I’ve touched on Race for the Galaxy before, but since then I’ve played it a considerable amount (the Keldon AI will be the end of me) and added a proper copy to my collection. Additionally, a regular at our Charlottetown Board Game Night at The Comic Hunter has picked up Roll for the Galaxy and we’ve played it quite a bit since, so I figured it was a good time to compare and contrast the two games. TL;DR – they are both fantastic games and I feel either one of them (or even both) has a place in every serious board game collection.
Race for the Galaxy
Image from BGG user alex1326 – https://boardgamegeek.com/image/717064/race-galaxy
Race for the Galaxy is a tableau building/hand management game where players are racing to build the most prosperous galactic empire by Exploring the far reaches of the galaxy (glamourized term for drawing new cards), building various Developments, settling on Planets as well as Producing different types of good and then Trading them for both money and influence. Once the pool of victory points has been depleted or any player has build the 12th card in their tableau, the game ends, victory points are tallied and a winner is declared.
The real meat of Race comes from the action selection phase, which is how each round of the game begins. Each player has their own hand of 7 phase cards, from which they will each choose one to represent the particular action that they wish to take for the current round. These phase cards are all revealed simultaneously, arranged by their numerical order and then all players execute all of the actions, with bonuses being awarded to the players for the action that they played. Simply taking the action that you wish to execute is not always the best move to make, as it may inadvertently benefit your opponents, so being able to read your opponents and guess what they plan to do is integral to success.
Image from BGG user nickjanaway – https://boardgamegeek.com/image/941202/race-galaxy
The iconography can be daunting at first, however after a few plays they click and everything just falls into place, making the game very intuitive and fast-playing – at least for those who have a handful of games under their belt. The various actions (and their associating bonuses) either allow players to develop their tableau (Develop, Settle and Produce), manipulate their hand (Explore and Consume/Trade) or gain Victory Points (Consume/VPx2).
Adding cards to your tableau is a relatively straightforward action – place the card you wish to add down in front of you, then discard other cards from your hand to match the cost indicated on the card, factoring in any Develop or Settle abilities coming from either a played phase card or from cards already built into your tableau. Most cards played this way will grant some end-game victory points as well as an ability of some sort.
The 2 different Consume phases are slightly more complicated, however they both involve discarding Goods from settled planets through Consume actions to either gain victory points or draw new cards. Combined with the Produce phase (which adds Goods back onto Production planets), Consuming allows for players to generate engines that they can use to fill their hand and gain victory points from the pool. The trick to this, however, is keeping in mind that in almost every situation, this will also benefit your opponents, netting them points or additional cards as well, so reusing the Consume/Produce actions repeatedly will rarely be the most efficient path to take. Being able to Consume when your opponents don’t have many Goods, or Produce when their Production planets are already full are things to keep an eye out for, as are the number of cards your opponents are holding onto, as that is often a good indicator of whether they will be building onto their tableau or either Consuming or Exploring to draw new cards.
The importance of learning to read your opponents is what makes Race such a hit for me, as it really injects a lot into a game where the cards you play really have no effect on anyone else in the game. Knowing (or guessing at least!) when to take certain Phases and how to do so while minimizing the benefit to your opponents makes for a very thinky game, particularly when the “Race” part kicks in. Playing your 12th card often happens sooner than you anticipate, so efficiency is key.
Roll for the Galaxy
Image from BGG user W Eric Martin – https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2239985/roll-galaxy
A much more recent release, Roll for the Galaxy shares many of the same icons and mechanics from its card-based older brother, but streamlines the number of actions (from 7 down to 5) and focuses on manipulating rolled dice in order to take actions. Roll still has you building Developments and Settlements onto your tableau, albeit at a generally slower pace and with less choice, as these tiles are drawn one at a time from a bag as a separate action (the Explore phase, in this case), rather than simply being the cards that are in your hand. The game ends in the same ways as Race does; when the victory point pool is emptied or a player has added a 12th card to their tableau. Unlike Race, Roll uses dice to determine what phase each player will be activating, as well as which other phases they are trying to activate. At the start of each round, players roll their cup of dice behind a small screen and then match the faces to the 5 actions in the game, placing them below the phase board. Players may then take any one of their dice and place it onto any of the 5 phases regardless of the face showing on the dice – this is the phase that they wish to take. After all players have placed their dice, the player screens are set aside, the executed phases are determined and then executed in order, similar to Race.
Image from BGG user The Innocent – https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2403227/roll-galaxy
As the phases are executed, players will take the action listed corresponding to the number of dice they’ve placed below the phase board – in the image above for example, this player is electing to take the Shipping action, but would also be able to take the Explore action twice if another player chose to take it, then the Develop, Settle and Produce actions once each, again depending on whether or not other players elected to execute that action. Any dice placed under phases that do not get activated are placed back into their cup at the end of the turn, whereas all others will be placed onto a players Citizenry or will be placed onto tiles, either as part of the price for construction in the case of Developments or Settlements, or as Goods when Produce is taken. Shipping will return dice on Production worlds back to the Citizenry (where you can pay $1 per die to add them back into your cup) in order to gain money or take Victory Points. After all actions have been executed, all players may pay money to add dice from their Citizenry back into their dice cup and the next round is ready to begin.
Other than the obvious inclusion of dice, one of the biggest differences in Roll is the far more extensive use of text on the different Development and Settlement tiles, reducing the iconography across the game by a considerable amount.. When you combine this with the manner in which actions are selected, Race becomes a far easier game to teach – particularly when it clicks for players that the dice are actually fairly easy to manipulate once you have a few Worlds or Settlements built. Another interesting aspect of the game is that (in my opinion, at least) it is far easier to figure out what your opponents are going to do – a player without any available Developments or Settlements on their Player board is probably going to Explore, whereas a player who has 4/5 dice needed to build a particular Development are likely to try and secure that on their turn.
Between the two, Race for the Galaxy is my favourite of the [blank] for the Galaxy games, but both are absolutely fantastic and very enjoyable games. Whereas Race can seem more intimidating due to all of the icons and different types of strategy (for example, there is no Military power in Roll), I feel it has more longevity both due to the number of expansions that have already been released, but also because of the overall shorter playtime once players have become familiar with the actions and overall flow of the game.
On the other hand, Roll is almost certainly the easier game to teach and despite using similar mechanics and terminology, I feel it’s quite distinct from Race due to the extra added randomness. Although there are a number of different ways to manipulate your dice, there’s also the huge bag of tiles to draw blind from and after around half a dozen games now, I still don’t feel like we’ve seen more than about half of them.
Overall, however, I feel like both Race for the Galaxy and Roll for the Galaxy are incredibly fun and interesting games that everyone owes it to themselves to try at least once. If you’ve tried Race and didn’t care for it, don’t let that scare you away from trying Roll, it feels equal parts similar and different, but really is its own game. If you want to try Race before buying, the Keldon AI (linked at the top of this article) is a no-nonsense interpretation of the game – it won’t teach you how to play, in fact it will probably beat the pants off of you, but it is a good way to get an idea of what some of the cards are like and how the different phases play out.