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On a VERY basic level, my RFTG choices work like this:

Pick Develop if you want to build a development

Pick Settle if you want to settle a world

Pick Trade if you want to trade

Pick 2x VPs if you want to get extra VPs from your consumption of goods

Pick Produce if you want to produce goods

Pick Explore if you want to ?????????

Where do the 2 Explore cards come in? I guess the obvious choice is "If you need more cards and have no better way of getting them." I've gone through a few games without ever picking explore because it essentially gives you a 1 card advantage if you pick the 'look at 1 more, keep 1 more' card and an advantage of maybe getting a slightly better card than your opponents with the 'look at 5 more cards' card. Both Develop and Settle give you a 1 card advantage at the very least, both Consume phases can lead to big card advantages, and Produce can set you up for an amazing next turn and sometimes give you card advantage in itself.

Is my analysis roughly correct? With all these things going against it, when should I pick each different Explore card in my phase selection? It seems to be a desperate pick when you have virtually no other options, so at the very least you can be happy with getting a net advantage of 1 card over all of your opponents, or are hoping for a certain card, have a lot of cards in you hand already, and have no better options.

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I very often chose explore when I think my opponent is already choosing the thing I really want. –  Neal Tibrewala Apr 3 '12 at 21:23
    
How do you currently find cards to play that will best complement/expand your tableau and maximize score? I don't see anything in your list that commonly lets you look at, say, seven cards. –  Jefromi Apr 4 '12 at 8:02
    
@Jefromi Although I've had several games where I was able to trade a certain good in and keep 7 or more cards, admittedly this is not always the case. If you were truly desperate enough for a certain card to the point where no other action would give you more benefit than the slightly improved chance to get a single card that you really want given by drawing 7 and keeping 1 instead of drawing cards with the other explore card or trading, I suppose that explore card would be the way to go, but how often does that really happen? –  Gordon Gustafson Apr 4 '12 at 22:42
    
@CrazyJugglerDrummer: I'm talking about finding high-value cards, e.g. large military worlds or something that fits with your existing six-cost. It's definitely not about looking for a single specific card. That's a bad idea. But your current analysis doesn't mention anything about striving for more than playing what you already have, or happen to have drawn in a trade, so I asked to see if you really play that way. –  Jefromi Apr 4 '12 at 23:25
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5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Your analysis is not wrong, but it is a little simplistic, mostly because you are ignoring the existence of the other players, and the state of their games.

  • Explore is the only option that doesn't depend on anything else. You can always play an Explore. Yes, it's not as efficient as Trading. But Trading isn't always possible. If you've run out of cards, or your cards just plain suck, then Explore is pretty handy.
  • Explore prevents your opponent leeching, and taking advantage of your action. For example, an opponent playing a military strategy may be waiting for you to choose Settle, so he can dump a military world for free. Playing several Explores in a row can force opponents to choose actions they would rather you chose for them.
  • Similarly, you don't want to choose Settle, and settle something rubbish, if that gives your opponent the opportunity to play something amazing. So if an opponent has many cards in hand, or has a clear strategy developing based around obvious Phase choices, then you're going to want to avoid those when you can. Explore is often a good alternative.
  • Explore is crucial if you think an opponent is planning to Develop or Settle, and you want to take advantage of that, but don't have a card of that type in hand, or, even worse, you have a card you want to play, but don't have enough to pay for it. In this case the fact Explore happens before anything else is really valuable.
  • Cards that generate Explore bonuses, particularly things like Research Labs, can make Explore much more lucrative for you than for anyone else. These also allow you to leech other people's Explores. Obviously, they will try to avoid this, but as we've noted, often Explore is the only option, particularly early game, or with rash plays that have emptied one's hand unhelpfully.
  • In general, Explore +1/+1 makes more sense in the early game, because your hand is smaller, and later on you will usually have alternative ways to generate card flow. Explore +5 makes more sense as a later-game play, particularly to maximise your strategy. For example, finding large military worlds, getting more blue production worlds, finding that killer 6 development etc. are all things that might justify a late-game Explore.

So, overall, while Explore is often not what you want to do, it does have wide versatility, and can occasionally be fantastic. I think careful tactical use of Explore is an essential tool.

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You seem to be playing completely head down, ignoring your opponents. This is not how to play Race well. You pick develop if it will help you more than your opponent, given your opponents expected moves, not just because you want to build a development.

Exploring is generally not something you want to be doing often. You don't want to build a strategy around explore. Often, you are exploring because you want to slow down the pace of the game. You might want to find a 6 cost development late game that fits in with your strategy, and so you call explore +5. Or maybe it's early game, and you just don't have anything good in your hand yet (even if you could build something, your opponents will likely build something better).

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I definitely agree that you need to watch your opponents, I just left most of that out to keep the question text short. :D –  Gordon Gustafson Apr 4 '12 at 2:06
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  • Pick Explore if you don't have cards (worlds/developments) that fit your strategy, and need to dig for some.

Especially if you have worlds or developments with icons like this:

Race For the Galaxy Explore Icon

You'll find that it doesn't take long to dig through your supply to find those big bomb 6-cost developments that are going to win the game or those sweet worlds that fit into your production/alien/mining strategy or whatever.

You are correct that if you don't have worlds that help you extend the card and/or search advantage of the explore phase, it is generally a less optimal play than consume phase card advantages or even a simple develop or settle.

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Early in the game

Like the nice answers already state, this will help you get cards or find something

Late in the game

After an expensive 6cost dev or planet you may have just gotten nice bonunses, and left with little cards on your hand. An explore here may give you an option to not lag behind if someone develops and/or settles; most likely if you are playing 1v1 you can explore/trade , explore/consume

Last round of the game

You may want to explore because you are stacked on bonuses and one of the players is clearly going to finish the game and you know someone will develop or settle. You may explore here to pay for your last cards or simply find something worth playing

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Explore +1/+1 is a good option to refill your hand, particularly when you have good cards you would like to play, but either can't, or don't want to pay the costs with the other cards in your hand. It then lets you get new cards in to your hand, to let you either change what you will play, or pay the cost with those cards. You can then leech off of the opponent's develop/settle, or do one yourself in a later round with more efficiency.

Explore +5's utility depends somewhat on which expansions you have. If you are playing with just the base game, it's more effective, due to a smaller deck of cards to search through. Each expansion decreases the possibility of getting a specific card, and tilts what the overall deck composition is friendly towards. Most of note, though, is the final expansion in set 1, which gives you the Search action--an action that, while one-time-only, effectively replaces the main use case for Explore +5.

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