Review: Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy Review

In a game of Race for the Galaxy each player is the leader of a galactic civilisation striving to out-do their neighbours. In this galactic case of keeping up with the Joneses, each player is not only trying to have the better planets and technology, they are trying to get all of that in as short a time as possible.  The game could end at any moment; each action that you take to improve your position can also move the game one step closer to the finish line.

Race for the Galaxy is a game designed by Thomas Lehmann and published by Rio Grande Games in 2007. Thomas has around 20 published games and expansions to his name while Race for the Galaxy has received 13 nominations and awards and it has also spawned 5 expansions. This means that it should be something special.

It is.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the box

Specs on the box:

  • 2 – 4 Players
  • Ages 12+
  • 30 – 60 Minutes play time

Looking in the box is nothing to write home about, it’s just a bunch of cards and a few counters that represent victory points. There’s plenty of space in the box for more cards, this is always handy then you don’t have to keep the expansions in separate boxes and save on shelf space.

The cards themselves are of a quality that you would expect. They will withstand quite a few games before showing much wear and tear. I’d sleeve them as they are black and when a black card gets nicks and scratches they tend to show white underneath which is very noticeable.

The biggest things in the box are the rules and the 4 player aids. This brings me to the 1 thing that I really don’t like about the game. Teaching it. It is very simple to play but there’s a lot of information that you need to pay attention to. Most of which is represented by icons. There are so many icons that you have a double sided player aid to explain them to people. This is made worse by the fact that the rule book reads like and economics textbook.

These icons are actually self-explanatory. If you play 2 rounds, about 7 min you will most likely figure them out and only need to reference the sheet for a few obscure icons that you might not use very often. It is not difficult to learn, it is just that when most people see it for the first time they tend to feel a bit overwhelmed so you need to keep up the enthusiasm in order to get them playing. You want to keep them playing because that means that you will keep playing too.

Theme

You are the leader of a civilisation exploring the galaxy to find and colonise new planets and to find and develop new technology. There’s a deck of cards which represent everything that is waiting to be discovered.

The theme is light, but it is apt for the game. It does allow some thematic actions during the game and for some of the more exotic cards, which would require a sci-fi setting. However it’s the gameplay which will keep you coming back for more.

Race for the Galaxy Review
So few components, such a good game.

Gameplay

If you have played San Juan then this game will feel very familiar.

Each turn has 5 Phases. Unlike most games where you will go through each phase sequentially, in Race for the Galaxy each player secretly chooses which phase they want to have happen. They reveal their choices simultaneously and then only the selected phases happen.

Every player will act in all the phases that occur but the player(s) that selected that phase will receive a bonus during that phase. This is a great mechanic that adds a good layer of strategy to the game. Sometimes you might skip an action because you know it is something that another player needs and can give them a huge bonus. You can also, if you guess correctly, use other player’s actions to setup some huge plays of your own.

Setting up the game is easy. There are 5 numbered starting planets, each player takes one at random and then is dealt a hand of 4 cards. For beginner games there are 4 recommended starter cards for each of the first 4 starting planets. Planet number 5 is for more experienced players.

You also need to set aside a certain number of bonus Victory Point tokens to be used in the game. This varies based on the number of players. Initially you won’t really need to stress too much, but advanced players will be keeping track of how many are available and how many each player has. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins. Luckily there are other victory points aside from the tokens.

Then you jump straight in and select which phase you would like to play. Each player will have a second hand of cards. Each of these cards represents one of the phases of the game and a bonus that you can get if you select that card. You place your choice face down and wait for everyone to make their choice then reveal simultaneously.

Race for the Galaxy Review
These are the cards used to select which phase you want to play.

Explore: In this Phase you draw cards, which represent you exploring the galaxy. Each player will draw 2 cards and keep only 1 of them. Selecting this phase can have 1 of 2 bonuses which either allow you to either draw 3 cards from which you can keep 2 or to have a greater selection of cards to choose from so you draw 7 and only keep 1.

Develop: You get to play, ‘build’, developments which are new technology. You will have to pay a cost though, and the resources you spend are the cards in your hand! You might have to discard your whole hand in order to build something really good. If you selected the develop phase you will get a discount on your development cost as your bonus.

Settle: This is the phase where you settle new planets. You do this like you would development. Play the card and pay the cost. There are some planets that you will need to conquer though and you can only do that if you already have developments (like space marines) or planets in play that give you enough military forces to cover that planets cost. The bonus for this phase lets you draw an extra card after you have done your action.

Some planets that you play can produce goods, Alien tech or fuel or other raw materials. These are represented by placing cards from the deck, face down, on the planet. Some allow you to add a resource the moment you play them, they are called windfall planets.

Consume: This is where you consume or use the goods produced by your planets. In order to consume the goods you will need to have something in play that will consume it e.g. you can have a Planet that can consume an alien Technology to give you a victory point and draw a card. There are 2 options available if you want to select the consume action. You have a choice of 2 bonuses, you can opt to trade where you can sell goods directly for cards and then use your consume abilities or you can double your VP’s earned when you consume the goods.

Produce: In this Phase your planets (and some developments) that can produce goods will produce one, if they don’t already have one. The bonus for selecting this option is that you can also produce goods one a windfall planet. These don’t normally have the ability to produce goods after their initial one.

Things get very interesting when you are staring at a fist full of cards. Each one give you options when you play them. All will have some cost that you might need to pay by discarding other cards, but almost all of them can give you victory points once you play them. A lot of then will grant you extra actions or bonuses during specific phases of the game, some are once off and others will happen every turn. All of them can be used to pay for each other.

The options you have when you decide which cards to keep and which to discard can be mind boggling. Couple that when the fact that you need to decide which phase you really need to have happen can lead to some serious Analysis Paralysis.

Having all players acting in all selected phases means that the game will hardly ever slow down. You’re always doing something. It does also drive the game forward at a fairly rapid pace as you can possibly play 2 cards into your tableau per turn.

Race for the Galaxy Review
Planets (circle symbol) and developments (diamond symbol).

The first end condition occurs when a player has a combination of 12 or planets and developments in their tableau. The game will end at the end of the round and you tally up the points. VP tokens plus the VP value of all your developments and planets and the person with the highest is the winner. There other end condition is when the last VP token is claimed.

Conclusion

Intimidating to start playing and it has a bit of a learning curve can be off putting but It is still a heap of fun. It has more strategies than you can shake a stick at. The random nature of everyone drawing from the same deck means that you may never play the same game twice. I thoroughly enjoy this game. It’s very clever and it can be very quick, even if it goes over 40 minutes you won’t notice because you’re constantly busy.

There are so many options you can take in a turn that you can almost see the wheels turning in the other players’ heads.

“Do I race straight for VP?”

“Do I build an engine that produces and consumes?”

“What about going a military route?”

I want to buy my own copy of this game. The only reason that I have not done that yet is because I want to play Roll for the Galaxy first. It is a successor to Race for the Galaxy and has been getting very good press. It is almost double the price so that makes me hesitant as I could get Race for the galaxy and expansions which allow for more players and more player interaction. Either way I will be picking up one of them.

Race for the Galaxy Review
Some of the symbols you can expect to see on the cards in the game.

NB: there is no direct player interaction i.e. combat, or aggressive gameplay. Some of the expansions allow for this but you can skip those if that is your preference.

Can I braai with this?

You can, but I won’t recommend it. The simultaneous nature of the game means that if anyone needs to take a brake then the game will be put on hold. To some that’s not a problem. Maybe you have a group where everyone can rest a bit or have a smoke brake at the same time. For others it might be an issue. Either way the game cannot continue until all the players are back.

 

Thanks to Boardgames.co.za for providing the review copy of Race for the Galaxy.

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