Race for the Galaxy

February 27, 2009

Race for the Galaxy is a card game for 2-4 players that plays in about 30 minutes with 2 players, 60 minutes with 4 players.  Designed by Tom Lehmann with a recommended age of 12 and up.  Published by Rio Grande/Abacus Spiele.


(images courtesy of www.abacusspiele.de)

Race for the Galaxy is an evolution of Tom Lehmann’s own San Juan, itself a card game version of the immensely popular board game Puerto Rico.  Anyone familiar with either of those two will have no trouble picking up on the similarities in Race for the Galaxy.  Having shot up to the top 10 on Boardgamegeek (an impressive feat regardless of a game’s pedigree), Race has an enormous amount of hype and momentum going for it right now.  But how much of that hype is deserved?


Players will attempt to build the best civilization in a science fiction setting by choosing role cards at the start of the turn, simultaneously revealing their choices which could include drawing cards, adding new worlds, building developments, producing goods, or consuming goods.  Cards in hand serve as the currency to pay for a card you want to play, just like San Juan, which offers constant choices between more powerful, high cost cards or less efficient but cheaper worlds or developments.  


The game has a fairly steep learning curve because of its complex system of icon implementation. Each symbol (of which there are many) is another piece of the puzzle to learn, but once you have a few games under your belt, the peices dovetail nicely into a smooth engine. 

Players earn victory point chips as they consume goods, and the highest total wins. 



As mentioned earlier, plenty of choices are offered in Race for the Galaxy.  Unfortunately, these choices are not always tough or meaningful.  Your game is largely determined by early draws, and can lock you into going in a particular direction too easily. 

Nothing you do can affect your opponent negatively, so the charges against Race that it seems like multi-player solitaire seem justified.  However, lack of player interaction in itself doesn’t bother me.  After all, it’s a claim that’s been made of Princes of Florence as well, and Princes is one of my favorite games.  (You do have bidding in Princes of Florence which is some player interaction, but that bidding is a small percentage of gameplay.)  

A spark is missing in Race, despite its elegant engine.  No amount of elegance can save a game if the play is lackluster, and that’s the feeling I get here.  I’m willing to hang on to my copy in case expansions find that missing link. 


Components/Presentation: 8/10 – Rio Grande has done a typically impressive job with the cards and rulebook.  I always like the way their rulebooks are laid out.

Theme: 5/10 – Nothing to grab you in Race, as the theme is very loose.

Mechanics: 8/10 – There is nothing wrong with the mechanics – it’s a seamless system. 

Replayability: 5/10 

Fun Factor: 5/10 Without that spark, the game feels flat, which also accounts for the replayability score given above.

Overall: 5/10



  1. Hmm. We bought this game quite some time ago but haven’t played. Some have told me it’s their favourite. Not so sure now, but I’ll guess we’ll give it a try. Thanks for all the information 😉

  2. “A spark is missing in Race, despite its elegant engine.” I guess this is one of those games that people either love – and play hundreds of times – or are “meh” about. For me the depth of strategy and card combos in the game are amazing; each game is a different challenge to get all the puzzle pieces to fit before your opponent does. I also play a lot of 2 player games, which really turns every game into a close-fought race!

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