similar in their functions. Both games have a way to acquire new cards, a way to take control of new planets, a way to upgrade your abilities, and a way to convert resources into victory points.

Despite the similarities, the differences between how the role selection mechanisms work in each game go a long way toward determining which game is for you. Roles are selected simultaneously by all players in RftG. One effect of this is there is almost no downtime. Every once in a while you may sit out an action, but that might take a total of 30 seconds. There are no turns and player order rarely matters. The downside to this is that new players are easily overwhelmed since they will be making their decisions in isolation and even experienced players can be frustrated by having to “guess” what their opponents will do. RftG fans will tell you that this need to “guess” what role your opponents will choose is a large part of the skill and fun of playing RftG (and it certainly does feel awesome when you gamble on your opponent selecting a certain role and it pays off, allowing you to pull off a super combo of cards), but detractors of the game will find it “random” or “multiplayer solitaire.” One should note that even though the game is not at all solitaire, the fact that the most significant mechanism of the game is done secretly does make you feel like you are engaging in a solitary activity. There’s not a lot of space for table talk or negotiation.

In ED each player selects a role on his or her turn, executes the enhanced action, and then everyone has the choice of either executing the action for the role or drawing one card from their deck. This method of executing role selection means that no matter what your opponent does you are never “screwed” out of an action. The worst case scenario is that you get to draw a card, which might allow you to execute a very powerful move on your own turn. There is a little more downtime as you watch your opponents execute an action card and then select a role, but game turns still move quickly. In my experience this allows new players to always feel as though they are making progress toward a goal.

Hand Management – These are both card games where you play cards from your hand. In RftG you play cards only to build them to your tableau, though you also discard them to pay for those builds or, sometimes, to get victory points. In ED you play cards to perform a certain action. I would say the best word to describe the difference in these mechanisms is tension, with RftG being a much more tense and unforgiving form of hand management.

In RftG each card in your hand is either a development or a planet, both of which can be played to your tableau. Either way you will have to pay a cost, in cards, to build. What this means is that in order to play a card you not only need to have the card but you need to have enough spare cards to pay for it. In addition, there are two different types of planets – military and peaceful – that are paid for in different ways (military planets are paid for by simply having enough military power in your tableau while peaceful planets are settled by paying other cards). The result of all this is that it’s very possible that you will be unable to build during some of the development or settle phases because you don’t have the right cards or your cards are too expensive or the cards you can afford don’t fit your strategy. This can be frustrating or exhilarating. One extra card gained through careful play can be the difference between dropping a 6-cost development that scores 10+ points and not being able to play anything that turn. Every decision feels important: which cards to build, when to build, which cards to spend, when to save. In addition, all the cards you spend go to a common discard pile and so there’s a very good chance that you will not see a card again once you have discarded it once. More tension.

ED creates a very different feeling. On your turn you can play one card from your hand to execute the action. So as long as you save a single card that fits your strategy, you know you’ll be able to do something valuable. After taking this action you then select a role from the cards available (always the same ones) from the central board. So, again, you don’t even have to have a card in your hand to execute an action here as you get a card for free automatically. Proper hand management, however, means you can then boost the role you selected with matching cards from your hand. So while in RftG you often need to make precise decisions to be able to do anything at all, in ED good decision making simply makes your moves stronger. Finally, all the cards you play in ED go to your own discard pile and are later shuffled back into your own draw pile so you will continually cycle through the same cards. Ultimately, mistakes in RftG feel like crushing defeats while mistakes in ED feel like missed opportunities.

Card Powers – As with many card games the cards in these games have unique powers that allow you to do different things. The main point of difference here is variety. In RftG there are very few duplicate cards and each card can have a variety of characteristics. Each card can have an effect that triggers during one or more of the roles, a cost and a victory point value, and any of a number of keywords. The planet cards come in both military and peaceful varieties and can produce four different goods or no good at all. The takeaway here is that the combinations are nearly endless and a player who is familiar with the cards will be at an advantage over someone who is seeing them for the first time.

In ED a majority of your deck will consist of only five different types of cards and each card (with one exception) can only be used to perform one action or one role. Eventually, you will likely add technology cards to your deck, which are more unique and complicated, though each one still basically only has a few pieces of information on it. There are also planet cards, though this is a separate deck that never enters your hand. There are five different planet types (with the promos) and four different goods that can be produced. This seems like a lot of variety but it certainly doesn’t feel so. Currently the four types of goods are interchangeable in most situations. The three different types of non-promo planets are important for determining what technologies you can acquire, but the more important factor is simply to get two or three of a kind rather than to worry about which type of planet. Each planet does have a military cost and a colony cost and a victory point value but these numbers seem to fall within a much narrower range than in RftG. In short, a new player will have a pretty good grasp on what the cards can do during a first game of ED while a first game of RftG will largely be spent asking questions about powers and reading each card for several seconds. The opposite side, however, is that each game of RftG will present very different decisions depending on the cards you see while you can start a game of ED with a strategy in mind and usually execute it.

Strategy/Interaction/Luck – This is my catchall category for how the games differ in the basic feel of their gameplay. In both games you will find the familiar Eurogame decision of selecting a path fairly early in the game and trying to optimize that path. In either game if you choose a military strategy early on it is difficult to switch to a peaceful strategy later. In RftG this is because military planets rarely produce goods so your economy is not strong enough for peace. In ED this is because the more military actions you take at the beginning, the more military cards you’ll have in your deck. Both games offer some tactical freedom, but RftG both forces and allows more tactical decisions. Sometimes in RftG you simply will not get the cards you need and will have to adjust, whereas no one can stop you from selecting the role you want each turn in ED. However, because the cards in RftG tend to have more diverse abilities, there is a little more room for discovering new combinations or using cards in unexpected ways, particularly as you add expansions.

Both games can feel like multiplayer solitaire games. You don’t directly interact with the other players (unless you have the second or third expansion for RftG). The main source of interaction in both games comes through the role selection process. In RftG you want to pick roles that don’t help your opponent and you want to be ready to take advantage of your opponents’ role selections. The same could be said about ED, though how you go about doing this feels a bit different. In RftG you have no idea what cards your opponent holds and have to guess by their tableau what they might select while simultaneously making your own selection. In ED you usually have a pretty good idea what cards each opponent has since their decks slowly get filled with certain types of cards depending on what role they play. The fact that you can always do something on your opponent’s turn and your opponent’s turn is distinct from your own means that ED feels more interactive, but ultimately the interactions in both games are significant but subtle.

Although I would describe RftG as the deeper game, it is also the game more influenced by luck. An opponent can be dealt a nearly unbeatable string of cards that combo perfectly and there’s not much you can do about it, or you can need one category of card to get your engine going and just never seem to find it. These situations don’t happen often, but when they do you will notice. Although there is bound to be some luck in your card draw in ED, anyone with any experience with deckbuilding should have little trouble streamlining their deck to play to their chosen strategy. If you do, indeed, get a bad draw or an opponent gets a perfect one, it will often be so subtle or so spread out over several turns as to not even register.

Victory – Both games are surprisingly similar in how they end and how victory is computed. Both games end when a certain number of victory point chips are acquired. In addition, ED ends when a certain number of draw piles are depleted while RftG ends when any player builds their twelfth card to their tableau. In either case players have some control over the speed of the game, though it usually takes two players pursuing the same strategy to really end the game quickly. Once the game ends, victory point chips are added to points for cards in the tableau and a winner is declared. The one difference worth noting is that scores have a much greater range in RftG. It’s not unheard of to win by 20 or more points (or even 50 or more with the expansions). In ED, since everyone is constantly making progress, everyone will usually score similar amounts of points unless a player is completely new to deckbuilding. This means that I can sometimes know very early in a game of RftG that I have no chance to win whereas ED games always seem fairly close until near the end.

Recommendation


I have taught ED to about a dozen people and, as far as I can tell, every one has enjoyed it. On the other hand, I have had two people quit RftG during their first game. It seems clear to me that ED is much more appealing right out of the box or for more casual gamers. Players never feel lost or like they are being destroyed by more experienced players. Even if they aren’t playing particularly well, they keep making progress on their planets and can usually identify a good card to play each turn. When teaching RftG to new players I often watch as they helplessly draw cards every other turn while their more experienced opponents have to discard cards because they’ve reached their hand limit. They pick a strategy and can’t execute it. They sometimes discard a card just because the icons are too numerous to make the effort to figure out mid-game. Then they end up seeing their victory point total doubled or tripled by the winner.

But…

There are few games that feel as intense to me as RftG. From the very beginning I feel as though every discard is a crucial decision. With experience I can now identify crucial points in the game where I know my opponent can bury me or give me life depending on what he has in his hand and what role he picks. And after hundreds of games I still sometimes end a game and stare at my tableau in amazement, wondering how in the world this particular combination of cards gave me the victory. You can almost go back through your tableau from left to right and relive the narrative of the game.

To be fair, I have not reached this level of experience with ED yet and ED does not have the benefit of numerous expansions to flesh out the card variety. Because scores are generally closer in ED, much may hinge on seemingly small decisions, yet because the decisions don’t immediately swing the game they just don’t feel quite as nerve-wracking as the ones in RftG.

ED reminds me of classic medium weight Euro games from ten years ago with a few simple mechanisms implemented in a clean and easy to understand way. Scores are kept close and interaction is almost never negative. And the theme is very light. RftG, on the other hand, reminds me of collectible card games where players battle it out. Good players know how to minimize luck, but there’s always the chance that the perfect draw can flip the game on its head. The more you play the more you develop strange hatreds or loves for certain cards as each one seems to have a personality. New players will be overwhelmed but experienced players will keep going deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole.

In summary, both games are well-made and enjoyable and both are in my collection. But, despite the many cosmetic and even mechanical similarities, there are few situations where I would put both on the table for the same group of gamers.
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Linda Baldwin
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Excellent, detailed comparison. I enjoy both these games very much, but haven't put nearly as much thought into evaluating the differences. I've got to say, I think most of your analysis is spot-on. In fact, I hadn't thought at all about how the different player counts affect the game, but I find myself in complete agreement. A good 2-player RftG is a battle to the death, but ED does seem to improve with more.

I've had a bit better luck teaching RftG than you have, but I'm very fussy about how I do it, and try to avoid mixing newbies with experienced players the first time out.

I need to check out your video reviews now, but honestly, written reviews are much easier for me to deal with, so it may take me awhile. If you do another comparison, I'll definitely be interested. (Are there others already?)
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Paul Hackman
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Thanks.

No other written reviews ready to go at the moment, but I have some in mind. Any games you think would benefit from a comparison?
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Holger Hannemann
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Thanks for this comparison. I totally agree on your conclusion.

RftG has been with us (me and the wife) since it came out, and we probably playedit around 300 times. We know every single card in the game by heart und we know how many copies of a certain card are in the deck. You HAVE to know these stats to really enjoy this game. If your opponent doesn't know these stats the game is unfairly tilted and it becomes a frustrating experience. Your observation is spot on when you said RftG reminds you of a CCG, except both players draw from the same deck. I'd never introduce a newbie to RftG (especially because we mixed the 3 expansions in) because of exactly the reasons you mentioned.

The only description I could give ED is "mostly harmless". It's a good game but it was easily forgotten by us. But I agree that ED goes well with new players.

Anyway, great review, I'd love to see more!

Cheers
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Craig Hallstrom
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I have played both games and greatly enjoy them.

Our core group (3 people) started with RftG at the beginning and we grew with the game. The problem with a couple hundred games behind us is that we have figured the game out but it is hard to introduce new people. Definitely don't introduce with all the expansions. (We have a box of just base game we play with new people.) One additional point of interaction in Race is being aware of how many cards are in your opponents' hands when role selection is made. Predicting what they might do when they have 2 cards is hugely different than when they have 10! Make role selection accordingly.

I kickstarted ED after playing with Seth at BGG.con two years ago. I liked the game a lot and have been fortunate that my group likes it as well. ED has been a much easier game to teach to new people. Noting the accessible feel of it was good for you to recognize - never thought of that as a point before.

Thank you for the excellent review/comparison of two games I love.
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Kenny VenOsdel
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pomomojo wrote:
Thanks.

No other written reviews ready to go at the moment, but I have some in mind. Any games you think would benefit from a comparison?


Dominion and Thunderstone, though it's been done.

Nice overview and I agree with your conclusion. I like ED more but I really enjoy both games quite a bit.
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Alex Brown
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An excellent review.

I have played both games A LOT and I can't fault any of your conclusions.

After a heady period, EmDo burned out for me after about forty plays; it lacks the polish RFTG has.

However, it is much friendlier, and I think importantly, more fun.

I'd back up your conclusion that EmDo suits more family or casually oriented gamers, whereas Race is for those who are more competitive or looking for a more serious experience.

I'd be hardpressed to turn down a game of either IRL.
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Matt N

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kvenosdel wrote:
pomomojo wrote:
Thanks.

No other written reviews ready to go at the moment, but I have some in mind. Any games you think would benefit from a comparison?


Dominion and Thunderstone, though it's been done.

Nice overview and I agree with your conclusion. I like ED more but I really enjoy both games quite a bit.


Innovation and/or Glory to Rome could use a comparison to Race/EDo. I know Glory to Rome v. Race has been done to death though.

 
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Runar Dankel
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Wow! My hat of for you sir, and your excellent review!
 
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Morten K
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pomomojo wrote:
Thanks.

No other written reviews ready to go at the moment, but I have some in mind. Any games you think would benefit from a comparison?


How about these two with Glory to Rome?
 
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