Linnaeus

Race for the Galaxy Strategy – the Second Tier

In boardgames, strategy advice, race for the galaxy on May 12th, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Having taken a look at cards that change the game when they are played, I want to turn my attention now to cards that are undeniably powerful, but lack the extra oomph characteristic of a game changer. Their appearance may mark a transition between phases of the game, but only when it is the capstone of a power combination, or the last piece of a strategic puzzle. Often they cause little change in the tempo of the game when they are played. They save a player a tempo or three over the course of a game, but they do not drive you to the end of the game the same way Tourist World and Improved Logistics do.

Drop Ships

When playing a strategy that requires a strong military, failing to get over the hump from two military power to three can be a major problem, as can getting from three to four. Several factors play into why this can be so hard, but one major factor is that, normally, you need two or more sources of military power to get that high. Drop Ships can short circuit these problems in a hurry, though. With it in play, a military strategy that is stuck in neutral can suddenly start to roll out valuable worlds in a hurry.

Even when you are playing a power military strategy, Drop Ships is not a card you should automatically play, though. When you are trying to stockpile high defense worlds and military-themed 6-developments or you are having trouble getting cards into your hand you may not be able to spare cards to pay for Drop Ships. New Sparta can usually get by with Space Marines or a couple of +1s, while other start worlds may opt to play New Military Tactics, sacrificing a tempo to get a mid- to high-defense alien world and its military bonus into play on the cheap. Often you get a nice Trade as part of the package, too.

Late in the game, Drop Ships is almost always a strong play when you intend to get New Galactic Order into play. A lot of the time, though, its relatively high cost can mean the difference between a tempo spent playing a strong military world versus a tempo spent trading or exploring for enough cards to get rolling.

Combinations

Drop Ships does not feature in any combinations in the conventional sense. As a large boost in military strength, though, it can be a part of the mega-“combination” that lies at the heart of any military strategy.

Galactic Trendsetters

Either both Tourist World and Alien Toy Shop are underpriced or else Galactic Trendsetters costs too much. Actually, I suspect all of these may be true. Trendsetters does improve the efficiency of a Consume strategy the same way the game changers Tourist World and Alien Toy Shop do. It comes up short compared to them, though, because it does not save the Consume player a tempo. Tourist World is (effectively) two Consume powers at once, while Alien Toy Shop is an efficient Consume power and extra production capability (assuming you are calling Produce yourself). This may not seem like a big difference, but in a build versus Consume battle, one tempo is often the difference between ending the game on your terms or on your opponent’s terms. I even feel the difference when playing: when Tourist World or Alien Toy Shop hits the table, I can feel a small mental surge of energy, a call to arms. Galactic Trendsetters is always nice, or a bit annoying (depending who plays it), but it is only a serious challenge under certain circumstances.

You can cripple your hand by playing Galactic Trendsetters if you don’t already have strong card production in place, so it is a tricky card to play early in the game. Nevertheless, Galactic Trendsetters can be a very strong card when played at the right time. For a Consume player who is going full tilt but has more consumption than production, Galactic Trendsetters can improve his scoring per Consume cycle more quickly than another production world can. It is also an excellent card for a non-consumer looking to leech points from a consuming opponent.

Combinations

Galactic Trendsetters, Tourist World and three production worlds (or two plus a windfall world) is virtually a winning combination if you get it in play before the last round or two.

Not only does Galactic Trendsetters score 3 endgame points with Galactic Renaissance, its improved efficiency also works nicely with Renaissance’s endgame scoring for VP chips. If you know that you will be playing Galactic Renaissance, there is little reason not to play Galactic Trendsetters too, other than poverty or lack of time.

Mining Conglomerate

All the pieces are there. Card generation in the Produce phase? Check. Multicard Consume power? Check. Thematic connection between all powers? Check. It even adds a Trade bonus to the mix. Nevertheless, Mining Conglomerate cannot stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its brethren, Consumer Markets and Diversified Economy.

Its relative flaws are small, but numerous. For example, its card output does not scale as you build your position. While an extra 2 cards is powerful early in the game, it needs to be supplemented with other sources later on. Consumer Markets, on the other hand, can turn out a staggering number of cards late in the game, helping a player throw down multiple 6-developments in a hurry. Even Diversified Economy can get up to a four card output without too much of a stretch.

Worse, Mining Conglomerate‘s card production can be blocked, especially in the early part of the game. When you are only one rare elements world ahead of your opposition, a poorly-timed Settle can cripple you.

Finally, Diversified Economy and Consumer Markets both max out at 6 VPs per Consume ×2, while Mining Conglomerate can only get up to 4 VPs.

Mining Conglomerate is not a bad card. It was designed with a different role in mind, though. Its lower cost (3 vs. 4 or 5) makes it a practical early game play. The Trade bonus and Produce power also fit an early game development better than they do the strategic keystone role. For a pure rare elements strategy, Mining League or junkball Consume are better focuses.

Combinations

The rare elements commodity worlds – Mining World, Comet Zone and Runaway Robots – can cover for Mining Conglomerate‘s mediocre card generation while working with its other powers.

Mining Robots, Alpha Centauri and Replicant Robots attack the problem from the other end, putting less demand on Mining Conglomerate‘s card generation. If you play a Develop strategy instead, you can substitute Investment Credits, Public Works, and Interstellar Bank.

Replicant Robots

The discount that Replicant Robots provides is huge; equal to what the game changer Galactic Federation does for developments. It makes a huge swath of non-military worlds cheap enough that a little leeched card production can get you through to the end of the game without pausing for a Trade.

The problem is that there are very few non-military worlds that turn cards spent and played into points as efficiently as military worlds or 6-developments do. Unlike Galactic Federation, Replicant Robots doesn’t cover for this by scoring additional points for each world put in play. Paying for military worlds with cards using Contact Specialist is more efficient than putting down discounted non-military worlds, too. The only non-military world holds in this light is Terraformed World.

Replicant Robots works best when you cover for this weakness. There are two main ways to do so: arrange to apply its discount to military worlds or use it to get a Consume strategy up and running quickly, letting those “inefficient” non-military worlds shine while saving a tempo or two.

The other tricky part about Replicant Robots is that it is an expensive card that only shines if you get it into play quite early, preferably during the opening. It can kill your momentum unless you have a follow-up Trade ready.

Combinations

Replicant Robots is almost mandatory to make a Contact Specialist strategy work. Without Replicant Robots, this strategy tends to get bogged down by a never-ending hunger for cards. Other solutions for this problem are even more expensive than Replicant Robots.

Trade League

Trade League is a flexible, but rather expensive card. It excels as a leech on an opponent’s Consume strategy, supplying the cards you need to fuel an expensive build strategy. It does not normally kick a strategy into gear, though, and strategies that Trade League is a lynchpin for rely on difficult to build combinations of cards. Merchant World plus Deficit Spending or Galactic Bazaar is one example. Deficit Spending or Merchant World with either a genes or alien world, plus a little traditional Consume capacity on top of that, is even more complicated. Ideally, you want to play a series of cards that feature Trade-related powers, too, so you score enough endgame points to put you over the top. There are some other, equally baroque possibilities, but the upshot is that, in almost 500 games of Race for the Galaxy, I can count the number of times I’ve seen this come together successfully on the fingers of one hand.

Trade League is not so much a game changer as a superleech. Against a consuming opponent use Trade League to leech cards, fueling your builds. Against other opponents, you can regularly Consume/Trade for a handful of cards, trying to outdo the builders when you leech their Develops and Settles. Ideally, you want to be able to Trade several times before you need to call Produce, choking the other players’ Consume leech.

Combinations

You can use Trade League against a consuming opponent as an alternative to Galactic Federation to drive a 6-development strategy. Merchant Guild is an excellent complement to this tactic in a multiplayer game.

Trade League can also substitute for Replicant Robots in a Contact Specialist strategy, although it is harder to get out safely in a timely fashion. You need to be ready to Trade immediately to refill your hand.

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  1. I second your comments about Trade League:
    “There are some other, equally baroque possibilities, but the upshot is that, in almost 500 games of Race for the Galaxy, I can count the number of times I’ve seen this come together successfully on the fingers of one hand.”

    But I’d be even harsher about it. I wouldn’t have put it in the second tier. Maybe I’m making play errors, but every time I lay down Trade League, I end up regretting the tempo and cards spent, even in a seemingly perfect situation, e.g., I have Malevolent Lifeforms (gene production world) and I’m against a Produce/Consume player. You’d think five free cards every other turn would be a huge leech. But either they manage to slow down their consumption a bit, or else it’s too little too late, or the extra cards still don’t help me get enough points at the end of the game.

    Maybe if the support cards for the Trade League strategy — Merchant World, Deficit Spending, Galactic Bazaar — were cheaper, and there were more of them, then it would be a more reliable play. Maybe a future expansion will add more support to that strategy.

    • I definitely agree with you that more discard cards in hand for points cards would help make Trade League stronger. As it is, the discard strategy tends to be either too expensive or too much of a crapshoot to pull it off.

      Right now, I tend to think it’s best as an alternate engine for expensive build strategies, with the discard strategy as a supplement, when you can get it, for times when you don’t have big cards in your hand to pay for.

  2. I find Trade League very strong in 2p. A game-winner *when played correctly*. Its usefulness comes in tricking your opponent first, and blunting afterward. Here is the ideal way to use TL:

    1) See TL in your hand early. Leave it there. Your hand size is effectively -1 for a while, which is sad. Read the rest of the steps, and recognize when you should just let TL go.

    2) Play the majority of your good cards. This is important. Just keep playing good cards while you have ‘em.

    3) You are set up for your card refresh. Dev TL while your opponent Consumes, and if necessary Settle a windfall too. There should come a time when your opponent is a bit low on cards and is about to Consume (though Trade is still okay), or you should engineer that time. This is to be done midgame, after you’ve played your early good cards and are running out of steam, when your opponent has a Produce edge on you but not a huge edge.

    4) Your opponent’s work in setting up a Produce edge is undone and you probably have a Consume edge. The worst half of your barely playable cards is gone and you have shiny new cards. Go forth and leverage your tempo and hand-quality gain into a win.

    I find that in 2er, TL is rarely a leech. It is for discouraging role choices altogether, and comes with a fantastic tempo gain. And 2-4 points.

  3. Please define the term junkball. Thanx

  4. Guy,

    I don’t disagree with your plan, I would simply say that it (and other good TL plans) require a lot of cards, a bit of luck, and a lot of time to set up, and as a result, they can be harder to pull off. That’s why I put TL in the second tier. I don’t think it’s a bad card, I just think it’s harder to use really well than the cards I call Game Changers are. This is a bit different than the other second tier cards, which come up a smidge short on raw power instead, but I do think it’s a valid criticism of the card’s power.

    indidkid.

    I’ll talk about junkball consume more in later posts, but basically it refers to a Consume strategy build from several small consume powers, not an engine card like Consumer Markets or Diversified Economy.

  5. Gotcha. That makes good sense.

  6. Whoa. GreedyAlgorithm is Guy.

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