Contrary to my original expectations, I have been playing a lot of two-player Race for the Galaxy (using the advanced rules, where each player selects two roles every round, of course), starting a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I have average about three-quarters of a game per day in that time.
What i didn’t foresee is that RftG is an excellent coffee shop game. I have packed everything into a couple of top-load card holders, like those used by CCG players, and I can easily carry them in the pockets of my winter jacket – or even by hand – without too much trouble. I now go down to Tim Horton’s 2-3 times a week with another member of my game group to knock out a few plays. I hesitate to call two-player better than multiplayer, but it is significantly different, and maybe more addictive.
The major differences are:
Choosing Two Roles at a Time
Several of the key tactical moves in RftG are two-parters – they involve two roles occurring in a specific way. The best example of this is choosing Settle in order to play a windfall world, hoping to then play Consume/Trade to cash in the windfall good for cards. In multiplayer play, if another player chooses Consume and you have a consume power in play, your plan will go up in smoke.
This is not an issue in advanced two-player, since you can choose Settle and Consume/Trade at the same time, and nothing (except a mistake by you) can spoil your plan. Consume ×2/Produce cycles and Develop/Consume or Settle/Consume plays also fit this pattern.
The extra control you get from the dual role selection opens up new vistas of play, and gives you greater control over your fate.
Seeing Half the Deck Once is Better Than Seeing a Third of the Deck Three Times
In a three- or four-player game, the deck typically will be reshuffled once or twice, giving you a second chance to find that key 6-development or other power card. Over the course of a game, though, it is more important to consistently find useful cards, rather than getting a second kick at the high-powered can. If your opponents consistently draw the basic, blood-and-guts cards for your strategy, leaving you high-and-dry, you’re toast.
Because of this need for consistency, I would rather see half of the deck once, rather than cycle through the deck two or three times. You can still get messed over by the luck of the draw, but it won’t happen as often, and you have more control over your fate.
The Pace is Faster
For several of the major strategies, endgame play centres on driving a certain behaviour as often as you can. Performing an entire Consume ×2/Produce cycle every round instead over two rounds or performing two settles or two develops in a round will often make the endgame much faster in the two-player game. It just lasts fewer rounds.
Interesting endgames won’t lose any of their flavour due to this, but you can crank through a stereotyped endgame very quickly, getting the boring part over with very quickly.
Again, I don’t want to characterize the two-player game as better than the multiplayer game. It is just different in interesting ways. It’s a good excuse for playing a healthy dose of both forms of the game.