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Metal Guru – Guns & Steel review

Guns Cover

Awareness about Tokyo Game Market seems to have grown rapidly over the last couple of years, much of it probably thanks to the awesome guys at Japon Brand. Their regular trawls of the new and interesting titles that are produced in tiny amounts by the most indie of games makers at the twice-yearly event have brought us some great additions to our shelves – Colours of Kasane and Villanex are just a couple that still get regular play around here following their release at Essen 2014, for example, and many more games are on their way for this year’s Spiel. More and more folks are going to the source though, heading over to Tokyo to see what kind of things are on offer.

I’m not jealous at all.

One good thing though – sometimes folks get in touch with me and ask if I’d like to try out a game, and when I got a message asking if I’d like to see Guns & Steel by Jesse Li, how could I refuse?

A couple of weeks later, a small envelope landed on my (temporary) doorstep. Inside was a plastic baggie containing a deck of 56 cards and a rulesheet, nothing more – the boxed version of the game had sold out at TGM. Of course, having come from Japan, everything was covered in kanji and a slight air of panic came over me, but on closer inspection, everything in the game is also in English – it’s just that the print was a little smaller and I’m getting ever more blind as I grow older…

So unassuming, and yet filled with delights!

So unassuming, and yet filled with delights!

Regardless, Guns & Steel‘s graphic design is straightforward and clear, and once you know the symbols used throughout the game you’ll barely refer to the text on the cards. What’s the game about though?

Well, simply put, it’s the most portable Civilisation Building game I’ve ever come across, and it’s a very clever little bugger indeed. As you’d expect, you start off small with a handful of cards (everyone’s got the same to begin with) and are racing to evolve your own wee culture from riding around on horses to zipping around in space, collecting wondrous buildings and sites along the way that will score points. As you’d expect, the player with the highest total at the end is the winner, but Guns & Steel does that whole “you may have triggered the end of the game, but you may not necessarily win” thing – it’s very much a game of paying attention all the time, though it’s not up to the brain-melting level that many other civ games drag you too. Think of it as an introduction to the genre but don’t take it too lightly, for G&S will bite you if you don’t treat it respectfully.

Each Civilisation card in the game is double-sided, showing the Resource it can provide on one side and it’s Development on the other. The Resources are taken from each of the game’s ages (Horse, Gunpowder, Oil, Earth and Space Ages are all represented), and a large pyramid of Development cards is laid out before play begins with the three Space Age cards on top, down to seven Horse Age cards at the bottom (though there’s one less per row if you’re playing head-to-head with someone else). One Wonder card is placed next to each of these lines; these are also double sided but they don’t provide a Resource, just two time-line relevant buildings or events, each of which you and your fellow players will be fighting to get hold of as they bring in the big points. But how do you get hold of them?

As you’d expect, it’s all about spending those resources to pick up cards, and it’s here where the pyramid layout is important. You begin the game with those five lowly cards which can be used either as Developments or Resources, and each turn must be played out in the following manner:

  • You MUST play a card in front of you as a Resource.
  • You MUST play a card as a Development, but you don’t have to you use the effect on it.
  • You MAY buy one of the cards from the ones on the table
  • …and that’s pretty much it, apart from the thinking that you’ve just done the wrong thing and everyone is secretly laughing at you inwardly.

Each Development card has a cost shown on its right-hand side, but you may only purchase cards that are ‘open’ – in other words, the ones that have no other cards underneath them. (Actually, this is something of a fib – you can buy whatever cards you like in G&S, but each card below the one that you want to pick up will cost you one extra resource, meaning that things can get very expensive). As you start off with bugger all, you’ll be looking to slowly work your way through the cards and, thematically, through the game’s technological ages. Food and Iron could combine to get you a Philosophy card, the reverse of which provides a Horse resource (res-horse?). Combine that Horse with another Iron and a Knight could be added to your tableau. Collect a handful of the correct resources and you could be grabbing a Wonder. It’s a simple but beautiful system that works very well indeed where even the whole ‘pay an extra resource for a higher up card’ thing fits into the game’s theme – after all, civilisations make surprising technological leaps all the time, so why couldn’t a people who are still using gunpowder come up with the concept of a tank? Da Vinci did stuff like this every day before breakfast!

Play begins...

The birth of a new Civilisation! Or several, at least.

No civ game worth its salt would forget combat and with a name like Guns & Steel, this one has it there at its forefront – if you want it. Red cards are for attacking your opponents, and a successful battle is determined by who has the higher amount of military strength symbols in their tableau. Aggressors must be careful though, as their opposition can play cards from their hands in retaliation, so even though someone may look weak and a tempting target they could turn the tables on you – another splendidly sneaky way in which G&S works so well. Of course, you may choose a more pacifist attitude which is a totally viable attitude to take too. Once you start pulling in cards from the Gunpowder Age onwards, you’re immediately scoring points, so quiet development of your own part of the world while others all around you are losing their tempers can prove most fruitful.

I must admit that I was somewhat surprised when I saw that Guns & Steel wasn’t in the Essen 2015 line-up for Japon Brand – to me it feels like the perfect match for them. It’s portable yet deeply satisfying to play. It’s simple to get your head around but lends itself to a higher level of thought that you may initially consider. Sure, it’s not the prettiest game on the shelf, but its stark graphical style means – to me, anyway – that you get to see the information you need quickly, and frankly I rather like the way it looks. This game means business, no screwing around. Set it up, improve the lot of your people, and reach for the stars – or, in Guns & Steel’s case, the International Space Station at least. And all in around thirty minutes? Publishers should be biting off Jesse Li’s hand.

Guns & Steel plays with between two and four people with games taking around twenty to thirty minutes . Designed by Jesse Li, it’s available now through the guys at Board Game Bliss in Canada, and according to the game’s translator (the splendid Desnet Amane) there’ll also be limited quantities soon on the BGG Store in the near future. Best of all, the guys will be making their way to Essen 2015, so you’ll be able to pick up a copy there too. And you should. You really, really should.


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Barbarism Begins At Home – Imperial Settlers review


If you follow me on Twitter you’ll probably know that I’m in the middle of a move to the US. Everything is up in the air; I’m officially homeless, staying with friends as we grind through the slow process of immigration. All my stuff is in boxes – my games collection, my books, my consoles and my Mac… everything is just waiting to go across the ocean. Just before the packing, I was getting into the video game Civilisation V again and, cruelly, it has temporarily been taken from me. So sad. In the meantime, I need to get my civ-building fix from cardboard and the game collections of friends. And what have we been playing a lot of? The splendid Imperial Settlers from Portal Games, time and again.

Why so much love for it from me? Well, I enjoy any game that is based around a well-crafted engine, and Imperial Settlers really puts its focus into ensuring that everything works beautifully. With an easy to grasp set of rules, over the course of the game’s five rounds you’ll start off small with just a couple of cards and a handful of resources that are used in order to make your side the most dominant around. You’ll also begin with a long cardboard punch-out which your tableau will be built around that also lets you know what resources you’ll pull in at the start of a round from a selection of wood, stone, fruit, meeples, cards, gold, swords and shields.

Each turn you get to do one thing – and that’s it. However, while sometimes that one thing may simple like sending a couple of your dudes off to fetch some stone, depending on how things go for you, you may end up triggering a glorious chain of events that will make your opponents either look on impressed or glare at you with a barely concealed rage. It’s that kind of game, where those who are able to make their engines run smoothest will invariably come out victorious. The best way to learn how to do this, of course, is to play – just expect to get your arse handed to you in your first few plays as you try to figure out what’s going on.

Cards! Hooray. I may have forgotten to take photos, so thank you to The Innocent on BGG for this one.

Cards! Hooray. I may have forgotten to take photos, so thank you to The Innocent on BGG for this one.

Four civilisations are represented in the base game – Barbarians, Romans, Egyptians and Japan – with each of them having their own small deck of cards. Every card represents a location that’s exclusive to the civilisation but there’s also a larger central deck that all players can draw from; your personal deck is just for you, though. Every card has a cost that needs to be paid to add it to your tableau, normally a mix of wood and stone, but some also have a little house on them, meaning you’ll need to sacrifice one of your locations that’s either been destroyed (we’ll cover that shortly) or is taken straight from your hand, losing you a valuable card in a game where it can be very tricky to get hold of them.

Said cards will be one of three types: either Production, Feature or Action. Production ones are nice and straightforward: at the start of a round they add to the resources you gain but also give you them the moment you play the card. Actions need to be triggered, usually at the cost of a meeple or resource, but will generally pull in either something useful (like more meeples and resources!) or get you a few points. Features are invariable the trickier things to work with, often being the cards that serve as the links that make your turns splendidly convoluted or allow you to say “…and I score ten points off this one!” at the end of a game. The best civilisations will normally comprise of a decent mix of these card types, but it’s entirely possible to win using whatever set-up you manage to put together – really, victory falls to the player who reacts the best to what everyone else is doing.

By reacting, I really mean “attacking someone else’s locations with the swords you collect”. Two sword resources will be enough to force an opponents to flip one of their cards over, losing their precious cog in their machine that will inevitably cause their downfall (if you’ve planned it right). Shields (or meeples acting as Samurai if you’re playing as Japan) can be used to up this to a requirement of three swords (more if you stack them) but at the end of every round, EVERYTHING is removed from the cards you have in play – but you’ll have destroyed something well before then, won’t you? Oh, and you may also get bonus resources from doing this too, as long as the targeted card has a reward for razing it.

This is what you should be aiming for. This is what I generally don't end up doing. (Thanks to The Innocent again for the image.)

This is what you should be aiming for. This is what I generally don’t end up doing. (Thanks to The Innocent again for the image.)

There are so many little things that put Imperial Settlers head and shoulders above other Civ style games; you can boost your Production by making deals and tucking cards upside-down atop your tableau. You can wreck cards from your own layout if you’re short of resources. You can use meeples to go grab stuff too. Basically, the game puts an incredible amount of control into your hands – you do what you want to do, either focusing on your own buildings or eagerly eyeing someone else’s. Each civilisation feels and plays very differently, but all it takes is reading through a few cards to check up on what special buildings they all offer and you’re immediately up to speed.

No messing – Imperial Settlers is a bloody brilliant game. Ignacy Trzewiczek has created a simple game which still somehow manages to give the players a huge amount of strategies when they’re creating their own little dynasties. It’s a lovely game to look at with a cute graphic style throughout – seriously, the dumpy little buggers that are seen all over the cards are ace, and there are lovely details throughout, my personal favourite being the weeping family on the Ruins card… I am nothing if not cruel. Everything in Imperial Settlers hits the right buttons for me – it’s a streamlined work of greatness which, when I get to play it, is just so bloody pleasing that I want to bring it out again and again. When I get to the US, this will be the first game I buy – oh yes.

Imperial Settlers was released in 2014 through Portal Games. Between one and four can play (because yes, there’s a single player version of the game built in which is also excellent) with games taking around 30-45 minutes. Yes, not only is it great, it doesn’t outstay its welcome! A copy will set you back £35, though you can get it for under £30 at Gameslore. There’s also an expansion called Why Can’t We Be Friends which I’m yet to try out, but reports from other, more experienced players say that it’s well worth getting. So yes. You should do that. Oh, and follow designer Ignacy Trzewiczek on Twitter! Do that too!

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Big Country – Nations review

Naions COVER

That copy of Nations had been sitting on a chair in my house for a fair few weeks before we managed to get it to the table. Not surprising, really – recently I’ve had limited time to play stuff and looking at the box… well, it’s pretty imposing. Produced by Lautapelit.fi, the folks who brought Eclipse to the world, I was a bit worried that it would prove a beast once it hit the table. A few readthroughs of the rulebook failed to settle my nerves, but soon the time came to bite the bullet, set the damn thing up and play. And my first thought after those first few rounds? “Why the hell didn’t I do this earlier?”

I do not get on with most Civ-style games. Through The Ages is great, but I’ve suffered from mind wandering when I’ve played it. Thankfully, Nations plays out in much less time and (to me at least) still offers a similar level of enjoyment, if not the complexity. That’s not saying that this one’s not a tricky undertaking if you’re looking to play it well, it just feels much less daunting once you’ve got a couple of plays under your belt.

Between one and five can play, though I’m yet to have any experience with the solo play, and in all honesty probably won’t do – too many other games on the shelves! Players select an ancient civilisation and take the appropriate double sided board. The A-sides are all the same, giving everyone the same amount of starting resources, though you’ll want to graduate to the B-side pretty quickly to get the full challenge from the game. Everyone grabs what the board tells them, a combination of Food, Stone, Money, Victory Points and Workers, then chooses at what level they’ll be playing at. With four levels to choose from, the more challenging ones will bring you in less resources through the game’s eight rounds – though you’ll probably want to make life a little easier for yourself and choose to give yourself as much of a chance as possible. Nations is hard enough without you giving yourself even more hassle.

As mentioned, the game plays out over eight turns that split over four ages, so, two turns for each age. Three lines of cards are laid out on the table that can be bought for one to three coins, all of which will help enhance your hopefully expanding civilisation. Spaces on your player board are devoted to the various card types, some of which require workers on them to trigger their effects. Turns work with players taking an action – either buying a card and placing it, deploying a worker or grabbing an Architect that can help you build up a valuable Wonder – then moving on to the next player clockwise until everyone has passed.

Most of the cards you’ll invariably pick up will be the blue bordered Buildings or red bordered Military ones. Buildings, when stocked with workers, bring in resources while Military affect your fighting strength. You’ll also be able to take over Colonies (green) that enhance your civilisation but require hefty military power, or employ notable historical Advisors (orange) who will bestow great benefits upon you. The Wonders (brown) are placed on your ‘Under Construction’ space and require a certain amount of Architects before they become an actual part of your board, but bringing them in will really give you a huge boost – and as you have space for multiple Wonders, you’ll see more and more resources and bonuses come in as the game progresses.

There are three other card types: Battles (grey), Wars (black) and Golden Ages (yellow). Battles are a quick and dirty way of pulling in a bunch of resources. Meanwhile, only one War can be triggered each turn, and once done all players must reach a certain level of military strength or suffer a pretty brutal penalty. Thankfully you can offset a lot of this by ensuring your people have a decent level of Stability; just because you may choose to take a more peaceful path, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get crushed under the feet of warmongers. Golden Age cards offer players a choice: either trade the card in for a few resources or score points by paying some stuff from your stacks, and in a game where points can be hard to come by, this can often be a big decision.

Nations PLAY

Playing workers to your board costs stone, but it’s a necessary thing to do – an unused worker is a useless one, as they’ll bring in much needed resources and have an effect on your Military and Stability. You have a choice to bring another worker in at the start of each round instead of claiming resources, but doing so can be expensive. As with many things in Nations, there’s a fine balance that must be maintained – it is very easy to screw yourself over and watch your civilisation crumble if you make a couple of poor decisions, and for me, that’s where the joy lies. For those couple of hours when you’re sat at the table, there’s a quiet focus and intensity shared between the players. You’re all desperately trying to build your own Nation up while keeping an eye on what everyone else is doing. If you boil it down, this is a fine example of multiplayer Solitaire but it still manages to feel like a well constructed shared experience – that’s a rather impressive achievement.

The game progresses through it’s four eras: Antiquity, Medieval, Renaissance and Industrial (essentially taking us up the the start of the First World War) and as you’d expect the available cards get stronger as time moves on. You end up building this extensive tableau with a surprising amount of cards laid out before you as you struggle – yes, this is a struggle, but an enjoyable one! – to carve out as many points as possible to grab that first place position. You’ll have to deal with an Event card at the end of each turn that brings in bonuses and punishments for players, depending on whether certain conditions have been met. With these, the good stuff is very good and the bad stuff… well, let’s not think about that, shall we?

Every card is based on an actual event, person, place – you know the deal – and it’s interesting as you create this alternate history. Who’d have though that the Roman Empire could last through to the twentieth century, claim the Phillipines for their own and be responsible for the invention of the railway system? There are a huge amount of cards for each of the four eras and it’ll be a fair few games before you manage to see them all, so there’s a good amount of opportunity of replayability with Nations. Of course, each card has its own individual artwork, and while most of them are fine, this is where my only real criticism of the game rears its head – some of the images are laughably poor. Mostly I’m talking about the Advisor cards which feel like they were the last things done for the game and just had to be put together to hit a deadline. If there’s ever a second edition of Nations, I’d love to see some consistency in the art, perhaps getting just one person to do the lot rather than going for the team-based approach we’ve got with this version.

Aside from that (admittedly small) issue, Nations is a bloody excellent game. You’re tested from the very start, and every decision you make is important – even which board you pick up at the start of the game. It’s certainly not something that I’d bring out for a group who were just getting into gaming, but for players who have a bit of confidence in them and fancy being a little brave, it’s ideal. Nations is not a difficult game to play, but it’s certainly a challenge if you’re going to play it well. For those who are looking to add a great civilisation building title to their collection that’s not going to take an entire day to play, I’d say that Nations is an essential purchase. For everyone else, try before you commit, but I reckon you’ll love it.

Designed by Rustan Håkansson, Nina Håkansson, Einar Rosén and Robert Rosén, Nations was originally released by Lautapelit.fi in 2013. Between one and five players can take part with games taking around the two hour mark for three players. A copy of the game will cost you around the £60 mark, but you can get yourself one cheaper from Gameslore for a mere £48! Bargain!

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After Hours – Time Barons review

Time Barons COVER

I think it’s pretty clear that I have a rather large passion for games, no matter whether they’re on my table or on my screen. One of my great favourites – and currently just about the only thing that I’m playing on my Vita – is a game called Spelunky. I have put countless hours into both that version and the one available on the 360, constantly pushing further and further into the game’s four randomly generated worlds. Thousands of games have been played, the vast – and I mean VAST – majority of them ending in abject failure. I’ve completed Spelunky only four times, and that’s doing it the comparatively easy way. There are a huge amount of secrets hidden inside that bloody game, and I still find myself going back again and again. It is awful, brutal and wonderful, and it all came from the mind of a guy called Derek Yu.

Now Derek is back with his first foray into the world of tabletop games, a co-design with another first timer, Jon Perry. It’s called Time Barons and it’s currently available over on The Game Crafter. Oh, and it happens to be one of the greatest two-player games that I’ve ever made.

There are many good games that are brilliant for two: Agricola ACBAS, Le Havre: The Inland Port and Balloon Cup all spring to mind immediately, but Time Barons has swiftly raced to the top of my list of games to play when there’s just two of us at the table. It too is awful, brutal and wonderful, and I bloody love it.

The story is that you and your opponent are the titular Time Barons, shady folks who manipulate the world to turn things their way and gather followers – after all, even secretive Illuminati types like to be recognised for their deeds. Those followers are pretty disposable though, and you can be sure that you’ll be wiping plenty of them out before the game is done. Each player begins with ten followers and a single Homeland card sat down in front of them, with four numbered decks (Roman numerals, we’re being classy here) in the middle which contain a selection of card types – we’ll cover those in a moment. To vanquish your opponent, you’ve got to do one of two things: either entirely wipe out their followers, or have more followers than them when the I, II and III decks have been depleted. As you may expect, this is one of those “simple objectives with deep gameplay” affairs that I hold so dear to my heart…

Each turn, you have three actions to spend on getting the upper hand over the enemy. Cards each have a cost in their top right corner, using up those valuable points quite quickly, but you’ll need to get them out if you’re to build your empire and gain more and more followers. Most of the time you’ll be playing Sites down in front of you, many of which have abilities that can be used if you have a set amount of followers sat on that specific card. With more Sites come more options, so it’s often a good idea to spend an action and Relocate your followers to build up powerful attacks that will take down your fellow Time Baron’s own Sites. Each one has a defensive Integrity that, when met or exceeded, destroys the site and anyone sat there, so there are plenty of opportunities for aggressive back-and-forths – after all, this is a game where ruination is key and any damage that is done also results in lost followers.

Oh, Plague. You're such a great card. Attach it to a busy Site and watch the followers die one by one...

Oh, Plague. You’re such a great card. Attach it to a busy Site and watch the followers die one by one…

The other card types are relatively straightforward. Events are one-offs that aid you or harm the other player, while Reactions protect you from something nasty happening during your opponent’s turn. The final type, Attachments, are a great addition to the game that bolster the powers and abilities of the Sites that are currently in play – and not just your own. Some drain an enemy Site of followers through a plague or sabotage the usage of a Site’s ability, and it gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling when you throw one of these out onto the table to screw over your opponent.

I’ll admit that the Time element of the game is somewhat tenuous, but it sort of makes sense to the story. Each of the four decks represents a different era, the first being solidly Medieval, working up through the ages to the tiny but spectacularly overpowered Futuristic deck IV. Three of the decks are actually unavailable to you at the start of play – actions must be spent to level you up and unlock the decks for use, the action point cost being the level you’re moving up to, so two actions to get to II and three to III. Of course, with only three actions per turn, you’ll need to build an engine that gives you extra actions if you’re ever going to hit the dizzy heights of drawing cards from that heady Level IV stack. One thing to recall though; you may draw from any deck that’s your level or below, so your play area is always gong to be a glorious mish-mash of followers dotted about buildings from various eras. Sure, you might have a load of hi-tech gear at your disposal, but there’s nothing wrong with battering down your opponent’s shiny Robotics Lab with some well placed old-school Catapult action.

Catapult vs Doomsday Laser though? Hmmm. Maybe it's time to reconsider your options...

Catapult vs Doomsday Laser though? Hmmm. Maybe it’s time to reconsider your options…

I can’t quite put my finger on why I enjoy Time Barons so much, but I think it’s mainly down to the range of options that are available to players each game. Every time you play it feels like a tiny little war, and it’s incredibly well balanced considering that this is coming from a pair of first timers. While the cards through the ages do get progressively stronger, you don’t necessarily have to engage in an arms race for the more powerful items – it’s entirely possible to win the game using only cards from the first deck, laying into your opponent with brute force. All told, it’s a very impressive example of quality game design.

It’s also a nicely put together package. The Game Crafter has had some issues in the past with quality, but in the last couple of years they’ve really pushed to improve their products and Time Barons is an excellent example of this desire to make better stuff. Derek’s art style exactly the same as seen in his much-loved Spelunky, and the cards are laid out clearly with easy to follow instructions and symbols that mean you’ll rarely have to refer to the rulebook for clarification. I believe that it’s still up in the air as to what’s going to happen with Time Barons, whether the guys are going to look for a publisher or go down the self-publishing route via Kickstarter, but whatever happens with the game I firmly believe that it should remain pretty much untouched. I’d probably change the art on back of the cards but aside from that it’s a beautifully constructed game that looks good and plays brilliantly.

Simply put: But This Game Now. You honestly won’t regret it.

Time Barons was designed by Jon Perry and Derek Yu and was released through their own label, Quibble Games, in 2014. It’s only for two players with games taking around thirty minutes, and is only available from The Game Crafter. The game will set you back $20, though the cards-only version is also available for $10 – just remember that shipping from TGC can be horrifying. Any publishers out there looking for a truly excellent two-player game – you need look no further.


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Empire State of Mind – Race for the Galaxy review


The story behind Race for the Galaxy is an interesting one. Originally conceived as a card game version of Andreas Seyfarth’s classic Puerto Rico, designer Tom Lehmann’s work was seemingly all for naught when it was revealed that Seyfarth had actually been working on a follow-up called San Juan all along.  Not one to chuck away a good idea, Lehmann continued developing his new game and eventually ended up moving it into the realm science fiction. Now, some six years after its initial release, Race for the Galaxy has surpassed all expectations and easily outstrips San Juan in the popularity stakes. With three expansions out already and a fourth on the way, what is it about Race that means it is so well regarded?

Simply put, it’s a card based game of civilisation building but there’s so much more to the experience than that. The cards you hold in your hand are split into either Worlds or Technologies, both types of which will help you expand your galactic empire in countless different ways. Once a player has at least twelve cards in front of them, the endgame is triggered and the highest points total is the winner. The journey to get that victory, though? It’s immense, filled with choices and knife-edge decisions that can make or break you in the space of moments.

The seven standard Action cards - choose one each turn and everyone gets to do it. You'll be rewarded with a bonus.

The seven standard Action cards – choose one each turn and everyone gets to do it. You’ll be rewarded with a bonus.

The engine that runs the game are the Action Selection cards that are the same for each player. At the beginning of each turn, players select one secretly and all are simultaneously revealed. With seven different options available to the players, only the Actions that are chosen will actually happen in that round; for example, if in a three player game two were to choose Settle and the third Develop, only those two would occur.

The order of the Actions is vital – most of the time your plans will take place over the space of a couple of rounds, so be sure you know exactly what you want to do but keep a second option open at all times. In order, you can choose from one of the following:

–          Explore, which allows you to draw extra cards to your hand

–          Develop lets you play a Development card to the table from your hand

–          Settle brings World cards to your tableau

–          Consume is all about spending goods created by your Worlds to get points or more cards

–          Produce refills goods on certain Worlds

Now, you’ll notice that there’s only five Actions there; both Explore and Consume actually have two different ways of being used. When an Action is chosen every player at the table gets to perform it, but those who actually flipped the card to make it happen also get a bonus. It may be a discount on bringing a card out or a way of getting some extras into your hand – whatever it is, these boons are very useful indeed and if you can manage to pull them off at a time when your selected Action isn’t so useful for everyone else, you’re well on the path to winning.

A selection of Developments. The cost is in the diamond while the hexagon shows how many Victory Points you'll get at the end of the game.

A selection of Developments. The cost is in the diamond while the hexagon shows how many Victory Points you’ll get at the end of the game. The  6-cost improvements can be gamechangers!

You may be wondering why there’s so much emphasis on getting cards. Well, not only will you be playing various Technologies and Worlds down in front of you to score points, you also have to use cards to pay for them – yes, they’re the game’s currency too. Any time you decide to Develop or Settle, you’ll need to discard the amount noted in the top corner of your chosen card. Exploration and Production will expand the number of cards in your hand, not only opening up your options but also allowing you to pay for them.

Much has been made of Race for the Galaxy’s use of iconography and while it is true that it can be spectacularly confusing when you first get into the game, it only takes a few plays with a decent crib sheet at hand before you start truly understanding the symbols. Playing a game like this requires investment of your time to grab hold of its nuances – I’ve been playing it regularly for a year or so and still only feel like I’ve scratched the surface. There are a ridiculous amount of paths to victory, and no matter if you’re reacting to your opponents or forging ahead with no regard for anyone else you will always have a way of pulling things around your way.

A sample of some World cards. Again, the cost is in the circle. This also says what kind of goods it will produce.

A sample of some World cards. Again, the cost is in the circle. This also says what kind of goods it will produce. The symbols next to the numerals down the left side show when special abilities may be triggered. Bring your cheat sheet of symbols!

Race’s reputation as one of the Great Games is well deserved. The amount of work that has been put into it is well documented – Tom Lehmann is one of my dream guests to get on the podcast – and the care that has been put into its development shines through. Years of playtesting, not just for the base set but the expansions too, mean that you have a game before you that is smooth and streamlined. Yes, it takes a bit of effort to become fluent in the language of the game but with a little determination you’ll soon discover something incredible inside that small box. Such depth of play doesn’t come along too often, so if you’re seeking a challenging game that will be nearly endlessly replayable, this should be high up on your list.

Race for the Galaxy was designed by Tom Lehmann. Originally released in 2007 by Rio Grande Games, between two and four can play using the base set alone – expansions bring in more players as well as the option of solo gaming. A copy from Gameslore will set you back £23 with expansions normally coming in at around £17 apiece. A single game should normally take you 30-45 minutes, but as you get more experienced you should be able to knock that down significantly! And if you’re looking for a good way to learn the game, check out the How To Play Podcast with Ryan Sturm – I highly recommend it.


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