A little while ago, I wrote a little about my current favorite game, Race for the Galaxy. But it's such a good game, I thought that it deserved a bit more attention. There are many other reviews available for this game, so I won't bother to go over what other people have already said. But what I will do is try to figure out why this game is so appealing to me.
Back in college, some of my friends introduced me to a card game. They called it 'Big'. I have no idea why it was called that or if that was even the real name for the game. All I know is that we played it a lot. I remember one time when me and a couple of friends were driving up to the mountains to do some snowboarding. My buddy was driving we ended up having some car problems (if I remember right, someone cut him off and he did a 180 and skidded into the snowbank on the other side. My other friend who was in the passenger seat lost his beef jerky. Not the throwing up kind of lost, it just ended up on the floor somewhere). We wound up waiting around in a Carl's Jr. playing Big for about 5 hours.
Why did we like this game? Well, it was a pretty simple game. You took turns discarding cards in sets of increasing rank. Whoever got rid of all their cards first was the winner. Whoever got rid of all their cards last was the loser and had to shuffle the cards for the next game. One of the interesting parts of the game was that you could put down Poker hands when you discarded. So part of the fun was creating unstoppable combos that would allow you to control the game. Another part was figuring out how you could play the weak cards in your hand while still remaining in control. Probably the most fun part was the race to finish 2nd to last to avoid the humiliation of shuffling.
A lot of the other reviews compare Race to boardgames like Puerto Rico (which I've never played). But the replayability of Race for the Galaxy reminds me of Big. Here's what I mean:
1) It's a card game. That means that it's very fast to set up. There's no board, no wooden pieces. Just cards and point chips.
2) The game plays quickly. Mrs. BigKat and I can finish a game in just over half an hour. Which means that if you're stuck in a Carl's Jr. for 5 hours, that's 10 games of Race!
3) There are a lot of interesting combos available for you to figure out. Your hand is kind of like a puzzle. You need to figure out how to use the cards to create the most points for yourself.
But that's about where the similarities end. Race is much more complex and interesting than your normal card game. Not only do you need to figure out how to use the cards in your hand, you also need to be able to figure out what kind of cards you'll need to be successful. You also have to figure out the best way to be able to actually obtain and play those cards. And if the cards that you're getting aren't working with your initial strategy, you have to be flexible enough to try going in a different direction. AND you have to do all this faster than your opponents! Because it's a RACE! And one of the best parts is that it is a fantastic 2 player game. Not too many good card games can say that.
When I first heard of this game, I thought it sounded boring. I didn't bother reading about it too much. Like I said, people compared it to San Juan and Puerto Rico, 2 other games that I thought sounded boring and didn't want to play. And I didn't really care for the space theme all that much. Not anything too exciting about settling planets (it would be different if there was a Death Star that could blow up planets). But I kept reading about how people absolutely loved this game. So I decided to read through the rules to see what I thought. It sounded interesting, but the big trick was figuring out if it was something that Mrs. BigKat would like. In the past, our preferred games have been on the lighter side. Race definitely has a bit more 'meat' to it. It took her a couple of games to get the rules down (the different phases and the icons on the cards were a little confusing), but now, she not only likes it, she's getting pretty good at it! Last night, she clobbered me 48-40 (and it could've been worse, but she made a mistake at the end).
I'm going to be getting a new batch of games in May sometime. But I think that in the long run, Race for the Galaxy will get more play than any of those games. The combination of the quick setup, fast game play, diverse strategies, card combinations, and complex decisions make it the perfect game for our limited leisure time.