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Can someone give a good summary of each expansion for Race for the Galaxy, and explain how it changes the game? Is it worth it to buy the expansions straight out? Or is it fine to stick with the base game as long as you want? What's the compelling reason to expand? Just curious!

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The expansions all have different themes to them, and they change up the game play in significant ways. The first expansion, The Gathering Storm, is easily the most interesting in terms of changing up the game play. It adds in the goals, which channels play in different ways in each game. That, plus the new start worlds, provide enough extra variety that I'd suggest it's worth getting after playing roughly 25 games or so of the base game. That many games allows you to see the different strategies that are available and become familiar with the approaches.

Rebel vs. Imperium has an excellent new start world mechanic, where each player gets dealt two start worlds with their opening hand and then gets to make a choice. This, on its own, justifies the expansion I think. The takeover mechanic isn't especially interesting, it just doesn't come up terribly often, so really here, you're talking about just beefing up the deck and providing more variety.

The Brink of War, honestly, I don't care for. The prestige mechanics seem to tilt things pretty far back towards military being the most successful strategy. Perhaps I'm just not very adept at it, but after about 15 games or so, I'm close to taking the cards out of my deck.

Alien Artifacts is actually the start of a new expansion cycle. It's designed to be played with just the base game, and it changes things in a very different way than the first three. It introduces a map that the players build, with the players moving around on the map to find new stuff. Explore becomes a first-class action with the expansion, which isn't really much true in the other ones. I only have four or so games with it, and I think some of the rules for building the map are kind of inelegant (although understandable why they are the way they are), but it's a fun experience. I'd still probably buy it third of the four expansions, though.

  • This (and the other answer) do not discuss Alien Artifacts, which came out in 2013. I'd be curious to see this answer updated for that expansion as well. – Scribblemacher May 4 '15 at 14:08
  • Updated with quick thoughts on Alien Artifacts, @Scribblemacher. – jjb May 10 '15 at 5:14
  • Same complaint about Xeno Invasion now – Deo Mar 15 '17 at 4:32
  • @Deo I haven't played Xeno Invasion yet, I'm afraid. I've been wanting to play Race again recently, though, so I'll move it up the pile and post thoughts here when I get that chance. – jjb Mar 16 '17 at 5:51
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The most compelling reason to get the RftG expansions is to get more cards overall. This makes the game more replayable and allows for different interactions between cards from the original set and the expansions.

As for each expansion, you can expect the following:

  • The Gathering Storm: Ups the total player count to 5, adds more cards, new start worlds, goals (ways to score VPs by accomplishing certain things), and a "robot" that allows you to play solitaire. It introduces drafting rules.
  • Rebel vs. Imperium: Ups the total player count to 6, adds more cards, new start worlds, introduces takeover/warfare mechanic that allows players to conquer other players military worlds (sounds more interesting than it really is).
  • The Brink of War: Adds more cards, more goals, new start worlds, more counters for the solitaire game, introduces Galactic Prestige mechanism and a once-per-game power to search cards or add bonuses to your selected phase.

You can play RftG with all of these expansions by using Keldon's RftG AI.

  • +1 for mentioning RFTG AI - it's a really great try-before-you-buy thing, and was what sold me on Brink of War. – Brighid McDonnell Apr 10 '12 at 16:39
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It depends on your groups and their preferences:

--The "proper way" is to get a few dozen or hundred games under your belt (not too impractical since Race does play relatively quickly). Then add each expansion at its core (e.g. The Gathering Storm without Goals), then add those optional material (e.g. TGS, but now with Goals)
--The "save on costs" is to stick with just base because you think that's fine as is
--Some groups jump to later expansions sooner than later, or immediately since they want more advanced game play, and don't want to waste time with "training wheels"

Other factors include saving on shipping costs if you buy online, or buying them as you need them to ensure you don't buy an expansion that won't end up getting used.

As for the expansions themselves, there are 5 of them, forming 3 separate arcs (where each arc's set or sets should NOT be mixed in with other arc's cards)...

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Xeno Invasion (arc3) The theme here could be from any one of the many literary works in sci-fi, but the closest one I can think up of are the aliens in the movie: Edge Of Tomorrow.

The core game includes new homeworlds, and many new cards.
--Many cards introduce new combos for consumption. For example, consume a green good and any good for 2 VP and 1 card (of which the reward is new too, as we've had 1 VP + 1 card, 1 VP + 2 cards, and 2 VP, but not that)
--The mix and match Explore power is now a global rule in this expansion, so it makes exploring much more 'viable'
--Xeno and Anti-Xeno are 2 new keywords --The Xeno aliens (not to be confused with other types of aliens you've run into from previous sets) have military worlds that can NOT be settled via "pay-for-military-world" powers. They must be conquered via military strength. OTOH, there are powers that grant military against Xeno military worlds only to help with that.

The optional Invasion module has players utilize anti-Xeno defense powers. This I hear is similar to the Barbarian in Cities & Knights Of Catan. PLayers are still playing competitively, but there's a "co-petitive" element where they need to work together (or not) to collectively repel a large xeno invasion force. I hear this adds to the game length, but not as long as the Orb Scenario from Alien Artifacts.

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I've only played the core game via Keldon's AI, and did like the new stuff sans the Xeno Invasion module (on account it's not implemented).

However, without the Xeno Invasion module, I still prefer arc 1 with all options available. I like the power creeps, the wide variety of cards and powers, Goals, and even Takeovers from time to time.

I prefer Alien Artifacts WITH the Orb Scenario, but unfortunately, Keldon's AI doesn't have that implemented. Furthermore, one is hard pressed to play it with that IRL since it can double the game length, which is a turnoff for many folks.

With just The Gathering Storm, it adds a few more options (not too many, and too little for my tastes), but at least still keeps it within easier reach for newbies).

With just The Gathering Storm + Rebel Vs. Imperium, more options, more fleshed out military paths, and ability to pick a homeworld from a red color coded one vs. a blue one.

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