**This was originally posted on February 21 on BGG.
Thank you for checking out my fifth review. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
For this particular review I will give mention to some of what this adds to a two-player game, but the primary focus will be on how this brings solo-play to Race for the Galaxy.
Spoiler Alert: This is my favorite solo game to play, and there is a good reason for that!
An Overview of Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm
Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm is an expansion for the base game and designed by Thomas Lehmann is published by Rio Grande Games. The box states that is can play 1-5 players and has a 60 minute play time.
Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm added several wonderful additions to the base game, all of which expanded the gameplay enough that I’ve owned this game with the expansion for over 2 years, have played it near 100 times between solo and 2-player, and am yet to feel any need to pick up any other expansions yet. Four starting worlds is probably the best addition outside of the solo robot, as that nearly doubles the possible start worlds. It adds cards for a fifth player, something I haven’t needed to use yet because we haven’t attempted to teach anyone else to play this game yet. The integration of goals adds objectives for short-term and long-term planning as you play cards into your tableau for all player counts except solo. I love these, although there are times where I’ve found I lost sight of potential combos because I was too focused on that 3-point or 5-point goal, so racing for those is not always a great thing. Some of the goals go to the first person to accomplish them, such as the first to be forced to discard a card (having 11+ cards in hand), while others go to the person with the most of something in their tableau at the end of the game (such as the highest military rating) so long as they meet the minimum threshold mentioned on the card. The expansion also adds a handful of new developments, including three new 6-cost ones, and a fistful of new planets to integrate into the deck.
All of these work great with 2-players, and I love both the variety of starting worlds and the goals. They add a lot of depth, strategy, and replay value to the game. But from here on out, the focus will be solely upon this as a solo experience.
Setup for 1 Player
There is a nice little board, a pair of dice, and a good number of cardboard chits that all get used only in the solo game. This board, the chits, and the dice, all work together to operate the “robot” opponent you will be playing against. Deal a starting world to the robot and then to yourself. Based on the number of the starting world (Example: New Sparta has a 3) you look through the chits and pull out any that has that matching number. There will be one that dictates what the robot does any time the robot symbol appears on the dice, and there is usually one that goes over one section on the board to give it unique actions when that action is selected. The number also dictates the starting economy and credits that the robot begins with. It will get four cards (unless specified otherwise) in a face-down pile which is essentially the robot’s “hand” and you get your hand of 6-cards as normal and discard down to four (unless you have Ancient Race as the starting world).
It takes a little getting used to, but after a few plays against the robot, everything really clicks on setting up the game. It also plays much like a two-player game, in which you get to select two actions each round and the robot’s dice will select two actions. So if you are used to playing a two-player game, this will be an easier transition since you are already accustomed to the selection process.
I’ve already mentioned that it is my favorite solo game experience, and that is because no two games ever play out the same. Even if I used the same starting world every game, the cards I see (and don’t see) dictate a lot of my strategy. Yet there is also the necessity to pay attention to the robot and try to select the actions that will benefit it the least (more on that later). I’ve played this 3-5 times in a row as a solo experience and always found myself wanting to play just one more time, especially when a victory is eluding me still (more on this later as well).
The strategies and paths to victory that can work well in a 2-player game may not function very well in this one. For instance, the economy of the robot can really shoot up, making it to where it gets 3-6 points every time a consume action pops up (the worst is when it maxes out at 5 and starts getting 2x consume!) Suddenly doing Trade as an action to earn cards is not a worthwhile strategy, since they are raking in the VP every time that comes up. Which, essentially, slows your own economy down since you have fewer ways of drawing cards. All of a sudden your favorite cards/strategies may be trash, while you might find some real gems in those that let you draw cards in other phases of the game. I love that you really have to adapt even mid-game to what the robot is doing otherwise you will get ground into dust.
This game is hard as a solo game. The robot is super-efficient at maxing out its tableau and at gaining victory point chips. I have almost exclusively played this on easy against the robot and still find that I lose more often than I win. I am yet to win on either of the other difficulties and firmly believe that the hard difficulty is impossible until proven otherwise. I’ve already mentioned this before, but it is worth repeating: the robot forces you to adapt the way you play. You will become a more efficient player of this game if you play against the robot. And it will blow your mind at how much better it will make you when you play against a human opponent afterwards. Which may, or may not, end up being a good thing (more on this below).
The first few times you set this up for solo play, it will feel like it takes too long. It will feel fiddly, manipulating tokens and rolling dice and flipping cards. Yet after a few plays, you’ll get faster at the set-up and realize it really doesn’t involve much more than shuffling and dealing out a few cards and snagging a couple of tokens. And the fiddly manipulation of the robot ends up not being so bad, after all. The knee-jerk reaction ends up being wrong, and you discover this game is fast, efficient, and fun. It is my go-to solo game not just when I want to play solo, but when I don’t have much time. It isn’t quite as fast as loading an app, but it is pretty damn close. Resetting things to play a second game takes just a little longer, as you need to find all those starting worlds first and then mix them up, but even that doesn’t take too long most of the time and could probably be streamlined with a randomizer of sorts that would tell you which two worlds to grab.
The swing of emotions when playing this is great. There is tension when rolling the dice, hoping they don’t get that *one* symbol that would spell doom for your efforts. There is tension when flipping cards for the robot during a develop or settle action, leading to dread when they get a high-point card and a cheer when it is a one-point card. There is a sense of excitement that builds as you flip over useless card after useless card for them, getting near the end of their pile and you begin to hope they will be unable to use that develop or settle action. It is a roller coaster ride of excitement during a game of this playing solo, and as a result you are very, very involved in what the robot is doing as well as what you are doing. While some thing playing this game with others is like multiplayer solitaire, since you can mostly ignore their efforts and focus on your own, you get the opposite experience playing this solo. You are very invested in that robot, what actions it takes, and the cards it plays.
I still have to double-check myself sometimes on whether I deal cards first to me or to the robot during set-up. And I still have to check and see what some of the specific starting world actions do for the robot. If you struggled with learning the iconography for multiplayer, it will be a battle for solo play. After a few games, the basic ones are easy enough to remember and understand but sometimes the icons aren’t as clear as you imagine they should be.
If you want to play a game where you feel good about your progress and/or ability as a gamer, this one may not be for you. It is a brutal solo game, even on easy. There is often not much margin for error, the game will always end before you want it to, and sometimes even games where you felt you did good will turn out to be lopsided in favor of the robot. You will lose a lot in the beginning. A lot. But if you like to overcome a challenge, this game is outstanding because it will always be a close-scoring affair when you win and will require great planning, and adaptability, in order to overcome the challenge of the robot. There is no greater satisfaction than beating the robot when it has just thumped you the last 5 plays.
The biggest complain that I can have against the solo game? It made me too good to play against my wife. Seriously, when I played this all the time solo I got too good at streamlining my action selection. Our games ended far too quickly and I crushed her in points when I stretched things out longer for her benefit. She completely stopped wanting to play against me for close to a year, and I still struggle to convince her to play a game in spite of my reduced frequency of solo plays. She has no desire to play solo and so I am stuck with this likely being a mostly solo game until we teach it to a group of other people.
This game is fantastic as a solo game. In fact, even if my wife didn’t want to play it often I would probably still prefer it as a solo experience over two-player games. I love and enjoy both, but it really shines with the solo play. I love the challenge, and the thrill of overcoming the challenge of the robot. I am determined to win on easy 5 time, medium 3 times, and hard once this year. So far I have one easy under my belt in my three plays, and hope to get this to the table far more often in the near future. I don’t see this game ever being replaced or leaving my collection, and I would love to find a game that threatens to be a better solo game. So far, I haven’t found anything that comes close. If you have Race for the Galaxy and like to play solo, or are interested in solo board gaming, this is a must-have.
And even if you don’t have any interest in solo play, this is still a really solid expansion that adds to the replay value for every player count.
Check out this Geeklist for some of my other board game reviews: https://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/220300/cardboard-clas…