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Race for the Galaxy – Expansion and Brinkmanship Review for solo gamers

Race for the Galaxy is an awesome tableau building game, which happens to have a great solo mode. Unfortunately some of the games expansions had been discontinued and very hard to find. Thankfully, Rio Grande Games have blessed us with a new “all in one” release this year, called Expansion and Brinkmanship, which includes the game’s first 3 expansions: The Gathering Storm, Rebels vs Imperium, and the Brink of War.

After some difficulty, I finally managed to buy a copy of this expansion!

Let’s get the cat out of the bag: I think this expansion is phenomenal, in particular as a solo gamer. It’s the “complete” RftG experience for a solo gamer, at an affordable price, and in a great package (I’m not only talking components and box quality here, but rules clarity and more), so I’m glad I got it the day it came out. Let’s dig in the review!

A few reminders before I jump in: 1) this blog is not sponsored whatsoever at the time of writing this review. The game was purchased (from Amazon) with my own money. And 2) I essentially focus on the solo experience in my reviews. If you’re looking for how fun Race for the Galaxy is with multiple players, this is not the place where you’ll find such information. If you’re a solo gamer however, you’re in for a treat, and while you’re at it I have a bunch of other solo reviews you might enjoy.

Expansion and Brinkmanship – What’s in the box

This re-release is a combination of all three first expansions of Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm, Rebels vs Imperium, and the Brink of War. To my knowledge, nothing’s missing compared to buying the three expansions separately, although a few things might have been streamlined (e.g. it’s possible there are less victory points chips than if you bought the three expansions separately, but that would be because the extra chips are not required and were just a byproduct of having the expansions separate in the first place).

These three expansions together are known as the “First Arc”, and here’s one thing that’s very important: they are the only expansions that are compatible with the solo game. Race for the Galaxy has more expansions (such as Xeno Invasion or Alien Artifacts) but those are not compatible with the official solo play rules.

In other words, Expansion and Brinkmanship (combined with the original games of course) contains 100% of what’s been officially released for Solo gamers with Race for the Galaxy, and as such represents the “definitive edition” of RftG for solo gamers.

Specifically, the Gathering Storm is required to play solo (it includes the solo rules and the solo bot), while Rebels vs Imperium and Brink of War add new starting worlds and new cards that are compatible with solo play, as well as new rules, some of which (but not all) are compatible with solitaire rules.

Before I dive deeper into what’s in the box, allow me to segue a bit:

Race For the Galaxy 1st Edition vs 2nd Edition – What’s the difference

Here’s an interesting topic for which I have only found partial answers: if I own a first edition of Race for the Galaxy, can I still add “2nd edition specific” expansions? To me, the answer is yes, even though having everything in the second edition should be the preferred way. read along:

The Expansion and Brinkmanship set is advertised as being “2nd edition compatible”. I personally own a 1st edition of the original game, and I was wondering to what extent this would impact my solo gameplay.

The one significant difference in my opinion is the back of the cards. The second edition has a better depth of color, very visible on blacks and dark blues, which means that under the right lighting conditions, it is very easy to spot cards from the expansion versus cards from my first edition.

4 cards in here are from the expansion. 3 of them are really easy to spot on this picture because of how the light reflects and shows a much deeper black background. The 4th one is the leftmost card in my hand, and because of how it is oriented with the light, much harder to spot. In regular games, if you pay just a bit of attention it’s really easy to spot.

As a solo gamer, it is fairly easy for me to ignore the back of the cards when I shuffle or I draw, so I find that this hasn’t been a massive issue for me. Furthermore, I have put my cards in sleeves (fully transparent), which tend to reflect the light significantly, and have made it more difficult for me to spot the differences.

Depending on light conditions when you play, this might be significant for you, or not. The solution would be to use sleeves with a matte back, if you cannot get your hands on a second edition version of the game.

Worth mentioning that the second edition of RftG ships with a few more starting worlds than the first edition. Expansion and Brinkmanship, being designed for the second edition, does not provide these extra worlds. Although you can find them for sale separately (e.g. on the BGG store), note that these worlds are not compatible with the solo bot. As such, I didn’t find it to be a problem for me that these worlds were missing.

I’ve been told there are other differences between first and second edition, such as some icons, but I have not noticed them during gameplay. Which means that I can’t talk about them, but also should tell you how minor they are.

My conclusion is that as a solo gamer, having the second edition of the base game would probably have been ideal, but I made do with my first edition copy without any significant problem. If you’re playing the game with fairly competitive friends or card counters however, you’ll need sleeves or a second edition of the game.

Expansion and Brinkmanship – What’s in the box – part 2

Now that I’ve addressed the whole “first edition vs second edition of Race for the Galaxy” question, let me get back to what’s in the box for Expansion and Brinkmanship.

Quickly on the box and the components: they’re awesome. It might be a tiny detail, but the box for the expansion is exactly the same size and format as the original game, and as someone who has a bit of a collector’s mind (like lots of gamers), I love this.

The components are of good quality, which probably goes without saying for a publisher like Rio Grande Games, but considering the MSRP for the game is quite low ($39.99) for quite a lot of content, we could have been worried about choices for cheaper components (one day I’ll get to talk about the “quality” of Imperium Classic‘s cards…). Rest assured: the cards are sturdy, well printed, and so are the chips and various components.

The sets themselves are organized in 3 different bags, one for each expansion. This, and the way the rule book is organized, allows you to add the expansions progressively to that game, or remove them at will.

As a solo gamer, you’ll want to start with “set 1”, which includes the solo rules and the solo bot, a prerequesite for you.

Each set brings some additional starting worlds which are great for early game variety, in particular since the solo bot has different behaviors depending on its starting world, a modularity that never ceases to impress me. I won’t do an in-depth review of the solo gameplay of Race For the Galaxy, I’ve done it before and you can read it here.

Although Set 1 pretty much “only” brings the solo rules, set 2 (Rebels vs Imperium) brings a significant amount of new cards that significantly change the balance of the game, and bring new strategies. I found it very interesting to add these new cards, after playing dozens of games with only the Gathering Storm. I feel that genes in particular have become more interesting, and military becomes a more viable alternative. That’s just my gut feeling, as I still lose most of my games against the “easy” bot.

Rebels vs Imperium brings new rules that unfortunately cannot be used in solo play: Goals (which reward the first player to achieve specific objectives) and takeovers (which let you steal cards from other players’ tableau.

A game against the solo bot

Set 3 (The Brink of War) also brings a significant amount of new cards, but I have to admit I haven’t tried it yet! It also includes new mechanics (Search and Prestige) which are compatible with the solo bot, and that I can’t wait to try.

When everything’s said an done, I feel that these 3 expansions combined more than double the amount of content for the game, opening more strategies against a solo bot that pretty tough and doesn’t feel too “mechanic”.

It’s worth noting that the cards of each expansion have a tiny mark that lets you recognize each expansion, if you ever want to remove one expansion easily, or pack the whole thing pack. That’s neat, and it didn’t exist in the original releases, I believe.

Expansion and Brinkmanship solo review – conclusion

Expansion and Brinkmanship is the definitive expansion for Race For the Galaxy gamers who want to dive into the solo experience. At an MSRP of $39.99, I found it to be very good value for the price, in particular considering that it contains 3 full expansions. As a solo gamer who loves RftG, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

New cards make some of my favorites strategies even more relevant 🙂

What I liked about Expansion and Brinkmanship

  • Reasonable price, without sacrificing components quality
  • Contains everything you need to own (in addition to the base game) for RftG’s solo experience, making it a “definitive” release (until other expansions get adapted to solo games? One can hope)
  • The expansions are introduced sequentially, which helps digesting the new cards and rules, but also helps with replayability (it will take a while before you want to add set 2, then set 3 to your gaming experience). It really feels like buying 3 separate expansions in a bundle.
  • The game remains balanced against the bot, and the solo bot feels fresh enough every time it uses a different starting world
  • if you like Race For the Galaxy, it just takes an already awesome game and adds more depth and strategies to it.

What I didn’t like about Expansion and Brinkmanship

  • Sad that we can’t use some of the new rules such as goals and takeovers in the solo gameplay

Games mentioned in this article

RftG: Expansion and Brinkmanship
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Race for the Galaxy
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