Monday, August 18, 2014

Deep space

It should be pretty obvious by now that we love collectible card games. Most good CCGs offer a sheer depth of theme and strategy that is far beyond most "stand-alone" card games or even board games. The collectible aspect of these games can make them difficult to get into, even in the case of the not-so-collectible options such as Fantasy Flight's Living Card Games (Call of Cthulhu, Lord of the Rings) or the soon to be released Doomtown Reloaded. And if you play the more obscure CCGs like we do, is often difficult to find other players who are willing to put the time and money into buying cards and building decks. We even find it exhausting from time to time.

That's why Race for the Galaxy is one of our all-time favorite games. It has a lot of the strategic depth of a CCG, but it's a boxed game with only a few expansions, and players all draw from the same deck so there's no deck building, making it much easier to just sit down and play.

The game has an epic science fiction theme, with game play consisting of playing cards that represent discovered worlds and technological, social and political developments, and then using these resources in clever combinations.

Race for the Galaxy is a game about getting cards into play, and it has several intriguing mechanics for doing so. A game round is divided up into five phases where different things happen: a card-drawing phase, phases for playing developments or worlds, a resource-spending phase, and a resource-generating phase. In addition to his normal hand of cards, each player has a stack of cards representing each of these game phases. At the start of the game round, each player chooses which phase he wants to be able to play in by choosing one of these cards and playing it face down on the table. All players reveal their choices at the same time, and the cards revealed dictate which phases will be played that round. If no one reveals the card for a particular phase, that phase doesn't get played that round, so a big part of the strategy is in trying to determine what your opponents want to do each round.

Additionally, the game deals with the idea of card cost in an interesting way. Every development and world has a cost to put it into play, and that cost is paid by discarding cards from your hand. So if you want to play a world with a cost of 4, you have to discard four cards from your hand, which can lead to some agonizing decisions as you choose which cards you don't think you'll want to put into play later.

Many worlds generate resources which can be spent to draw additional cards into your hand, but spending these resources can only be done in a particular phase of the game, and resources can only be regenerated in another phase. This leads to a lot of strategic decision making as players try to balance which phases they will play in each round.

To add to the game's strategy options, some worlds can only be put into play via military conquest. These worlds have a military cost, which must be matched by the total military value provided by your other worlds and developments. All the worlds in the game are either military or non-military, so you have to decide which path to follow fairly early in the game.

Each development and world is worth a certain amount of victory points at the end of the game. There are many developments that give bonus points if your cards in play follow a particular theme, such as exploring alien ruins or developing worlds that provide a certain type of resource. Additionally, many cards offer the opportunity to generate bonus points throughout the game. The game ends when any player has put 12 cards into play, at which time points are added up to determine the winner.

Expansions have added new cards and new options to the game. The Coming Storm adds Goals which award bonus points for being the first player to put certain cards into play, or having the most of a certain type. The Rebel vs Imperium expansion adds some limited conflict between players, allowing them to attack and take over each other's worlds, And The Brink of War adds prestige as a second point and payment system. The most recent, Alien Artifacts, adds a strange and somewhat out of place sub-game involving the exploration of a maze-like alien structure that plays almost like a separate board game.

Rating: 5 (out of 5) Race for the Galaxy offers all the deep strategy and complexity of a collectible card game, without all the extra work of collecting cards and building decks.

Date played: June 29, 2014

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