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Emile de Maat
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In Race for the Galaxy, each player attempts to build the most successful space empire.

Game Components
The game consists of 114 playing cards and 36 action cards.. The illustrations on the cards are good enough, but nothing special, in my opinion. Each playing card bears some icons that denote its cost, point value and special abilities. This is quite well done, and most cards can be interpreted correctly by looking at the icons. In some cases, however, confusion may arise, and the manual is needed to explain the exact meaning of the card.

In addition to the cards, the game comes with a number of cardboard victory chips. The value of a chip (one, five or ten) is marked by a number of stripes on the chip, and the higher chips are bigger as well. I’d have preferred to have numbers instead of the stripes, but there are no real problems with the chips as they are.

Finally, there are some player aids, which explain all the icons that appear on the cards and the all the actions. They are quite useful, but also appear to be the reason that the game comes in a larger box than it really needs.

Gameplay
The game is played in rounds. In each round, the players simultaneously choose an action to perform. After that, each action that has been chosen at least once is executed by all players. The player (or players) who selected the action gets a bonus which allows him to benefit more from the action.

The actions are:

Explore – All players draw a two cards from the stack and select one to keep.

Develop – All players may select a development card to develop. Each card has a cost, which a player must pay by discarding cards from his hand. The development card is placed in front of the player, and will provide him with some benefits.

Settle – All players may select a planet card to settle. Some planet cards have a cost that must be paid by discarding other cards. Other planets must be conquered, and may be placed for free provided that the player has sufficient military strength. Just like developments, planets will give some benefit to their owners.

Produce – All (empty) production planets will produce one good, which is marked by drawing a card from the stack and place it face-down on the planet.

Consume – All players use their Consume Powers (provided by developments and/or planets). This is the only action that is compulsory: if there is a player who selected Consume, than all players must perform this action. Consume Powers allow players to exchange their goods for Victory Points and/or cards.

The actions are performed in the order Explore, Develop, Settle, Consume and Produce.

After all actions have been completed, a new round starts. The game continuous until the end of a round in which:
a) a player has twelve of more planets and/or developments, or
b) all players combined have gained more than twelve victory points per player.

At the end of the game, total victory points are calculated. Each development or planet has a certain victory point value. The most expensive developments have a variable point value, which depends on how many specific other cards you have acquired.

The total point value of the planets and developments is added to the points gathered using the Consume actions. The player with the most victory points wins the game.

Powerful Combos
There are a lot of cards that work really well together. Following a certain strategy and getting the cards that support that strategy really helps. Of course, you shouldn’t forgo every action that doesn’t fit into your strategy, but building cards that don’t fit well enough will usually not pay off. Using explore actions to search through the deck can really help you here (one of the possible benefits of selecting the explore action yourself is that you get seven instead of two cards to choose from).

The expensive 6-cost developments, that have a variable point worth depending on the other cards you have collected often have strong bonuses that also help you achieve that goal. So, it can be worth it to set your goals early by building such a card early in the game. For example: the Galactic Imperium Development gives you points for each world you have conquered, but also gives you +4 Military Strength against Rebel worlds, making it far more easy to conquer them.

Each player also has a different starting planet, which will also nudge the player towards certain strategies (though you can easily pick another strategy if that matches your hand cards better).

The good combos have one possible disadvantage: if a player gets a good combo early, without having to invest in it, it can create a runaway leader, but this doesn’t happen that often, as it really requires a lot of luck.

Reverse reverse psychology
The game can get somewhat boring if each player just plays the action that they themselves want to execute. It gets a lot more interesting if you start paying attention to what other players are going to do. If you suspect some other player is going to Settle, and if you do not need the special bonus, you may be better off selecting some other action. Of course, this can lead to situations where two players both expect the other to take a certain action, resulting in that action not being picked at all.

Back to Earth: San Juan
If you know San Juan, you may think: “So, I produce goods by placing a card on my production planets, I exchange them for cards in my hand, and I can build one of those cards by discarding other cards equal to its costs? Isn’t this just San Juan in space?”

The basic mechanisms are indeed the same, and I think it would be more than fair to claim that Race for the Galaxy is a variant of San Juan. However, there are some differences that make Race for the Galaxy sufficiently, well, different.

First of all, the actions are selected simultaneously, with each player being able to select each action (and privilege). You’ll never be left with just to choices, neither of which appeals to you. But predicting other peoples choices also becomes harder until they have established a clear strategy.

Next, San Juan didn’t copy the Captain role from Puerto Rico. In Race for the Galaxy, it is present (as part of the consume action). As a result, Race for the Galaxy does not only support “building” strategies, but shipping strategies as well.
Something related: Race for the Galaxy does not have a trade action; instead, trading a good for cards is a bonus of selecting the Consume action (there are two; the other bonus allows you to gain double points). Some consume actions may also allow you to trade a good for cards (often in addition to a victory point), but this will usually net you far fewer cards.

But the most important difference, I think, is made by the powerful combos. San Juan has also got cards that work well together, but the effect of good card combinations is not nearly as strong as in this game. In Race for the Galaxy, hunting down the good cards is far more important.

Opinion
I really like Race for the Galaxy. As with most card based games, there’s a lot of luck involved, but as the game takes less than an hour, that doesn’t bother me to much. The fun part of the game is that there are many different strategies to attempt. If you are looking for a light game that still involves some thinking, I can really recommend this game.

Back to San Juan: if you disliked that, you’ll probably not like Race for the Galaxy either. If you did like San Juan, getting Race for the Galaxy will be a good choice. Even if you own San Juan already, I think Race for the Galaxy is different enough to provide a nice addition to your collection. At the moment, I feel that Race for the Galaxy will be the better choice of the two. However, that might just be because Race for the Galaxy is still new at the moment...
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Terry Simo
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Nice review - pretty much spelled out what the game is about. Might throw it in as a filler on one of my next orders.

T-Mo
 
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Koen
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I picked this one up at Essen, went through the rules and am eager to get it to the table. From your review I expect to like it even more than I already do. Great!
 
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James Hamilton
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I played a couple of games on the ferry home last night. Bothe were two player, the first was played with the preset starting hands and I had set 2. I don't know if I just used the starting set right, my oppoenent played his wrong, I got lucky or what but by halfway through the game the result was obvious. In the end I had almost as many VP chips as he had total score, I had 12 cards down including 2 6 developments, it was a VERY onesided game.

The second seemed closer but that time I lost badly with most of the hurt appearing in the last round. I need to play more as there is a lot going on but I have yet to have a close game.
 
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Sterling Babcock
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My understanding is that the reason the box is bigger is in order to accomodate the two planned expansions in the box. At least that is what I hear.
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Captain Spaulding
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Great review! I knew it was supposed to be like San Juan in space, but I didn't realize how similar. I'm wondering if I'll still want to play both, or if one will win out as the scratcher of that particular card-game itch.
 
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David desJardins
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Purple wrote:
Consume – All players use their Consume Powers (provided by developments and/or planets). This is the only action that is compulsory: if there is a player who selected Consume, than all players must perform this action.


I think this is not true: Explore and Produce are also compulsory. Although there's rarely a time that you would not want to Explore or Produce.
 
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Leo Zappa
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The expensive 6-cost developments, that have a variable point worth depending on the other cards you have collected often have strong bonuses that also help you achieve that goal. So, it can be worth it to set your goals early by building such a card early in the game. For example: theGalactic Imperium Development gives you points for each world you have conquered, but also gives you +4 Military Strength against Rebel worlds, making it far more easy to conquer them.

I see you reference military activity in this paragraph. How is combat represented in this game, if at all?
 
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Emile de Maat
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DaviddesJ wrote:
I think this is not true: Explore and Produce are also compulsory. Although there's rarely a time that you would not want to Explore or Produce.


That's true. However, you are allowed not to Explore or Produce, so it's not compulsory, even though you'll always choose to do so.

You may not want to consume, but you'll have to do so, even if you don't want to.
 
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Emile de Maat
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desertfox2004 wrote:
I see you reference military activity in this paragraph. How is combat represented in this game, if at all?


There is no real "combat", as such. Each player has a military strength, that starts at zero. Certain developments (Space Marines, for example) and certain planets will increase your military strength.

Military strength can be used to conquer planets. There's a certain class of planets that you cannot pay for in cards, but that must be conquered. They have a certain defensive value; if your military strength matches or exceeds that, you're allowed to take "build" that planet (without discarding any other cards).
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Leo Zappa
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Purple wrote:
desertfox2004 wrote:
I see you reference military activity in this paragraph. How is combat represented in this game, if at all?


There is no real "combat", as such. Each player has a military strength, that starts at zero. Certain developments (Space Marines, for example) and certain planets will increase your military strength.

Military strength can be used to conquer planets. There's a certain class of planets that you cannot pay for in cards, but that must be conquered. They have a certain defensive value; if your military strength matches or exceeds that, you're allowed to take "build" that planet (without discarding any other cards).


Thanks for the reply! Sounds interesting - I might have to try this one.
 
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David desJardins
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Purple wrote:
However, you are allowed not to Explore or Produce


This directly contradicts what I wrote, and I don't think it's true. But I don't have the rules in front of me.
 
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Emile de Maat
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DaviddesJ wrote:
This directly contradicts what I wrote, and I don't think it's true. But I don't have the rules in front of me.

I have to admit that it doesn't say anywhere explicitly in the rules; I seem to have inferred it from the fact that the rules do explicitly state that Consumption is mandatory (it doesn't say that for any other phase). However, it is mostly a non-issue, as said before, nobody will really want to skip production or explore.
 
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Bill Parker
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Purple wrote:
However, you are allowed not to Explore or Produce


This directly contradicts what I wrote, and I don't think it's true. But I don't have the rules in front of me.


I checked the rules and agree with DaviddesJ. The description of Explore (for example) says that Every player draws cards and keeps some. Further, if you have card powers which affect a phase then the use of those powers is also mandatory unless the card text specifically indicates otherwise.
 
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Bill Parker
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Purple wrote:
However, it is mostly a non-issue, as said before, nobody will really want to skip production or explore.


It becomes an issue as the game nears it end. The leader might otherwise choose to skip Exploration and Production in order to keep the deck from cycling one last time if he knows the only killer '6' cards which could make him lose are already safely in the discard pile.

Edit: fixed quoting
 
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Wei-Hwa Huang
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The general rule of thumb is, if it doesn't say "may", it is compulsory. There's extra emphasis on the compulsory nature in the section on Consume because beginning players are often confused by it, but make no mistake, Explore and Produce are just as compulsory. If it says "must", it means that we wanted to emphasize that the action is compulsory, because we discovered that new players would tend to forget them.

If you look at the (English edition) of the Turn Summary card, you can see that we were careful to put "may" in the Develop and Settle phases, but the word is not in the other phases. In fact, the Produce phase even mentions "must" to emphasize that production is mandatory, and the Trade bonus mentions "must" to emphasize that selling 1 good is also mandatory (this mostly has an effect when a player misjudges the end of the game and plays Consume: Trade on the last turn).

Note that even within Develop and Settle, many of the abilities and tasks are mandatory -- for example, if you settle a windfall world, you *must* put a windfall on it. If you have Replicant Robots (which gives a 2-card cost discount on placing a world), you *must* apply the discount, and so forth.

I can't claim that the rules cover everything thoroughly (for instance, are you allowed to discard a Colony Ship from your tableau even when you're not Settling a world?) but they should cover the great majority of cases; we worked pretty hard on them.

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Derek H
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T-Mo wrote:
Nice review - pretty much spelled out what the game is about. Might throw it in as a filler on one of my next orders.

Gotta love the rich folks, with their casual, off-hand mannner towards game buying! For me, this will be my next, single game order (second this year). Oh well.
 
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Wei-Hwa Huang
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Well, I used to buy something like 40 games a year. But once I started prototyping RftG, that number dropped down to something like 5. I found myself asking myself repeatedly, "Why am I spending money on X when I'm going to be playing RftG anyway?" It was a rather freaky feeling for a game collector to have.

Your mileage may vary.
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Roland Wood
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gamesbook wrote:
T-Mo wrote:
Nice review - pretty much spelled out what the game is about. Might throw it in as a filler on one of my next orders.

Gotta love the rich folks, with their casual, off-hand mannner towards game buying! For me, this will be my next, single game order (second this year). Oh well.


Yes, and I see from your Avatar that 2006 was a particularly tough year for you.
 
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