The Obsessed Fortysomething: Board games with “Race” in the title

One of my big non-running hobbies is boardgaming. The most obvious board game is probably Monopoly, but I tend to prefer games that don’t rely so heavily on luck and a single dominant strategy. I used to play wargames a lot back in the 1980s, and then stopped when I got to college. Then, a few years ago, my wife bought Ticket to Ride, and I rediscovered my love of board games.

I should say that there are a number of video game versions of board games (including Ticket to Ride), but there’s something irreplaceable about the tactile feel of cards, tokens, and mounted boards. I’ll play the app or computer version of a game if I can’t round up human opponents, but given a choice, I always prefer the board game.

Anyway, it turns out that there are a surprising number of games with “race” in the title. Well, given my love of running road races, this seems like a natural combination.

The top-rated game at BoardGameGeek with “race” in the title is “Race for the Galaxy,” which happens to be one of my favorite games even though it has nothing to do with running.

Each player takes the role of a galactic civilization, and the object of the game is to score the most victory points by the end. Players are dealt a card with a starting world, and four other cards. Each card depicts either a world or a development (which is like a building). The cards serve as currency to pay for moves, or as objects of the moves, meaning to settle (i.e., colonize) a world or to develop (i.e., build) a development. Each world and development has a certain cost (in cards) to settle or build, and is worth a certain number of victory points. In addition, each world and development has certain powers that assist in growing your civilization.

The key to the game is that each round, every player selects one action secretly, and when everyone has done so, the selections are revealed. Every player gets the option of taking an action that has been selected, with the player (or players) who chose that action getting a small bonus. Thus, if player A chooses settle, every one gets to settle, but player A gets a bonus (which in this instance is getting to draw a card after settling).

How does the game end? Well, there are a few ways – if one player lays down 11 more worlds or developments (for a total of 12, counting the starting world), the game is over, and the scores are totaled up. Or, if all of the scoring points available from consuming goods created on planets (one of the special powers) are taken, the game is over, and the scores are totaled up.

This is what makes the title fit – it is literally a race among the players to maximize their score and end the game before opponents can catch up.

I enjoy this game for a number of reasons: it moves quickly but it has a surprising amount of tactical depth, because you are always thinking about which cards are most useful to you in combination with other cards. But you can never settle or build everything you have, because you need cards to pay for the moves. Also, it plays fast. Two player games typically finish in under 30 minutes – which is quite fast for these kinds of board games.

You might say that if “Race for the Galaxy” were a running event, it would be a 5K. What would be other distances?

Ultra-marathon: I’ve never played it, but I hear that Twilight Imperium takes about 6-8 hours to finish a single game. It’s a massive space opera in the 4x category (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate).

Half marathon to marathon: Twilight Struggle is possibly my favorite board game. It covers the Cold War era from 1945 to 1989, with one side playing the U.S. and the other the Soviet Union. It’s sort of a war game, but not really; it’s more about influencing and controlling countries, not military attacks. There are covert actions, but they are highly abstracted, and it’s much more about the historical events. I taught my then-11 year old son to play this game, and he started asking some questions about the events depicted on the cards, which resulted in short history lessons! It takes anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours to play a game, because the game can end before you’ve played the allotted 10 turns.

10K: Evolution is a card driven game where each player creates species and then tries to eat the most food, whether plant or meat. You can evolve your creatures to be more efficient at gathering food, or to be most efficient at attacking other species, or to have better defenses … kind of like evolution from an intelligent design perspective, I guess.

About Tung Yin (278 Articles)
Law prof by day, runner all the time. Got off the couch in January 2011 and have been obsessed with running ever since.
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