Review: Race for the Galaxy05 Jul 2017 0
Review: Race for the Galaxy
Released 27 Jun 2017
Unfortunately, this is not a game about high speed space drag racing, and nor is it a Race-for-Berlin-type high stakes galactic campaign. Instead, Race for the Galaxy is the video game adaption of the card game of the same name. Of course, the stakes are still high as you try to build a space empire before your opponent(s) does.
The plot is... space? FTL travel and all the other good things that hard science fiction grumps wouldn't want us to have are possible. You're some unnamed power wying for control with one-to-three other powers. To win the game, you have accumulate the most victory points by gaining planets, improving your infrastructure and engaging in trade. The game ends when one of the players finishes his or her (or xblat'ts, you know how freaky those alien genders get) empire by having the required amount of cards on the table or hoards all of the victory tokens.
The game doesn't have factions and you don't really get to choose anything at the start – although having expansion packs bought and enabled will give you a lot more options of what planet will be randomly deal to you. At the start of every round, all players secretly choose what actions they desire to carry out – one action in the normal game and two in two-player advanced mode. The actions are called phases and they're carried out in a fixed sequence. Exploration (draw cards) always goes before expansion (build upgrades) and so on. The trick is that all of the players get to act on all of the selected phases, but only the player who chose the phase gets the phase bonus. For example, Exploration lets you draw two cards and keep one, but only the player who chose Exploration phase can use the bonus of both drawing and keeping one additional card.
The takeaway here is that your actions not only benefit you, but also give at least some benefit to the enemy. Sure, not all phases are immediately beneficial – Settle phase is useless if you don't have any planets or the cards to pay for them – but card drawing or recource generation can be an unexpected windfall. You were going to do it anyways, so why not enjoy the smaller benefits without having to waste your own action? On the other hand, maybe you need those phase bonuses because you're flying by the seat of your space pants and you need maximum efficiency to carry out your plans.
However, your strategy is still partially determined by your starting world. It might have powerful bonuses for resource production or trading, or even for consuming resources to get more cards. Meanwhile, a military world will give your military power points, which shoehorn you into a military route. The difference between regular economy and the military one is that you don't pay cards to settle military worlds, you only need your power... which is not expended. You can then use the surplus cards to pay for various upgrades. On the other hand, military worlds aren't really suited for producing and consuming resources, making it harder to be flush with hcards.
Infrastructure upgrades deserve some additional focus. They usually serve as a modifiers to your empire and getting good ones early one can make the game a lot different. If you have one that makes upgrades 1 card cheaper, then building 2 card-upgrades when you have chosen the Expansion phase makes them free. Some harder-to-use upgrades can be life-changing. The easiest to discuss are Colony ship (discard card to settle a planet for free) and New Battle Tactics (+3 to you power for next turn only), which do a lot to let you blitz the expensive stuff. A 6 card planet isn't cheap even with some bonuses, so that's a great way to get ahead on the cheap. And those expensive planets can up your victory point tracker a whole lot.
Victory point pool is the other way to finish the match: exhaust the pool and the game ends. You gain these points in the consumption phase, and some cards help improve that. In fact, for the more economically minded players, there's a myriad of worlds with various resource consumption powers, allowing you to do it more efficiency, get additional card in addition to victory points and vice versa. You also get cards that, once deployed, modify the end game point calculation – for you.
One thing to understand here is that Race for the Galaxy is a very rally-car-racing-the-ghost-of-opponent kind of competition. You can hardly influence the opponent in a negative way, outside of luring him into doing something stupid with phase choices, building your empire faster than him or her or xblat't, or draining the victory point pool. So it's a game for people who don't like to be in direct competition with other players. I guess the effect of competition is less pronounced when you're looking at the screen instead of your friend's mug, but some people do care about these things.
There's not a lot to say about the games technical side. The multiplayer match maker – which lets you set up invites that last either 30 minutes or a whole week – is strange, but you can always direct connect... or play against up to 3 A.I. players. And even the Easy one won't be too easy, at least not for people new to the game.
Meanwhile, Race for the Galaxy is a decent looking game. It's not groundbreakingly beautiful, being very much a digital recreation of the game, but it's a lot prettier than some more or less official game adaptations out there. I still remember deciding that Android: Netrunner wasn't for me because it was run on a VASSAL-esque Windows Visual Basic monstrocity. The audio side is OK, I guess.
Race for the Galaxy is a faithful recreation of the tabletop original. Sure, you can't play it at a pub, but neither do you need to leave home, lay out the physical cards and do all the other boring meat-space stuff. Is this gaming in the space age?