Home > review > my first few games of Race for the Galaxy — a comparison between it and San Juan

my first few games of Race for the Galaxy — a comparison between it and San Juan

December 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I bought Race for the Galaxy at a local game store as it was going out of business this last summer, but I only recently got around to trying it. I had read that it was a little on the fussy side, that it bore more than a passing resemblance to San Juan, and that the iconography on the cards was confusing – so I wasn’t what you would call champing at the bit.

My wife and I broke it out this last week for the first time, and we found the rules fairly easy to follow (due in no small part to our familiarity with San Juan). We got the basic gist of the game, understood the various turn phases and how to set it up for two, and set off.

I will say that the game is a little fussy as you’re learning it, the icons are confusing the first few times through, and the game does bear more than a passing resemblance to San Juan. What’s more, there are any number of things that aren’t adequately explained in the rules: what are the little symbols (on some of the cards) between the cost of the card and its worth in victory points? Why are some worlds white and some worlds grey? And so on. (There are over 300 forum threads on BGG regarding rules questions, and the unofficial FAQ for the game is just under 7 pages long.)

Don’t let these annoyances put you off. The game really is fairly straightforward once you get the hang of it, it flows well, and it doesn’t take forever to play. Also, there’s an extremely nice open-source computer version of the game (written by Keldon Jones) to help you get the hang of it.

So what do I think of the game? It’s a little too early for me to say for sure, but I like it. It’s a bigger game than San Juan, it has more going on. For one thing, players choose their roles for the turn simultaneously, so there isn’t any guarantee that more than one role will be performed. There are six different kinds of worlds (producing, non-producing, and windfall versions of both military and regular worlds) and four different kinds of goods that can be produced (blue, brown, green, and yellow). Distinctions are made between building settlements and building developments, and military worlds can only be conquered (not bought with cards). Trading works a little differently, as you can trade for victory point chips as well as for cards. And finally, the cards themselves are more complex, with a great many more interactions and interconnections between them.

In spite of all the additional details, RftG if anything feels more intuitive once you get the hang of it. It flows more smoothly, somehow, and I like how players choose their roles simultaneously. The icons are easy to digest at a glance once you get your head around them, and because the game is bigger, it feels as though you have a greater variety of reasonable choices on any given turn.

I’m not saying RftG is for everyone, and I’m not saying it’s a better game than San Juan – I think the two games appeal to different people. RftG is NOT a gateway game (most of my friends would run screaming), but there’s a lot more to chew on once you get into it.

There’s a reason RftG is currently ranked 13th on BGG. :-)

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