Race for the Galaxy: Puerto Rico Edition. That’s my dismissive, elitist, reference-choked review of Thomas Lehmann’s New Frontiers, sequel to Roll for the Galaxy, which itself was a sequel to Race. If I were more of a snob, I might leave it at that.
Instead, I’m precisely enough of a snob to feel like there’s something more I could add to the conversation. And in particular, that I might answer the question, Why does such an obviously solid game leave me so cold?
Way back in 2008, the one thing that prevented me from getting along with good old Dominion — and disclaimer, I haven’t played it in a very, very long time — was the fact that my actions felt almost entirely divorced from the kingdom-building I was supposedly undertaking. Armed with gold and some estates, my fair land was soon filled with nothing but cellars and laboratories, while my only policy was the daily festival. Dominion deserved every ounce of heaped praise, but while it may have been the grandfather of an entire genre, it was also a classic example of the gulf all too often situated between theme and mechanics in deck-builders.
I might seem erroneous in besmirching my elders. After all, this was before, well, every other deck-building game. And certainly, they’ve come a long way over the last
century seven years. Valley of the Kings and Core Worlds and Star Realms were mere twinkles in their designers’ eyes. Hybrid designs like A Study in Emerald, Baseball Highlights: 2045, and City of Remnants were radical heresies not yet uttered. There was one deck-building game, however, released the year after Dominion. To everyone’s surprise, it was every bit as smart and mechanically sound as its daddy, except it also had a dash of real personality. For all its pizzazz, it got locked up by Rio Grande Games to prevent it from competing with its father — possibly the most accurately medieval thing Dominion had ever done.
Race for the Galaxy is a classic. Or so I hear. I only played it once, maybe six years ago, at my brother-in-law’s apartment. We ate popcorn. Both were enjoyable, and the game possessed a clever and clean design that felt a little bit less clean thanks to its wealth of hieroglyphics, leaving little for a newcomer to do other than etch a mental Rosetta Stone of hexagons, multicolored and soft-cornered rectangles, and eyeballs.
If nothing else, it’s a relief that Roll for the Galaxy, the dice game remix of Race’s original recipe, is kind enough to set plain old English script alongside the pictographs. I really do appreciate that.