Race for the Galaxy is one of my favorite games. I love building my strategy and watching it flourish. I love the massive variability in each game. I love the costing system to play cards, and I hate how difficult it was to learn from the rule book. In addition, the amount of options available at a given time can be overwhelming for new players, but once you understand how everything works, it is incredibly rewarding to play and replay.
At the start of each turn, every player chooses 1 of 5 phases. Then, each of those chosen phases will happen in order (Explore, Develop, Settle, Consume, Produce). If no one chooses a specific phase for the turn, that phase is skipped. The phases allow players to draw cards, play cards, use goods, or gain goods.
Once all of the chosen phases have finished, this process repeats. The game ends when a player has 12+ cards in play in front of them or when there are no more victory point tokens available.
Phase Selection Cards
These cards have a roman numeral in the top left in a box. Each turn everyone simultaneously selects one to play. After the turn, all of these cards are returned to their owner’s hand. There are 7 per player (2 for Explore and 2 for Consume).
These cards are not “in your hand.” They do not count against your hand limit, and you can’t discard them.
Developments and Worlds
Every card you draw will either be a development or a world. Developments have diamonds in the top left corner, and worlds have circles in the top left corner. You can only play a development in the Develop phase, and you can only play a world in the Settle phase.
You generally pay for these cards by discarding other cards in your hand (you choose which cards to discard). The number to discard is listed in the diamond or circle in the top left. For example, to play the Replicant Robots in the picture above, you need to discard 4 other cards in your hand during the Develop phase. To play the Spice World, you need to discard 2 other cards during the Settle phase.
Each played card is worth a number of victory points equal to the number in the hexagon in the top left.
In addition, each card will usually have 1 or more abilities. These abilities help the person who played that card for the rest of the game. The abilities are phase specific.
How to Play (Phase by Phase)
At the start of each turn, you select a phase to happen that turn. While everyone will be able to utilize that phase, each player gets a bonus in the phase that they personally picked. If multiple people pick the same phase in a turn, that phase will still happen only once, but all players who picked it would get the bonus. If no one picks a certain phase in a turn, that phase does not happen that turn.
Explore (Draw Cards)
If any player chooses to Explore, all players will draw 2 cards and keep 1 (Draw 2 keep 1). The card that each player does not keep is discarded face down.
If you choose Explore, you have 2 choices of bonus:
You can draw 1 extra card and keep 1 extra card (Draw 3 keep 2) or
You can draw 5 extra cards (Draw 7 keep 1).
This phase is important because it gives you more potential cards to play, and it gives you more cards to discard. If you need 2 more cards to be able to play a 6-cost card, draw 3 keep 2 is an attractive choice. If you are looking for something specific, draw 7 keep 1 can be much more helpful.
Develop (Play a Development)
If any player chooses to Develop, all players may play a development card from their hand. The diamond in the top left is the card’s cost to play. To play a development, the player must discard a number of cards from their hand equal to the diamond on that card.
If you choose Develop, you discard one less card to play a development.
This phase is important because it lets you play cards that will help you throughout the game. Developments have the potential to help you in any phase.
They can let you draw or keep more cards in the Explore phase.
They can give you discounts or draw you cards in the Develop phase.
They can help you settle worlds or let you draw cards in the Settle phase.
They can give consume and trade powers in the Consume Phase
They can help you produce and draw cards in the Produce Phase.
In addition, the 6-cost developments can give a lot of points at the end of the game. For each of these cards, they award points for having certain types of cards in play at the end of the game.
Settle (Play a World)
If any player chooses to Settle, all players may play a world card from their hand. Worlds differ in how to pay for them, how they produce, and what they produce.
If you choose Settle, you draw a card if you play a world.
Worlds are either peacefully acquired or conquered
To play a world with a black solid number in the circle in the top left (peacefully acquire), a player discards cards the same way they would for a development.
To play a world with a red outlined number in the circle in the top left (conquer), a player needs that much military power.
Military power is gained by having developments and/or worlds with a red circled value in the III row (as depicted below). To conquer a 5-cost world, you need at least 5 military among all of your cards in play. You do not discard cards when conquering a planet. (The card Contact Specialist is an exception.)
Worlds are windfall worlds, production worlds, or non-producing worlds
Windfall worlds have white filled in circles and a halo around them. They start with a good on them when played. (To place a good on a world, take the top card of the deck and place it on the world face-down without looking.) Once the good is used, (discarded face down) it is difficult to replace.
Production worlds have solid color filled in circles. They do not start with a good. Instead, whenever there is a Produce phase, all production worlds without a good get a good.
Non-producing worlds have gray filled in circles, and never get a good.
There are 4 different types of goods that can be produced
Alien (yellow) goods are the least common and most valuable, then Genes (green), followed by Rare elements (brown), and most common/least valuable are Novelty goods (blue).
This phase is important because it lets you play cards that can generate a lot of points. Worlds generally provide goods in the Produce phase, provide consume powers in the Consume phase, and occasionally give military power in the Settle phase.
Consume/Trade (Get Points and/or Draw Cards)
If any player chooses to Consume, all players must consume as many of their goods as possible. Goods can only be consumed by a player if that player has consume powers from their developments and/or worlds.
If you choose Consume, you have 2 choices of bonus:
You Trade a good (discard it) to draw cards (5 cards for an Alien good, 4 for a Genes good, 3 for a Rare element good, and 2 for a Novelty good) or
You double the number of victory points you get while consuming.
Goods can be consumed with a large variety of consume powers. Consuming gives victory points and/or cards. Some consume powers can only consume goods of a certain type. (Due to this, it is possible to order the use of your consume powers in such a way that some goods can’t be consumed that turn.)
This phase is important because Trade lets you draw a lot of cards, and consuming goods is a powerful way to gain victory points.
Produce (Get goods)
If any player chooses to Produce, all players gain a good on every production world that does not currently have a good.
If you choose Produce, you may put a good on one of your windfall worlds, in addition to all of your production worlds.
This phase is important because it allows you to get more goods to Consume/Trade.
End of Turn
At the end of the turn, each player discards down to 10 cards in hand.
Each player starts with a homeworld and 6 cards. Each player picks 4 of the 6 cards to keep, discarding the other 2. The rules come with recommended starting hands of 4 cards for players’ first game.
A pool of victory point tokens is also needed, 12 victory points per player.
Finally, each player gets a large reference sheet. The reference sheet gives an overview of each phase, and it has explanations for all of the abilities on cards.
As mentioned, I love this game.
This was one of the hardest games for me to learn. It is hard to learn from the rules, but not quite as hard to teach to people with some gaming experience. The rules framework for this game itself is not that complicated, but in order to understand it, you need to understand how everything works together. In addition, the large number of cards and abilities can be very overwhelming. The trick is to be able to recognize which cards can be ignored for your strategy. Once you have identified these cards, you can set them aside to be used exclusively for discarding.
I love the idea of paying for cards by discarding other cards, and as I game designer I plan on utilizing it. This cost system allows for a massive, diverse card pool and keeps every card relevant. In addition, you don’t need to draw any special cards to play your “real” cards.
The number of strategies are plentiful, but they are also slightly informed by your starting homeworld. Do you go heavy military and focus on conquering high point worlds? Do you get a few production worlds and a couple solid consume powers and churn out victory point tokens? Do you focus on alien worlds or rare element worlds? Or do you do a combination of these or something entirely different (6-cost Development cards)?
Simultaneous phase selection and essentially simultaneous turns are excellent in this game. They keep the game moving quickly, and they add a level of deduction to the game. For instance, I see that my opponent is probably going to Produce on their turn, so I’m going to choose Settle and put out a production world before that. Or, I have two cards in hand I want to play, but I need someone to Explore to be able to effectively use them this turn. You won’t always be right, but when you are, it is incredibly satisfying.
Limited player interaction also really works well in this game. I have played a pretty good number of games, and I have never felt the need to interfere with my opponent’s plans. Instead, I get to just focus on making what I am doing the best possible strategy. There is some interaction with the phase deduction mentioned above, but you primarily focus on your own strategy.
This game also works well as a two-player game. I enjoy the variant where each player chooses 2 phases.
If you like high strategy games, don’t mind learning the rules, and have like-minded people to play with, I highly recommend this game. I also have the first of many expansions, and I enjoy what I have used from it.