The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Race for the Galaxy — Opening & Homeworlds Thoughts

In Race, players build an economic engine early then convert to a Victory Point engine later on. So, the game’s “Opening” means building your economic engine.

A good engine provides you more cards than your opponent. Earning three cards a turn when everyone else is earning three cards is parity, not an advantage. Each of the roles (except produce) provides a one card advantage (or more) if you take the ‘greedy’ privilege (Explore +1/+1, Consume/Trade). Trading provides 2 (or more) but takes a setup turn (either producing or settling a windfall world). Your early goal is to build a phase where you get an extra card or two beyond the privilege (since everyone will get roughly one card a turn from privileges). There are several ways to do this:

  1. Get discounts. If you get Public Works (1 card rebate after playing a development), or Investment Credits (-1 cost to developments), or Interstellar Bank (draw one card a turn during development), or Galactic Federation (-2 cost to developments, VPs for each development), each time you play a development you’ll save a card (beyond the privilege). If you get all four of them, then you can play 4 cost developments for free and draw two cards! Similarly, Mining Robots, (-1 cost to Rare worlds) Terraforming Robots (1 card rebate after settling/conquering a world) and the like provide discounts on the Settle phase.

  2. Conquer Planets. Military is a ‘discount in a can’ strategy. Other planets cost a few cards, but military planets just require having the strength. A pure military strategy will often switch between settling and exploring (or selling windfalls).

  3. Trading. Getting a big trade (say, a Gene world, or even just a trading bonus) means you’ll earn 4 cards every two turns (on the produce/trade cycle). That compares nicely with two rebates (for settling) or discounts (for developing) or extra exploration cards. If you are going for the trade strategy, then ideally you’ll have another production world with a consume power. Then you’ll get your 4 trade cards plus another card, or VP (or both!).

  4. Producing. Several worlds (and developments) give you cards for producing. In this case, trading or consumption is a nice way to clear out the worlds so that they can produce again.

Apart from building your engine, pay attention to your opponents. If someone’s tableau indicates that they are stacking Develop discounts, an Interstellar Bank will be a great play. “Leeching” off of other players actions, and getting a “Leech-proof” action leads to success. (Wei-Hwa Huang calls this the “Pioneer strategy vs. Leech Strategy” question. So in the opening, strike new ground and build a solid advantage in one area or leech off your opponents.

Some Principles:

  1. Play the role that gives you the best advantage.

  2. Don’t get tunnel vision. Your opening hand may point towards the opposite direction your homeworld indicates. Don’t force your plan onto the cards you draw.

  3. Getting a turn (or two) behind on building isn’t as painful as it is in San Juan (or Puerto Rico). One good card (or combination of two cards) can easily beat 3 (or 4) random cheap cards.

  4. Be flexible. A good opening hand not only answers “What role will I take?” but “What will I do based on what others select?” For example, if you Settle, does your world change if there is a develop phase? Or a Consume phase? If you can handle all the combinations gracefully, you are flexible. If you are praying that the combinations work out perfectly (dropping a windfall and hoping nobody consumes), you lack flexibility. It may still be the right play, but just be aware of the risks you run. If you aren’t exactly sure what role to take, consider calling Explore +1/+1, and then deciding after you see a few more cards.

  5. Watch the other players. Your first few games will be overwhelming, but after a few games (when you start being able to recognize the individual cards) try and guess what each person will call, even if you don’t base your strategy on it. It’s good practice.

  6. If you are going for a big produce/consume (x2) advantage, you’ll want roughly equal numbers of goods and consumption powers, and you’ll want a lot of them. This may bias you towards cards that provide a lesser discount and a consumption power (for example, Public Works instead of Investment Credits). If you are never going to be a big producer or consumer, you may want to bias in the other direction).

Choosing your opening hand:

You get to keep four cards out of six. Unless you get an amazing draw, you can just focus on the two best cards, and the others will be used for money. When you look at your opening choice, you should know what you first turn (and likely second turn) role. If you plan on calling Develop or Settle, consider the impact of having an extra card in your hand (if someone explores). You may want to keep one ‘slightly too expensive’ card to play in that case.

You’ll probably want to keep 1 development and 1 production/windfall world, unless your hand has a definite play. If you get absolutely nothing of use, you’ll have to take explore +1/+1 (or +5) and hope. The one exception would be a hand just loaded for one phase. Like Investment Credit, Interstellar Bank, Public Works and Galactic Federation. More realistically, having 2 or 3 of those would indicate a pioneer strategy, and just keeping the best leech cards for the remainder.

Keeping a six you intend to use for early play is risky, unless it provides a good source of income/discounts during the game. For the first few turns cards should be played or used as payment, not set aside for later. If you do get a six you can’t use, just chuck it and hope to get it back (if it will help you in the endgame).

The Specific Homeworlds:

#0 – Old Earth (2 VP, Trade +1, Consume up to two goods for 1 VP each)

This is a tough homeworld for new players. In the long term, you’ll want several cheap production worlds (since you can consume two goods) and you start with a VP advantage, but a poor good economic situation. Given your long term situation, you have a slight bias towards settling early on. You’d like to Settle a windfall and then trade it (turn 2), but if Alpha Centauri is in the game, you’ll encounter a consume phase on turn one (when he trades). So having a cheap windfall (in case nobody consumes on turn one) and production world (in case they do) is a nice opening hand.

Update — (Tom’s input, see below for details) — I perhaps overstated the risk of having your windfall consumed. Don’t worry too much if your windfall gets consumed for a VP. You can just produce(T2) and trade (T3).

#1 – Epsilon Eridani (1 VP, +1 Military, Consume a good for 1VP + 1 Card)
Epsilon Eridani starts with some military prowess, and the best consumption ability of the homeworlds. You don’t mind if someone forces you to consume a cheap windfall. You only get 1 card instead of 2-3 for trading, but saved a tempo (by leeching). An early production world is even better (if a bit slower). If you can get a world that gives a card when it produces, then you can try to break into a big consume/produce role (multiple worlds with production/consumption, and still earn a few cards) or easily leech, as required.

#2 – Alpha Centauri (Rare Windfall, 0 VP, -1 cost/+1 Military for rare worlds)
Alpha Centauri often Trades on turn one. This really bothers Old Earth (and mildly annoys Eridani). The discount (or military bonus) for rare worlds is nice. Alpha Centauri starts quickly, and needs to build quickly to match the end game push from worlds with consume powers (not to mention the 1-2 VP handicap). If you don’t have a great play on Turn 1, you always have the trade. (And if you never play a consume power, you can hold off on trading. But you’ll likely need some eventually). That leaves you with 7 cards on Turn 2 (more if anyone explores), enough to build any powerful card.

Because of this possibility, Alpha Centauri can keep a powerful expensive card, planning on dropping it on Turn 2. Galactic Federation, Merchant League, any Alien (non-Military) World, and the like are all reasonable to keep in the opening hand.

#3 – New Sparta (1VP, + 2 Military Rating)
New Sparta usually just boosts military and looks for victims. It’s an easy strategy, but requires drawing a good cards. Once the military is high enough, even a small cardflow will often turn up planets ripe for conquest. The big rebel planets earn as many VPs as the OK to Good 6-cost developments, and several military worlds are windfalls, which you can trade. However, getting a single consumption power can often ruin your timing in that regard. If you can a production world and and consumption power early on, it may be worthwhile to play it to leech. New Vinland (a novelty world that consumes for two cards) is particularly nice to put against a produce/consumer.

If you are playing against New Sparta, expect
frequent Settle (and Explore) calls, so consider setting up leeching strategies on those. Another fine counter is to drop a Contact Specialist and buy out a few important military worlds to trim the deck out. Several of them provide military bonuses that New Sparta would like, or other abilities (such as the 3-cost Rebel world that draws one card each production).

#4 — Earth’s Lost Colony (Novelty World, 1 VP, Consume a good for 1 VP)
Earth’s Lost Colony is the complete package – it produces and consumes. If you can get a second world (even a windfall), you can call produce and consume/trade for 3 cards every two turns (assuming a rare world) and a bonus VP. If that’s the hand you’ve been dealt; definitely consider playing it, depending on which other world(s) oppose you. New Sparta gains nothing from this; Epsilon Eridani will shed crocodile tears.

If you are playing against Earth’s Lost Colony and aiming for a big produce/consume strategy, remember that he’ll leech reasonably well. Not as powerfully as Eridani (once he settles a production world), but right from the start.

Update: Be sure to read the comments.

Update: I’ve copied this thread (and Tom’s initial comment) to BGG.

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Written by taogaming

November 25, 2007 at 6:53 pm

4 Responses

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  1. A point to consider with Alpha Centauri is that if you trade on turn 1, then you can often Produce on turn 2 without helping the other players that much (except Earth’s Lost Colony), since many players will not have production worlds on the table and, thus, can’t leech.

    This point generalizes. Old Earth can settle a windfall on turn 1 and have it’s good consumed away for a VP by Alpha Centauri’s Consume:Trade and then call Produce on turn 2, selling the new good for +1 (due Old Earth’s trade power) on turn 3.

    I’ve seen a lot of Old Earth players stall because they keep waiting for a turn to settle a windfall world without having the good being consumed away (on turn 1, Alpha Centauri sells; on turn 2, New Sparta sells (having settled a windfall world on turn 1, since they have no consumption and knew their good won’t be consumed away); Alpha Centauri sells *again* on turn 3 (if they produced on turn 2), etc.

    As Old Earth, one approach is to call Explore +1 on turn 1 (to get some extra cards in hand) and put down that windfall world if New Sparta or Epsilon Eridani settles. Call Produce on turn 2, using the extra cards from your turn 1 Explore to put down something if a Develop or Settle is called. That way, you don’t fall behind while you’re setting up your Trade to get cards into your hand.

    Tom Lehmann

    November 26, 2007 at 1:32 am

  2. Curious: since ties are resolved in “homeworld order” (in the few cases it might matter), is that a tacit acknowledgement of the difficulty of each homeworld? The one that doesn’t fit, in my limited experience, is Epsilon Eridani, which just seems generally good and flexible, and least vulnerable to a stall. Earth’s Lost Colony is too, but that little bit of military from EE can be very helpful if you run into those cheapie military windfall worlds (and I always seem to).

    Jon Waddington

    November 30, 2007 at 10:11 am

  3. Curious: since ties are resolved in “homeworld order” (in the few cases it might matter), is that a tacit acknowledgement of the difficulty of each homeworld? The one that doesn’t fit, in my limited experience, is Epsilon Eridani, which just seems generally good and flexible, and least vulnerable to a stall. Earth’s Lost Colony is too, but that little bit of military from EE can be very helpful if you run into those cheapie military windfall worlds (and I always seem to).

    Jon Waddington

    November 30, 2007 at 10:11 am

  4. I think that’s the general idea, yes. It’s not how I would have ordered them … (I’d put Alpha Centauri on top, personally, and the more plays I get the more I realize just how feast or famine New Sparta is … not to mention implicit collusion), but my dataset is limited to games I’ve played. And some of the playtesters have an order of magnitude more games than I do.

    I think that (Ideally) the order would change based on # of players (and absent homeworlds). EE is much better if New Sparta isn’t in play. New Sparta rocks in 2 players, gets caught in a collusion trap with 4 (again, all this is my anecdotal thoughts). Given current electronic paper technologies, and that that the effect is minor, even if Tom “got it wrong” I wouldn’t be particularly.

    If I thought it would matter (and didn’t take up valuable time) I’d flip up the homeworlds, let players grab (carefully!), and then last pick is “lowest homeworld” for that game.

    Brian

    November 30, 2007 at 7:16 pm


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