Race for the Galaxy app.

I’ve mentioned previously that I don’t share the broader tabletop community’s love for Race for the Galaxy, a very popular deckbuilding game that ranks in the top 50 on BoardGameGeek, for two reasons – you need to know the deck rather well to play the game at even a competent level, and there’s one strategy (produce/consume x2) that is superior to others (military, trade). That strategy isn’t entirely dominant, but you are also somewhat restricted in your choice of strategy by the ‘home world’ card you’re dealt to start the game; if you get New Sparta, you almost have to use the military strategy, for example.

So it might surprise regular readers to hear me offer a strong recommendation for the Race for the Galaxy app ($6.99 on iTunes or Google Play) given what I’ve said before about the game itself. Those problems still hold true in the app, of course – this is a faithful implementation of the physical game. The app, however, is just about perfect in how it implements the game, with strong AI players (on the hard setting), and because it’s so fast to play, you can start to learn what’s in the deck a little faster to get yourself up to speed.

In Race for the Galaxy, players must build out their tableau of cards, representing worlds, ships, or people in their empire, using specific action types each turn – drawing cards, spending them to play cards, producing goods on cards that have that power, trading goods for more cards, or trading goods for victory points. Cards you play also carry victory point values of their own for the end of the game, and some award bonuses based on what else you have already played. You start with a home world card that, as I said above, kind of dictates your strategy for the game – some home worlds are ideal for trading, some for the military, some for the produce/consume strategy.

On a turn, each player chooses one of the available seven actions, and then the choices are all revealed simultaneously. Every player gets to take all of the actions chosen in that round, but you get an extra ability when taking the action you chose, such as building for one card less than the normal cost, or getting to keep two cards of the ones you draw instead of just one. Turns are fast, and players can usually do their turns at the same time. The game ends when one player has built (played) 12 cards to the table, or when the communal pool of victory point chips is exhausted.

The app is nearly perfect, and it helps reduce the time new players might spend learning what’s in the deck and what cards are useful (or even essential) for certain strategies – for example, if you are trying the military strategy, getting the cost-6 development card New Galactic Order, which gives you one victory point per unit of military strength on all your cards, is critical. The AI players move very quickly, and the actions chosen by each player are clearly visible twice, once at selection, then during the round in a bar on the left side of the screen that highlights the actions in use for the round. You can see the details on any card – the app uses the graphics from the physical game – with a double-tap, which is necessary to play it on a small screen, and you can see key details, like cards or VP tokens remaining, easily on the right side. You can also see how many cards your opponents have played and what goods they have available without expanding their tableaus, so you have ample warning if the game is approaching its end. There’s an undo button on the right-side menu for just about every action you can take, and the app requires your confirmation of certain actions, like discarding cards or trading multiple goods. The trading/consuming mechanism isn’t quite obvious – when that phase starts, cards with a trade or consume function will be highlighted, and you must click the card you wish to use, then drag the good(s) you wish to trade/consume off into the blank area next to your tableau.

I did mention above a few times that the produce/consume x2 strategy, where you alternate turns producing goods and selling them for victory points with bonuses, tends to be the optimal strategy, but the first time I beat two AI players in the app came via a military strategy. I started with New Sparta and blitzed my way through to twelve cards before either AI player could really get rolling with production and consumption:

You’re damn right I’m proud of that one. So it can be done, but it requires a bit of luck and leaves you no margin for error – which I think is more evidence that the hard AI players are up to snuff.

The app comes with the New Worlds mini-expansion, and the Rebel vs. Imperium and Gathering Storms are available as in-app purchases.

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