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Race for the Galaxy is a card game in which players build up a tableau of planets and developments in front of them to build the most impressive civilisation. At the end of the game, the players with the most victory points is the winner. Points are scored for building planets and developments (a varying number printed on the card) and for trading goods from resource producing planets. Visually the card art is well done and quite appealing, with different species and technologies being represented nicely.
The game starts with each player in possession of one planet (all different, each with its own attributes) and a hand of four cards. These cards are used both as things to construct and as the means of paying for them. This often means that you have to decide between keeping a card to build later on in the game, or using it pay to build something immediately. Each card has its building cost printed on it, obviously the better cards cost more.
A game turn consists of different phases, however they do not all happen each turn. At the beginning of each round, players secretly select one of the seven roles corresponding to the phases. Only those phases are used on that turn, in a defined order. However, all the players can do the roles chosen, but the player actually choosing the role gets a benefit.
The roles/phases are:
1. Explore - get some new cards from the draw deck - the player choosing this role gets more cards or a greater choice.
2. Develop - build a development card (choosing player builds at a discount)
3. Settle - build a planet - either by paying for it with cards or conquering it through military strength. Each planet specifies what is possible, it is always one or the other, so you can't buy a high value military planet with cards, nor conquer an ordinary resource planet with your military)
4. Consume - trade goods from planets for victory points (the choosing player sells one good to get extra cards instead)
5. Produce goods on resource generating planets - this also uses cards from the draw deck, upside down so you don't know what they are.
The end of the game can can be triggered in two ways - either the stock of victory point chips obtained from trading goods is exhausted, or one player has 12 cards in their tableau. Points are then added up from cards on the table, victory point chips and bonuses for the most expensive (6 cost) developments.
This game is not for the faint-hearted. There are 109 cards representing worlds and developments, and most of them have a special ability or two - nothing major in each case but it means you have to be quite aware of what's on the table. To play well you also have to have a good idea of what going on not just in your tableau but also in other peoples. Because you can use the roles other players select, working out what other people might do and factoring this into your own choices is very important.
As well as the cost and victory point value, each card has icons to show what its particular bonuses or special effects are - with accompanying text for some special cases. These icons can be somewhat bewildering to start with, and combining this with the non-intuitive method of deciding which phases happen, how different sorts of planets are built and various other complications means that it has a steep learning curve.
However, once this learning curve has been negotiated, the game plays very quickly - 15 minutes for 2 players, a little more for 3 or 4. It soon becomes second nature to see what the possibilities are for the cards you've got in hand in the context of your and your opponents' tableaus. There are two main strategies - either build up your military strength and conquer planets as quickly as you can, or produce and trade goods for victory points. However it is interesting that within those two broad approaches, there are many variations, or combinations, and when the six point developments are taken into account, some quite obscure ways to amass points.
I have played this game over a hundred times over the last few years and it is still fun and fresh (though freshened by the addition of a couple of the expansions to the game also available). Because it is quick, if you lose you can always demand a rematch, and it is fun enough to make this an attractive option for the victor too.
One criticism that is sometimes leveled is that it is 'multiplayer solitaire', with little interaction between the players. Although at first it seems like this, and there certainly isn't any direct conflict (you can't use your vast military might to capture an enemy resource producing planet for example, or event take over one of their military planets), there is more interaction than at first appears, it is just a bit more subtle than you might be used to.
The title of the game is Race for the Galaxy, and although it doesn't feel like a traditional race, if you think out it, it is a race to finish the game when you have the most victory points - timing is often key, postponing or advancing the game end can radically effect who wins.
Although the price seems relatively high for a box with 150 cards and some cardboard tokens, in terms of value for money it can't be beaten.