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Rio Grande Games
Race for the Galaxy, from Rio Grande Games, is a card game where players compete to build the best galactic civilization.

Star empires and space battles can be a great setting for a tabletop game. Race for the Galaxy, a card game from Rio Grande Games, and Star Borders: Humanity, a board game from Victory Point Games, are both heavy with science-fiction themes, but the important question for gamers is: are they fun? Let's take a look.

Race for the Galaxy

In Race for the Galaxy, two to four players take on the role of a galactic civilization as it seeks to expand its territory and resources. Players are dealt special action cards that allow them to engage in one of five unique actions. Players then receive a starting world card they place in front of them, beginning their tableau. Players then receive four more cards representing worlds or special developments like technology, which make up a player's initial hand.

Beginning with the first round, players simultaneously reveal one of their special actions cards. Players then all engage in the actions revealed, though the players who played that action get a bonus. First, players can explore by drawing new cards from the deck; they add development cards to their tableau; they can play world cards to make new settlements in their tableau; they can consume resources for more victory points or cards; and they can produce resources from some of their worlds for later exploitation.

In order to play certain cards, however, you must discard others. In effect, your cards are both your tools and your currency, forcing you to constantly make tough decisions. You want to play several of your cards, but to play one means you must discard two or three more.

Though this sounds pretty straight forward, the variety of cards offers many different choices throughout the game. Some worlds may be worth many victory points but offer little other benefits throughout the game. Conversely, other worlds may be worth few victory points, but give your civilization important advantages in key areas. Additionally, you can focus your civilization by making it strong militarily, technologically, commercially or more.

The game ends when one player's tableau consists of 12 cards, or if all of the victory point chips are taken.

There is something of a learning curve here, as it can initially feel very complex. Repeated plays, however, reveal its simplicity. Also, player aids are included to decipher the plethora of symbols attached to many of the cards.

Race for the Galaxy is an unusual game in many respects. It's not really a deck-building game, though there are elements of deck-building involved. Instead, Race for the Galaxy manages to create something new and different, a card game that makes you constantly aware of the limitations of your hand, and that every turn forces you into agonizing and fun choices. There is not a whole lot of player interaction, here, however, so the game feels a lot like a race to get the most points.

With its unique mechanics, wonderful artwork and engaging theme, Race for the Galaxy is a great game from start to finish that plays in about 45 minutes and is recommended for ages 12 and up.

Star Borders: Humanity

Star Borders: Humanity is a light war game in which two players vie for dominance in a backwater region of space. The Alliance (blue) and the Imperium (red) battle in a number of different scenarios. All see the two factions set their starting tile, which consists of a few worlds and other locations, on the edge of a much larger tile. The center tile consists of worlds, nebulae, asteroid fields, deep space and wormholes.

Each faction starts out with a number of spaceships and development cards, which offer players special bonuses. Each side also begins with a number of logistical points, essentially the game's currency. Depending on the scenario, players take turns spending their logistical points to move or repair their ships, call for reinforcements, build up planetary defenses and purchase more development cards. All the while, players are attempting to conquer neutral or enemy held worlds.

Combat occurs whenever both sides have ships in the same location, or if a ship occupies the same space as a planet with defenses. Ships have attack and defense values depending on their size, and six-sided dice are used in combat. Some ships boast several other neat features like cloaking devices and salvage abilities.

Each scenario sets the number of turns, which count down on a timer board. Beginning on the fourth turn from the end, players must make a sudden death roll to see if the game ends that turn. Generally, the player who controls the most worlds wins, though some scenarios may feature different victory conditions.

Gameplay feels like a deep chess match, as each player must use his resources wisely and plan several moves ahead. Also, the development cards offer some fun advantages that opponents ignore at their peril.

With Star Borders: Humanity, Victory Point Games offers a fun, grand space adventure that plays in about 45 minutes, which is really something unique. Gamers who love Twilight Imperium, Eclipse or Space Empires 4x, but don't have several hours, or can't get enough players together for those games, will really take to Star Borders: Humanity.

Star Borders: Humanity is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Darkest Night: With An Inner Light expansion

Speaking of Victory Point Games, Darkest Night was one of last year's surprise gems — a cooperative game in which up to four players worked together in a fantasy kingdom to defeat the plans of the evil Necromancer. Now, Victory Point Games has released a new expansion: With An Inner Light.

With An Inner Light offers four new characters — the Paragon, the Crusader, the Shaman and the Monk, each with new powers and abilities. The expansion also includes quest cards, new crises that the heroes must tend to or risk additional penalties. Several new event and artifact cards are also included.

The new characters are really a lot of fun and bring a lot to the game, particularly the magical Shaman and the daring Crusader. The quest cards, however, seem a bit too much. Darkest Night is already a very difficult game, and the quests only make it more difficult and distract from the war against the minions of the Necromancer.

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If you enjoyed the base game you might want to check out With An Inner Light, if only for the new characters. You may want to try playing with the quests, though frequent frustration may force you to return them to the box.

Darkest Night plays in about two and a half hours and is recommended for ages 12 and up.

Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at SLCC. Cody has also appeared on many local stages including Hale Center Theater and Off Broadway Theater. Email: ckcarlson76@gmail.com