D-PADS AND DICE - Game's subtle strategy builds space empire

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I was thinking the other day about how you can make almost any sort of game based on the theme of building a giant space empire.

To some degree, of course, you can make almost any kind of rule match almost any kind of theme, but I don't think there's any subject that has more variety of game types than those about building giant space empires.

There are games about flicking plastic pucks at other plastic pucks that are about ruling all of space. There are classical war games based on ruling all of space. And - as is the case today - there are card games about ruling all of space.

"Race For the Galaxy" definitely gives the impression of a vast galaxy teeming with strange new worlds and new civilizations in which to boldly extend your interstellar reach.

The cards are illustrated with fantastic art that really conveys the vastness of space and the diversity of the things found within it. The card names and functions imply the universe rather than impose a novel of text across the each to explain what everything is in exacting detail. It really has a nice vibe to it overall.

The game itself is a weird combination of very simple rules that are obscured by the game's obsession with a multitude of symbols that make the game easier to play when you understand them, but a bit of a pain to learn in the first few games you play.

A round of "Race for the Galaxy" goes in a series of phases. First you draw cards. Secondly, you build new technologies. In the third phase you put new planets into play, and in the fourth you cash in any resources your planets have generated for cards or points. In the fifth your planets generate resources as they are able.

The twist is that not all of these phases will occur in every round. That's because at the beginning of every round each player secretly chooses one of the phases, and then everyone reveals their choice. The ones chosen are the only phases that will happen in the round.

In addition, players get a small perk during the round they chose, such as drawing more cards or building new technologies for less than they normally would. This is the main way players interact during the course of the game. It's a lot subtler and less direct than many games, but it does take a lot of planning and foresight to win.

The game is over when a certain number of point chips are collected, or a player has played 12 cards in front of him or her.

"Race for the Galaxy" is a very subtle but it has real strategic depth to it. You're trying to figure out which strategy open to you at any point will reap the biggest reward while you figure out what opponents are doing.

It is a little bit intimidating to learn at first, but the payoff is well worth it to build your own space empire.

The game is designed by Tom Lehman and published by Rio Grande Games for a suggested price of $34.95.

Walla Wallan Noah Hinz is a tabletop and electronic games aficionado. A graphic arts student at the Evergreen State College, he's working on various art projects and game designs. Email your questions and comments to noahhinz@gmail.com.

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