Tom Lehmann


No. of Players:
2 - 4 (5)

G@mebox Star



Unoffical "Buck Rogers" Expansion

See below!

The cardgame Race for the Galaxy was given some Hype even before the game was released, and when I first saw the relatively small gamebox in a gamestore I was thinking whether there had been some kind of a hoax because of the rather managable contents of the gamebox. Thus, the game consists of a deck of approximately 80 playing cards, four player decks of 7 action cards and tokens for victory points, and these rather sparse parts made me interested to see whether Race for the Galaxy indeed is one of the rare gems in the gaming world where few components still make up a considerable playing depth.

The game can be played by two to four players, and the players participate in a competition for victory points by settling new planets, building developments and generating new victory points by consumption. At the beginning of the game each player receives one Homeworld which is drawn from a set of four different Homeworlds (all unused Homeworlds are shuffled into the playing deck), and then each player receives six random cards from the playing deck from which he may chose four to form his starting hand.

Similar to Andreas Seyfarth's San Juan, cards in Race for the Galaxy have several uses. When held on a player's hand, these cards show the planets and developments which may be settled/built by a player, but at the same time the cards on hand are also a player's "money" since the costs for playing a card always must be paid by discarding a number of cards equal to the required settling/building costs which a player wants to play. Thus, the players are constantly required to make a choice which cards they should play now or later, and which cards they could use to pay for playing other cards. Finally, cards from the deck also may be placed face-down on planets with production capacity, and if placed on a planet such a card counts as a resource which may be traded in for new cards or victory points during the course of the game.


A round of play always commences with the players secretly choosing their actions for the upcoming round. For this reason each player possesses a deck of seven different action cards which are attributed to five different phases. Each player chooses one of the cards in order to perform this action in the coming round, but in most cases this will not be the only action the player can perform. Thus, all player's are allowed to perform the actions initiated by any player, with the restriction that the player(s) who has chosen the action will get an additional bonus. All action cards are revealed simultaneously, and then the actions will be performed following the normal, fixed order of phases.

  1. The round begins with the Exploration phase, and if an Exploration phase takes place each player is allowed to draw two new cards from the pile and keep one of these cards for his hand. Two different action cards exist which may be used to initiate the Exploration phase, and the players of these cards either get one additional card to chose from plus one additional card to keep, or five additional cards to chose from in order to have a broader choice.
  2. Next comes the Development phase and this phase may be used by the players to play a development card from their hand. As indicated, a player who wants to play a development must discard cards from his hand equal to the value of the development card as payment, but a player who has chosen the Development phase as his action gets a special rebate of one point on the costs of the development he plays.
  3. The players deal with the following Settlement phase in the same manner, paying the costs of the planet card they want to play. A slight change here is the fact that no rebate is given for players choosing this action when paying for the planet, but instead these players get one new card from the deck after the planet has been paid for. It should be noted at this point that some planets have a capacity to bring their owners new resources, and such planets either are production planets which produce a new resource in the Production phase, or Windfall planets which generate one resource immediately when the planet is played. Thus, one face-down card from the deck is placed upon a Windfall planet directly after placing it in front of the player.
  4. Resources are used in the Consumption phase. Here the different special abilities of certain planets and developments come to bear, since such attributes may allow the consumption of resources. If the Consumption phase takes place (because at least one player has chosen one of the two action cards correlating to the Consumption phase), all players are required to use as many of the consumption abilities as possible to turn available resources into Victory Points. As indicated, two different action cards may be used to trigger the consumption phase, and whereas one of these cards doubles the Victory points generated by its player in this phase, the other card effects a special trade which happens before the resources are consumed. Four different types of resources may be produced depending on a player's planets (luxury goods, rare minerals, genes and alien artefacts), and one of the player's resources may be sold to bring the player new cards from the deck. For this trade all kinds of resources have different values and bring the player a different amount of new hand-cards, whereas the value of a resource as a consumption good usually is determined by a player's consumtion abilities and not by the type of the resource.
  5. Finally, the round may end with a Production phase, and in this phase each player may place one new resource card onto each production planet, provided the planet does not already contain a resource. As a bonus, players who have chosen the production action card are not only allowed to produce on their production planets, but these players also are allowed to generate a new resource on one of their Windfall planets.

Since Race for the Galaxy is a game about the generation of clever card combinations, it is rather important for the players to keep the different abilities of each card in mind and to fine-tune their strategy in order to make the best from the cards they draw. There exist lots of nice combinations which result from the interaction of the cards a player has played, and this interaction is essential in order to have a chance to win. Most important here are the developments available at a cost of "6", since these developments will generate additional Victory points for the players out of certain types of cards. Thus, there exist such developments bringing additional Victory points for each of a player's planets producing alien artefacts ("Alien Reserach Center"), for planets and developments concerned with the mining of rare minerals ("Mining Union"), for each of a player's developments ("Galactic Federation") etc. Also, many cards feature an military strength value, and apart from the fact that the settling of certain planets may only be done the military way (The planet is played in the Settlement phase without any costs, provided the player has enough military strength), such military values and worlds also may be turned into additional Victory points by different developments ("Galactic Empire" etc.)

The game ends either when a player has played his 12th card or when a specific amount of Victory points has been generated via consumption, and usually the players will be high-pressed to keep up with this "Race into Space". Thus, the players constantly will be forced to make compromises and to adapt their plans, since they may have their hand full of nice, expensive cards which they will never get a chance to play because of the game's considerably high pace.

While it is true that Race for the Galaxy to a very high degree means that each player tries to enhance his own production chain on a rather solitary level, there still remains some interaction in the game which is mostly caused by keeping an eye on the cards played by the other players. Thus, it is important not to be surprised by the upcoming of the game's end (nothing is more unnerving than having a good "cost 6" development which cannot be played anymore), and it is also quite advisable to make guesses at the action cards which might be chosen by the other players. While a player never can rely on the others to chose a specific action, good players adjust their cards in a way to make use of phases possibly initiated by the other players, and this preparation might well pay of in terms of gaining a valuable advantage of playing time which may be used to finish the game earlier and keep the others from generating too many Victory points.

At the beginning, Race for the Galaxy may be a bit unnerving for new players because all card abilities are displayed by symbols, and because of the high degree of variation in the game the players first must learn to cope with the load of different symbols available. However, there is also a small textblock on the cards, and so there is no need to cross-reference each and every symbol, and in addition players seem to get familiar with the different cards rather fast once they have taken the decision to overcome this initial hurdle. Furthermore, the game is made easier for newcomers by the fact that a fixed starting hand of four cards is associated with each Homeworld, and while advanced players enjoy the challenge of getting a four-cards starting hand out of six random cards, the fixed four cards is a perfect advantage to give new players a chance when playing with players who know the game.

To sum it up, Race for the Galaxy is astonishing due to a number of factors. First off, the game has an incredibly high addiction value because the players are thirsty to explore the different kinds of combinations available in the game. This is furthered by the short playing time, since players who are familiar with the game can keep the playing time well below an hour, and to my mind this is outstanding for a game with such depth and playing options. It should be also mentioned that, although there is some dependence on luck, the players never feel lost or helpless for the whole duration of the game. There is always a possibility to follow one strategy or another, and since enough different strategies may lead to victory the players keep up the competitive spirit so that the game in most cases remains a tight race right till the end. The game even plays rather well with just two players, since the hand of action cards available to each player is enlarged to nine cards in the two player game (a second development card and a second settlement card are added). In this variant each player choses two action cards each round, and this slight rule adjustment is simply perfect to enjoy very tight two-player games of Race for the Galaxy at an increased strategic level. Finally, the general good impression even is kept up by the high quality of the graphic artwork (all cards with individual art, nearly no doubles), and so I have to acknowledge that the Hype for Race for the Galaxy really was justified. Bravo!


Can a good game get better? In case of Race for the Galaxy I thought it quite hard to enhance the game even more, although the fact that it is a cardgame with some slight similarities to collectible card games might hint at different new card decks which may be added for more variety. Thus, I waited with tension for the The Gathering Storm expansion for Race for the Galaxy, a game which quickly entered my all-times-favourites list in the previous months.

Most important, The Gathering Storm equips the owner of Race for the Galaxy with a fifth set of action cards, so that now up to five players may join the race into space. Veterans of the basic game might have announced some reservations here because the deck of the basic game might seem a bit too restricted for five participating players, but I kept my hopes up because the expansion comes with approximately 20 new cards which will be shuffled into the main deck in order to balance the participation of a fifth player.

In part, these new cards show new developments and planets, but a special impact is made by the new "cost 6" developments. Coupled with four new Homeworlds which give the players a much broader choice of available starting positions, these new developments allow new strategies which had not really paid off with the playing materials of just the basic game. Thus, Windfall planets give additional Victory points to the player with the "Terraforming League", whereas some new alien cards make the pursuance of an alien-strategy much easier. Astonishingly, the deck of cards remains balanced and I could not discern a considerable increase of luck, and I think this is mainly because the new cards coming with The Gathering Storm fit nicely in with all cards from the basic game. Victory points now can be gathered by new and old strategies alike, but all is founded on different uses of the same cards so that a player does not need to rely on his luck to draw specific cards of the expansion in order to follow any of the new strategies.

Further playing depth may be added through a set of inconspicuous looking tokens which are used for sub-ordinate targets. Some of these targets will be randomly revealed at the beginning of a game, and each of these targets will be assigned to the player who first fulfils the condition printed on the target. Such condition may be to become the first player who has generated a certain amount of Victory points through consumption, to be the first player with a certain number of planets etc. The availability of these targets puts the players up to the additional dilemma whether they should stubbornly follow their strategies, or whether a slight detour should be taken in order to gain a target and the associated Victory points. Although the effect of the targets differs from game to game (sometimes they are just collected en route), the playing style of Race for the Galaxy veterans will be put up to considerable new challenges since the impact of the new targets needs to be taken into consideration. However, as a sideline it should also be noted that the appearance of the target tokens is not really in line with the rest of the graphically outstanding playing material. The purist symbols on plain yellow tokens are a somewhat surprising downgrade in comparison to the high standard of the game.

This purist impression is also held up by the materials which have been included to play Race for the Galaxy as a solitaire-game. However, here the symbolism fits prefectly, since the whole mechanism for solo-play is quite intricate so that a good overview is necessary. The solo variant itself is a matter of taste, but I have taken quite a liking in it because it is a quite interesting alternative for Race for the Galaxy fans. The player's opponent is called "Robot", and as a matter of fact this name is quite fitting because he does not use the playing cards in the ordinary sense. The whole playing mechanism which the solo-variant bases on a simulation of a real game, meaning that it is constructed to feel like a real game for the human player, whereas the Robot collects cards for victory points on a rather mechanical base.

Solo play can be initiated on three levels of difficulty (differing by the amount of fixed victory points available for the Robot), but already the easiest level is a tough challenge because the Robot tends to put up a considerable pace, reacting to nearly all development or settlement actions of the player by adding a card to his own display. However, pace is not the only difference to a game between humans, since the solo-variant also is a bit more depending on luck than the normal game. Here the player has to draw matching cards rather quick in order to stand a chance against the quickly growing Robot Empire, Still, overall the game against the Robot is a very nice pastime, and it certainly is an interesting addition to the expansion.


Despite the fact that the small box of The Gathering Storm contains an even smaller amount of playing materials I consider the whole expansion a great addition to the game. The additional cards for the main deck are a must-have to get more strategic options, and the materials for a fifth player allow the enjoyment of Race for the Galaxy with a greater audience. As for the target markers, their use is optional but they definitely add another tactic angle to the game which gives the players a new challenge, and this also applies to the Solo-variant since the playing style once again must be adapted in order to stand a chance in this tough competition. A great add-on in a small box!!!

G@mebox Special: Inofficial "Buck Rogers" expansion!

I have come up with a few ideas for a bit more interactive play. I hope these cards will shorten the waiting time for the new RACE FOR THE GALAXY expansion!!!

Note: "Race for the Galaxy" is under Copyright by Rio Grande Games, USA.

This expansion is completely unofficial and in no way endorsed by Rio Grande Games.

All Rights Reserved to their respective owners.

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany