Monday, 16 August 2010

Race for the Galaxy: Brink of War

First, I'm a big fan af Race for the Galaxy, owning both previous expansions Gathering Storm and Rebel vs Imperium, and having played more than 650 games. About 250 of the recent games were played using the computerised version downloaded from keldon.net, and about 75 of them were played with the 3rd and latest expansion Brink of War. With that in mind, you know where this review is heading.

The Game

Brink of War is the 3rd and last expansion, in the current story arc. There may be other expansions expanding the base game in future, but they will not be compatible with the current 3 expansions. Brink of War introduces two key concepts, prestige and search. Prestige is the purple circles already seen on some cards in Rebel vs Imperium. It is another form of victory points (each prestige point, PP is worth one victory point, VP), but it is also much more than that. Every round the player or players with the most PP gain 1VP. If only one player has the most PP (i.e. not tied for most PP), and has earned a PP in the previous round, he also gains one card. These may not sound like much, but it is actually quite a big advantage.

Gaining PP: Some worlds and developments give you a PP once you settle or develop them. Some cards award PP's when you perform certain actions. This is very unlike VP's, which are mostly gained by Consuming. There aren't many cards that give PP upon playing them, and even fewer that give PP after played. However among these, the variety of ways to gain PP is big. E.g. conquering a Rebel military world, discard 2 cards, using a "treat-military-as-non-military" power, developing a 6-cost dev.

Spending PP: You can spend PP's, unlike the case of VP's. Some cards give special powers if you are willing to spend PP's, e.g. gaining cards, gaining VP's, taking over another world, and even stopping an attempted takeover.

The other key concept introduced in Brink of War is the one-time-use Search / Special action card. If you use it as Search, you can search the deck for a specific type of card, e.g. developments that give military strength, worlds with the chromosome icon, 6-cost developments. There are 9 categories that you can choose from. If you don't like the first matching card that you find, you can continue to search, but you must keep the second matching card. This is pretty cool. E.g. in the early game you may need some military strength to settle a number for nice military worlds you are holding in your hand, or in the late game you may want to try to find a 6-cost development that jives well with your tableau.

The other way to use this card is spending one PP to boost a normal action, e.g. Consume x 3, or Settle with -3 discount. In either case, this Search / Special action card is removed from play once used. So you better make it count!

Other than these two new aspects, you also get lots of cards, many with rather quirky powers. There's a card that lets you replace an existing peaceful world on your tableau with another world from your hand. There's even a death star, a development that costs 9 (!!) and can be used to destroy an opponent's planet (!!!!). There's a 6-cost development that awards point for negative military strength. Peace! There's a windfall world where the goods on it can be any type you want it to be, which is handy, except you can't Trade the goods. There's always a catch when something sounds too good to be true eh?

The game also has some new objectives, to add to the ones that came with the previous two expansions; and new and interesting start worlds.

The Play

I don't own the game yet. All my plays of this expansion have been using the computerised version, against 2 other AI's. They like going for prestige, and I too feel it's important. Not that the prestige leader always wins, but being prestige leader is a strong advantage. I find that I have been doing Consume strategies much less, probably because the new and shiny prestige aspect is distracting me. I also tend to be quite militaristic. Maybe because it's a simpler strategy to execute.

I realise that there are still many possibilities in Race for the Galaxy that I have not explored. Even after 650+ plays. I feel that every card in the game, and every power on every card, can play a role in a winning strategy, but there are still many cards that I have not really tried to fit into a coherent strategy.

13 Aug 2010. A 92-33-8 win. 92 is my record. There are many games scoring over 100pts that people have loaded to www.boardgamegeek.com. In this particular game, the prestige aspect earned me many points. 10PP = 10pts, Pan-Galactic Affluence gave me 10pts for those 10PP, and Federation Capital too, because its point value is the number of PP I have. Also, the most PP goal gave 5pts. I don't remember how I got the 23VP. Probably half were gained 1VP by 1VP for being prestige leader.

A game in which I had military strength of 17, and New Galactic Order (1pt per strength).

This game was won by Interstellar Casus Belli. This is a card that lets you takeover any military world from any tableau. No need for those specific vulnerabilities like having Rebel military worlds, having Imperium cards, or having positive military strength. You just need to have enough military strength to do the takeover. In this game, I did only one such takeover (Reber Sympathizers). What helped me tremendously was the power to consume 1PP for 3VP. I had Galactic Salon which gave 1VP directly when Consuming. I had Galactic Trendsetters, which Consumed 1 good for 2VP. I had Uplift Gene Breeders, which Produced 1PP and 1 gene good, just perfect to be Consumed by Interstellar Casus Belli and Galactic Trendsetters. I could gain 12VP in one Consume.

14 Aug 2010. By the 3rd last round of this game, it looked like I was going to lose, despite having three high valued worlds, Alien Guardian (9pt), Rebel Homeworld (7pt) and Alien Monolith (8pt). The red AI (left) was doing very well. Then, with a stroke of luck, I drew Rebel Council (8pt). That was what allowed me to overtake red AI.

It may seem that I win a lot of games, but it's not the case at all. All my plays of Brink of War were against 2 other AI's. I win 48% of the time, come in second 10%, come last 42%. Hmm... it seems I either do well, or I suck.

The Thoughts

Brink of War is for the fans. It should be played with both the previous expansions. The additional elements do make the game more complex, so if you already think Gathering Storm or Rebel vs Imperium is a bit too much, then steer clear. I feel they make the game richer and more interesting. This is not adding for the sake of adding. It is not more of the same. The new elements are additional facets with their own uniqueness and with new decisions you need to think about, and they integrate well with the rest of the game. The Search function is useful, especially when the deck is so big now. The key is when to use it. It may be good to use it early to get yourself off to a good start. But you may also want to use it later when your direction is clearer. The other question is whether to even use it for Searching. You may want to use it as an action booster. That can be very powerful if used right.

Takeovers happen more frequently than before, but overall it's still a rare thing. The value of takeovers (to the game) is still the fact that there is such a risk, rather than actual takeovers happening.

I absolutely love this game and can't wait to get my hands on a physical copy.

2 comments:

wankongyew said...

I keep wondering how people manage to shuffle properly with that big a deck with the physical copy of the game and all expansions. It bothers me that the cards aren't properly randomized and that people are getting unfair streaks and so on. It's just another reason to trust the Keldon version of the game more.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Indeed the deck would be very unweildy, especially if you sleeve the cards. I don't sleeve mine, and even with just the first two expansions added, the deck is already very bulky.

When shuffling, my wide and I do it together. We split the deck, do some simple shuffling, then we simultaneously deal the cards into four piles. After they are all dealt out, we take the combined deck and do some simple shuffling again. That seems to work reasonably well. We rarely get crazy streaks.

My wife and I probably should play using the Keldon program, now that it supports multiplayer. But it doesn't work well with my wife's Windows Vista laptop (often need to switch to another program and switch back, before the screen updates itself), and sometimes it lags a bit.