Race for the Galaxy is PC version of the app for the popular tabletop card game. It’s a game about using various cards and actions in order to create a powerful empire by settling worlds and developing new technologies. The tabletop game has been around for years and has received numerous expansions. When the app version came out last year, it was met with mostly high praise. This version adds some more bells and whistles, as well as lets players pick up a couple of expansions right out of the gate if they want to pay more than the measly seven bucks the game costs by itself. It’s time to see how this digital version plays out.
The menus system is clean and clearly carried over from the portable market. You use the cursor to press large, clear buttons to get the game started. Assuming you only have the base game, your options for starting a game are fairly limited. You can play online or against the AI . Two to four players can get it on the action, with three different levels of AI difficulty. In a two player game, you can toggle “experienced play”, which allows you to play with two actions a turn instead of one. If you do pick up the other expansions, you can toggle them on and off easily as well. However, this review will only cover the base game from here on out.
In a game of Race, you are given a starting planet and a hand of six cards. The planet and cards you get are random, but can help you figure out an early strategy. You’ll get right into the thick of things by having to discard down to four before the game can even begin.
Each turn, players will chose one (or two for that experienced option I mentioned) of seven different actions. These are: draw five but keep one, draw three but only keep two, place a development card, place a world card, trade goods for cards, trade goods for points, or produce goods on the correct planets. At first, the game seems woefully complicated. The in game tutorial doesn’t help much either. However, once you figure out how the actions work and what the various symbols mean, it becomes really easy to understand. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this gameplay system is that all the player will use all of the actions selected by each player, and those actions not selected will simply not happen that turn. That means goods can only be traded as long as one player selected that option.
Development and planet cards are placed in front of you as part of your “empire”. Each card has an associated cost that must be paid for by discarding the appropriate number of cards. A planet with the number two written on it requires two cards to be discarded. If you can’t discard the correct number of cards, you simply can’t play that card. The big difference between planets and developments is that planets can usually produce goods of some sort, while developments can not. However, developments usually come with nifty bonuses such as discounting the cost of future cards, giving you trading options, or even boosting how many cards you draw during that phase. Each of these cards also is worth a number of victory points indicated by a number to the right of the cost. Depending on your strategy, placing both planets and development cards are a good idea. There are also some cards that give you military strength, and there a number of special planets that can only be placed in your empire if you meet the required strength. Beyond placing these planets (which are usually worth a lot of victory points of have useful abilities), military strength does nothing. This isn’t the kind of game where you fight your opponent. You’re literally just racing them.
Let’s talk about goods. There are a few different color types of goods, but really they can all be traded at some point. Any good can be traded for cards, but certain colors are worth more. If you want to trade goods for victory points, you’ll need planets or developments in your empire that offer you trade abilities. These often require specific good colors to activate. For example, one trade power might require you to trade one blue good for one victory point. Goods can only be produced on planets, and usually only produced if someone takes the produce action. The exemption are special “windfall” planets that produce goods when they come into play. While useful for immediate needs, windfall planets don’t produce extra goods later on. You get the bonus for playing the card and then it does nothing else. Goods, as you can imagine, are a major part of your strategy, both in terms of what cards you play and what your focus will be.
There are two ways to end the game. Firstly, the game will end if anyone has a full empire at the end of the round. This will equal ten cards. Secondly, there is a pile of victory tokens that is depleted as people trade goods. If this runs out, the game ends at the end of the round. Even if the pile runs out, you can still earn tokens that turn, so you don’t have to worry about getting screwed out of some points because the AI got to the tokens first. Your total score will be your tokens plus the victory points listed on the cards in your empire. The highest score wins.
As players of the physical game know, this is fun, strategical game with high replayability. While at times it can feel like you’re just playing a game of solitaire, experienced players can follow what their opponent is doing and make tactical decisions in response. There are also plenty of different strategies you can employ. You can go the military route, which allows you to play cards without having to discard others, you can invest in high trade values for goods, or you can simply try to fill out your empire so fast that no one can catch up.
When it comes to this digital version, it’s pretty great. The game streamlines a lot of the game, doing calculations for you, moving through phases quickly, and letting you focus solely on the strategy. It takes out the guesswork. The interface is smooth and responsive, and the AI is capable of putting up a good fight. Best of all, you can breeze through game is less than ten minutes, and you don’t have to clean up. Online play returns, and you can set up a game to work so that players can play the game off an on, up to over a week if need be. You can also play with mobile users, and connect your accounts to get access to your stats and expansions.
Presentation-wise, the game keeps things neat and clean. The menus are bare, the background is plain, and the animations are sparse. It’s really just cards being moved about on the screen. The music is satisfactory science fiction fare, but it blends into the background to the point where you’ll hardly notice it. A few more aesthetic options would have made the game a bit more livelier, but this function over form style ends up working quite well.
Short Attention Span Summary
Race for the Galaxy is a literal, streamlined version of the popular tabletop game. It strips out the setup, clean up, and upkeep associated with cards, and gives you a clean digital field to play with. This game is ideal for experienced players who want to get online games going or get in more time without having to find a group. It’s also a great tool for learning the game, even if the tutorial is a bit too obtuse. This can easily replace or supplement the physical version in your collection. If you like strategy games and/or card games, this is certainly worth a look.