Thursday, 6 December 2007

In Space, No One Can Hear You Do Anything

In honor of Yehuda Berlinger and all this high-minded art talk that's invaded F:AT lately, the art image to the left depicts my visual representation of the fun player interaction you can experience in a game of RACE FOR THE GALAXY. I hope it along with this week's Gameshark column touches your soul and makes you contemplate the foibles of human nature. Because the game sure as hell won't.

Imagine if Captain Kirk & Co. never had a chance to frolic with any green skinned ladies or tussle with Khan on their five year voyage. Or if the NOSTROMO never landed on LV-426 and the Colonial Marines showed up just to secure the colony's output of novelty goods. Think about what would have happened if the Rebels and the Empire quietly did their own thing and never bothered each other with all those Star Wars. Or what if WARHAMMER 40K was about the economic administration of the empire and you never got to see Space Marines hosing down greenskins with heavy bolter fire. Yep, that's pretty much the sum of RACE FOR THE GALAXY.

It's a damn shame, because it's actually not a half bad Euro-style card game that could have been a really cool, streamlined 4X style space exploration game...but since the designer didn't bother to evolve the PR system any further by making it something fun, dynamic, and interactive it turns out that this much ballyhooed, hotly anticipated game is just another disposable title worth about two plays before heading out the airlock and on to Ebay.


simon said...

Yep, this game needs combat.

You can even build up military points, but those are just another resource to allow placement of other cards :(

Michael Barnes said...

You know, it doesn't even have to necessarily be just combat...a little trade and diplomacy would be nice to see in there as well.

But yeah, the military aspect is a _is_ cool that there's an alternative way to take over planets than by peacefully discarding cards, but ultimately it's a meaningless element.

That's really the problem with Eurogame designers and their imitators...they believe they can put "+1" on a card and call it "military strength" and poof! That's theme!

Josh said...

I have to respectfully disagree with the complaints about this game. Yes, the player interaction is non-existent, other than correctly leeching off of your opponent's role selections, but I have personally been having a heyday with this new game.
It is quick enough, and there are enough twinges of agony as I decide what cards to pitch, that it really is a great little filler.
I would turn in my Fortress Ameritrash membership badge, but I did just host a TI3 tournament a few weeks back, so my cred is still high.
I will agree that the theme could be about anything with this game, but that hasn't kept me from enjoying nearly a dozen games of it all ready.

robertb said...

...they believe they can put "+1" on a card and call it "military strength" and poof! That's theme!

It worked for Tempus, didn't it?

simon said...

That's true; combat, diplomacy, trade or just ANY type of player interaction would really make it a good game.

It's a pity ... the cards look awesome though.

I remember seeing a poster with all the cards on it. Looked pretty decent. Might be the first eurogame art Mr.Skeletor could hang next to his nerd cabinet without breaking the essence of the latter.

Michael Barnes said...

Hey Josh- the positives you describe I actually agree with. For a game that plays as briefly and quickly as RFTG, you'd be hard pressed to find one as satisfying at least on a mechanical level.

Don't forget that there's at least two other expansions coming too...each one will add another player. Now, if there's an additional interactive element and maybe some direct player conflict, that's a good thing. If they add two more players and the level of interaction is the same, then it's another wasted opportunity.

Another big complaint- this is a _$35_ retail game that could have been packaged in a double card box. But thanks to RGG/Abacus Spiele, you get a CARCASSONNE-sized box for 100-odd cards and a handful of VP markers. Oh, and eight player aid cards, four of which are in German and none of which are useful.

Dennis Ugolini said...

I believe the second expansion is supposed to add the ability to remove or seize cards from other people's layouts. Hopefully it doesn't cause too much analysis paralysis -- imagine That Guy perusing every card on the table before his play, every turn. That's what turned me off of El Grande.

Despite being a guy who usually prefers negotiation and take-that games, I really like this one. It feels like a frenetic puzzle, with the added ability to get ahead if you can predict how others will behave. We play really fast (15-20minutes), and I think the time pressure adds to the fun. And I like the art.

Mikoyan said...

What is it with you Americans and your conflict? Must you try to take....

Blah, I can't take it anymore. How the hell can there be a space game without at least diplomacy? I can understand lack of war with Star Dreck and all its touchy feely stuff...but still...

jon said...

There will be "direct interaction" in the 1st or 2nd expansion, guaranteed. It was supposed to come in the 2nd (the elements are already designed and tested), but they're apparently considering it for the 1st. Perhaps b/c of all the criticism like this?

I think it's great sans interaction; or rather, with the indirect interaction it currently has. You can use the action phases skillfully (or not), and some bluff/misdirection is possible. I'm convinced that a player who ignores their opponents entirely is at a serious disadvantage. But I'm not sure that's enough to appease the chorus of doubters on this score, so hopefully the expansions get here quickly.

The other stuff--hand management, card effects, tradeoffs, timing, endgame--is awesome. And there are thematic and even narrative connections here, more than might be expected considering the format. But it's not going to wow ATers on that score, either.

Michael Barnes said...

That's actually a good point Jon- it does have some narrative and thematic considerations, and I definitely appreciate that. For example, it makes sense that the Imperium bonus card gets you points for having rebel planets at the end, and I totally buy that the Vacation planet is a great market for your novelty goods. There's a few little things like that, coupled with however you go about your business, that actually have a nice story element for such a short game.

I'm not convinced that there's any indirect interaction at all...the closest thing it has is the ability to roughly predict if someone is going to play "Consume" if they've got a bunch of goods sitting on their planets. As far as bluffing and misdirection, I don't see that at all. I also don't think there's a disadvantage to not paying attention to what other players have out other than making sure the 6 buildings you want aren't already taken or if it's to your advantage to end the game quickly.

There just has to be some way to play the game _with_ people or I think it's a failure, and hopefully Mr. Lehmann's planning whatever that is for expansion 1. I'll definitely give it another chance if that's the case, because I do _want_ to like the game.

Michael Barnes said...

It worked for Tempus, didn't it?

Apparently not...when was the last time you heard someone mention that turkey? Does _anyone_ still play that game? And it was so very hyped up...

jon said...

A chunk of theme comes right out of Brin's Uplift series (lost alien fleets, genetic "tech" from forgotten/dying civs). And some is just SF (a shattered world that is ripe for mining, but only once without extra effort). Still abstracted, sure, but it's there.

As for interaction, look at it in terms of tempo. If I really would like to plunk down X this turn, should I just play Dev? Not if Billy is holding 9 cards and has a double discount on developments. I let him play Dev while I Trade. Playing Dev would net me a 1 card discount, but now I've still got the card out (at +1 cost), but my Trade netted me, say, 4 cards (maybe it's genes, or I have a bonus, etc.). So in one turn I'm now up 3 cards *and* built. And Billy's lone good got sucked away for a single measly VP.

But if Billy sees this coming, he could drop a slightly more expensive (less discounted) Settle instead (knowing I'm thinking Dev all the way). Maybe that catches me out, maybe not, but it is a consideration. And maybe the world he drops has a better consume power, and he nets a VP and a card, or maybe two if it was windfall. It's indirect, but you have to pay attention, or you're being inefficient.

But the bottom line is that it is Race for the Galaxy, and not, say, Conquest of the Galaxy, or Galactic Beatdown, or Pimps and Hos in Space: Interplanetary Backhanding.

robertb said...

@michael barnes

That'll teach me to leave off my smileys. I'm on your side on this one - to me, Tempus was a great big pile of suck, with absolutely no Civ-building flavor whatsoever.

Michael Barnes said...

I see where you're coming from Jon, but I just don't think that's any substitute for real interaction. As long as you do what's best for you, you'll be fine. It's usually pretty easy to figure out what will net you the most points or gives you the most benefit regardless of what everyone else picks.

Sure, it's a "race" for the galaxy. But races are supposed to be exciting, and people really only watch for the crashes, right?

Ryan Walberg said...

If the point of your column is to promote board games to video gamers, why do you post reviews of games you don't like?

Oh, and Tempus was a great game if you didn't expect it to be a civ game and you enjoy a little ass-kicking in your Euro.

robertb said...

@ryan wahlberg

It's entirely possible that I bought the hype of "Tempus = Two-hour Civ". But at least for me, Tempus doesn't bring anything to the table that Nexus Ops doesn't already bring, only with more fun added. Or that Vinci doesn't already bring in the same amount of playing time.

I guess that doesn't make it suck per se, and I'm not adverse to playing a dry-as-dust game from time to time (Age of Steam, anyone?). But if I want to throw down on my fellow gamers, or if I want to get a sense of development a'la _Civilization_, I'm going to have to play something besides Tempus.

jon said...

I see where you're coming from Jon, but I just don't think that's any substitute for real interaction.
Fair enough. I'd prefer more myself, or at least the option for more. But that's coming, and I'm having enough fun with the efficiency questions, and with working out how best to latch onto my opponents' predictability.

It's usually pretty easy to figure out what will net you the most points or gives you the most benefit regardless of what everyone else picks.
I guess we'll have to disagree on this. I agree that figuring out what will net you the most points is easy, but the harder problems are how to pay for it, and how quickly, and what are those guys doing in the meantime? And when they're moving faster than you, do you adjust your perfect plan so you can keep up?

Again, I firmly believe, and with growing evidence, that if you just follow your own path of least resistance and "do what's best for you," a skillful player will let you drag him along and then leapfrog you at the end, nearly every time. Or you'll be completely out of phase and have to do all your lifting yourself, while the others are way ahead because they're (unwillingly) helping each other out.

people really only watch for the crashes, right?

Actually, I don't like to watch any races (car, bike, whatever, crashes or no). Except the Olympics, but that's got it's own weird vibe. I'd probably watch some competition based on nostril flaring, if it was in the Olympics. But I like race idea, guess I'm weird.

robertb said...


That's 'averse', not 'adverse'. You fail at posting.

Frank Branham said...

I've yet to play this. Still want to.

Any idea what it has over San Juan?

History Lesson: The original design was part of a request from Alea to a couple of designers to make a Puerto Rico card game. Eventually they went with San Juan.

This was Tom's effort, reworked with a space theme. I've not played any of the versions. But Tom also designed Throneworld and Age of Exploration so he has a beating AT heart.

The problem is perhaps with the Euro publishers who fully understand that NO ONE likes randomness, and aggression in games. Nope. Not a soul. Uh uh. No way.

We should throw dice at them.

Michael Barnes said...

Well Ryan, if I only put out articles about games I like, then you would bitch that I only wrote positive articles. At worst, I'd look like another Tom Vasel.

But seriously, I think negative reviews are extremely useful- particularly for newer gamers- because they help define standards of quality and levels of expectation. Not every game is good and I think it's honest to voice a negative opinion about a game that might catch someone's eye or that is getting a lot of positive notice.

As far as the video game connection goes- it's not a critical element of every article but I do try to tie it in some way (like how this game has elements of 4X video games) because I do believe that it's important to cast board games as a part of the larger gaming culture.

Josh said...

I have to side with Jon in this round of arguments, and thank him for responding so eloquently.

I will, at this time though, agree with Michael's comments about box size. The player aids are quite handy for that first couple of plays.

I think you could also open a further can of worms by complaining that if upcoming expansions are going to include more interaction, trading, pillaging, and so forth, that it feels a bit like we are being sold the game a piece at a time. I won't actually complain much, because I am finding this first piece to be a delicious beginning.

And hey, if video game companies can do it, why should boardgame makers jump on board the train that sells content a piece at a time?

Michael Barnes said...

Hmm...but it is a little more egregious here since the rulebook specifically mentions card text and icons that have no use and are for a "future expansion".

I thought the player aids were pretty useless and actually caused more confusion than necessary...I think that's another strike on the game, that it looks way more complex than it actually is.

The good thing about an expansion introducing direct conflict would be that players who wanted it could use it, but those who just like the solo economic game could continue on their merry way with out it. In that respect, if the plan is to do something like that then it's not a bad idea. Unfortunately, I do think the base game would turn off a lot of the people I prefer to game with due to its passivity.

mark said...

One mistake in the article, Tom Lehmann designed Fast Food Franchise not Fast Food Empire.

jon said...

Frank, Race is much woollier than San Juan. It's still tightly designed, with no "this feels broken" CCG effects, but there's more variety and more possible card interactions. It's also much more strategically variable, with probably 3 or 4 times as many "routes to victory" as SJ.

Gameplay-wise, it's faster (simultaneous selection), but feels less interactive (you can't take Phase X away from Billy this turn, or force him into a poor Phase Y).

Ryan B. said...


Yet another great read. You crack me up to no end. You're kinda like the Dennis Miller of the boardgaming world. (LOL)

Ryan B.

Dave Lartigue said...


bill abner said...

If the point of your column is to promote board games to video gamers...

It's not. That might be a bi-product but if I wanted a column on the site that was nothing but kisses and sunshine I wouldn't have asked Michael (of all people) to do it in the first place.

Plus, this is another game that has, at least in appearance, a very videogamey theme, just like AoE III, Last Night on Earth, Tide of Iron, and StarCraft. It fits.

Helmet Lampshade said...

Another big complaint- this is a _$35_ retail game that could have been packaged in a double card box.

Wow, living in the USA and have Bordgaming as a hobby sucks. Still 25 Euro for a cardgame is still high.

I just saw that the game was played on many table in Essen and thought, well, this can't be good.

Hey, Tempus is fun. Any game that features markers which can be spread over a territory and you can glance it over and say: "This is all mine!" can't be bad. And when do you have time to play Civ or Britannia?

Malloc said...

It worked for Tempus, didn't it?

No,... nothing worked in Tempus

Michael Barnes said...

The hype did at least- I'm sure it sold _at least_ 500 copies.

Michael Barnes said...

You know, I just went over to the exposed sewer pipe that is BGG to see what reaction was to Legomancer's review of RFTG, in which he more or less makes the same points that I do. It's something like thirty posts of people pointing out how he is unable to see the "subtle" player interaction that the game supposedly has and how he's ridiculous/exaggerating/stupid for suggesting that it doesn't have any.

If there's one thing, in _any sort of criticism, review, or assessment_ it's the assumption that subtlety, reductivism, or minimalism are somehow paramount virtues and only the foolish or uncouth are unable to appreciate them.

Interaction isn't something subject to's either there or it isn't. Looking at what other players have out isn't subtle interaction. You can have four people playing solitaire at a table and they can pay all the attention they want to what other people have out, but at the end of the game they're still playing by themselves to beat a system. Is it subtle interaction if they watch what cards the other players put out? Of course it isn't.

I think a lot of gamers, Eurogamers in particular, have become so accustomed to phony player interaction like x-1 objects where x is the number of players, turn order decision dependency, auctions, role selection, and card drafting that they've become unable to determine what actual interaction is. Those posters are trying to apply an idea interaction where there just isn't any.

Ryan Walberg said...

1. I would never complain that you never review anything poorly on Gameshark. I would think it odd if you never reviewed anything poorly here.

2. Something is very wrong on BGG where negative reviews of positive games are being criticized (see: StarCraft, RftG) but negative reviews of anything else are ignored. Reviews are not the place to argue with the review about whether or not the game is good; discussion therein should be limited to the merits of the review itself.

robertb said...

@michael barnes

I'd say that to consider _only_ actual combat or explicit negotiation as the only true forms of in-game interaction would be taking things to an illogical extreme in the other direction. Maybe that's not where you're going with that argument, but given that list of mechanics that _aren't_ interaction, I don't see a lot of choices left.

Take _Age of Steam_ as an example. It has all the charm of a dentist's drill, but in every game I've ever played I've had to change plans or make plans based on my opponents' actions, game state, etc. And not in an idle curiosity, bum-that-last-vp out-of-the-system manner either, more like, "If I can't stop x from doing y I'll lose." The interaction isn't in the form of direct negotiations or combat, but it's definitely there.

Michael Barnes said...

Well, let's add it to the list of things wrong with BGG...before, I felt it appropriate to be at least charitable and acknowledge that the database was at least still useful. But at this point, there's any number of other places you can get pretty much the same information, at least on current or non-obscure titles. Believe it or not, gaming exists and perseveres without the need for BGG or _anything_ it offers.

But you're right, it isn't fair that reviews of something like STARCRAFT are treated differently than reviews of "designer" games where everybody who went to BGG.Con or The Gathering of Friends knows the designer and is immediately positive about the game. That's one of things that BGG has really screwed up, it's as if somebody knew these guys in a band and told them that their shitty record was great. That level of familiarity is really kind of damaging to honest criticism.

AGRICOLA is yet again another example...that game is _destined_ to be the #1 game on BGG. The publishers are involved on the website (you go, Hanno!) and there's a high degree of familiarity there. Add to that the fact that popular opinion of a bunch of folks who've never even seen, touched, or read the rules for the game is extremely high and it's practically preordained.

I remember seeing hype about RACE FOR THE GALAXY last year...since I'm a sucker for a space theme, I thought it sounded pretty interesting. So we had all these folks who played the game with Mr. Lehmann and the developer who were reporting back to BGG with these glowing, OMFG reports about it. Of course, that primes the pump so to speak and now people are gushing all over a game that really is SAN JUAN with a not-so-extreme makeover.

Ryan Walberg said...

I had to call Brian Bankler on that:

His basic response was that we should all know that he's friends with Lehmann already. But to his credit, he later added a disclaimer to the top.

To be fair, Chris Farrell's negative review of Through the Ages is getting attacked too. I have never played it but I already harbour resentment for it since it was basically last year's Agricola.

As for Race for the Galaxy, any game that has only "subtle interaction" is usually not worth pursuing. And I consider The Princes of Florence's interaction to be overt. That, and the last Lehmann game I played -- To Court the King -- was horribly broken and pointless.

Keep up the good writing gentlemen.

robertb said...

@michael barnes

As for the bigger issues about a)the BGG Hype Machine, and b)the immediate cred that minimalism gets, you're dead on there.

I figure a) is just the typical fanboi syndrome that you can find anywhere that like-minded people gather on the intarwebs. If you're in the in crowd, you get a lot more slack than if you're on the outside looking in. But b) is the more interesting issue from where I sit, probably worthy of a whole topic to itself on here.

MWChapel said...

Space, a far out and funky place. Captains log, brown, lumpy...

jr said...

"The interaction isn't in the form of direct negotiations or combat, but it's definitely there."

As others have said, it often comes down to the feel of the interaction.

Direct negotiations are one of the highest forms of interaction because you are directly and socially interacting with the other players. Combat (without negotiations) can be less interactive than negotiation but still feels interactive, because you are directly attacking another player, who usually does actions in defense in a battle (or at least he reacts emotionally, often strongly, which feels more interactive).

The forms of indirect interaction in most Euros are technically interactive because you care about what the other players are doing and can affect other players. But these games usually require little or no social interaction. Nor do they cause as much emotional reaction: if you take a card that the next player wanted, he may get disappointed, but it's not like you attacked his army to blow him out of a territory. So this kind of game doesnt feel very interactive overall, at least in comparison to the more interactive types.

robertb said...


I can see that point. Something like _Who's the Boss_ is definitely going to feel a lot different than _Tikal_. You going to be in each others' faces (figuratively speaking) in both games, but you could play a whole game of _Tikal_ without saying a word to the other players, bidding excepted.

As far as emotional reaction is concerned, you have to start getting down into _Princes of Florence_ territory before the crying at hosage real or perceived stops, at least in the crowd I game with. :)

jon said...

As for Race for the Galaxy, any game that has only "subtle interaction" is usually not worth pursuing.
There's "subtle to perceive" and "subtle in effect." I agree with your general conclusion if you meant the latter, but it doesn't apply to Race.

It's hard in Race (at first, or even after many plays) to see the full web of interlocking decisions. I feel like I'm just past the first hurdle, realizing it's there, let alone how to exploit it.

But the effects are strong. Look at it this way: if you get the interactive picture, you're getting more turns/money than the other players. Doesn't matter if they can choose "their" action without hindrance from you, if of the 30 or so actions the game sees, you get good value from 25 of them while they only get 15.

Michael Barnes said...

Wow, now _this_ is something you won't see at BGG- a game review used as a launching pad for interesting discussion and even illuminating larger issues.

I do think the hype/bandwagon/minimalism/fanboi issue is a good one, and one that really strikes at the heart of what's wrong with the state of online board gaming content. There'll be an article about that in the near future.

TO COURT THE KING...that brings up an interesting point. That was one of the worst games I think I've ever played, and I think Yahtzee is pretty fun if you play it with the right people and just have a laugh about it. TCTK was also completely without interaction of any kind, and most of the game is played with players looking down at cards and figuring out how to change their rolls using cryptic special powers. Is there subtle interaction in that one, guys? No, "we all helped put the game away" doesn't count.

Nice counterpoint, JR...I do think there are sharp differences between mechanical/systematic interaction (which would include mechanics such as the X-1 thing- hey, that's a good name for that)and emotional, psychological, social and even economic interaction. I definitely prefer a game like I'M THE BOSS that evokes strong feelings and interplayer tension over actions and decisions, I think that kind of interaction is much more rewarding and more fun over all.

I still don't buy the subtlety aspect of it. Either it's there, or it isn't.

Compare a game like CITADELS. That's a role selection game wherein you "race" to esablish a tableau of developments so it's a close, if not that close, relation to RFTG (I keep wanting to type RFTMFG, by the way). In CITADELS, player interaction is intense and constant not only because there's only one of each role but also because the roles directly affect other player's choices for the turn along with their material holdings. On top of that, there's the potential to bluff, misdirect and deny built into its role selection suite. The result is that CITADELS is a much more interesting, exciting game to play. But then again, it's a game of intrigue, not economics.

Josh said...

It is a testament to RFTG's effect on me that I can't stop posting to this discussion.

Having said as much, can I get some clarification on something that has been bothering me?

Is there considered to be any player interaction in an old school game like Poker? For some reason that is the game that keeps springing to my mind when I think about playing RFTG. It feels like an advanced form of poker to me, which is a feeling I am not really going to try and justify at this juncture.

But to explore one facet of this potentially flawed comparison, it seems to me that Poker does have player interaction that mainly comes down to bluffing, or luckily drawing the card that you needed and thereby denying your opponent that particular combination. By the same token, in Poker I can't attack my opponent's hand, or remove the ace from the face up cards he now holds. I could just go on playing the game, drawing the cards, and pay no attention to my opponents. But, according to my minimal understanding of the game, that would most likely result in my losing the game, and apparently, my shorts.

Poker is a fairly universally acclaimed game, isn't it? It's never one I have been interested in, but I sure am enjoying its advanced cousin, RFTG.

Michael Barnes said...

Whoa now, Josh! Don't get cocky, kid. I'm not anything approaching a Poker player myself, but I'd be willing to bet that most serious players of that game would agree that the cardplay part of it is actually a very small facet of the game- it's very much a psychological (and therefore interactive) game. That's why if you just play Poker for fun and without any kind of betting, it's pointless. Because the game is just sort of "whatever"- it's barely there and no, that part of it doesn't have any meaningful interaction because the risk element coupled with the psychological interplay of the players make Poker what it is. RFTG doesn't have that metagame element to give meaning and weight to what you're putting out there. I don't see someone put out the mining robots and wonder (or care) if he intends to put out a brown planet. Aside from that, there's no stakes in the game because nothing can be lost- again, a reduction of drama.

Josh said...

Star Wars reference quotes just never go wrong with me.
So, if I ante up before my next game of RFTG, will we then have the requisite level of psychological interaction for me to regain a little Trashcred?

wnorris said...

Poker can be a great player interaction game. I'm sure undertakers in the Old West were pleased when a nice game of poker ended with a player on player exchange of lead. Makes for a short game though.

Mark said...

The mechanism that gives RftG its player interaction isn't that subtle. Each time a player picks an action it lets all other players also perform that action. I'm affecting the other players by allowing or forcing them to perform an action. If a player can intuit the action selections of the other players they can pick a different action that exploits their choices.

The most obvious example is between Settle and Consume/Trade. If I know another player is going to pick Settle and I have a Windfall world in my hand, I can pick Consume/Trade even though I have no goods. I Settle the Windfall world on their action and immediately trade the Windfall good on my Consume/Trade, potentially gaining a turn on the Settling player who can't Consume/Trade until the following round. OTOH if I guess wrong and they don't Settle I could end up with a worthless Consume/Trade and fall behind. There's situations like this that crop up between all of the different actions and occur frequently during the game.

It has the rock/paper/scissors element of most simultaneous action selection games, however it's obscured by the fact that everyone gets to perform the action. What brings it back to the fore is the benefit for picking a particular action. Since the benefit for being the one to pick a given action can be make or break it makes for some agonizing decisions. You have to choose between playing it safe by picking what you need to happen or take a risk and pick what you want to happen.

This may not be the player interaction you enjoy and it may not be in the helpings that you want, but it's definitely there.

Michael Barnes said...

That's not player interaction- that's system interaction. You can get similar results playing by yourself and flipping over 3 random cards to simulate the other players' choices..

Kerry said...

Blast from the past. Drop me a line, Mike old man, I'd love to hear from you. Still in NYC working on the PhD, email me at [my first name] at

Mark said...

That's not player interaction- that's system interaction. You can get similar results playing by yourself and flipping over 3 random cards to simulate the other players' choices..

You could randomize the battle wheels and treachery cards in Dune and say the same thing. It's just the system interacting, not the players.

mtlawson said...

I disagree. There's still plenty of negotiation and give/take to be had in Dune. Not as much as, say, pure old Diplomacy, but it's still there.

On a similar note, we broke out Talisman for the first time in ages. We kept the game time down to a certain limit and skipped on the City, but in general, the game went well. The metagame is still alive and well.

--Mike L.

Craniac said...

"To be fair, Chris Farrell's negative review of Through the Ages is getting attacked too. I have never played it but I already harbour resentment for it since it was basically last year's Agricola."

Hahaha! Chris Farrell and Cortexbomb are my geek buddies because they are the Angels of Death. I love watching them tear apart games like Pit Bulls at a chicken farm.

Michael Barnes said...

You could randomize the battle wheels and treachery cards in Dune and say the same thing. It's just the system interacting, not the players.

Yeah, if you do nothing but randomize the wheels and the treachery cards you'd be exactly right. However, you're discounting the involvement of player-specific powers, an extremely mutable, variable gamestate, metagaming, negotiations, diplomacy, player personalities, interpersonal psychologies, economic status, and whether or not I just want to hammer your guys into the sand or not.

mark said...

Yeah, if you do nothing but randomize the wheels and the treachery cards you'd be exactly right. However, you're discounting the involvement of player-specific powers, an extremely mutable, variable gamestate, metagaming, negotiations, diplomacy, player personalities, interpersonal psychologies, economic status, and whether or not I just want to hammer your guys into the sand or not.

This is the reason I think simultaneous action selection works in both games, and goes beyond being an exercise in random flailing. Each player has reasons why they might prefer one choice over another, and some of those reasons are quite apparent (position on the board in Dune, cards/goods in the tableau in RftG). Others aren't nearly as obvious (cards in hand, personal grudges, grand schemes).

Observing what other players are doing and working from that to plan your action is where the interaction comes from. So much of doing well in RftG rests on anticipating an opponent's choices and exploiting them.

This isn't to say that RftG and Dune are at all comparable as game experiences. They are different beasts. I'm arguing that the simultaneous selection shouldn't be taken as removing interaction when instead it moves it to a different format.

Wargamer66 said...

I like RFTG quite a lot, but I don't think of it as anything but a fast playing card game, and don't really expect it to be much more. For a eurogame, it has risen to the top of my list because the gameplay is fine and it doesn't wear out its welcome, as im finding that any euro over 40 minutes does these days.

Michael Barnes said...

Hmm...I don't think you're entirely wrong Mark. I do think that there is a structure and I definitely agree that role selection can be a useful tool to introduce interactivity- CITADELS, again, is a good example- but I'm just not convinced that the level of _player interaction_ is there. I just don't feel that material awareness is the same as interaction.

Mikoyan said...

From his description of through the ages, I think I've played it before but on the computer. The computer is nice enough to take care of all that micromanagement crap though.

mark said...

Fair enough, it may be a difference in how we define player interaction. For me it comes down to whether you spend a significant portion of your time worrying about what other people are going to do and planning as best you can to deal with it. Play enough RftG and that's what you do. It isn't the same as directly attacking someone though.

The learning curve on RftG is steep enough that even if you know the rules cold you still have to look at every card you get to figure out what it does. Until you're familiar with the deck and know what you can do with the cards it's tough to worry about the other players, let alone figure out what they might do. So I'd also agree that the first few games of RftG are going to have minimal player interaction by any definition.

Ken B. said...

It's the "rising tide lifts all boats, but not equally" version of interactivity that's common in Euros that feature it. Your actions help everyone, but you try to work it so it benefits you just a little more.

It's a very "meh" concept for me and if you do consider it "player interaction" it's certainly on the far-flung fringes of the concept.

Twilight Imperium's role selection does have elements of this, I will admit--but at least the other players have to pay for the privilege (usually), so it's not some automatic thing that happens, and there is an opportunity cost involved.

Also, that's not all there is to the game anyway...if someone picks Political and hurts you with it, you can ram your ships down his throat. Unless you can open fire on your foes like in Galaxy Race 5000 for the Nintendo and I missed it, there's no opportunity for that in RftG.

StephenAvery said...

The player interaction is too subtle to really be called "interaction." I'm a Military Giant- I want to go crush Baden's homeworld...Sorry no can do..but you can take over the 2 pnt rebel moon...

The game has got potential. I wasn't aware of expansions and maybe that will be the saving grace. If not I'll stick to SJ. Its the same game with less clutter.

Steve"Discerning Gamer"Avery

Michael Barnes said...

Somebody over at BGG characterized this article and the talkback as "Michael Barnes Versus Race for the Galaxy" you think he even read any of this?