It’s May the Fourth, that famous Star Wars day. Not having any Star Wars games, Jobby does the best he can by soloing Race for the Galaxy…
Like San Juan but in Space
I bought Race for the Galaxy (RftG to it’s friends) a couple of years ago after a friend showed it to me. It’s a great game by designer Thomas Lehmann. It is criticised for having too many icons for players to learn and alas, I’ve never been able to get any of my regular gaming friends interested. Luckily, I discovered that an expansion was released that gives a person a chance to play this solo. Now I’ve got a copy I gave this a go. Here’s how I got on.
This game has a lot of similarities to another game called San Juan. In each game players are developing a tableau of cards to score points; in San Juan these are buildings and monuments. In RftG, these cards are planets and stellar developments representing players developing a galactic empire.
The interesting bit is that cards can also be used to pay for laying other cards, so they become money. Also, cards can represent goods that a planet produces and can be sold to put more cards into the player’s hand. This gives the player more options for their tableau as well as the cards for increasing the tableau.
It’s a strange concept to explain but most players get it pretty quickly when they see it in action.
Playing Against the Robot
The expansion that gives the solo play rules is called The Gathering Storm. It is actually very clever in what it does.
Firstly, there is a play mat that shows what the robot will do in a given situation. Because each player (including the robot) starts the game with a different starting world there a counters that modify the playmat to represent how that starting world would affect the robot’s play! There’s nine starting worlds, five in the base set and another four in the expansion. With the robot’s playmat modified differently by each one this leads to a lot of variation in how the robot plays each game.
In the photo there are a couple of dice that represent what the robot is going to do. The ‘*’ means the robot will match the right-most action that the player took. There is also a robot symbol that means the robot will take a certain action depending on what its starting world was. Again, this leads to different play styles for different robots.
The robots tableau and hand are replaced by two stacks of cards. Face up is its tableau but because the robot isn’t using the abilities of cards they can just be in a pile. Face down is it’s hand which it uses to place developments and planets by flipping cards over until it reaches the right type of card or runs out.
All of this makes the robot play very quickly. When playing against it I really do feel like I’m racing for the galaxy!
So I’ve played a few games against the robot now and it really is very interesting how different it can play. I’ve had games where it ramps up it’s economy and scores loads of VP chips causing the game to end because they’ve run out. Equally, I’ve had games where it doesn’t seem interested in that and it colonises loads of planets very quickly bringing about the end game as it hits 12 cards in its tableau.
You’ll note that each time I’ve played, the robot has caused the game to end. I think this is my being taught that Race for the Galaxy is, in fact, a Race and I’ve always played too slowly! Hopefully I will learn and improve. It goes without saying that the robot has beaten me every time!
The bright side of this is that I’m much more confident about the rules and will now be able to explain the game much better to my gaming friends. With a bit of luck this means I will be able to get more friends to play!
I’m sure I’ll be playing this again so I’ll post a more about how my games went then.