Race for the Galaxy is a card game where players build civilizations. Cards represent various worlds, technical developments, and social developments and are used in various ways to gain victory points.
At the beginning of each round, players select a phase in secret. This includes Explore, Develop, Settle, Consume, or Produce. Depending on the phase, different game actions can take place and players can earn points in various ways. All players can participate in any active phase, but the one who chose a specific phase gets special bonuses.
The player with the most victory points wins.
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Pro Great for quick gameplay sessions
A group of experienced players can play a game of Race for the Galaxy in 30-60 minutes easily. There are no complex boards or pieces to manage, and each game usually only lasts about 7-12 turns.
Pro Each round is different and exciting
At the start of every round, players each choose one action card from among a pool of their seven cards and place it face down on the table. After everyone has chosen, all the cards are flipped over and the round begins.
Any action chosen can be completed by all players. For example, if you choose to Explore, then everyone else may also explore on that turn. If your opponent chose to Produce, then you are also free to produce.
Since you never know what actions the people around you are going to choose for that turn, it's possible that any or all actions will come into play that round. This keeps things fresh and exciting on a per round basis as you never know (except for your own choice) which actions will be 100% in play.
Pro Many different ways to win
There are seven different actions that can be taken each turn such as Produce, Explore, Develop, etc. Each of these actions will then influence which cards you can play from your hand, and also the points you get from all active cards already in play. There are are an almost unlimited amount of possible scenarios and ways to accumulate the most points. No one strategy will ever overpower another thanks to so many random factors and paths to victory.
Pro Organized rule book makes locating rules convenient
The rules may be complex, but the rule book itself is incredibly well-organized and contains clear instructions, diagrams, and pictures. Each page contains a handy summary section with a quick overview of each rule. There's also a detailed glossary that contains the description for each and every symbol that appears on the game cards. When you inevitably need to look up anything mid-game, the information is at least easy to locate.
Pro High quality, durable cards
All the game cards feature high quality artwork of planets, ships, and various sci-fi technology. They are printed on durable cardboard that doesn't bend or tear easily. When properly used and stored, they should stay in good condition for a long time.
Pro Setup is fast and easy
There are no complex boards or game pieces to deal with. Each player simply chooses a home world and is given seven action cards and dealt some play cards. Then, victory tokens are placed in a pile (12 per player). Thanks to a small amount of pieces and very little preparation, this game can be setup and ready to play in under a minute.
Pro Deep and strategic
Race for the Galaxy is deep and offers plenty of room for customized strategies, so those who enjoy more advanced games should really enjoy it.
For example, you may put together an intelligent play by trying to predict which phase your opponents are going to choose on any given turn. If your opponent controls an area that allows them to trade resources for cards, they might choose the Trade Phase that turn. Since all players can participate in any other player's chosen phase, you may want to counterplay with the Settle Phase so you can join the area and take advantage of the trade too.
There are hundreds of scenarios like this. The amount of sheer strategy and paths to victory combined with the random nature of cards can create plenty of interesting and deep gameplay sessions.
Con Iconography can be difficult to learn
This game relies heavily on a variety of symbols to indicate what each card does. This can make it very difficult for new players that don't yet understand what each symbol means. These symbols range from different colored shapes like circles and diamonds to shapes with various icons inside them. It's not always intuitive what they mean, so expect to consult the rule book quite often while learning.
Con Strict, complex rules ruin some of the enjoyment
It can be really hard to enjoy the game when you're more focused on the rules than having fun. Having to consult the rule book several times per turn can get old after a while, and may turn new players off completely.
Con Steep learning curve
This is a difficult game to learn. Not only does each card contain symbols which need to be memorized, it has very complex rules in general. Each turn is defined by a very rigid and detailed ruleset.
Con Not much player interactivity
The cards you play have an influence what your opponent can and cannot do each turn, but it all feels so random and impersonal. There's little to no communication required among the group. Everyone just scrambles to get their points without really worrying too much about what the player sitting next to them is doing. This issue is fixed in the expansions, but those who only own the base game are out of luck.
Con Expansions are nearly mandatory
In order to get the most out of this game, buying the expansions is considered mandatory in the board gaming community. The gameplay itself doesn't quite feel complete without all the additional rules and cards. The base game is fully playable, but most of the focus on player interactivity and balance went into the expansions.
Con Different rules when playing with only 2 players
It is highly recommended to play with 3 or more players, but there is a rule set available for when only 2 players are available. However, this requires learning an entirely modified set of advanced rules. This can be especially complex and frustrating for people who are still struggling with the standard rules.