Board Game Review: Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy is a sci-fi themed resource card game for 2-4 people from Rio Grande Games,. The game portrays the player as a budding space-faring civilization attempting to expand its reach throughout space. On the whole I really enjoy the game, but there are a few reservations I’d have for certain gaming groups.

the object of the game is to gain the most victory points from a limited pool. The game ends when the victory points run out, or players have reached the limit of cards they have in play. Overall I like the effective time limits with the game. It really pushes players to try and make the most of each turn, as sitting back and biding your time won’t work. You have to be constantly trying to produce and sell goods, or continually make developments and claim planets. Players earn victory points primarily through building developments and colonizing planets. Another key means of earning victory points is through the selling of goods.

The cards are used for everything in the game (save for victory point chits). The cards themselves represent planets and developments (resources to allow the player to do special actions). However not only are they different cards what you actually play on the table, but they are also are used as a currency and as goods to produce and sell for victory points. As there is a hand size limit, it makes for some interesting choices to decide what cards you discard in order to ‘pay’ for colonizing a planet or building developments. Additionally, many cards have a synergy in effects so this discard choice can sometimes be a bit of a conundrum for players (as there are some really neat combinations you can make).

I actually like this idea. While it’s true that at times I enjoy having lots of components in games (ex. Settlers of Catan or Peurto Rico), it is refreshing to have a game that is a little more utilitarian with how goods and currencies are represented in game.

Each turn a player selects 2 actions they like to take. Actions range from exploring (going through the deck and selecting a card to add to their hand), to placing developments and planets in their area, to producing goods to sell or gain victory points. If the player selects this action, typically there is a small bonus (say, paying one less resource to build a development). The twist is that all the other players also get to do the same action. So if you want to colonize a planet, everyone else around the table gets to do the same thing, save that small advantage you would get for selecting that action during your turn. It’s an interesting process. While you are rewarded with some bonus for taking a typical course of action, everyone else gets an opportunity to undertake the same activity.

There are some events that take a turn to two to develop, so it is not uncommon to try and produce and sell goods while other players have no resources available. So you are continually looking at the cards other people have in play, and trying to undertake actions that won’t be extremely beneficial to them. There is also a bit of gambling involved. As the bonus for selecting an action is not tremendous, sometimes you might opt to select another. All in hopes that the other player selects something that would help you, while you direct your limited choices to some other important action. Sometimes this works, and sometimes everyone focuses in on a particular course of action for the turn.

It plays rather well and moves at a fairly good pace. The only complaint I have (and it is a big one) is that there is a steep learning curve to the card symbols. While the game mechanics themselves aren’t too hard to grasp, each card has several icons on them relaying different characteristics and uses for the card. I find you really need about 2 games or so under your belt to recognize all the symbols and icons. This is further compounded with particular names and icons having nothing to do with the game, rather they relate to other expansions. Despite having large color icon cheat sheets in the game, it can still take a while for a new player to get up to speed.

As another quibble, I don’t think this might be everyone’s cup of tea as a strategy game. There is a lot of randomness with the initial draw of home planets and cards in your hand. Typically it takes a turn or three before you can cement a strategy. I like this aspect of the game, as it keeps your planning fluid and changes from game to game. I’d liken it to being a ‘puzzle’ game. You at first are unsure what route you need to take in setting up your empire. As things unfold, you get a clearer picture as you figure out a particular strategy. This might drive some players bonkers, as they want to sit down and try a particular strategy right from the start. In Race for the Galaxy you really can’t do this.

The Good – This is a fun strategy game. It’s random and deep enough to allow a player to explore a lot of strategies. While there are some really nice individual planets and developments, just about all the cards mesh with other particular cards, making for some interesting synergies in play. I also like the mechanic that has players select their turn actions that affect everyone. While it’s not quite involved as other games with trading of cards and such, it still requires you to take a look around at what other people are doing and think about your plan of action for the turn. You can play with 2 people which is always a plus.

The Bad – The learning curve is a bit steep on this one. As I stated, mechanics-wise it is not much however there are a ton of symbols, icons, and colors a player needs to process. It can be daunting at first and you really need to expect a new player to get a few games under thier belt to be able to grasp everything. Also, theme-wise there are a lot of neat little titles of cards with some fun artwork, but on the whole you could swap out just about any other symbols and names to mimic just about any other genre. So while it does has a sci-fi theme, the rules and actions are simply an abstract mechanic that don’t really seem to capture the feel of a space exploration and expansion game. Also, out of the box you can only play up to four people. I still like having a game that seat a few more around the table.

The Verdict – I really enjoy this game. I find it’s meaty enough with options and combinations to make for a fun strategy game, and just enough player interaction to make it interesting. There are several expansions for it, most of which add additional players (up to 6) and also add additional combinations and other variants to alter game play a little. I have found some of the expansions hit or miss, but I do appreciate allowing me to have additional players. Still, right out of the box you will find a great strategy game. I highly recommend having this on your game shelf.

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