Cards in hand are the lifeblood of any RftG strategy. They serve not only as the developments and worlds that you put into play, they also serve as the primary currency of the game. Typically, the more cards you draw during a game, the better, and failing to establish a steady flow of cards to your hand throughout the game will force a long, uphill battle on you. Of course you can also attack the problem from the other end by reducing how many cards you need in order to pay for your worlds and developments. Price discounts and military strength will not free you from the need to draw new cards, but they will decrease it.
In this article, I want to discuss the advantages and weaknesses of the different card drawing strategies and of price discounts. Although military strength is similar to having a discount, it is a major topic unto itself which I will save it for later posts.
Drawing Cards vs. Discounts When Building
At a glance, drawing more cards and getting discounts on your builds seem to be equivalent, especially when card drawing is tied to a build phase, as is the case with the card drawing powers of Terraforming Robots and Public Works. After all, they both reduce the pain of paying for your builds. There are some subtle, but very important, differences to bear in mind, though.
A discount will never give you another card that you want to build. Part of the advantage of drawing cards is that you are cycling through the deck, increasing your chances of finding useful cards to build, and discounts cannot help with this. The dark side of this advantage is the perverse pain of drawing a card that you need for your strategy when you need more cash.
Any card you draw can be used to build any other card except for military worlds (and sometimes cards in hand can contribute to building them as well; see Contact Specialist and Space Mercenaries). Discounts are always targeted at a certain segment of the deck; there are no universal build discounts.
One advantage of discounts is that, with the exception of Interstellar Bank, card draws do not come before associated builds, so they cannot help you when your don’t have many cards in hand. Discounts can let build that last, small, inexpensive card that you have in your hand, catching your opponent off guard.
Both discounts and build-related card drawing are nice to have in play of course. If you have to choose among them, though, I would probably rank the different forms (all else being equal, which it so rarely is):
- Draw before building (e.g. Interstellar Bank)
- Discounts (e.g. Replicant Robots, Investment Credits, the Develop phase selection bonus)
- Draw after building (e.g. Public Works, the Settle phase selection bonus)
When you flip through the deck, it looks like there are a dozen or more ways of getting cards into your hand. Each phase has at least one or two associated powers that allow you to draw, and two of the phases – Explore and Consume/Trade – are primarily dedicated to drawing. I think it is safe, though, to consider these options as falling into four categories:
- Strategic (drawing cards as a consequence of pursuing your main strategy)
- Leeching (drawing cards as a result of your opponent pursuing his main strategy)
Over the course of any given game, you may draw upon any and all of these methods. The borders are fuzzy, too. There may be such a thing as strategic exploring, for example, and most card-drawing abilities can serve as strategic or leeching abilities under the right circumstances. Nevertheless, I believe that thinking about card drawing in these categories can help you sort out how you want to address the problem of getting more cards more easily.
It’s easy to see exploring as the proverbial red-headed stepchild of card drawing. It only gives you one or two cards; gives each opponent one card and doesn’t let you do anything else productive. Compared to Consume/Trade, especially, it can seem a little anæmic. It has its place in most strategies, though, and using Explore effectively is an important part of any player’s game.
The greatest advantage of exploring is that it does depend on having anything in play. Any other method of card drawing requires having a card (in some cases with a good on it) in play. This means that Explore is the only card drawing option that you always have available. Yes, this is damning with faint praise, but it is important to keep in mind. Often it is the only way of turning around a weak opening hand, and sometimes it is the only way you can pull yourself out of a hole when you make a mistake that leaves you with nothing in hand.
Explore +5 also has the virtue of letting you look at a large number of cards without putting together some sort of power combo. When you have a full hand but little worth spending it on, this is a huge benefit. The same is true when you need a card of a particular large category – a card to boost your military or a card with a Consume power are common examples. If you have draw bonuses for exploring of +2 or greater you can choose between Explore +1/+1, keeping an extra card for your trouble, or sticking with Explore +5, further improving your chances of finding what you want.
Finally, Explore is the first thing that happens in any round that it is called. In fact, Interstellar Bank is the only other draw ability that occurs before the building phases. The other build-related powers are all triggered after you have built. This means that, if you need to find something to build, Explore is probably your only option.
Use Explore to draw cards when:
- You don’t have any other methods of drawing available
- You have a full hand, but nothing useful to build with them (especially if your strategy revolves around strong builds)
- You need to find something to build before the build phases (Develop and Settle) take place.
- You have cards in hand but need an instance of a category of card, such as a military bonus or a blue production world
The power of Consume/Trade is so obvious – you get several cards at once while you opponent does not get any – that beginners will quickly grab onto it as their primary means of card production. Things are not that cut and dried once you get into it, though.
Getting the requisite good into play may not be as simple as it sounds, for instance. If an opponent calls Consume in the round you try to Settle, the new good could get siphoned off by one of your Consume powers, leaving you with a lot less for your effort. Even that assumes you can get a good into play at all.
Perhaps the only kind of good you can get into play is blue. Without a trade bonus, the two cards it generates are marginally weaker than calling Explore +1/+1. Your opponents get a chance to consume any goods they have, too, leeching a couple points or cards off your action. A canny opponent might come out ahead of you on your Consume/Trade call.
Once you have your strategy up and running, taking time out for a trade wastes a valuable tempo on the drive to the end of the game. Your opponents get to drive their own engines at full speed and leech off your Consume, while you only get to leech. If it has to be done, sobeit, but be aware of the cost involved.
The relatively large infusion of cards will usually do a lot to help you build momentum, though, especially in the first half of the game. You normally gain enough options and cash to make one or more builds. It is rare to go an entire game without at least one trade because it is the easiest way to generate a large influx of cards to your hand.
Do not underestimate the power of a cycle of Consume/Trade and Produce calls early in the game when your opponent cannot leech off it. If you do not have any strong builds in your hand, you can cycle cards without helping a luckier opponent build his strategy. Eventually you should find the pieces of a strategy, or at least some nice big builds to close out the game with, without giving your opponent several extra tempi to speed up the end of the game.
While they can be hard to pull together, there are entire strategies built around the concept of a strong trade engine. They will be discussed in a later article, but deserve mention in passing here as another advantage of trading for cards.
Use Trades to gain cards when:
- You have a strong trade good in play early in the game
- You need to cycle cards and your opponent will not gain very much from your calls
- Your builds outstrip your strategic and leech card drawing
- Your strategy revolves around trades
Strategic Card Drawing
It is a rare strategy that can succeed without drawing cards as it goes. Even with deep discounts, your hand will eventually empty or exhaust your worthwhile builds. If your main strategy is consuming you still need to build a little to keep pace with a build strategy that is in full bloom. If you can generate enough cards without having to step out of your normal flow to trade or Explore you will save several tempi. In a game where the difference between victory and defeat is often smaller than the points you generate in one round, this can make all the difference.
Every strategy has ways to draw more cards while it drives for the finish line. Typically, these break down according to the phases you will call consistently in the last half of the game:
- Explore – Research Labs, Galactic Renaissance
- Develop – Interstellar Bank, Public Works
- Settle – Terraforming Robots, Terraforming Guild
- Consume – various consume powers that grant a point and a card for consuming (e.g. Galactic Resort, Terraforming Robots or Galactic Studios)
- Produce – Worlds that produce cards when they produce a good (e.g. Lost Species Ark World and Rebel Sympathizers)
Cards that only generate cards during the Consume and Produce phases (such as New Economy, Trade League, Rebel Underground or Imperium Lords) are also useful forms of strategic card generation for a Consume-oriented strategy, but they are a luxury. They do not contribute to your primary point generation engine you save time if you lean toward playing card generators that also help you develop your main strategy. Pure card-drawing powers in the Produce and Consume phases are much better as leech cards for build strategies. This does not apply as strongly to building strategies playing powers that draw cards from their primary actions since cards drive their primary strategy.
Use strategic card drawing when:
- Your strategic engine is in place and you are ready to focus on point generation until the end of the game
Just as you can cadge a few tempi and points off an opponent’s strategy – say by getting small developments and worlds into play or setting up a couple of Consume powers – you can leech cards off your opponent’s strategy. As I mentioned in the section on strategic card drawing, powers that generate cards any time a certain phase is selected really shine in this role. The cards that Public Works, Terraforming Robots, Mining World and the like generate are valuable too, of course. Their conditional nature makes them more dependent on circumstances that you cannot spare time to manage, though. You shouldn’t spurn them outright, but unconditional card draws should be your first choice for leeching. The contrast between how useful Interstellar Bank is as a leech when compared to Public Works is especially illustrative.
On the rare occasions when both players are focused on the same phases, leeching largely goes out the window, or rather blends completely into strategic card drawing. The rest of the time, the player with the stronger card leech has a large advantage over his opponent.
Gain cards through leeching:
- Whenever possible, especially once your opponent’s strategy is set and he cannot easily avoid your leech