Rio Grande Games: Race for the Galaxy – Strategy

July 19, 2011

This game has a steep learning curve because it is highly symbolic. But even once you start to learn the symbols and know what cards do it can still be confusing trying to figure out what to do. A big part of the problem is that even if you figure  out one strategy that works you may not always get the right cards to do it.

This is actually part of why I like this game. The challenge is to figure out which strategy will work “this time” around. I admit that there are some strategies I enjoy playing more than others but in the end if you’re going to play competitively (which is a must to beat the computer) you have to play based on what you’re drawing.

For this article I’m just going to focus on the base game. In the expansions some of the strategies I talk about here will be more effective and in others whole new strategies are options. But everything I’m going to cover here works with the expansions.

For base game there are two types of strategies.

  • Development Dependent
  • Non-Development Dependent

Development Dependent strategies are strategies that only really get you a bunch of points if you have the corresponding 6 point development. Without this key card your score is going to end up being rather low and you probably won’t win. Certainly if you’re getting the cards you need for a development dependant strategy you can take a risk and go ahead and start playing the other cards in the hope that you’ll see it but as many cards as there are it’s not something you can really count on working out.

So, I’m going to look at each of the 6-point developments and go over their associated strategies.

Alien Tech Institute

This card is the one you’re going to need if you want to do an alien card strategy. The challenge to going alien is that half of the cards are military and the other half are non-military. In addition to that most alien cards are expensive meaning you’ll need a bunch of military AND you’ll be having to settle expensive worlds. This is further compounded by the fact that you can’t use cards like the colony ship or Contact specialists to help you out. Finally, this card only gives you lots of points for alien production worlds. There are only 2 of these in the entire game. This means that basically you’re only ever getting 2 points per alien card and nothing for your non-alien cards. This makes it a terribly weak strategy unless you just get really lucky and have all the right cards fall into your lap.

Galactic Federation

This card is the one you’ll need to do a development strategy. Low cost complimentary developments to this card are investment credits, Galactic Bank and Public Works. Ideally with a development strategy you will call develop every turn. In this way you will play many cards for free or nearly for free while drawing new cards to replace the ones you’ve played.

 Free Trade Association

This card is fairly weak as a straight set collection card. This is because while there are a ton of blue cards in the game blue cards tend to be worth very few victory points. That being said this card is fantastic if you are doing a blue Produce-Consume Strategy. Details on Produce-Consume strategies can be found below.

Mining League

This card is like the trade federation. It is again fairly weak as a set collection card but amazing if you are doing a brown Produce-Consume strategy.

New Galactic Order

This card is pretty straight forward. It gives you points for having a military bonus. For the most part this card is less something to work for and more of a nice augment to a pre-existing military strategy. That being said, if you have this card you’ll want to go after military worlds and developments that increase your total military bonus even if you already have 7+ (which is the most you need to conquer any planet in the game).

Galactic Imperium

This is another military strategy card but it pertains to a specific type of military strategy, namely collecting rebel cards. Of the military strategies this is probably the strongest one in the game. This is because rebel cards in general are already worth more points than other kinds of military worlds. This means that this card is giving you bonus points for playing cards that are already worth a bunch. Additionally, it gives you points for your other military worlds too, meaning you’ll grab extra points for the occasional high point alien military card as well.

Galactic Survey: Seti

This card isn’t really a strategy card. It doesn’t help you play any cards, it doesn’t have any useful abilities and the points it gives for appropriate cards is fairly low. However, this card is always worth at least 4 points. This is because so many cards count for it no matter what you’re doing. Consider this, you must always have at least 1 start world and seti counts it’s self for points. Only one strategy in the game (the development strategy) doesn’t make use of planets. However, even this strategy gives you 2 points for seti. So with one start world and 11 developments that include seti and galactic federation, seti will give you 4 points. I have found that in general seti will average 7 points. Which makes sense as this would be an even split tableau (6 planets and 6 developments). So, this card is always worth playing if you can but it doesn’t make sense to try and build around this card, as there are only a handful of worlds that have explore powers.

Merchant Guild

This card can be good but like seti this card is more of a bonus point card than something to build around specifically. This card is great if you’re doing any sort of Produce-Consume strategy as it will give you extra points for your production worlds and give you a much-needed draw on produce. Unless you’re doing a Produce-Consume strategy though you won’t get much mileage or very many points out of this card. Nor do Produce-Consume strategies rely on having this card. So if you can play it great, but if not it isn’t anything to cry over.

Trade League

This card can be used one of two ways. You can build around it and go for cards with trade powers or you can play it just for its trade special ability. Being able to basically trade when someone else calls consume is amazing card generation and shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it is very expensive to play for such an ability. As a strategy card this one feeds it’s self nicely. All you need to do is get your hands on a production world that lets you sell for 3 or more cards and you’ll be set. So this means either a production world that isn’t blue or a blue production world that gives a bonus to selling blue cards. At that point you will want to play as many trade cards as you can lay your hands on. If you get low on cards trading a single good will give you an obscene number of cards often putting you over the 10 card hand limit. At this point you can keep all the ones with trade powers and toss the useless stuff. A nice complimentary card to this one is New Economy because most cards that give trade powers also have a consume power of some kind, allowing your cards to qualify for multiple bonuses.

New Economy

This card is another complimentary card rather than one that really has its own strategy. However, it’s like seti in that it will often compliment just about anything you’re doing. A surprising number of developments in the game have consume powers and often mid to late game this card can be worth a lot of points even if you haven’t been specifically going after consume powers. It’s also nice because it gives you a card during consume making it a nice early game augment card for a Produce-Consume or Trade League strategy.

Pan-Galactic League

So, this card can be worth a lot of points but it’s a challenge to use. This is because most gene world (green cards) in the game are military worlds and this card actually decreases your military. It’s obvious this card works best with contact specialists (heck it even gives you extra points if you have them) but they aren’t required to make it work. This is because with the exception of 2 cards you only need +2 military to take military gene worlds. So, if you can get your hands on drop ships or build it to +3 then the penalty won’t stop you from playing the worlds you want. Once you have a few gene worlds down with this card getting more is easy. You just want to call produce and trade one of your green goods. This will generally give you enough cards to look at that you’ll be able to find more gene world cards. However, without this development it isn’t worth it to try and collect gene worlds.

Galactic Renaissance

Hahahah, that’s a funny one. This card is great for discarding and not much else. The abilities on this card aren’t terrible but it’s not worth discarding 5 cards to get. It seems like this card would work well in a produce-consume strategy and certainly it can be worth playing if you’re doing that and someone calls develop and you don’t have anything better to play and you have enough cards to play it, but that’s a lot of conditions to meet. Artist colony is a fairly mediocre world and the extra points this gives doesn’t make playing it any more useful (there are other production worlds that do more that are worth just as much as artist colony and this card) and while Galactic Trend Setters is a great card it’s just not enough to make this card worthwhile even if you have it.  The problem with this card is that it relies on you having massive amounts of victory points before it’s really worth anything. There are 12 victory points in the game per player. This means that in a 2 player game it is at most worth 8 points (one more than what seti is worth most of the time) and that’s assuming you were able to get every vp chip.  This is because you need to get at a minimum at least 24 vp chips before this card even starts to be as good as other developments. In general this is a terrible card because of how expensive it is to play. Most Produce-Consume strategies struggle to get cards and it’s not worth calling develop to play this one as this would interrupt such a cycle.

Non-Development Dependent Strategies

There are a number of what I call non-development dependent strategies. This is because these are strategies you can do that do not rely on you getting a specific development with a cost of 6 (often referred to as “6 point developments” or “6 pointers”). The nice thing about these is that you can often start to build a strategy like this even if you have a “bad hand” or you haven’t seen any “6 pointers”. However, it is possible to get stuck as you do need certain abilities and a key ability may be eluding you.


This is a pretty straight forward strategy. You want to build up your military bonus so that you can play military cards that are worth a whole bunch of points. For the most part when you’re doing this you want to get +7 military. More than this is excessive and wasted (unless you have the 6 pointer for +military) because the highest military world in the game is 7. Military worlds that give +military are ideal as they serve double duty. The challenge to this strategy is getting cards. This is because most high point military worlds are neither windfall worlds nor production worlds. This means you’ll need to either play a green or yellow world you can sell goods off of or explore to find more military worlds. Both of these tend to slow you down, though which isn’t good as ideally you want to fill out your tableau asap before other players can rack up very many points.


This strategy has been mentioned many times already and that’s because it is one of the strongest in the game. This strategy involves producing goods on production worlds by calling produce and then consuming all of them for double victory points. Once you have a proper “consume engine” setup these are the only 2 phases you’ll ever call.

A “consume engine” works best if you have one or more cards that have one of the following

  • Consumes more than 1 good for 1 vp each
  • Consumes a good for a vp and a card
  • Consumes goods at a ratio that is better than 1:1

This card will really be the heart of your engine. It’s also why cards like Mining League and Free Trade Association are such great cards.

Often though, the cards that have consume powers like the ones I’ve listed only consume goods of a certain color. So you’ll often do better if you focus in a single color. The two primary consume engine colors are blue and brown. Therefore you will sometimes hear someone refer to a “brown produce-consume strategy or a blue produce-consume strategy”. While there are green and yellow production worlds these are rare and more difficult to play making getting an abundance of them difficult.  But really, you want to make sure that you have enough consume powers to cover all of your goods. A consume engine should really only go into operation (calling only produce and consume) if you can get 6 or more points per cycle and 6 is really very weak.

However, a good consume engine gives more than points it should also give cards. To this end you’ll want to look for cards that give you cards either during produce and/or consume. If you can get at least 3 cards between these two cycles it will generally be enough (but again 3 is a minimum). In this way you’ll be able to leach off of develops and settles called by your opponents. Using these phases to augment your consume engine.

A good consume engine is hard to stop and about the only way to stop it is to run out the tableau (thereby ending the game) before it can really get started. Most consume engines do not run for more than 3 cycles before the game ends. If one is allowed to go for more than this then that player has probably won the game. Which is why if you’re doing a consume strategy you want to be up and running asap. This is because 3 cycles of 8 points would give you 24 points. Additionally, if you assume each card is worth at least 2 points and you’re able to fill out your tableau you’re looking at a minimum of 48 points even more if you can score a 6 pointer or 2. (this again illustrates why it’s hard to make galactic renaissance worth a lot of points)

Other things to consider

I would like to point out a few other cards of note to watch for as well as things to keep in mind.


no matter what strategy you’re doing you want to be on the lookout for ways of getting lots of cards. Trading is often under rated by new players because it is slow compared to doing explore.

So, let’s compare the two

  • If you do explore +1/+1 you will get to look at 3 cards and keep 2. Doing this twice will increase your total hand by 4 cards and let you look at a total of 6 cards.
  • Trading a Green windfall world increases your hand by 5 cards in 2 turns and you keep them all (one for settle and 4 for trading).
  • Trading a Yellow windfall world increases your hand by 6 cards in 2 turns and you keep them all (One for settle and 5 for trading).
  • Producing on a Green world and Trading it increases your hand by 4 cards in 2 turns.
  • Producing on a Yellow world and Trading it increases your hand by 5 cards in 2 turns.

As you can see you gain just as much benefit from trading as you do exploring twice. But that is assuming explore isn’t called. If someone else calls explore you still get to draw 2 cards and keep 1 at a minimum.

Card Draw Abilities

Ideally though, you want to gain cards as part of whatever it is you’re normally doing. For example if you’re settling all the time then getting extra cards for settling will help. So, if you’ve picked a strategy that you want to pursue don’t over look cards that will give you more cards for doing what you’re already doing as this will make it easier to take advantage of the phases you’re not calling. Conversely, if you know someone is going to call a certain phase a lot then being able to draw a card for free during that phase makes it easier to play cards during the phases you want.

Other Cards of Interest

Research Labs

Like the Galactic Renaissance this card is pretty terrible. Again not so much because the abilities are bad but because it’s too expensive for what it does. Keeping a card during explore is nice but as I’ve already said trading is often better. Green consume engines are rare and there are enough cards with universal consumes (consume any good for 1 vp) that a consume 1 green for 1 vp isn’t very useful and finally while getting to draw cards during produce is great there are only 2 yellow production worlds in the game and it’s unlikely you’ll ever fill more than one yellow windfall world when you call produce. As such even in ideal circumstances you’ll rarely draw more than 1 or 2 cards off of this ability.

So, this card  has 3 weak abilities and its one of the most expensive cards to play without being a 6 pointer. Most developments that cost this much have 1 or 2 really good abilities. It also doesn’t help that the abilities offered on this card don’t even go together. You don’t really call explore when you’re producing and consuming. Additionally, the produce and consume powers are for colors that aren’t often produced or consumed, much less in conjunction with one another.

Malevolent Life forms

This card is both amazing and hard to play. It is amazing in that it works with nearly every strategy in the game and even counts extra with seti. It’s a challenge to play though because while it requires a lot of military to play. This means that while consume engines would love to have it they often don’t have the military strength to play it. A gene card strategy would like to have it but again its high military compared to other gene cards often makes playing it prohibitive (unless you also have contact specialists). It’s a great card but sadly often has to be tossed because it’s just not playable.

Contact Specialists

If you’re not planning on going military this can be a remarkably useful card. This is because there are a number of military cards that offer abilities useful to non-military strategies. This one card gives you access to these without forcing you to waste a bunch of tableau space playing +military cards.

Colony Ship

This card can be useful, just keep in mind that it isn’t free to play. If you call develop to play this you’ll have to discard one card to play it and 2 if you didn’t call develop. Because the colony ship it’s self can be discarded from your hand to play a world this means that you don’t gain anything playing a world that costs 3 to play. So, if you play a colony ship ideally you’ll want to use it on something that costs you 4 or more otherwise you’re just wasting your time.

Meta Gaming

The last thing I’ll mention is that it is often a good idea to pay attention to what your opponents are doing. If you can tell what sort of strategy they are doing you can often guess which phases they are going to pick. But in general if a player has 6 or more cards in their hand they are probably going to call develop or settle. If they have 3 or fewer cards and no goods they’re going to call explore or produce. Lastly, if they have 3 or fewer cards and a good that isn’t blue they will probably call Trade.

This is good to know since if I want produce to be called and someone is likely to call it for me then I can probably call something else instead and still get my produce. But it isn’t a given and so if a phase is critical to my next play it’s often best to just call it to make sure it happens, even if it’s duplicated.

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

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