Consume strategies are a tough nut for new Race for the Galaxy players to crack. They require a lot of moving parts – a handful of production worlds and the right mix of Consume powers to make them score efficiently. It’s easier to see how plans like throwing down a big military and then settling your brains out or leveraging discounts work, even if they are not always as efficient. Tom Lehmann has even said in public forums that he designed the Race for the Galaxy base set with a significant bias toward Consume strategies in order to nudge new players toward playing them effectively.
In this article, I want to present some general advice on how to get the most from Consume strategies. I will follow up in my next article with an overview of the major varieties of Consume strategy, with specific tips for playing each variety well. Finally, in a third article, I will present a few tips for fighting against Consume strategies.
Go Go Go!
While every strategy needs to be careful about wasting time, it is doubly important for Consume strategies. While points-per-build is an important consideration for build strategies, most Consume powers are fairly equal, generating a point or a point plus a card for each good consumed. This rate of conversion is good enough to win, although there are other problems you will have to face, of course. While converting goods to points more efficiently than this is good, it is not essential if you don’t dilly-dally rounding your engine into shape.
Consuming is inherently a come-from-behind strategy, however. Most production worlds are more expensive for the amount of VPs they score than other types of worlds. When you play them, you are investing in them, taking on a lower return up front in exchange for a promise that they will generate even more points than normal via consuming later in the game. A Consume-oriented player will be generally be behind – possibly well behind – for the first third or even half of the game. A smart builder will try to close out the game before a consumer can generate many points from his engine, earning the interest on his investment. The consumer can only prevent this by getting his engine running before the builder can lock in his advantage.
You therefore cannot waste time getting your engine in gear. Settle production worlds early and often, and use your opponent’s Develop calls to play developments that have useful Consume powers when you can. Production worlds that also have Consume powers — Prosperous World or Earth’s Lost Colony for example — cost a little more, but are important because they save you time, as can choosing a windfall world that features a Consume Power as your one windfall selection.
You want to use your opponents’ role selections for card generation as much as you can. Rely as much on your opponents’ Explores and Consumes, the Settle phase bonus and leeching for card generation as possible. Ideally you will only Trade when you are about to play something expensive like an engine card or a very strong production world along the lines of Lost Species Ark World or Galactic Studios.
Cards that can Consume more than one good per Consume phase are another valuable way to save tempi when getting set up. Tourist World, Old Earth, Mining Conglomerate and Galactic Genome Project are the kind of card that is worth splurging on provided you are producing appropriate goods.
It is extremely rare for a Consume strategy to win if it cannot generate cards as part of its normal operations. Generally, you will be scoring 4-8 points per Consume cycle, and it is not difficult for a builder to match that if he manages 2-4 builds in that time, especially when she is playing 6-developments and large rebel worlds. You are also trying to dig yourself out of a scoring hole, so you must score during your opponents’ build phases if you want any hope of winning. Whether you use the builds to expand your Consume engine or to simply pick up a few points to make sure you are gaining on the builders, using your opponents build phase calls is essential.
Strong card generation also gives you options when you find that you are being beaten at your own Consume game. If you let your opponent take on the burden of calling Produce, you can use your non-Consume phases to call builds. You can either strengthen your Consume engine, seizing the advantage from your opponent, or use your advantage in card generation to play valuable cards, overcoming your opponent’s Consume advantage through brute force. In multiplayer games, you may even have the option of exploring for strong plays occasionally, leeching the consumer’s Produces and the builders’ Settles and Develops.
In the two-player advanced game, it is not terribly important whether you draw cards during the Consume phase or the Produce phase. You will choose both – and generate cards from both – every round, so balance is not an issue. In multiplayer games (and two-player basic), you may want to favour balanced card generation – a situation where you are drawing roughly the same number of cards from Consume powers as you are from Produce powers – when you have a choice. While you get the same number of cards from your Consume engine every two rounds, unbalanced card production can be a little awkward at times, since big builds can leave you with an empty hand for a round if the timing is wrong. When this happens, the builders do not have to take the possibility of what you might build into consideration. With balanced card generation, you will always have a few cards in hand at the start of the round, so the choice between building or saving cards is driven by what you have available, not by the fact that your hand is empty. The difference is small, but it can add up to a build or two lost over the course of a game.
Engine, as far as I know, is a term that Alex Rockwell originally coined to describe the developments that allow a player to draw cards when they produce on their own worlds, like Mining Conglomerate and Research Labs. While this is a useful definition, I prefer to use it to refer to cards that a) consume multiple cards each Consume phase and b) allow you to draw plenty of cards while pursuing your Consume strategy. This means that I do not view Research Labs as a true engine card, but I do include Free Trade Association. I prefer this definition because it helps to identify cards that automatically generate a robust Consume strategy with a few appropriate production worlds in play.
While engines are (understandably) expensive, they are also extremely efficient. Consumer Markets is slightly stronger than three Consume powers that consume a good for a point and a card. While it only works with novelty goods worlds, it saves you a at least one tempo over playing three separate cards with Consume powers, two if you do not have to make a special effort to gain cards to pay for it. Those tempi can often be the margin between victory and defeat.
Other engine cards, with the partial exception of the less expensive Mining Conglomerate, are equally efficient, which is why I talk about all of the engines except Mining Conglomerate in the Game Changers article. If you have an engine card and one production world that works with it (or two different colours with Diversified Economy) in your hand early in the game, you should consider carefully before deciding not to pursue a strategy involving them.
While Replicant Robots is a nice card for any non-military strategy, it is a godsend for Consume strategies. All Consume strategies rely heavily on settling, so getting Replicant Robots into play early will save Consume players a lot of cards. It’s not unusual for Replicant Robots to pay for itself two or three times over in the course of a game.
That is not the end of its benefits, either. A lot of Consume strategies suffer from poor card generation. A consumer wants to continue to grow his Consume engine even after he has begun to crank out points, but if he is only drawing two or three cards with each cycle of the engine, this can be difficult. Trying to expand while saving for a key endgame 6-development is virtually impossible. With Replicant Robots in play, though, most production worlds are free, or only cost one card. Even minimal card production becomes enough to slowly increase your hand size and grow your engine at the same time.
Another way a you can make the most of minimal card production when consuming is to play a small amount of military. Even +2 military is enough to Settle an occasional small military world as a free leech, giving you a chance to accumulate cards over the course of the game for a key development, or perhaps Terraformed World or an alien world. A small military can also, with a little luck, grow into the ability to play medium sized rebel worlds by the end of the game.
The problem with using military to leech cheaply is that it is less likely to help you grow your Consume engine. While there are a few low-defense production worlds and worlds with Consume powers that you can play with military, they are less common than windfall worlds, and your third windfall world does not usually help you as a consumer. Even among production worlds, only New Survivalists has a Consume power, which only gives you a card, and there are no military windfall worlds so far that have Consume powers.
I would choose playing Replicant Robots – or an additional Consume power – over playing military strength every time once I know I am playing a Consume strategy. Sometimes you do not have one of those options, however, and a little military is often better than not playing anything.
Produce — Consume — Consume — Produce
Normally you want to maintain a rough balance between your goods production and your Consume capacity; both leftover goods and unused Consume powers are wasted opportunities. Nevertheless, you do not have control over which cards you draw, and there will be times when your position is out of synch.
Sometimes you can take advantage of excess production, however. If you have at least two goods left after your Consume, it may be worth choosing Consume again before you Produce. You’ll score at least four points and deny any opponents that are out of goods a leech. If one of your opponents is also playing a Consume strategy, you may even force him to call Produce for you.
This tactic works especially well when you only have a couple of Consume powers, but one or more of them average more than one point per good consumed, say Galactic Trendsetters, Tourist World or Galactic Genome Project. It does not require a lot of goods to earn a good return on your phase selection this way, so four to six production worlds are enough to make two Consume calls in a row efficient.
Back-to-back consuming is less effective if your opponents have little or no Consume ability of their own. You have to do the math here and figure out if you score more points per round by calling two Consumes in a row or by alternating Consume with Produce. You also have to take into account how important producing is to your card generation. If you have several Consume powers that grant both points and cards, you should be fine, but if the bulk of your cards come from Produce-related powers, you may be costing yourself valuable builds by calling Consume twice in a row. Regardless, getting more Consume powers into play should be your top building priority.