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The Long View: Race for the Galaxy

13 December 2012 11 Comments

The Long View

In this episode of The Long View, I’m joined by Eric Brosius and Joe Huber as we dive into Race for the Galaxy. Joe and Eric share their insights about this game based on over 1,500 combined plays of this modern classic. Along the way we discuss how best to teach Race to new players, expansion bloat, and the game system as a whole. Thanks to www.2d6.org for generously hosting and support of The Long View, a proud member of The Dice Tower Network. Thanks to our sponsor www.gamesurplus.com, your premier choice for online game shopping, and thanks, as always, to you for listening!

~ Geof Gambill

The Long View Podcast

 

 

 

 

Geof Gambill
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The Long View: Race for the Galaxy, 4.6 out of 5 based on 5 ratings

11 Comments »

  • Michael V K said:

    Race for the galaxy is one of my favorite card games, great job!

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  • Geof Gambill (author) said:

    Thanks Michael!

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  • Alex said:

    I find Takeovers a thematically compelling and richly strategic dimension to the game.

    I see Eric’s comments about needing to be more watchful in a military arms race wonderfully thematic. It does take more time, but it adds tension. I would say the significant time add-on comes from when people want to use the superfluous components to track military when usually there are only a few variables worth considering.

    Further, I disagree the third, or fourth (even fifth, sixth!) players benefit from two other players engaging in arms race. If anything, in this game you benefit from another player taking a similar strategy as they will call phases useful to you. Clearly you have to do it better than they will, but there is plenty of skill in managing this.

    Ultimately I agree with Eric and Joe in many ways. RFTG has become something more like an ecosystem where you can pick and choose from various metrics, like goals, takeovers, prestige, etc. I prefer Takeovers, no goals, no Brink of War.

    Thanks for the podcast.

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  • Geof Gambill (author) said:

    Hi Alex!

    Thanks for the comments. I can’t speak for the others, but the thing I don’t like about the rules for takeover is the notion that you can avoid it by having no military. This seems unthematic to me. Just because you declare yourself a pacifist does not mean that you will never be attacked! In fact, I would think it would encorage it in many ways in that the cost of attacking someone with no military vs. someone who has robust forces would seem to be an obvious choice. This is a nice way to avoid an arms race in the game (think of 7 wonders with no science), but it just does not sit right with me. It implies that bullies will leave the weak alone. Sadly, in my experience and in history, this is rarely the case.

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  • Alex said:

    In the context of the world of RFTG it suits. The Galaxy of RFTG is not ‘at war’ as such, but moving to war, but even then only between Imperium and Rebels. Others stay out of the conflict, and profit from that, perhaps by producing commercial goods or scientific advancements. Even through the complexities of Brink, the galaxy is only just reaching a state of open and hostile warfare, but even then, it doesn’t feel pandemic.

    One of the things I like about the theme of the game is that a lot of the diplomacy and military aspects of traditional space opera designs are abstracted through the card play. In this sense, it’s always been a game I consider laterally as ‘economic’ and ‘civ-lite’.

    The theme of RFTG is criminally underrated. The art is very, very good and Rio Grande takes their time to put out a polished and consistent product. I think sometimes people expect the space theme to be more like 4X, when the exploratory and civilising angles of the genre are more prominent.

    I think this makes the game more interesting, and like your guests, have been enthralled for thousands of games.

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  • Tom Lehmann said:

    Hi Geof,

    Tom Lehmann here. Thanks for the in-depth podcast on Race for the Galaxy. I’d like to address several points.

    First, Joe is incorrect when he says that RFTG and the first 2 expansions were designed together. They weren’t. RFTG was designed in May 2004, initially played on Memorial Day weekend, and mostly finished by the end of June. I designed the first expansion in Winter 2004 and the second expansion in Fall 2005.

    Each expansion was a separate project, where I set myself different design goals. After both expansions were done, we went back and did some minor tweaks to the base game before publication. We also had 4 spare card “slots”, so 4 cards were moved from these expansions to the base game.

    Rio Grande Games accepted the game in 2005 and tested the prototype at various conventions. Customer feedback was positive but focused on two issues: A) beginning players perceived the military “path” as being too strong and thought the non-military start worlds were too weak and B) some players wanted directed military interaction in the game.

    To address the first point, we adjusted the pre-set start hands so that they all had a military option. For the second, we renewed our work on the Takeover game as part of the second expansion (it had always been planned to be part of it).

    In designing each RFTG expansion, I try to provide both “more variety” and a “new play experience”.

    Thus, the first expansion provides 4 new start worlds, 18 more cards, and two new experiences: a solitaire game and goals. The second one provides 3 new start worlds, 41 more cards, and the takeover game; while the third provides 4 new start worlds, 44 new cards, search, and prestige.

    For each expansion, you can find players (see the comments on BGG) who feel it takes the system too far and “bloats it” and while others state that it “completes” RFTG for them. Each player needs to find his or her own stopping point.

    The one point that I — any many others — will make is that players shouldn’t move on to later expansions until they feel they have exhausted the current one. If you found that the base game provided you with, say, 50 satisfying plays, then each expansion will roughly double that (providing 100, 200, and 400 more plays, say). Hurrying through the expansions is likely to simply frustrate players. Don’t do this.

    Far from “my heart not being in it”, I care quite strongly for the Takeover game. In most conquest games, your economy is just the means, never the end — you first explore and build up your economy (and tech, in some games), then build your fleets and armies, and finally go to war. The strategic decision of “guns vs. butter” is completely absent.

    In RFTG, you decide whether to pursue an economic path, development path, or a military path to victory. But, in the base game, there is no risk involved in going military. In the Takeover game, players now have an “arms race” aspect to content with if they choose to go military — a bigger military player may come along and conquer their worlds.

    Yes, you can duck this arms race to a greater or lesser degree — avoiding positive military, rebel military worlds, and all Imperium cards — or even limiting yourself to completely non-military paths. That’s a strategic decision which you, the player, get to make in the Takeover game.

    This all plays out thematically in a galaxy that’s edging towards full-out war, not one embroiled in war (and, remember, even in WW I and II, some nations were able to remain neutral). In the Brink of War expansion, even non-military players have to work about takeovers — the Imperium Invasion Fleet, when combined with Casus Belli, can potentially take over any system.

    I’m well aware that many gamers do not share my enthusiasm for this “guns vs butter” strategic situation. Broadly speaking, players who like economic games often don’t like direct confrontation; while players who like conquest games don’t like being constrained by attack restrictions, a Pan-Galactic Security Council, Rebel Pacts, and alternative peaceful victory conditions. So, I made Takeovers optional.

    I also had to balance the game for all player configurations, from 2-6 players. Many players who only play 2PA found that Takeovers rarely happened in Rebel vs Imperium and concluded they “weren’t worth the overhead”. In Rebel vs Imperium, takeovers tend to shine with 4+ players (and, with 6 players, using the military slides provided is quite helpful as you now have to track 5 other empires).

    In Brink of War, there are many more and different types of takeover powers. Combined with the inability to completely duck takeovers, this means that takeovers are frequently meaningful even in 2P games.

    Prestige (in Brink of War) adds still another layer and challenge. Yes, takeovers, goals, and prestige combine to turn the original 20 minute game into a much more complex 30-40 minute game. For some gamers, such as Joe, that’s not what they’re looking for. For others, the additional layers of strategy gives them a lot to think about and makes RFTG even more engaging. Your mileage may vary.

    Alien Artifacts takes the system back to its roots. Again, I offer both more variety, with an emphasis on simplicity and reining in “power creep”, plus a new play experience, mapping the Alien Orb and claiming artifacts. For many players, the Orb will be more than what they want — which is why it is completely optional. Others will find it an interesting “change of pace” which they will sometimes play, depending on their mood. Since it is modular, it is easy to add or remove (just don’t play with the separate orb deck, pieces, and counters when you don’t want it).

    One of the great advantages of Race for the Galaxy is that it is modular. You can choose the version that best suits your group’s play style. If you enjoy multiple versions, you can play different sets — as Eric does — depending on who you are gaming with. You can — as Joe has done — create your own “Director’s Cut” to match your tastes. Using the blank cards from the first expansion, you can even create your own custom expansion or download fan versions from BGG. Enjoy!

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  • Geof Gambill (author) said:

    Wow! Thanks for the response to the episode Tom! I’m always a little geeked out when a designer posts a response. I am, first and foremost, a fan of games, so hearing from a designer is like a movie fan hearing from Robert De Niro (“..a little bit, a little bit”) :)

    Seriously though, thanks for the time you took for such a detailed peek into your thoughts and their development for this game. I’ve learned quite a bit from reading your post, and I’d like to respond to a few things.

    First, I never really thought of it, but I agree that adding in too many expansions too quickly may be a problem. That’s precisely what I did, and it may account for my general feeling of being “lost” much of the time in that I had not mastered the base game in any way before I just started grabbing more, more, more! I think this adds to the “go fish” feeling I had when playing because of a lack of familiarity with the overarching strategies that Joe and Eric were talking about, which left me searching for what to do. This is akin to many boardgames that also offer a plethora of options that can sometimes lead to a feeling of confusion or paralysis over what the best thing to do may be. If I had it to do all over again (which I do since I reacquired the base game after talking with Joe and Eric), I would stick with just the base game until I feel I have a good grasp of it and the strategies available before moving on, and I feel after talking with Joe and Eric and reading your post that this is good advice for all players looking to get into Race for the Galaxy.

    I also enjoy and appreciate the modular nature of the game, which is why, towards the end, we starting talking about it as a system, rather than simply a single game. It seems as though you agree with this idea based on your post, and I agree that it is a strength that you can mix and match the expansions that you feel are best for you or your play group.

    It had not occurred to me the difficulties you may have had as a designer trying to keep the game balanced for a wide variety of player counts and game system selections. How can you do this when you have no control over what players may choose to use in their game session? That seems to me to be quite the challenge. You have to balance for just RftG,or RftG + RvI, or RftG + GS + BoW, and RftG + GS + RvI etc., etc. This would seem to be, for me as a non-designer, an almost impossible task. Other games like Carcassonne, Alhambra, Fresco etc. have tried this as well with varying degrees of success. As I search my mind, I have to admit that your expansions seem much more flexible and balanced when you start adding them in and mixing them up. This is not always the case with the other games referenced above. Is there anything you can point to, or “tricks of the trade” that you used to handle these possibilities?

    I have to admit that most all of my plays were two player, which may explain, as you mention, why I felt the military takeover options felt forced and wonky. I still feel that avoiding military should not exempt you from being attacked, but that’s just my opinion. You mention that some countries (i.e. Switzerland, Portugal etc.) were able to stay out of WWII, but there are also examples such as Belgium where that idea did not work out so well. That being said, however, I also agree, that from a design standpoint as you so beautifully explained it, if there was no way to avoid military conflict, the game would quickly become solely dominated by military, and degenerate into an arms race that would make the game repetitive. This is my main complaint about Core Worlds in that everyone’s ultimate goal is always conquest. Race offers much more variety which, I believe, also accounts for its longevity.

    Thanks again for taking the time to post your thoughts here! It’s been a treat getting to read this. You’ve given me a lot to consider as I continue to explore the base game and anticipate the coming of the alien orb!

    All the best,

    Geof

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  • Kevin Wenzel said:

    Geof, Maybe it is time to start asking the designers to join the conversation for the show!

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  • Warren said:

    Generally speaking, I am a fan of the LongView podcast as it really takes the board game conversation in a direction that aligns with my own thoughts and questions about the hobby. Specifically speaking, I am a huge fan of the LongView when my favorite games are featured!! To paraphrase what Jesse Dean said in one of his recent blog posts, you can have the best reviews in the world but it’s the game that gets the masses coming in. Please keep up the great work.

    @ Tom – thanks for chiming in. I particularly liked how you addressed the part about “your heart not being in it.” I think I gasped out loud when I heard that comment on the show!

    I am very much interested in learning which cards are in the customized deck that Joe plays with. It sounds like his variant would be a nice middle of the road to incorporate a choice of start worlds while keeping the deck “shuffleable”.

    99% of my plays are solitaire against the robot, not counting plays on Keldon’s AI.

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  • Jman said:

    Another great episode and this time about one of my all time favorite games.

    One place I’d like to add some thoughts is about how the games uses cards for the action selection. I find this makes the game harder to play because players have to handle two types of cards that do not interact with each other. When teaching new players, this was always a problem and often would cause confusion about hand limits when the wrong cards were put in each place.

    In my copy, I’ve replaced the action selection cards with a secret board for each player. There is also a large board in the middle of the table and when actions are revealed, players put matching tokens into the middle board to show their selection. This idea is fleshed out with illustrations on some BGG forums. I like that a player can hold their cards in their hand while choosing their “action” option. Secondly, they can see all the options that will take place in the round on one central board. There are some people who even created magnetic action selectors which seems even the next step better to me.

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  • Joe Huber said:

    First, Joe is incorrect when he says that RFTG and the first 2 expansions were designed together. They weren’t.

    D’oh. My apologies, Tom – what I meant, if not what I said, was that the first 2 expansions were designed and playtested with the base game prior to publication. (I do recall that the original, text-only cards did not include many of the cards from the first expansion, at least initially.)

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