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Race for the Galaxy

Title: Race for the Galaxy
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Designer: Thomas Lehmann
Players: 2-4
Length: 30-60 minutes
Year: 2007

Race for the Galaxy is a non-collectable card game from Rio Grand Games. It has supplanted Carcassonne as the standard extra game in my role-playing group since I left for Taiwan, and since my friends like it, it was highly likely that I would, too (we have quite similar tastes when it comes to games, anyway). The game is similar in concept to Puerto Rico (for those who have played that), but in Race for the Galaxy, the players build up their space imperium consisting of worlds and developments. The design is neat and the cards use symbols rather than text to explain how they work (this is in difficult or ambiguous cases expanded by a written explanation). In it’s simplest form, the game can be said to consist of playing solitaire separately, but racing towards a common goal. The one who is most successful in devising a strategy based on the cards the player draws will win. However, this is to simplify too much, but more about that later.

Race for the Galaxy can be played by two to four players in its original form and that works quite well, even though two-player games are very different from three and four (but that’s true for every game I know). It takes a while to figure out which strategies to use and what cards have what advantages, but after only a couple of rounds (each takes around half an hour or so), I felt that I had a basic understanding of the game. My impression at that point was similar to the one Martin expressed in his review, i.e. that the main drawback of the game was that there was too little player interaction. I thought it was a good game, but not close to Carcassonne.

During the summer, I’ve had the opportunity to play a lot on Genie Game Server (linked to in my previous Online Highlights), which is a simple way of playing Race for the Galaxy online. I’ve mostly been playing two-player games, because those are the fastest, but I have played other variations too. I’m no longer sure there is too little player interaction (consider that I’m talking about the original game now, without the goals that came with The Gathering Storm). I’ve started to care very much about what the other player is doing and I’m quite sure that there is much, much more to discover in that area. Race for the Galaxy can be played as a two-player solitaire game, but it can’t be played well in that manner.

I can think of four rather minor disadvantages. The first is already mentioned, even though I’m sure what the other players are doing is of paramount importance, you can sometimes do very little to affect your opponents strategy. Sceond, it takes a while to get into the game and understand how it works. It’s not a game you can bring to a family gathering and expect people to enjoy from the start (I was very confused the first couple of hours and I’m not an average person when it comes to gaming). Third, and this is a personal disadvantage, the game requires the players to easily see what’s going on around the table. With my poor eye sight, it’s very difficult to keep track of three other players around a moderately large table. Once I know all cards by heart, this might change. Fourth, I doubt the original game is complex enough to keep on being entertaining for long, but this is no problem because there are a couple of expansions available (these were apparently designed as integral parts of the game from the start, which is an amazing and creative new way of designing and releasing a game in stages).

On the whole, Race for the Galaxy is a very good game, probably one of the best I’ve played. It works well with a variable number of players and it seems to be entertaining both at an intermediate and an advanced level (although this is hard to tell now). The game looks sleek and the symbols on the cards make it easy to remember the rules, at least once one has understood the basic concepts. I think the game might deserve more than the four snails I now give it, but if it turns out I undervalued the game, that will definitely show up in my review of the expansions later. Until then, if you want to play with me online, I use the name “Snigel” on Genie, well met!

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  1. Slacker’s avatar

    I have to disagree. I thought it looked good first couple of times but was pretty boring after a few games I must say.
    But hey, people have different taste I guess =)


    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      That’s odd. :) I didn’t understand anything at all the first few games, so there was little to enjoy. I’ve played around 150 games now and I like it more and more! But as you say, to each his own.