There is a natural arc to a game of Race for the Galaxy that can be broken down into stages of the game. This article gives an overview of the different stages of a game, what you should be aiming to do during each stage, and how to recognize the transition from one stage to the next. Understanding what you need to focus on in each phase of the game, and knowing when that has changed, will help you to make more efficient plays than your opponents, and help you sift through the array of options that you always have available throughout the game.
In the opening, players are cycling cards, trying to turn up small builds that will let them develop the infrastructure needed to make larger builds without crippling themselves. Typically this means discounts; draw-powers like Public Works, Mining World or Smuggling Lair; cards featuring military bonuses; small production worlds; windfall worlds (intending to trade the good immediately for more cards) and accompanying trade bonuses. It’s not unusual for a lot of exploring to happen during this phase of the game because it is as strong as or stronger than the players’ other card drawing options.
This does not mean that one small play is the same as every other, though. You want to build cards that work together so that you have one or two phases that you can exploit without letting your opponent draft off you consistently, much as you do when building your main strategy. The main difference is that how you will generate points is a secondary concern after building a way of cycling cards consistently.
You do still need to keep an eye out for cards that could turn into your main strategy. You need to figure out which of the power cards that you draw fit with your current position, discarding those that do not work with what you have, since a strategy that builds on your opening will be stronger and easier to implement than one that has to start over again from scratch. This is how you turn these early, small plays, into a real point engine.
You typically move from the opening to building up when you can make large, strategic plays without leaving yourself helpless during your opponent’s chosen phases.
In the buildup, players get the cards that form the core of their strategy into play. Exactly how they go about this varies depending on the strategy.
- A plurality of strategies focus on getting big engine cards like Galactic Federation, Diversified Economy, or Improved Logistics into play; cards that change the tempo of the game and let the player crank out points in a hurry
- Strategies like junkball consume and some build blitzes focus on getting the final pieces of their engine in play quickly, eschewing the knockout blow for advantage in tempo (from not needing to pause for cards as much) so they can start up their point engine sooner
- Power building strategies will dig through the deck with Explore +5, trades and leeches, looking for big builds, drafting their opponents’ Develops and Settles to get the last pieces of their strategy (usually card drawing, discounts and/or military bonuses) in place
The buildup ends and the drive begins when you can focus on scoring moves (generally, 6+ points per round with no help from your opponent) for several rounds in a row.
Once the drive begins, a player is focused on nothing but generating points and trying to force the end of the game on their terms as soon as possible. This means calling nothing but the phase(es) that let his engine score points as much as possible – Settle for a military player, Consume ×2 and Produce for a player that has a strong Consume engine, Develop for a Galactic Federation strategy, etc. Generally, Consume players will not deviate at all until the very end of the game, while the other players will hope to keep going until the end of the game, but may have to pause to refuel if they are unlucky.
While the primary focus is on scoring points, players will still try to sneak in builds that improve their position when they can, especially as a draft/leech on another player’s phase choice.
EDIT: To clarify this last point, development of your position continues through the drive phase, but it is a secondary consideration. It mostly happens when:
- the build phase(s) you are not primarily focused on gets called and a strategic play is as strong a build as anything else in your hand.
- when enhancing your position is also a strong scoring play and does not cost tempo
- the rare occasions when your hand demands a change in direction
Trying to end the game on your terms means depleting the VP chip pool or building 12 cards before your opponent can reach their game-ending condition. When you can force this, your opponent is leaving chances to score more on the table, which is not a guarantee of success, but it helps.
The drive turns into the close when the end of the game can be foreseen clearly. Normally, this is when a player is one or two builds from having 12 cards in their tableau or when the Consume players have their production worlds stocked and there are fewer VP chips left than the Consume player(s) claim in a single Consume ×2 phase.
In the final round or two of the game, player’s will try to combine the final push to the finish line with the special builds that they’ve been saving because they do absolutely nothing but score extra points. There is no time left for a return on investment, so there is no point in investing in anything but points. This is the time to throw down Rebel Homeworld and New Galactic Order.
Card flow is purely a means to an end. Emptying your hand in order to maximize your score is perfectly legitimate at this point. Likewise, if you are behind and have nothing strong to build in your hand, you can try one last gamble, hoping to pull something better to build from an Explore +5 than your opponents do.
It’s quite common to spend a minute or more analyzing your hand, trying to figure out which phases you need, who is likely to call which phases, and then, once phase selections have been revealed, what plays will, in fact, score you as many points as possible, taking every phase into account.