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Designer Diary: Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium

Tom Lehmann
United States
Palo Alto
California
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The first Race for the Galaxy expansion, The Gathering Storm, was designed with both experienced and new players in mind, so we limited the number of new cards and powers and instead focused on adding goals, a drafting option, and a solitaire game.

For Rebel vs Imperium, however, we assume players are experienced. (The Gathering Storm is recommended, but not required.) The focus is on new cards (with twice as many play cards as in the first expansion), new powers, and seven new 6-cost developments, which open up new strategies. Several powers we had earlier avoided as being too complex for new players, such as "mix explore draws with your hand, then discard," now appear. Action cards for a sixth player are included.

With three new start worlds in the expansion, bringing the total to 12, two start worlds (one "red", tending towards Military, and one "blue", tending towards goods or Consume powers) are now dealt to each player. Players then receive their six initial cards and, based on these cards as well as the goals in play, decide which start world to play, discarding the other one along with two cards.

Choosing a start world makes the goals more interesting, as which goals are in play can influence your choice. This tends to equalize the luck of the draw; a player with a strong combination in his initial cards will often ignore the goals, while a player without one can often choose a start world to grab a "first" goal to compensate, while gaining new cards along the way until a strategy emerges. Rebel vs Imperium adds two new "most" goals and three new "first" goals for further variety.


Changing the card set obviously affects stategies. Military strategies receive boosts with new Imperium and Rebel 6-cost developments, as well as a 9 Defense "Rebel Stronghold" and an 8 Defense "Alien Monolith." Building "interlocking" 6-cost developments, due to the increased number of these cards, becomes a much stronger route to victory. Developments such as "Galactic Salon" (gain a VP during consumption, no good required) and "Galactic Advertisers" (gain a card during consumption) allow strategies based on placing very few worlds to be viable. The "Uplift Code" and several new Uplift worlds create an Uplift strategy, while the "Galactic Exchange" boosts consumption strategies based on diversity.

Takeovers: How Direct Do You Want Your Interaction?

In addition to new cards, Rebel vs Imperium also allows for takeovers, in which players can, under certain conditions, conquer a military world in another player's tableau.

Some players will welcome this direct player interaction while others won't. We recognize this and have designed takeovers so that they can be easily house-ruled to be always on, to be always off, or to alternate with each game in a series, starting off (the "official" rule). When takeovers are off, a small set of powers (marked with icons next to their text descriptions) are not in play and simply ignored. Everything else on these cards is still used, with these cards remaining at roughly equal strength, as their other powers are generally useful in different circumstances.

From the game's inception, some players have wondered why players can't simply apply their Military to take over worlds from other players' empires. My answer to this is partly theme based: the military strength required to conquer a small outpost or indigenous civilization is generally much smaller than that needed to take and hold a territory which possesses roughly equal technology or is a part of another empire. Consider the very small forces that Cortez and Pizarro used to conquer the Aztec and Incan civilizations within forty years of Columbus' discovery, versus the fact that no colony exchanged hands between European powers until the second Anglo-Dutch War (New Amsterdam), more than a century after the Aztec and Incan civilizations fell.


Of course, Race is a science fiction game and I could have written its "history" differently. I chose not to as I wanted to portray civilizations initially expanding without conflict and then, in the expansions, gradually bumping into each other, setting off border wars.

Many, many territorial games combine economic growth and warfare, but the primary choice in them is "guns now vs. investment in a larger economy for more guns later", not "guns vs. butter." Race, with its emphasis on setting up consumption-driven economies, allows for this higher level strategic choice. It is not uncommon, particularly in takeover games with many players, for several players to be jockeying for military advantage while another set of players are competing along non-military lines. This can create interesting tensions, particularly over how and when the end game will be triggered.

Georgia O'Keeffe called –
she wants her painting back
Vulnerabilities and Defenses

I also wanted to portray how empires slowly drift into war, another subject rarely covered in games. Thus, in Rebel vs Imperium, players can't just attack; they need an "excuse" to initiate military takeovers. If an empire sides with the Imperium (by placing an Imperium card), contains Rebel military worlds, or enters the galactic "arms race" (by having positive Military), it becomes vulnerable to a takeover power. An empire which does several of these things becomes more vulnerable. An empire which avoids these actions (by, say, using a "Contact Specialist" to place its military worlds or not having any military worlds) can't have its worlds taken over.

A frequent tactic in the base set is for empires to place a small amount of military (such as "Space Marines"), then conquer a military windfall world or two to jumpstart their growth. With takeovers, players need to reconsider this almost "free lunch," as they may later lose these worlds to other, more powerful military empires. Of course, these other larger military empires may, instead, wish to spend their Settle actions conquering more lucrative or valuable military worlds from their hands. Race, after all, is a card game, and not knowing which cards your opponents hold creates uncertainty as to their true intentions.

To take over an opponent's world (if that empire is vulnerable to your takeover power), your Military must equal or exceed the target world's defense, plus your opponent's Military. This is fixed at the start of a Settle phase (with the exception of any temporary Military that could be invoked), so the actual mechanisms of takeovers are fairly straight forward.

Develop might have been called prior to Settle that turn, however, thereby allowing players to place developments that provide additional Military that alter the balance of power among empires. Thus, the guessing game as to players' phase selections each turn, which is central to Race, continues with takeovers. Slides and cubes are provided to allow players to mark vulnerabilities and track Military totals, so that players can easily see these totals across the table. A two-player scenario, pitting the "Rebel Cantina" against the "Imperium Warlord," allows players to explore the takeover mechanics.

And the Winners Are...

Tom and Wei-Hwa observe
the latest playtesting session
The first Race expansion included both blank cards and a contest card, allowing players to submit their best idea for consideration in this expansion. We hoped to see some interesting new ideas and were pleased to receive over forty submissions.

Evaluating these entries took considerable time, as Wei-Hwa Huang and I not only judged the cards as submitted, but also debated whether their central ideas could be adapted to work in any way, given the actual card set. We ended up playtesting a dozen or so cards before picking the eventual winners. Several entries fit better with the third expansion and are already being considered for it. Rebel vs Imperium contains another contest card (but no blank cards). We are considering having up to five contest winners in the third expansion, depending on the final card mix, and look forward to seeing more submissions. (All late entries received for the first contest have been automatically entered into this second contest.)

As announced on the Rio Grande Games website, several entrants – Kester Jarvis, Dave and Meredith Mattingly, and Gary Riley – correctly anticipated features of already designed cards in Rebel vs Imperium. The winning cards were inspired and adapted from entries submitted by the German game designer Rüdiger Dorn, "Hidden Fortress," and two American players: Tom Liles and James Self, "R&D Crash Program." Congratulations!

Thanks to all those who entered this contest. Rebel vs Imperium adds a sixth player, three new start worlds (and tokens for them in the solitaire game), five new goals, takeover rules (and slides, cubes, and counters to track players' Military), and 41 new game cards to Race for the Galaxy. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann

Editor's note: This preview first appeared on BoardgameNews.com on June 8, 2009.
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