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I've seen these games compared very often, with steadfast advocates on each side (that thread has a lot of interesting stuff as well). I'm mainly concerned with:

  • depth of strategy
  • suitability for new players (length of time to explain, etc.)
  • overall feel of the game
  • what situations you'd recommend playing each of them in.
  • anything else you think should be included in regards to comparing and contrasting them

Puerto Rico vs. San Juan is discussed here. I'm more concerned about how RFTG compares to both of them. If it matters, Puerto Rico is the only one I already have.

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I was originally asking if RFTG was easy enough to pick up for new people, because it seems to have rave reviews everywhere, but decided to turn this into a comparison. Then it evolved into Race vs. San Juan with a point about how both of them were in relation to Puerto Rico, so I just gave in and added it as well. –  Gordon Gustafson Feb 23 '11 at 1:20
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2 Answers

RftG, in terms of gameplay, falls fairly in the middle of the two other games. Similar mechanics of role selection, cards as money, 'big building' cards, victory points, shipping strategy (consume) vs. building. There's slightly more relevance to role selection in RftG than in San Juan, but not as much as in Puerto Rico. Seating order doesn't matter as much as in Puerto Rico. In terms of learning, San Juan is easier to teach because it has a more accessible theme and RftG has an intimidating iconography.

Still, it's a game where it's hard to make real mistakes, just sub-optimal choices, so winning is usually determined by luck, game experience, and familiarity with the cards.

RftG has more luck than Puerto Rico, since it's based on card draws (even though this is mitigating by multiple reshuffles per game). Still, all these games are 'group solitaire games' at their core.

I'd only suggest RftG to someone with some 'real' board game experience (i.e. not Monopoly or Apples to Apples), AND if they enjoy the space theme. Rules take about 45 minutes to explain fully, but this can be done, in part during a first practice game. Strategy isn't as important in RftG as it is in Puerto Rico, as the extra randomness tends towards good tactics being more important. This is because it's a progressive build game where early decisions affect victory point 'velocity'. Strategy comes in when you know the cards and can selectively optimize for one or more 'big building' cards, and usually is only relevant fairly late game.

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I wouldn't call Puerto Rico group solitaire. Its close, but you really need to keep an eye on the other players to play well, like what their growing and what buildings they have. Now Dominion with no attack or interactions, THAT's pretty close to group solitaire IMHO. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Mar 1 '11 at 19:45
True, Puerto Rico is less so than either RftG or Dominion, still I think the categorization is useful since the strategies are similar in how the little bits of interaction thee are relate. Someone could take the last building you need just like they could take that last Province, or that ? VP card in RftG. This constrained resources is one similar shared mechanism for interaction. The other is role selection. In fact, I'd argue that dominion because of the attack cards, makes it far more interactive, and less group solitare, since if you take attack cards, you're forcing me to take moats. –  Neal Tibrewala Mar 1 '11 at 20:38
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I've played both San Juan and RFtG, but only about half a game of Puerto Rico. RFtG is definitely WAY more complicated than San Juan, and you have to keep track of a lot of symbology. One of the things that is definitely unique to RFtG in the group is the simultaneous role selection mechanic. In PR and SJ, players choose their role for the turn in sequence, roles may only be chosen once per round, and the player to choose a role first in the round rotates every round. In RFtG the players each choose the equivalent of a role at the same time, and phase actions are performed by all players simultaneously, with the rare exception of drawing cards when the draw pile is running out. There's not much of a concept of turn rotation.

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The symbology in RftG is a bit tough to pick up on at first, but it only really took us one game to get a handle on it. The reference cards help a lot. –  harrison_m Jan 6 '12 at 7:53
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