I find Race for the Galaxy (RftG) to be quite an intriguing game.
RftG has a two-stage game play. You need to earn money to build worlds from which you earn VPs. This concept is quite common in economic board games such as Puerto Rico and St Petersburg.
RftG tries to be clever by using the cards for three purposes: as worlds to be built, as money to pay for the worlds, as well as goods for the worlds. The first two are legitimate uses, the last is just trying to be clever and saving on components. (Some people use small tokens to represent the goods and discard the cards meant as goods directly to the discard pile.)
What is really intriguing about RftG is its card combos. There are cards that work well together. A reasonably good player will recognize these combinations and use them as much as possible.
However, we'll first look at the four main strategies to win the game:
Consume/produce is the most obvious strategy. It is especially lethal in a 2-player game, as one player is able to consume 2x VP/produce in one turn. Given that there are just 24 VPs, the game can end in another 3 turns once a player has a produce/consume engine running.
A basic consume/produce engine gives 2 to 3 VP per cycle (before doubling). A good engine gives 4 to 5 VP per cycle.
Look for cheap consumption/production worlds that work well together. It is possible to set up a consume/produce engine by the fourth or fifth world.
Look out for consume worlds that has a high goods-to-VP ratio, such as,
Worlds/development that allow multiple uses are also useful:
There are two categories of consume/produce: one that returns no or very few cards, and one that returns 3 or more cards. The second is more powerful as it allows leeching onto other players' develop/settle actions.
This strategy is much slower in non-2 player games for three reasons:
It is too late to counter a consume/produce player after he has set up his engine, as RftG has no blocking elements. It is best to assume that someone will use this strategy and try to leech onto his predictable actions as much as possible.
In the first half of the game, he will settle his consumption/production worlds. Hence, do not settle unless you have a good world. Prefer to develop instead.
In the second half of the game, he will definitely consume/produce. Hence, you must have consumption and production powers to ride along his actions.
Do not settle too — he will just add new consumption/production worlds! Only settle towards the end of the game.
Settling is the next most obvious strategy, especially for a military player. The key to winning is through speed — building to 12 or more worlds before other players can build up their consume/produce engine.
In a 2-player game, the game can end in 6 turns (2 settles per turn). In other games, it requires at least 12 turns.
It is too easy to take this strategy too literally and focus only on settling. The first thing you'll realize is that you'll run out of cards to pay for your worlds. For a military player, you'll run out of military worlds.
Therefore, you need a way to get cards. Exploring is very slow. Put down a windfall world and trade it to get cards. Subsequently, produce and consume-trade to more cards.
There are useful developments/worlds that lower settling costs. They go a long way to help you settle worlds cheaply. These cards are,
If a player is able to settle cheaply, you must think carefully before choosing settlement. This is because he will usually choose some other actions (to get cards, for example) and wait for you to choose settle.
Development strategy is like settling strategy, except that you build developments instead of settling worlds. This is usually doable only if you get one or more of these cards early on:
Like the settling strategy, you need a way to get cards.
If a player is able to develop cheaply, you must think carefully before choosing development. This is because he will usually choose some other actions (to get cards, for example) and wait for you to choose develop.
Trading strategy is where you keep trading your goods for cards and leeching on other players to develop, settle and produce for you! You have no shortage of cards if you trade genes goods (1 good to 4 cards) or alien goods (1 good to 5 cards).
You can use this strategy if you get a cheap windfall world early on. You then consume-trade/produce the first few turns to get cards and leeching onto other players' develop/settle phases.
You don't need Trade League or Black Market for this strategy. In fact, if another player has these cards, they can trade in your consume-trade phase too, so you should watch out for it.
The strategies here refer to the primary strategy. It is usually necessary to have a secondary strategy to supplement it, especially if the main strategy does not give you a way to get cards.
At the start of the game, one way to get cards without benefitting others is to settle a windfall world and trade the goods.
To avoid having to choose the produce action to replenish the windfall world, it helps to get a card that allows you to do so when another player chooses the produce action. You can then choose the consume-trade action to convert the goods into cards in the next turn.
Another way to get cards is to build developments/worlds that gives you cards during the actions.