Saturday, May 10, 2008

Race for the Galaxy and variety

I'm usually all about variety in games. Sure, I have favorites, but I tend to play a lot of different games a few times each, rather than one game a lot. In past years, I've played over 250 distinct titles per year. Recently, the number has dropped to just over 150 titles, but that's more because of a general drop in gaming than a decrease in variety.

Then, along came Race for the Galaxy. I've played RftG 33 times this year, 53 times ever, which is way lower than many people's counts. But, it is already my third most played game, after Electronic Catchphrase and Crokinole, both of which I've been playing for nearly 7 years. In fact, the most I've ever played one game in a calendar year is Electronic Catchphrase which got played 36 times in 2003. RftG is three games shy of that and it's only May.

What makes Race so different for me? Well, some of it is circumstances. In addition to my usual gaming group, colleagues at work enjoy playing it. But, with any other game, after 30+ plays in under 6 months, I'd be sick of it and really lobbying for something else. For me, Race is optimal in several ways; Length: Race playes in 30-45 minutes with even only moderately experienced players and under 30 without feeling rushed with experienced players. It feels more substantial than almost any other game of its length. Depth: 50 games in, I feel like I'm learning new strategies and tactics. Luck: The luck level in Race is what I consider optimal. Against a total novice, I'm almost guaranteed to win. Against an opponent who has played some, but is still new to the game, I usually win. Against some of those who have played far more than me and/or have more natural talent at it, I usually lose. That level of luck keeps the game interesting to me. Theme: Obviously, for a lot of people, the theme is sort of irrelevant. I find the game deeply thematic and engaging because of that. The narrative presented by a tableau at the end of the game is often quite striking. Complexity: Race is a complex game, but to me it feels like it hangs together so nicely that the complexity is simply translated into depth after a few plays.

All that said, I'm still not convinced that fully explains why Race has so completely broken past my usual game-burnout threshold. Highly recommended.

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