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Subject: The Secret History of RFTG: The Brink of War rss

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Tom Lehmann
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I, like many others, have enjoyed Donald's "secret histories" for Dominion, so I thought I'd take a swing at doing one for the latest Race for the Galaxy expansion, The Brink of War.

This expansion was the first designed after the publication of the base game. The two previous expansions, The Gathering Storm and Rebel vs. Imperium, were designed a year after the base game and first expansion, respectively, before the base game was published. This had allowed us to go back and tweak the base set slightly, before publication, knowing what was to come.

Jay Tummelson requested the third expansion in April 2008 at the Gathering of Friends. I said I'd think about it, but was concerned that another expansion would make the deck too big and too "streaky" for the card combos that underlie RFTG's strategy to be consistently assembled by players during play. I didn't want the game to turn into "Fred got lucky and found a combo, while the rest of us didn't". As it turns out, this particular concern was well-founded. There were several times when I came very close to calling Jay and just canceling this expansion...

As I considered various ideas, I decided I wanted a new mechanism woven throughout the cards.

Expansions can vary enormously, providing some mixture of more stuff, more players, new play options, twists on existing stuff, new maps, new mechanisms, etc. The Gathering Storm provided mostly more stuff -- more start worlds, a fifth player, more cards -- with a couple of twists, primarily Improved Logistics, and several new play options: solitaire, drafting, and goals. Rebel vs. Imperium continued that trend, with a lot more cards and 6-cost developments, new start worlds, a sixth player, more goals, a new play option -- the takeover game -- plus a few twists: mix and match explore, the Hidden Fortress possibly modifying the end game, Galactic Salon's consume power not relying on goods, etc. Together, they added a lot to the base game, but mostly just variations on existing concepts. With the third expansion, I wanted something completely new.

I considered a conquest game, since thematically, war seemed like the obvious next step beyond the border conflicts introduced in Rebel vs Imperium. However, I think a full-blown conquest game would need a map and this struck me as too big a departure for RFTG as a card game. Plus, an important aspect of Race is its "guns vs butter" tension. If RFTG became a conquest game, this might disappear.

So, instead, I looked at the brinkmanship, propaganda fights, and territorial concessions that can occur before a major war erupts, such as various events that happened before WWII. What if I set this new expansion on the eve of war? What if "political prestige" could be accumulated and spent for territorial concessions? This could work within the takeover game, but how would it work for non-takeover games? Well, if VP chips represent citizen happiness within an empire, could prestige be converted into VP chips, pleasing the populace through propaganda aimed at their grievances or ambitions?

This led me to Interstellar Casus Belli, which I consider TBoW's defining card, and Galactic Power Brokers, which can convert prestige into cards in hand. With these in hand, I considered ways prestige could be created. In addition to placing certain cards, I wanted some "prestige engines" that could repeatedly generate prestige (at the cost of players' knowing which phases their owners are likely to call).

I devised one for every phase, using existing RFTG themes and concepts (Uplift, Alien, Terraforming, Rebel, "deficit spending", "pay for military", 6-cost VP/prestige linkages, etc.). After two weeks of design and with Wei-Hwa's card mockup skills, we had a set of 33 cards and began testing.

This became 36 cards very quickly. Our intent was to add 2-4 contest card winners and 1-2 "balance" cards (with whatever was needed to balance the expansion, once we knew the contest winners). The remaining 16 "card slots", assuming 39 cards and a 55 card set, would be "something else". One idea was that these could be copies of the start worlds (with different backs and rules to handle them).

These extra "card slots" eventually turned into the Search/Prestige Opportunity cards and a bunch more cards as a result of a sidetrack when, eight months into the project, we expanded the deck from 36 to 44 cards and began to experiment with a "slim deck" alternative, one of our many attempts to deal with the increased variation and streakiness of card draws due to the larger deck.


The cards (sometimes I'm ignoring versions which changed after just one play: "D'oh, what was I thinking!" ;-):

Interstellar Casus Belli: for a while, this came with a prestige and its takeover power was spend two prestige to attempt a takeover. At cost 4, 0 VPs, and converting the prestige via Consume:2x for 6 VPs, this seemed comparable to VPs from Galactic Salon (with a bit of Consume leaching). However, playtesting showed it was too powerful. So, we removed its prestige and restructured its takeover power to be a potential prestige engine, provided you have a prestige to start it.

Galactic Power Brokers: this originally also had a trade power and a simpler develop power, just draw 1 card. We removed the trade power when we improved its develop power to Draw 2, Discard 1. One of our early approaches to deal with the larger deck size was to increase card flow by adding Draw and Discard powers. Ultimately, this failed as a general solution as it only affected a small fraction of the cards and didn't help players who never drew one of them. However, we kept a few of the Draw and Discard powers; here they represent different "opportunities" that Power Brokers receive behind the scenes.

GPB set off a debate among playtesters. If a player buys it for 5 cards, getting a prestige, and then immediately consumes this prestige for 3 cards, they've effectively placed a cost 2, 3 VP, Interstellar Bank with a card cycling power. Is this too good? However, this analysis ignores the fact that the Bank can be placed sooner and a player doing so can save cards in hand that would have to be spent to place the Brokers. Further, since prestige has other uses, spending it immediately for cards is not an automatic decision, so calling its cost just 2 cards overstates the case...


The new start world concepts -- a novelty windfall world with card storage, an uplift military, an alien researcher, and a "true" rebel -- were solid and didn't change during development.

Galactic Scavengers: this allowed us to revisit a card concept -- storing cards -- that we looked at once before. The first version was quite popular, but way too strong, so, in stages, we removed A) its mix and match explore, B) then its VP, and, finally, C) required one of its owner's starting cards to be placed under it. Some players still think it's too strong, but the first version was truly gross!

Uplift Mercenary Force: for a brief time, this was a military world, but otherwise the only change was to add +1 Explore. I preferred this as a non-military world as it allowed non-military players to go "uplift" if desired. A fine start world, which initially bridges +1 and +2 starting Military at a cost, while also suggesting a longer-term strategy.

Alien Research Team: this began with a -2 discount, which was too gross. Players were building Lost Alien Warship with it on round 1, gaining an Alien windfall good and 2 Military, effectively being better than New Sparta settling the Alien Robot Sentry on round 1 (which is considered a very good start). ART's consume power began as up to two Alien goods, but this rarely came into play, so we simplified it to just one Alien good.

Our initial concern with both UMF and ART was that they were too specialized. However, when we settled on the Search mechanism, this both solved this issue and introduced a tough decision of whether to search on round 1.

Rebel Freedom Fighters: this began with 2 Military (-3 with Imperium), no +1 Explore, and no prestige bonus for settling Rebel military worlds. This felt too much like a slight variation on New Sparta and not distinct enough. So, we added the Explore power and Rebel prestige settle bonus and reduced the Military to 1 (-2 with Imperium), which felt more thematic and less like other start worlds. Giving a start world something close to an prestige engine is a bit scary, but RFF has to both find the necessary worlds and build the Military to conquer them.


My initial Alien concept for this expansion was two-fold: depicting the spread of Alien artifacts from rare scientific discoveries into "ordinary life" and showing the hunt for the long-lost Aliens homing in on the Alien "departure point":

Alien Tourist Attraction: I grew up in Carthage, Tunisia, a block from a popular tourist attraction, ruined Roman baths, so the notion of an Alien tourist attraction, where tourists paw over antiquities, was a gimme. The art took several revisions, but is one of my favorite pieces in this set. Originally, this card had a deficit spending power, but this was removed when we added deficit spending for prestige to several other cards. We then tried having the consume power be up to two goods, but this was too strong. So, we just added +1 Explore to it.

Alien Burial Site: this card originally had no Trade power and was a subject of much debate, as it can be quite strong initially *if* it gives a player the Prestige Lead, but otherwise felt a bit weak. At one point we gave it a general +2, discard 1 Trade power (when we tried adding Draw and Discard powers to lots of cards), but this was too strong. Eventually, we went with just a +1 Novelty Trade power. Is it stronger or weaker than Spice World? Playtesters split on this (generally a sign that two cards are roughly balanced with respect to each other).

Alien Departure Point: originally, its Explore prestige power didn't require a discard. This wasn't a problem with ADP, since it tends to come out quite late, but it was a problem elsewhere, so we modified this power. Otherwise, unchanged.

Alien Guardian: we added a deficit spending for prestige power (representing investigating its parts to learn new science), but otherwise, this card didn't change. For the artwork, I was thinking something a bit more 2001 (the film), but liked what the artists came up with.

Alien Booby Trap: a late addition, as we needed a low defense world with prestige after bumping the Info Hub's defense from 2 to 3. The Alien windfall production and prestige for Military powers help players place and use the Alien Monolith or Alien Guardian. The artwork, with its "push the red button", made me chuckle. One worry was whether "booby trap" would be hard to translate; however, a bit of searching turned up specialized terms for this in German, French, and Chinese...

Alien Cornucopia: another late addition, though the idea of deciphering Alien technology to greatly increase production via increased resource substitution is one I've wanted to do for a long time. We tried keying the VPs off produce powers, not production worlds, but this was awkward and we decided to increase the synergy with Merchant Guild. We briefly tried having the production power be one card per good produced (for theme reasons to represent the increased efficiency), but this totally dominated Merchant Guild. We also put on and removed a prestige symbol from this card several times, as we balanced the 6-cost developments for this set (we didn't want them to all provide prestige). It lost it in the end.


Another sub-theme is the continued friction between Imperium factions and Rebel empires.

Imperium Invasion Fleet: thematically, I wanted a sense of impending war in this set, with no planet completely safe from attack (in Auden's words: "our dream of safety must disappear"). So I needed a way for takeovers to work against non-military worlds. However, I didn't want this to happen too frequently, so my solution was to make it a combo involving discarding this card and using Casus Belli (if the empire wasn't vulnerable to any other takeover powers).

Without takeovers on, I envisioned IIF being discarded to place non-military worlds like Imperium Capital or the Alien Departure Point. Discarding this card was too costly in practice, so I added 2 prestige to it, plus a prestige to IIF, to encourage players to place IIF and possibly use this power (particularly if doing so "leap-frogged" them into the Prestige Lead). This resulted in IIF now being too strong compared to Drop Ships, so we toned IIF's Military back a half-step from +4 to +3, with +1 (additional) versus Rebel military worlds.

Imperium Planet Buster: this *had* to be in this set, even if it broke Galactic Federation's VP icons (this was the only time that RFTG already being published caused us problems). For a while, we debated whether we needed to reprint GalFed or just issue a ruling. However, when we settled on Prestige/Search cards and did the math for the drafting game, we discovered that 48 cards, plus 6 P/S cards, worked nicely (resulting in all three expansions doubling the number of cards from 114 to 228). This left one spare card in the 55 card sheet, which became GalFed with revised VP icons.

IPB originally didn't have +3 Military and its takeover power only gained one prestige, not two. We added the +3 Military to make the card more attractive during the game (not just at the end for VPs) in non-takeover games.

We increased a couple of prestige effects from one to two after redesigning the prestige system. I wanted prestige to matter during the game, not just as an alternative form of VPs that affected final standings and a few powers.

To achieve this, we first tried prestige being a sudden-death alternative victory condition (first player to 7 prestige won); this placed emphasis on building prestige "engines", but players who never found any of these cards felt frustrated when their opponents found them early and then ended the game before the normal VP strategies kicked into gear. Increasing the prestige-to-win threshold meant that, if no one found these cards early on, this alternative victory condition became irrelevant.

So, we scrapped this idea and introduced the idea of a Prestige Leader instead. To ensure that a player with "steady" prestige from an engine didn't just maintain the Prestige Lead, we made a few powers produce two prestige, to increase the chance of "leap-frogging" into the prestige lead. IPB's takeover power was one of these powers.

The IPB and IIF takeover powers can be combined to destroy a non-military world. I thought this would be used to destroy costly worlds worth lots of VPs. Instead, this combo was first used on Retrofit & Salvage, a low cost world. On the previous round, its owner had collected several discards, after both players traded, assuming that the other would call Develop or Settle, so they both exceeded their hand limits. The R&S owner now had over a dozen cards in hand and the IPB/IIF owner vowed that this would not stand. Next round, Ka-blamo!!!

Imperial Fuel Depot: this was originally a 2/1 Imperium Rare production military world without powers. When we added its card flow Draw 2 and Discard 1 after settling power, we bumped it up to a 3/2. This was nice, but a little too good, so instead of toning down its Settle power, we removed 1 VP. This card required a last minute wording change to Imperium Lords' VP box (to handle an Imperium card that was also a military world), which we snuck in right before the Gathering Storm files were turned over to the translators.

Rebel Fuel Refinery: a late addition, replacing an earlier non-military rare world when we wanted another Rebel world, this began as a 5/3 Rare windfall military world with a prestige that had the same Draw 2, Discard 1 power as Imperium Fuel Depot. We swapped this power for expend a Rare good for +2 Military and reduced it to a 4/2 (still providing a prestige), to both make it more distinctive and to better position it as a "stepping stone" on the way to higher Military and conquering higher defense worlds.

Imperium Capital: a nice candidate for either Colony Ship or Imperium Cloaking Device (since the Imperium keyword is retained), this didn't change, other than its Consume power evolved from consuming up to two goods for 1 VP apiece to consuming 2 goods for 2 prestige. Thematically, this represents ostentatious "Potemkin village" consumption by a military empire for propaganda effect, which I felt was a better fit and a nice contrast to Rebel Council's consume power. The artwork depicting the Imperium symbol resulted in us flipping the Imperium symbol 180 degrees on RvI's military slides and goals, so that they would match.

Rebel Council: the "missing" Rebel 8. This led us to add a few prestige symbols to RvI cards, in particular, the Rebel Stronghold, for both foreshadowing and to keep the Rebel Stronghold worth more VPs if it was settled on the final turn. The only change was to add the Rebel development prestige power from RFF, mostly just for flavor.

Rebel Sneak Attack: we needed more Rebel developments than just RvI's Rebel Alliance and Pact (we briefly added a third Pact at one point), if the Rebel development powers on RC and RFF weren't going to be just noise. Wei-Hwa first suggested RSA as a one-shot Improved Logistics to conquer non-military worlds, which I turned into a one-shot IL versus military worlds, plus a one shot Rebel Alliance takeover power (to be more thematic). At one point, we discussed whether RSA was what Improved Logistics "should" have been, but I still like the extra global tempo effect that IL provides. RSA's mix and match Explore got added fairly late, so that RSA would be useful in tableau before being discarded for effect.


At one point, we tried a "slim deck" variant, where players would strip out one each of the duplicate developments in the RFTG base set and first two expansions (while keeping the duplicate developments in TBoW), to produce a smaller deck. We then added three developments to TBoW to compensate for some vital lost powers. Two of them -- Rebel Troops and Galactic Markets -- we retained despite deciding that this approach didn't solve our variance/streakiness issues.

Rebel Troops: the first version cost 1, providing 1 VP and Rebel instead of Space Mercenaries' ability to pump a second time for extra Military. This didn't feel like enough of a difference, so I increased its cost to 2 and gave it a nice consume ability (which thematically represents Rebel Troops' ability to "live off the land"). It worked, so we kept it after discarding slim deck, as both having another Rebel and a low-cost Military development was desirable.

Galactic Markets: also added during the "slim deck" experiment to compensate for losing one each of Consumer Markets, Mining Conglomerate, and Diversified Economy. We retained GM as its consumption flexibility helps deal with variance and streakiness, but players were lukewarm about it until we added a prestige (after removing the prestige from Casus Belli, we wanted one on another mid-priced development).


We began testing with just two new 6-cost developments, plus one "unofficial" one we were continuing to test from the first card contest (for RvI).

Pan-Galactic Affluence: this always gave a prestige for each development. It originally gave 2 VPs for each prestige, which was too gross and quickly got toned down. My internal model for this card was the US in the 1950s, when its economy was huge with respect to the rest of the world. My first thought was "money to burn", so I gave PGA a deficit spending power and a bonus for Deficit Spending itself, as well as Export Duties (to represent it exporting to the rest of the galaxy).

I then shifted this emphasis to just having a larger economy and reworked the consume power to be two goods for 2 prestige, added a produce power for producing the most goods, and, after trying various alternatives, added a bonus for Galactic Renaissance. However, PGA's consume power discouraged Consume 2x calls (since prestige doesn't double), which worked counter to GR, so the consume power became 1 prestige and 1 VP. The tie to Terraformed World was another nod to affluence.

Pan-Galactic Hologrid: this represents the spread of mass communications and popular culture throughout the galaxy, so its settle and trade powers and 2 VPs per novelty world (1 VP for other) were always present. It originally also gave 1 VP for each prestige, but this was too gross in combination with other VP for prestige cards. So we dropped it and gave this card an prestige for each Explore power (to fit with its expanding throughout the galaxy theme). This turned out to be "too efficient" a prestige engine, so we required a discard to earn the prestige. We had a bit of spare space in the VP box and Wei-Hwa considers Expanding Colony an "honorary" novelty world, so we added a bonus for it (since it fit with PGH's expansion theme).

Universal Peace Institute: this was one of three "hold-over" cards from the first card contest that we were testing "unofficially" with the third expansion, while waiting for submissions for the second card contest to arrive (whose deadline was more than a year away, given that RvI hadn't been published yet! ;-). I was always pretty sure some version of it would make the final cut, as I liked having a peaceful alternative to all the militaristic cards, and Pan-Galactic Mediator was in the set from the start.

UPI's consume power was originally a good for a prestige and a card, as I wanted to contrast the benefits from peaceful expansion with other prestige consume powers (by giving an extra card for the increased trade and lack of destruction). However, this made it too easy to keep the Prestige Lead, so we changed it to two goods for a prestige, card, and a VP.

Older UPI versions had just the -2 Military power in the text box. However, numerous playtesters missed the -2 discount power (it was a "basic" power with no text explanation). Space was very tight, so we combined the text for these two separate powers into one entry, which seemed to help some playtesters.

Pan-Galactic Mediator: the original version was 1 cost, 1 prestige, and had a block takeover power (which we later shifted to the Pan-Galactic Security Council). We added +1 Explore so it had a power when not playing the takeover game. We were experimenting, in both RvI and TBoW, with a "deal" mechanism where players could trade cards with each other (yet another attempt to handle the larger decks in both sets) and added a power to PGM that gave deal participants each a prestige. However, the deal mechanic failed due to collusion and incentive issues and was removed from the game.

After this, PGM acquired its prestige when using a pay for military power. Players complained that PGM was still too good as a source of early prestige, even when this power was totally ignored, so we added a -1 Military power to sharpen the decision of whether to place PGM early on for just a prestige.


With the third expansion, I felt that players could now handle some pretty involved powers. Or, as several others have put it, TBoW is the "all-chrome" expansion to RFTG.

Psi-Crystal World: the ability to see your opponents' action choices (just one in 2PA) before choosing your own is an ability that would have really slowed down play in the base game or an early expansion, but which could be done now. The only change that occured to this card was adding a +1 Explore to it, as part of a general increase in Explore powers in both RvI (before it was finalized) and TBoW to deal with the larger deck size.

Retrofit & Salvage, Inc.: various entries in the first card contest proposed stealing cards from opponents' hands or their expenditures. I felt this was too disruptive and, instead, came up with a power to take opponents' end-of-turn discards. This became an "unofficial" card (like UPI), which we continued to test. The power was fun, but varied a lot in usefulness, so we also added a develop power to sweeten the card. Its title is an obscure play on Freight & Salvage, a folk-singing venue in Berkeley.

The next three cards were added almost immediately to bring the "official" testing deck from 33 to 36 cards.

Pan-Galactic Security Council: I wanted some form of deficit spending engine involving prestige. Originally, it was spend a prestige for a card and a VP, which didn't quite work (I thought it might be an interesting "leech" power). When we went to the Prestige Leader system, we reversed it to become deficit spending for prestige, which worked well and introduced some hard decisions during the early game, where a player can retain the prestige lead at the cost of a shrinking hand size!

PGSC originally had a prestige for increased takeover defence, but it rarely mattered, so I moved over the original Mediator ability to cancel a takeover to this card as a better thematic fit (and to avoid timing issues by having just one copy of it).

Federation Capital: I wanted to expand the "Federation" theme, to suggest the existance of powerful political entities other than Imperium and Rebel in the galaxy, and also to introduce a good to prestige consume power (this predated the changes to Imperium Capital and various 6-cost developments). It worked well, though the prestige VP graphic was a bit funky.

Information Hub: we needed a low defense military prestige world, so we first tried this as a 2 defense world. I very briefly tried giving it a draw and discard power for every game phase, but quickly discarded this idea, except for develop, as we didn't have a military world with a develop power. We also were looking for another low defense world to put a Mix and Match Explore power, but we didn't want it to be a "gray" military world, since we had just added Blaster Runners to RvI.

The result of all these experiments was way too powerful, so IH became 3 defense and we eventually toned down its develop power from Draw 2, Discard 1 to just a card cycling power. The result was still popular, as it combines several useful powers, but no longer gross. Would you rather see it or Rebel Warrior Race in your hand?

Terraforming Engineers: one of the signature "chrome" cards in this expansion and a royal pain to design. I knew players would enjoy a "replace a card" power, but I was wary of it, having seen the rules for San Juan's Crane go on for almost a page. We tried various versions where the replacement was a player's normal settle action and the power interactions just got messier and messier (how does it work with pay for military powers or conquer non-military powers?, is higher cost based on printed or adjusted cost?, etc.), no matter how cleanly we tried to define things.

One entry in the first card contest had been for a +1 development replacement power (in addition to a player's normal development) which was interesting, but too random during play (as development powers vary so much). However, worlds have enough structure based on color that we thought this approach might work without feeling too random (since we had to allow windfalls and production worlds to replace each other in order to have enough replacement candidates within a reasonable cost range).

This approach allowed us to treat this power as separate from a player's settle action and to remove all the power interactions, which kept the rules down to a manageable length (they're still long for a RFTG power). But, the result is a lot of fun. We introduced a rules exception for "gray" worlds, as testers really wanted it and it allows the Terraformed World to enter play via the Terraforming Engineers, which is nice thematically.


Another RFTG sub-theme is Uplift. I had introduced the Uplift Code in RvI and wanted to develop the Uplift story in two contrasting ways: the attempts to control and exploit the Uplift races using the information in the Uplift Code and the emerging revolt against this.

Uplift Gene Breeders: this began as a 6/3 genes production world, which we reduced to cost 3/0 so it was a potential source of early prestige. I prefer 0 VPs, as I think it conveys a morally ambiguous stance towards genetic breeding in galactic society. I find the artwork both chilling and very evocative.

Uplift Revolt World: I think this was the most stable card in this expansion, revised once within a week of the first playtest and unchanged since then. Simple, but effective; here, we can see the Uplift revolt building...

Mining Mole Uplift Race: this was intended for RvI, as I wanted to portray a successful, peaceful Uplift race. However, during the "great Explore revision" to both RvI and TBoW, we decided we needed a low defense military world with mix and match Explore and added Blaster Runners to RvI, shifting MMUR to TBoW. I think it provides a nice contrast to the Uplift Mercenary Force (start world) by showing two successful, but very different, Uplift races bred for different galactic tasks.

Ravaged Uplift World: for a long time, I had the Uplift Overseers explicitly in TBoW as a development. However, this expansion was too development heavy and didn't have enough Genes worlds. So, I moved the Uplift Overseers back into the shadows where they belonged and recast that card's powers in terms of their victims. This card's artwork was the last piece done and I like its muted palette, with a barely visible Uplift survivor waving a fist at the Overseers, who have just bombed the planet into rubble...

Lifeforms, Inc.: the public, presentable, corporate face of the Uplift Overseers, this card provides genes windfall production to help genes production strategies. Its settle power conjures up images of planet-building viruses from many SF stories in my mind.


On one hand, the card contests were great in allowing the game's fans a chance to suggest ideas for the game. On the other hand, they were a tremendous amount of work for Wei-Hwa and myself, as we had to sift through lots of entries, think about possible ways they could be revised to fit with the other expansion cards, and then had to test them in a fairly short period of time under deadline pressure. It also meant that the expansion's design had to be left a bit open and flexible until we knew what the winners would be. As a result, we reserved a slot or two for "balance" cards; so I could adjust the final card mix to make sure that various card and power proportions were maintained.

Alien Oort Cloud Refinery: a multi-colored world was suggested by a number of entrants, but they all suffered from the fact that players could just choose the type of good to be Alien and sell it for lots of cards, making it difficult to cost this card as anything but an Alien world. Michael Brough suggested the critical idea of not allowing its good to be sold. It turned into a fun card to play, though a bit of a pain rules-wise (and difficult to implement in computer versions). The title is another nod to Fred Pohl's Heechee saga.

Black Hole Miners: a number of entrants suggested black hole powers, but they were all too powerful and random (for example, a card that passed around the table destroying a random world in each player's tableau). If a full-fledged online RFTG site capable of supporting optional decks is ever completed, it might be fun to offer a "chaos deck" expansion comprising all the too powerful and random ideas that we received. People probably would rarely play with them, but it might be a fun change-of-pace play option. In this case, I was inspired to do my own black hole card, where I tried to design an interesting mid-priced "grey" world that would make players' heads hurt...

Golden Age of Terraforming: besides the Terraforming Engineers, we really hadn't done much with Terraforming in this expansion, so I was open to a 6-cost development along these lines. However, I didn't want one that would synergize well with the Terraforming Guild, since that could easily be too strong.

Pierre Dahl suggested the title "Golden Age" (a reference to the Dutch Golden Age) and both he and Chrisopher Guild suggested various powers that involved spending goods for other game effects. Meanwhile, Kester Jarvis suggested an industrialization power that gave production worlds a good upon being settled. I mashed all these ideas together into the GAoT. I felt that this, along with Alien Cornucopia, really helped redress the balance between production worlds and produce/consume versus all the new big military worlds and developments.

While we were testing and fine-tuning GAoT, I looked over the set as a whole, analyzing powers and card proportions. I realized it was a bit short on windfall production and trade powers; needed a mix and match explore on a mid-priced non-military world (we tried putting one on the Black Hole Miners, but that was too strong); needed one more novelty production and several more genes worlds; and was a bit development heavy. This led me to swap the Uplift Overseers for two new genes worlds (as discussed above) and to design the following:

Universal Exports: this card was mostly just a "balance" card, designed to provide powers that were lacking. The title, while fitting the card's powers, is also a reference to James Bond. What can I say? This is one of the few RFTG cards that isn't story driven; I wasn't feeling very creative; and I was just trying to get the expansion out the door...


The goals in this set were pretty straight-forward, emphasizing prestige, the continued tension between Imperium and military rivals, as well as takeovers versus peaceful expansion. The Consume powers "most" goal was partly designed to reward all the consume powers found on many "gray" worlds.

The biggest obstacle we encountered in this project was the increased variance and streakiness due to the larger deck size. In the end, we solved it using a mixture of approaches:

* Adding more explore powers, both to RvI as well as TBoW.
* Adding some card-flow powers, so players would, on average, see more cards in a game.
* Adding more multi-function cards, so cards could meet different needs.
* Adding search, so players would be much less likely to get "stuck" in various ways.

Don Woods, a playtester, really helped clarify the search mechanism, after we stumbled about trying various "deal" and "slim deck" approaches. Larry Rosenberg, another playtester, kept us on track by constantly critiquing the power creep that tended to occur as a side-effect of adding multi-function cards, so we kept toning down power effects so that the new cards didn't dominate older ones.

All during this project, I was aided by Wei-Hwa Huang, who provided development advice, ideas, good feedback, lots of graphics and prototyping support, as well as conducting separate playtesting and coding up the analysis of the solitaire game with the new start worlds. Mirko Suzuki was tireless in turning around the production graphics, while both Martin Hoffman and Claus Stephan continued to provide excellent artwork that never devolved into "colored marbles in space". Jay Tummelson, RGG's publisher, was understanding and supportive as we battled the effects of the increased deck size.

Most of all, however, I must thank all the fans who supported and played RFTG, allowing me to tell a longer and deeper story in this expansion "arc" than I usually get to tell when I design a game. Thank You. Enjoy!
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Phil Walker-Harding
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Thanks Tom, fascinating as always!
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Kester J
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Thanks Tom, that was a fascinating read! These kinds of insights into the design process are always appreciated. I'm actually amazed by how little it sounds like most of the cards ended up being changed; I guess I expected >50% of designed cards to end up being discarded, but obviously you have a knack for getting it right (or close) first time

You've mentioned before that designing the first two expansions before release of the base set let you tweak some base set cards in preparation for the expansions. If you had the chance, is there anything you'd've done to the base set given what you know from designing Brink of War? Are there any cards which would gain a prestige?
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Tom Lehmann
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Kester wrote:
I guess I expected >50% of designed cards to end up being discarded [...]

Looking at a 33 card file (containing 6 duplicates) from about 10 days after the first playtest, I see two BoW cards that were discarded, plus, as noted in my article, a copy of Rebel Pact that was removed and the Uplift Overseers which got reworked into another card. On the other hand, only one card in that file (Uplift Revolt World) matches its final version, so everything got tweaked to some extent, plus we added 16 more (distinct) cards. One "unofficial" contest card got moved to the next "arc", as well as another card that we tested briefly. So, yeah, I got in the right general neighborhood >90% of the time.
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If you had the chance, is there anything you'd've done to the base set given what you know from designing Brink of War? Are there any cards which would gain a prestige?

Possibly. I went through the base set and first two expansions at one point and noted a dozen or so cards -- 8 from the base set -- that have gotten over-shadowed by later cards. One of my goals for the next arc is to make sure these cards get some synergies to help them stand out more.
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Chris Hahn
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Tom,

Will you be at GenCon again this year? We "tried" to play our first game with the new expansion and I am pretty sure we messed a lot of stuff up.

I am more than willing to get schooled by you again in a game if you can explain Brink of War as we go.
 
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I need to get some program on my Palm PDA or Ipod Touch to view offline documents because of posts and other online content such as this. I'd open a browser to this, but typically, once I go into a no-wifi area, it asks for connection and the page gets lost

Tom, thanks for sharing!
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James Ludlow
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
Most of all, however, I must thank all the fans who supported and played RFTG, allowing me to tell a longer and deeper story in this expansion "arc" than I usually get to tell when I design a game. Thank You. Enjoy!


Hey, you're welcome. Please remind Mr. Tummelson that if and when the 2nd arc comes out he should be sure to have some extra base sets on hand. I'll most certainly buy another one to go along with the new arc.

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Chris Blakeley
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
Most of all, however, I must thank all the fans who supported and played RFTG, allowing me to tell a longer and deeper story in this expansion "arc" than I usually get to tell when I design a game. Thank You. Enjoy!


This is fantastic and answers a lot of my questions/thoughts about the cards as they popped up in my hand across several games this weekend.

I'm looking forward to sharing this and seeing the dice game when it comes out
 
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Dave J McWeasely
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
Ravaged Uplift World: ... This card's artwork was the last piece done and I like its muted palette, with a barely visible Uplift survivor waving a fist at the Overseers, who have just bombed the planet into rubble...


Heh heh heh, I didn't interpret that guy in that way - I took it to be the back-shadow of the photographer holding up the camera. A nod by the artist to crappy landscape photographers everywhere. I've only seen blurry scans of this card on BGG, so maybe my visual parsing will change when I get the real game.
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Troy Adlington
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Tom,

Great article. This card game has gone on the become a bit of a Magnum Opus for you and we thank you for all the effort it obviously required !!
 
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
I considered a conquest game, since thematically, war seemed like the obvious next step beyond the border conflicts introduced in Rebel vs Imperium. However, I think a full-blown conquest game would need a map and this struck me as too big a departure for RFTG as a card game.


Is this our first info on RftG: the Dice Game? Probably not.
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Once the Geek has you, there is no escape...
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
Alien Booby Trap: The artwork, with its "push the red button", made me chuckle.
You mean "push the nipple"?
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George Burdell
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Quote:
Is this our first info on RftG: the Dice Game? Probably not.


I believe a dice version of RFTG has been mentioned somewhere before. Unfortunately, I can't remember where, so this post will be of little help.
 
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
The Consume powers "most" goal was partly designed to reward all the consume powers found on many "gray" worlds.
Tom, it seems from this statement that you considered "grey" worlds to be at least slightly weakened in the previous expansions. Did you consider a general goal or 6-cost development specifically for "grey" worlds? If so, were they discarded due to the absence of a unifying theme among grey worlds or was there another reason? If there had been some kind of thematic sense would you have gone that direction?

Thanks so much for writing this up and answering all our dang-fool questions!
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George Burdell
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The artwork on Retrofit & Salvage, Inc really reminds me of Firefly / Serenity. (technically Firefly though, since Serenity didn't really feature any salvaging)
 
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ackmondual
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vivafringe wrote:
Tom Lehmann wrote:
I considered a conquest game, since thematically, war seemed like the obvious next step beyond the border conflicts introduced in Rebel vs Imperium. However, I think a full-blown conquest game would need a map and this struck me as too big a departure for RFTG as a card game.


Is this our first info on RftG: the Dice Game? Probably not.
Race For The Galaxy: The Other Card Game.

If not, I'd be interested in RftG: The board game.
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A very interesting read, and thank you for a beautiful game!

It is nice to know the thoughts behind the theme of the various cards, and also to read about the difficulties of designing expansions to a card game like this.

I like the way the base set and expansions point towards the next expansion. (What ARE these symbols? And these colored words?) Also, it must be a nice marketing trick -- who wants to own an uncomplete game? Now I can rest assured the game is complete.

But of course, since this is my favorite game for the time being, I love your constant hinting towards a future arc. I hope it will be published!


ackmondual wrote:
I need to get some program on my Palm PDA or Ipod Touch to view offline documents because of posts and other online content such as this.


Then I can recommend Opera Mini (for iPod Touch). It will not try to reload a page once loaded, and it is even capable of saving a page for offline view later.
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Tom Lehmann
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TheMadVulcan wrote:
Did you consider a general goal or 6-cost development specifically for "grey" worlds?

No. They don't fit into a nice theme (and were never intended to).

I do believe a few of the higher cost gray worlds, such as Terraformed World, have been overshadowed due to new 6-cost developments with consume powers. I was glad to give TW a boost via PGA, TE (as a target), and the consume power goal.

Most other "gray" worlds work just fine, though they tend to be "niche" cards -- aimed at specific situations -- rather than general use cards.
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Brendon Russell
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Tom, thanks for taking the time to write this up and share it with us. Stuff like this really adds to the depth of appreciation I have for this game, and the amount of enjoyment I've got out of this expansion so far...without even owning or even seeing a real copy yet!

Tom Lehmann wrote:
Alien Cornucopia: ... We tried keying the VPs off produce powers, not production worlds, but this was awkward and we decided to increase the synergy with Merchant Guild.


What was awkward about keying VPs off produce powers? It's a shame this didn't work out, as it would've made a nice distinction from the other 6-devs that score for production worlds.

Tom Lehmann wrote:
Mining Mole Uplift Race: this was intended for RvI, as I wanted to portray a successful, peaceful Uplift race. However, during the "great Explore revision" to both RvI and TBoW, we decided we needed a low defense military world with mix and match Explore and added Blaster Runners to RvI, shifting MMUR to TBoW.


I recall you mentioning similar swaps in the past - Trade League being moved into the base game from TGS, perhaps? Are there other signifciant swaps/card tweaks between the base game and previous expansions you can talk about specifically (now that spoilers are a non-issue)?

Tom Lehmann wrote:
Terraforming Engineers: one of the signature "chrome" cards in this expansion and a royal pain to design...this approach allowed us to treat this power as separate from a player's settle action and to remove all the power interactions, which kept the rules down to a manageable length (they're still long for a RFTG power).


I'm really glad you got this to work, as it's is the card I'm most looking forward to playing with. Great idea to rule it not to be a Settle action. This small inconsistency with other Settle powers is a fine tradeoff for the rules complications it bypasses.

One last question...since this is about the secret history being revealed, can you shed any more light on the 3-cost/2-VP development that appears in this periodic table? I think Wei-Hwa mentioned that it was one of the cards reimplemented as worlds (like Uplift Overseers) when the balance of developments and various world types were adjusted. The completist in me can't stand not knowing at least what the name of the card was

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Thanks Tom for taking the time to write this, as well as the various expansion previews and such. Both as a player and as an amateur designer, it's been fascinating to see some of the history of how things developed, and the ideas behind the design, as well as just playing with the end product.

Tom Lehmann wrote:
On one hand, the card contests were great in allowing the game's fans a chance to suggest ideas for the game. On the other hand, they were a tremendous amount of work for Wei-Hwa and myself, as we had to sift through lots of entries, think about possible ways they could be revised to fit with the other expansion cards, and then had to test them in a fairly short period of time under deadline pressure.


Thank you for putting in that work for it! It's been really exciting to have 'my card' in the actual game, printed on a real card with proper graphic design and artwork. It's quite special to have had the opportunity to contribute to the design of this amazing game, and I'm sure the other winners and entrants feel similarly.
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Tom Lehmann
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scwont wrote:
Tom Lehmann wrote:
Alien Cornucopia: ... We tried keying the VPs off produce powers, not production worlds, but this was awkward and we decided to increase the synergy with Merchant Guild.

What was awkward about keying VPs off produce powers?

Rewarding windfall powers tended to make Alien Cornucopia synergize more with Terraforming Guild, rather than Merchant Guild, which is the reverse of what was needed for balance and I intended thematically.
Quote:
Are there other significant swaps/card tweaks between the base game and previous expansions you can talk about?

Most other card adjustments were due to increased deck sizes and consisted of either bringing cards forward or adding new cards to balance a set.
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Can you shed any more light on the 3-cost/2-VP development that appears in [a older version of the periodic table]?

Sorry, I suspect this card will make it into the second arc, so I don't wish to discuss it in detail at this point...
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
Universal Exports: this card was mostly just a "balance" card, designed to provide powers that were lacking. The title, while fitting the card's powers, is also a reference to James Bond. What can I say? This is one of the few RFTG cards that isn't story driven; I wasn't feeling very creative; and I was just trying to get the expansion out the door...

It fits perfectly well to me, i'd have never noticed anything amiss had you not told us!

borgemik wrote:
I love your constant hinting towards a future arc. I hope it will be published!

It's been confirmed by Tom himself. Bliss!
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Dave J McWeasely
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This thread rox.
It's like getting the internal chatter of a playtest, without having to do any work.
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Rob Neuhaus
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Tom Lehmann wrote:
GPB set off a debate among playtesters. If a player buys it for 5 cards, getting a prestige, and then immediately consumes this prestige for 3 cards, they've effectively placed a cost 2, 3 VP, Interstellar Bank with a card cycling power. Is this too good? However, this analysis ignores the fact that the Bank can be placed sooner and a player doing so can save cards in hand that would have to be spent to place the Brokers. Further, since prestige has other uses, spending it immediately for cards is not an automatic decision, so calling its cost just 2 cards overstates the case...


Your inequality is in the wrong direction. This understates the case. If the decision is not automatic, the player will is trying to optimize her position, and thus will tend to make the right choice. Thus, if the player decided not to cash in the prestige for three cards, she did this because they thought the option was less good than keeping the prestige, and hence she is better off. In general, adding options (possibly weak) can never harm the strength of the card in the hands of a rational player.

On the other hand, the point the argument for the over-poweredness assumes a consume to be leached will always happen, which is simply not always there. The point that it requires getting rid of a lot of (potentially good) cards to be played early is the biggest barrier to playing this card early.

I am surprised that you don't admit (or believe?) that IIF is still over-powered relative to dropships. As of right now, it's at least as good as a dropships with a mandatory one time spend one card for one prestige during dev. Considering how often I see PCSG's spend two cards for one prestige option exercised, it is usually no-brainer to spend one card for one prestige. That is,

Since often

2 card < 1 prestige

It follows that

1 card < 1 prestige

Thus,

dropships < dropships at 5 cost, 3 vp, +1 prestige < = IIF

where < has the meaning "the right hand side is preferred in most cases", say, with probability > 80%, and < = has the meaning "the right hand side is almost always at least as good as".
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Tom Lehmann
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Nonsense. This argument assumes that the cost structure is linear in RFTG, which is just wrong. Cost 5 developments compete with the fact that, for just one card more, the player could put out a 6-cost development worth significantly more (and many of them come with prestige as well).
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