Designer Diary: Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War

The first two expansions for Race for the Galaxy – The Gathering Storm and Rebel vs Imperium – expanded the game by adding start worlds, new cards, and two new but optional mechanics: goals and takeovers.

The Brink of War (which requires both previous expansions) adds Galactic Prestige, which is woven throughout the entire expansion. Galactic Prestige represents the relative standing of each player’s empire and is gained by placing certain cards (with that symbol) or using various powers. With the appropriate powers, prestige can be spent to attack, enable certain powers to be used, or become cards or VPs. In addition, the Prestige Leader (the empire with the most prestige) receives a bonus each round, and any unspent prestige at game end is worth 1 VP apiece.

Thematically, I had the political brinkmanship before World War II in mind, where countries – by playing on old grievances – could use their international standing to both extract territorial concessions and to rally and unify their populace. The first card I designed was “Casus Belli”, which allows its owner – with previously gained prestige – to either attack any player (and, if successful, gain more prestige) or convert prestige into VPs. This second power creates a new strategy (whether takeovers are being used or not): garner lots of prestige, and then Consume:2x one prestige for a net gain of 5 VPs each round.

While 37 of the 48 TBOW game cards involve prestige, this is only ~20% of the combined deck. One challenge was making sure that players who drew only a few prestige cards didn’t feel hopelessly behind a player who got an early prestige lead. If the Prestige Leader bonus was too small, then vying for the prestige lead wouldn’t matter; if it was too large, then gaining prestige early on would dominate. Our solution was to vary the per-round Prestige Leader bonus: 1 VP, plus a card draw if the Leader earned a prestige on the previous round; otherwise (or if tied), just 1 VP (which is nice, but can be easily overcome by other game actions).

We also added a benefit for getting just a single prestige, namely being able to use the new “one-shot” Prestige Opportunity action card that every player starts with. By spending a prestige, a player can get a “super” action once per game (for example, turning Consume:2x into Consume:3x for one round). This action card also has another use, namely, Search, which doesn’t require a prestige, so players who don’t earn any prestige can still benefit from it.

Search: Looking for a Needle in a Draw Stack…

As the card deck gets larger and larger, while the overall variance remains the same (given that we maintain the proportions of worlds versus developments, various powers, etc.), the variation in the subset of cards that any given player draws increases. This can lead to player frustration, particularly if a player is pursuing a strategy that depends on a small number of cards.

Despite adding new explore powers in the expansions, the card variance was still too high, so we added two new mechanisms: draw then discard powers (in which a player draws two cards, then discards one card from hand) and search.

A player may search once per game, flipping cards from the deck to find a card that matches a selected category. There are nine possible search categories, so a player who needs just a bit more Military, for example, could search for a development granting +1 or +2 Military, while a player pursuing an Alien strategy could search for an Alien production or windfall world. When the player finds a matching card, they can either take it in hand or continue searching. If they continue, they must take the second matching card they find. The other flipped over cards go into the discard pile, so searching also increases the odds that the deck will reshuffle in games with just a few players.

The one-shot Prestige/Search, and your search choices

Takeovers: Our Dream of Safety Must Disappear…

The second expansion, Rebel vs Imperium, introduced takeovers, in which players could, under certain circumstances, conquer a military world in another player’s tableau. The Brink of Warextends this mechanic, portraying the descent of a galaxy further into warfare. With “Casus Belli”, a player with both prestige and a powerful Military can now potentially take over any military world, and if a player also discards the “Imperium Invasion Fleet”, even non-military worlds can be attacked. No empire is completely safe.

However, using the “Invasion Fleet” is expensive (though, if successful, prestige is gained), so aggressive players need to balance their potential gains against their costs. The Brink of War also introduces new defenses and incentives. The owner of the “Pan-Galactic Security Council” can, by spending a prestige, block one declared takeover attempt (against any empire) each round. A new 6-development, the “Universal Peace Institute”, rewards players who pursue peace by giving an endgame bonus for having negative Military. And, as before, takeovers are optional, so players who don’t enjoy this type of player interaction need not play with them.

Goals, Uplift, Aliens, Terraforming, and more…

Prestige and the tension of “guns vs butter” are reflected in the five new goals supplied in this expansion, including goals for most prestige, most consume powers, and the first to have two worlds and either a takeover power or negative Military. The “Uplift Code” was discovered in the previous expansion, so The Brink of War details the split between those who wish to breed and exploit the Uplift races and their victims, who rise up in revolt against this.

With the discovery of an “Alien Burial Site” and the “Alien Departure Point”, galactic interest in the long-lost Aliens reaches a new peak (or low point), with the “Alien Tourist Attraction”. Meanwhile, the Golden Age of Terraforming emerges, with “Terraforming Engineers” upgrading existing worlds and various cards with powers that allow players to use goods for discounts, increased Military, etc…

The Brink of War adds four new start worlds, five new goals, prestige markers and a Prestige Leader tile, six search/prestige opportunity action cards, and 44 new game cards to Race for the Galaxy. Enjoy!

Tom Lehmann

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