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This time out, the Scales of Funstice weigh the great and not-so-great aspects of Race for the Galaxy, a tableau-building card game that many players name as their favourite game of all time. That’s high praise, even for space! What does Ryan think?

(click to view transcript)

Race for the Galaxy is a 2-4 player role-taking tableau-building sci fi card game from 2007 by designer Tom Lehmann. i’m Ryan from Nights Around a Table. Let’s find the fun! Fun: Your cards are your money. Back when i first started buying board games, every single card game seemed to have some sort of gimmick to sell it. So Bohnanza had a gimmick where you weren’t able to rearrange your cards once you picked up your hand. And Hanabi had a gimmick where you actually flip your cards around and you weren’t able to look at them – you only had to look at the back of your cards, and look at the front of everybody else’s cards. So Race for the Galaxy seemed like another game that had one of these gimmicks. But it works SO WELL! It’s really exciting to get your hand, and crushing to then realize you can’t build everything in it! You’re gonna have to make some sacrifices. You’re gonna have to kill your babies, as they say. So, are these cards going to be fodder, or cash, to build the things you really wanna buy? Do you lead off with cheap things, or do you go save up for expensive things? It leads to some really challenging decision-making that’ll put a smile on your face. Not fun: the iconography. And learning the game in general. Race for the Galaxy is almost a game that doesn’t want you to learn it! i remember getting the game many years ago for my birthday. A friend of mine heard it was a great game. So we all sat down to play it for the first time. Now we’ve played board games before – we weren’t novices – but when we got Race for the Galaxy out on the table, we were… mystified! So, you know, as usual, you open up the instruction booklet, and we became even more mystified! It’s not an instruction booklet that invites reading, in my opinion! It’s very very grey, and very bland, and very dry, and extremely dense, and wordy, and i just had a lot of trouble getting through it. That’s actually why i made a How to Play Race for the Galaxy video. If you’re just learning how to play, definitely check that out, because it’s the video that i wish i had when i was trying it. And it’s weird to look back on the game now that i know how to play it, because i think “Well, what the heck is the problem?” And i’m sure Tom Lehmann and his playtesters all feel the same way. It’s not that hard to learn at all. It is! This is definitely a game where the learning curve, for some bizarre reason, is inexplicably steep, despite it not being that much of a complicated game. But as i’ll say later, i think getting over that learning curve is worth it. Fun: role taking. i was first introduced to role taking probably around Citadels or Puerto Rico. Role taking games are ones where there are a series of roles, or positions, that you can assume, and they give you benefits and perks, and there’s a limited supply. And then everyone takes turns choosing one. Now, Race for the Galaxy does this a little bit differently than something like Puerto Rico. What it does is there are a series of roles that you can take, and everybody can take the same role at the same time if they want to. It’s sort of like a secret ballot thing. And that leads – not to people stepping on each others’ toes – but what you want is for a certain role to be called so that you can do the thing, but you also want another role to be called. So do you call role A, hoping that another player will choose role B and you’ll get to do that thing as well, or do you choose role B because role A isn’t all that important? It’s almost like – i don’t want to say it’s like a social deduction game, but you almost have to get in the heads of the other players and sort of figure out which role they’re going to choose, and how you can springboard off of that to benefit yourself the most. Race for the Galaxy is primarily a multiplayer solitaire game, where the thing that you’re doing doesn’t really impact what everybody else is doing, and there’s not a lot of player interaction, but that overlapping simultaneous role taking is a neat way for all players to be involved, without completely getting in each others’ faces. Not fun: branching expansions. Now, this might not be a fair point because i’m not talking about the base game on its own, but i think it’s worth mentioning. The first few expansions to Race for the Galaxy are compatible- you can combine them together – and it just adds new methods of scoring, new things to think about… but then they released another expansion, and the idea was that now the expansions branch, so these three expansions are on one branch, but if you want to play this expansion, throw all that stuff in the garbage…? i guess? And… and incorporate this one on its own (?) And… i don’t like that! If you’re going to build an expansion, make me an expansion that i can play with all the other expansions that i’ve bought! To say nothing of the fact that actually going through the cards and peeling out the ones that don’t belong to this new branched expansion is a bit of a pain in the butt! And then, what if the next night, you decide you wanna play the first three again? It’s not straightforward, it’s not simple, it’s not convenient to the player, and i think that if you’ve got new ideas for a game like that, as Tom Lehmann has done with other titles, just make it a different game. Branching expansions no good. Fun: multiple endings. This is one of those games that reminds me a little bit of 7 Wonders Duel, where you can be on one track, and you can be focusing on a strategy, but if somebody sort of edges you out in another category, it puts you at risk, and if you’re not simultaneously, sort of diversifying your interests, you could find yourself out of luck. So in Race for the Galaxy, the game ends either when somebody has built the twelfth card in their tableau, or when somebody has done enough shipping to earn enough points to drain the entire point supply. Now, that doesn’t mean that the person who triggered either of those conditions necessarily wins. That just ends the game, and then – you know – you’re gonna finish out the round, and tally up the points to actually see who’s won. But it’s neat that you can be gunning for that twelfth card in your tableau, and – you know – be a few cards away from it, and not realize that everybody’s draining that points pool, and they’re gonna end the game before your grand plan is accomplished! Not fun: the artwork. To an extent. There are a few different artists on Race for the Galaxy, so i can’t call anybody in particular out by name. But i quite like the planets – they look fine. The spaceships, they’re cool. All the tech stuff is great, but… some of those aliens and some of those humanoids… the figure drawing is… is… NOT VERY GOOD AT ALL. It reminds me of pulp art. Not the covers. A lot of pulp book covers are great, but more like… deep on – you know – page 27 of a pulp magazine. Just… it’s somebody who might need to spend a little bit more time in the life drawing room to figure out – you know – what humans actually look like! Fun: it’s a game that matures as you do. i feel that Race for the Galaxy is a game that grows with you. The more you play it, the better you get, and the more it gives to you. So when you’re first starting to play, like i said, the symbology gets a little bit confusing, and you could have a few bumps, a few rocky starts, and then as you play more and more, you start really getting the hang of it, and you start learning the deck a little bit better, and then at higher level play, you know everything that’s in the deck, so that you can use more of those Explore +5 actions to start digging through the deck and really fishing out the cards that you need to build your engine and complete your strategy. It’s definitely something that, like fine wine… uh… or me… get better with age. Not fun: Uh… shuffling? i dunno. i just don’t like shuffling cards? So let’s find the fun in Race for the Galaxy, where fun is represented by a ray gun, and not fun is represented by Reagan. (clatter of the brass scale) Race for the Galaxy is fun!! (cheering that is abruptly cut off) It’s fun in the way that riding a bike is eventually fun. At first, it’s not fun at all to keep falling off, and have to wear a helmet and knee pads, and to have to have training wheels, and your parents pushing you the entire time, you feel like a big dork… but eventually, those training wheels come off, you’re riding with confidence, and you’re undeniably having fun! And then later, you’re in the Tour de France! In the hobbyist board game space, we’ve got something called Cult of the New, where everyone’s just salivating over the next big game to come in, but i think we should really pay attention to the game that people constantly name their favourite game of all time. Games that go back maybe 10-15 years, and Race for the Galaxy is absolutely one of those games. i hear all the time from people how much the enjoy this game. i really love this game too! And for a game to be talked about now going on twelve years, in a hobby that’s all about what’s shiny and on Kickstarter, i think is a pretty great achievement! Race for the Galaxy is definitely worth your time to check out. It’s definitely worth your time to learn – let me help you if you’re having a bit of a roadblock. We’ll get those training wheels off together. Definitely check out Race for the Galaxy! (ominous creaking) (typewriter sounds) Did you just watch that whole thing? Oh – hey! To 100% this video, click the badge to subscribe, and then click the bell to get notifications when i’ve got new stuff!

Get Your Own Copy of Race for the Galaxy

Tableau building is one of my favourite board game mechanics, and role-taking ain’t too shabby either. Worlds collide in Race for the Galaxy, which cleverly dispenses with money tokens and turns the cards themselves into money. If you’d like to add this fast-playing space race game to your own collection, use the Amazon link below and i’ll receive a small commission.

Race for the Galaxy


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