Friday, March 28, 2014

Race for the Galaxy: The Galactic Parasite

My education in parasitic conflict began with Race for the Galaxy. This game is super-tight, where actions are always happening and your attention is never, ever allowed to waiver.

Fast Times

I've got the paper version. And I walk around begging people to play it with me, to little luck usually.

So the majority of my play ends up being on, and the game here manages to shine even more than it does in real life.

Zero setup time? Almost instantaneous drawing, shuffling and discarding? The 2 player advanced rules manages to stuff 2 turns into each turn, and playing this on the computer ends up in an average game length of approximately 8 minutes. No joke.

8 minutes to build your star empire, expand your tentacles, maximize the economy and dominate your fellow players.

Time for the in-real-life 2 player advanced game is about 20 minutes if both players are running at full steam.

The Early Games

When I originally started playing Race for the Galaxy, it seemed like the surest path to victory was to build 4 resource planets and 4 consume sources, then start producing and consuming until you run out of victory points.

The problem being you can't really aim for that. Who knows what cards you're going to draw? A military strategy also works, if you draw into military cards. Sometimes you can win just by accumulating bigger and better planets/developments and doing it more efficiently.

The cards I respect more now versus when I started playing are the Alien Cards. Few in number, expensive to build, and not very synergistic with anything other than the slim collection of Alien Planets and the single 6-cost development.

But the Aliens are worth a lot of points just on their own. You don't need to have any kind of system set up (although Replicating Robots or one of the 2 cost subtractors for Aliens really helps). Most of the Alien planets are windfall worlds, so you get a very valuable sale resource for free as soon as you play it. Settle an Alien world, sell the resource, and hopefully draw another big point Alien Planet.

That can be enough if you are able to keep it going.

Another amazing card I failed to fully understand is Pilgrimage World.

At first glance, the consume power looks like a negative. I originally assumed the card was good because it gave you a whopping 2 points and cost 0 to put into play. But countless times since then I have been stuck with a bunch of production planets, desperately looking for consume powers, draw Pilgrimage World which can consume an INFINITE amount of resources at an almost 1-for-1 ratio. The more production planets you have, the better it gets.

But Back to Parasitic Conflict!

Sometimes the most important thing you do during a turn isn't even an action you selected, but something your opponent chooses. If you draw an important card during the explore phase, the enterprising player immediately looks for opportunities to play it. Heck, I might not even do anything during one of my actions if I find something superior to do during someone else's action.

Once you figure out a fairly decent game plan, the final struggle for the win comes down to who can use the other player's actions more effectively.

One of the big downsides (there's another one I'm going to save for another post) to the online Race for the Galaxy is being forced to scroll the window down to see what exactly your opponent is working on.

Half the time I end up ignoring my opponent and failing to anticipate upcoming moves.

A production/consumer engine is pretty cool, but being able to also settle new worlds and develop new techs at the same time is even better. By guessing what he or see is going to do, you can actually do up to FOUR things during your turn. And only one or two of those will easily win you the game.

That's why some of the biggest boons in the game are Intergalactic Bank, Replicant Robots, Terraforming Robots and worlds with a production card draw. These cards all allow you to better react and not be caught flatfooted during your opponent's actions.

On the production side, Mining Conglomerate, Consumer Markets and Diversified Economy all give you more cards to pay for things while you are busy with your consume/produce engine.

Whatever your opponent does, you need to do it twice as good, or do the opposite while also taking advantage of his moves. I've seen players do both.

So why do people not want to play this game? Race for the Galaxy has a few things going against it. Firstly, it LOOKS complicated, even though the actual game is extremely elegant. Secondly, the iconography LOOKS like weird undecipherable alien language, when cards are actually quite clear.

I feel like I have at least 2 more posts coming on this…

Thursday, March 27, 2014

DC Deckbuildin' and the Violence Inherent in the System

Do you like violence? What if I told you there was a game where the currency was violence. Not implicit, but explicit. Instead of bribery or blackmail, we were dealing solely with punches and kicks. Boots to the head. A jack booted stomp on a Sunday morning.

The DC Comics Deck-Building Game.

The title sticks in my craw like a shiny bent nail every time I type it.

If you have played Dominion, you would probably be familiar with the rules to the DC Comics Game. If you have played Ascension, you are almost 100% of the way to knowing the rules to the DC Comics Game.

There is a spread of 5 cards you can buy from, the always-available kicks as the go-to option if you don't like any of your choices.

Violence is the currency of your purchases. As a superhero, you buy other heroes, equipment and villains for your deck using a series of punches and kicks in the same way Dominion uses copper, silver and gold. Villains you are coercing into your team, of course. Equipment you are stealing from lesser beings. And of course other lesser heroes gain admiration the more punishment you dish out. At least that's how I envision it.

Much like Ascension, you can't think up any big overarching strategy. If you pick a theme, and try to stick to that theme, you are going to LOSE. You also can't just go "big money" because the currency doesn't really go high enough. The kicks are worth 2. Some heroes/equipment might be worth 3, but you have to wait for them to come around. Super-villains rarely cost 8 to buy, but more likely they are worth 10 or 12.

There also aren't very many ways to trash your cards. So your deck will invariably be big. And gloppy.

The first time I played this, I lost in spectacular fashion with a hand full of kicks. The more savvy players went for what they thought was cool, regardless of the associated ability and ended up doing substantially better.

When I eventually won, I had instead built a balanced deck. Equal parts high power cards and drawing abilities to get those high power cards into my hand. I had to build right, and then I had to get lucky.

Each player will have a unique superhero "role" card to give you an added little bonus, and from my experience you have to pay attention to these because they make all the difference. Triggering an extra card, an extra +1 power or both on a normally good hand is what gets you enough power to buy the super-villains, the big point scorers of the game.

There is plenty of luck, but there is also a surprising amount of skill to be acquired, particularly in the card evaluations.

Green Arrow's bow is incredibly strong.

Granting you +2 power, but also subtracting 2 from the strength of the current super-villain in play.

But other cards feel a lot better once you play around with them for a while.

Two Face, for instance, is a terrible card on the surface.

Playing him gets you +1 power, the same value as a punch. His added ability sounds bad…you call odd or even, draw a card and get to keep the card if the cost matches what you called. But if you a familiar with your deck, it gives you the ability to try to sculpt both your current hand and the hard you will draw next turn.

The DC Deckbuilding Game (not the correct title) is short, sweet, with more depth the more you play. It's currently the go-to lunch game and I couldn't be happier. Pretty cheap (especially if someone else pays for it) and the rules can be found here.