Rio Grande Games: Race for the Galaxy – Review

July 13, 2011

Publisher Rio Grande Games
Genre Card Game
Number of Players 2 to 4 (1 to 6 with expansions)
Play Time  30 to 60 minutes
Initial Review Date  7/12/11
Last Updated 7/19/11
Files/Tools Game Rules / Game Rules (alternative Link)
Click here to Buy
Click here to Play Online

This is a game I discovered for the first time years ago at the penny arcade expo. I enjoyed it and got a copy. Since then 3 expansions for the game have come out and I’ve enjoyed each one. This game is easily one of my favorite games.

So, race for the galaxy is a card game where you are trying to establish an empire. It gets its name because you can’t really dawdle around, if you do you’ll end up losing. This is not so much because of any set time limit but rather because the game automatically ends if certain conditions are met, so you want to do what you’re doing before that happens.

How does it work?

If you’ve played Puerto Rico some of this will seem familiar to you.

In the game there are 5 phases. The phases are

  • Explore
  • Develop
  • Settle
  • Trade/Consume
  • Produce

While the phases do have a specific sequence not every phase happens every turn. Each player has a set of phase cards and picks one of them, placing it face down. Then all of the cards are revealed and the phases chosen are the only ones that happen. Everyone gets to do the phases chosen but the player who picked the phase will get some bonus related to that phase (eg. picking develop makes playing develop cards cheaper). It is therefore possible that everyone might pick the same phase. If this happens only that phase occurs but everyone gets the related bonus.

A mechanic that makes this game a challenge is that way that cards get played. Cards come only in 1 of two types, developments (played only during develop) and planets (played only during settle). Each of these cards has a “cost” associated with it. With the exception of certain cards, this cost is always paid by discarding cards from your hand. This creates the interesting problem of having a hand that is “too good”. That is to say, if I like every card in my hand it’s going to be a challenge to play any of them since I’m going to have to give up other cards to put it down. So, the reality you’re often happy to draw “useless” cards or cards that don’t go with your current strategy since they give you something to discard to play the cards you do want.

Winning the game

So, as I said before the game ends when one of two conditions is met.

  • When any player ends a turn with 12 cards in play
  • When the victory point pool is exhausted

The first time I played the 12 card limit felt excessive. This is because the game suddenly ended just when I felt I finally had a good set of cards down. What this means is you have to be choosy about what you play. This is because with the exception of a few cards like the colony ship (which is discarded to make playing a planet free) once a card is down it is yours forever. So it is often a good idea to not play anything at all even if you have the opportunity to just so you don’t waste a card slot.

The second victory condition is closely tied to another important mechanic, consuming goods. There are cards that once played produce goods during the produce phase. These goods are represented by a face down card on top of the planet that produced the good. Then during the consume phase other cards (or in some cases even the same card) have the ability to “consume” that good (iow its discarded) in exchange for some ability like drawing 2 cards or giving you victory points.

victory points don’t do anything for you during the game but they count toward your final score at the end of the game. They are limited however based on how many people are playing (12 per player). This limit isn’t a hard limit (you’ll never be denied points from them running out) but as stated once all of the points are gone the game ends.


As I said, this game is one of my favorite games. The learning curve on it though is unfortunately quite steep. This is because there are a large variety of abilities in the game which are all represented by specific icons. You’re given some cheat sheets of what everything means but it’s a lot to take in at first. Once you learn the symbolism though it’s easy enough to tell what a card does by the symbols alone.

It’s a game well worth learning, particularly if you enjoy games like Puerto Rico or San Juan. All three of these games were made by the same company so it’s no wonder they are similar. Of those games though i like race for the galaxy the most because it’s faster (both to play and setup) and offers a wider variety of strategies.

 Part 1: Rio Grande Games: Race for the Galaxy – Review
 Part 2: Rio Grande Games: Race for the Galaxy – Strategy

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