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Hacking Race for the Galaxy

While hanging out with two of my three local Race for the Galaxy crew on the 4th, I had a weird idea for a hack. We played it last night, after playing two disappointing games of Race (disappointing to everyone, including the winners) and one okay game. (I’ll get to the disappointment later.)

The hack comes from the Eastern Front expansion for Memoir ’44 — the Russian player has to play his orders in a queue, so that on any given turn he’s playing whatever orders he placed last turn and playing orders for the following turn. This causes all manner of chaos in a game, because while you know what your next move is, you don’t know what other people will do before that turn is played and how that will change what you’ll do with the orders you’re about to play next — and if what they do completely invalidates or makes impossible that move.

In a word: exciting.

I wanted to see what happens with you take that to Race. The hack works thusly:

  • Each player takes all the phase cards for their color, including the two-player cards
  • At the beginning of the game, after you have your initial hand of four cards, place two phase cards face down — one at the edge of the table and one just further in towards the center.
  • At the beginning of each round, reveal the further-in phase card as your play for that round.
  • At the end of each round, put the phase card just played back into your hand, push the remaining face-down phase case further  in towards the center. Then place your next phase card face down in the just-vacated spot.

We played with this variant, and within a couple rounds I found a new joy with Race — it was this sense of beautiful chaos that left us playing a game more based on hope than on reading each others’ faces and situations to draft off their likely choice. “I have no idea what any of us are doing! This is awesome!” I exclaimed. My comrades felt a similar sense of excitement.

This isn’t the sort of thing we would play often, but it seriously took me out of a funk with the Race games we played earlier that evening, giving it a refreshing feeling and making me rethink habits I’ve fallen into with the game. If you’re looking to mix it up a little, try this variant — and see how it reveals things about how you play Race that you night not have otherwise done.

One of the players, Aaron, said something interesting about this variant after we played. We’ve become so used to playing the game as a competitive display of mind-reading and predicting that by engaging in this variant, he felt like it became a true solitaire game again. We were playing so strongly to our next draw because we couldn’t really predict what someone else would play. I would agree, at least with the first time play — not dissimilar to first times playing Race. What didn’t feel like solitaire was the shared sense of awe and chaos that we all felt, and since we all seemed to enjoy that to one degree or another, I accepted that the mutual sense of bewilderment we all had made it feel less solitaire, and more of a “we’re all in this crazy mess together” sort of experience. Take that how you will.

(Onto the disappointment. We decided to pick starting worlds from the nine rather than do a random draw, and because of that we wanted to focus our play in a particular direction. Naturally, our card draws didn’t support that, so we all felt disappointed by the game. After that, we played a game with random draw and the game felt a little better — cleansed some of the funk from our earlier games.)

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4 Responses to Hacking Race for the Galaxy

  1. Rob Donoghue says:

    Filing this away for the possibility of future use when we need to shake things up a little.

    As a curious contrast, when picking worlds we tend to deal 2 and allow the player to pick 1 of them. Builds in some constraints while hopefully avoiding the problem you had (which I can totally see happening).

    -Rob D.

  2. Ryan Macklin says:

    Rob,

    That’s actually what we normally do for starting worlds as well. But when we payed on the 4th, our play suddenly dramatically shifted from playing our speed games — we play extremely fast & aggressive — to fast VP-engines. That prompted us to try some more experimental play, hence picking start worlds from the group.

    Last time we do that. :)

    – Ryan

  3. tonydowler says:

    That’s a nice hack! We’ve got to try that out.

  4. Aaron Enriquez says:

    I think the reason that we do not go for the VPs is that we go for the award tiles instead. Shooting for those steers us away from production unless we need to trade and ends our games quicker. I bet if we play with out those we will see much lower scoring games at first and then have play shift into VP scoring.