Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm Review

Overview:
The story:
The Gathering storm. The prelude to the inevitable: WAR!
What you get for your money:
A couple of new cards: 4 start worlds, 10 new world cards, 1 replacement Gambling world card, 8 developments cards, 9 player cards for a fifth player and  18 black cards. Some more victory point tokens: 7×1, 1×5, 1×10 and eight new 3 VP chips. You also get 4 “most” and 6 “first” goals. Plus, you get a new player mat, 14 counters and 2 custom dice for solitaire play. And, of course, the rules.
How do you play the game:
I’ll focus on the bigger changes, so I won’t discuss the new start worlds and other cards. The game plays exactly the same as before, only now you can play the game with 1 more player. If you are interested in the rules/ gameplay of the base game, read my Race for the Galaxy review.
 
There is one small (new) addition to the game when you play with two to five players: the goals. At the beginning of a game you draw four –First- goals and two –Most- goals. A –First- goal can be claimed by the player who meets the condition at the end of the corresponding phase. For instance, you are first to place a 6-cost development or first to have three Alien cards. You get three victory points when you claim these goals.
The  -Most- goals, like ‘most production worlds (at least 4)’ or ‘most military power (at least 6)’, can be claimed when you meet the conditions and give you 5 VPs. In contrast to the -First- goals, you can lose these goals and their VP during the game, when you don’t have the most of something any more.
An important part of this expansion is the addition of solitaire gameplay. I’m not going to give you a thorough rules explanation, just a short impression of this module and a couple of pictures to go with it.
You play against a robot. His actions and responses to you are represented by symbols on a play mat and are different depending on his starting world. His choices are determined by rolling two dice. Every side has an action symbol (settle, explore, etc.), an asterisk or a robot symbol. When you roll one or two action symbols, the robot performs these actions that turn. When you roll an asterisks, the robot chooses one of your actions, and when you roll a robot symbol, he chooses a start world specific preferred action. ‘New Sparta’ has settling as a preferred action for instance.
The robot has a certain credit (used to acquire developments and worlds) and a certain economy size (used to gain victory points). These will change during the game and you will keep track of them with some counters.
When you play solo, the game consists of three phases: you select two actions, you roll the robots dice and place them on the mat and then you resolve the actions as normal. There is a difference between the robots behaviour when he chooses a certain action himself or when he does an action in a response to your choice of action.
The robots builds his own tableau with worlds and developments with their corresponding victory points, he also gains VPs by consuming and VPs from 6-cost developments (the amount of VPs he gets from those depends on the difficulty level you chose). His hand of cards is represented by a draw deck he builds, by exploring, throughout the game. Settle and Develop involves drawing cards from the robot’s deck until you find a planet or development. He does not care what a world or development does, he only cares about its points.
Like in the regular game, when there are 12 or more cards in a tableau or when there are no more VPs, the game ends and VPs are counted.
Review:
Theme
Exactly the same as the base game.
Gameplay
The gameplay in a multiplayer game doesn’t change very much. With the addition of the goals, you only have a new way to score points. It can help you to choose a strategy and it adds another competitive element to the game. Who can accomplish something first orwho has the most of it? It feels a little less multiplayer solitaire, because you have to watch more closely what others are doing, but beware, just a little less.
When you play with fewer players, these goals become more important. When you lose sight of them, there’s a good chance you will lose, in my experience.
There are only a few new cards and they do not change the game much. The new 6-cost developments, the Imperium Lords, the Galactic Genome Project and Terraforming Guild, do add new paths to victory and the new starting world have interesting powers,  but it’s not that it turns the game upside down.
The solitaire variant is really good. The robot plays differently with every other start world. The games, depending on the start world, can be very tight and when you find it too easy you can increase the difficulty level.
GatheringStorm1
The robot does not care about building a strategy around some 6-cost developments. It does, depending on his start world, have a tendency to choose (roll) some action more often than the other. The robot’s start world makes sure that he is guided into a certain direction, but he is still more random than a very strategic (thinking, anticipating) opponent. After all, the robot is still driven by dice rolls and the worlds an developments are randomly settled or developed, it can be that he only settle very low scoring worlds. Then that’s your luck.  
You do have to constantly keep an eye on the robots tableau, how fast he goes, how many 6-pointers he has, etcetera.  Most of the times, in terms of building a tableau, your speed and his are about the same. 
The first two or three games, you’ll probably struggle a bit with the counters and the icons but after that you become a robot yourself and a solo game will play just as fast as the regular game.
The solo module is a good way to improve your skills, but the robot chooses his  actions with a die roll and that’s, of course, more random than the choices of a real opponent. You do get to know the cards and the combinations you can make better.
Looks
Same as the base game. The robot play mat looks complicated, but, like the icons on the cards, it’s not so bad once you’ve played the solitaire game once or twice. The icons exactly tell you what to do.
Quality of the game parts
The same as the base game.
However,  I do have one major point of criticism, but I don’t know in which category it fits. It is addressed to the publisher actually. That is why I do discuss itin this category. Here it comes. This expansion is at least 10 Euro too expensive. 25 Euro for 50 cards (of which 18 are blank!), 2 dice and a couple of tokens. That’s ridiculous. They could have easily put the first two expansions together in a box (maybe even three) and I would gladly pay a good price for it. But know I feel a bit stolen because you have to buy this to play the second and third expansion, which also cost 25 Euro each.
Fun
The goals add something to fight for. Besides this competitive element and some new strategies because of the goals, nothing really changes from basic Race for the Galaxy. The goals are a nice addition, but nothing more than that.
The solitaire module works really well. At first I couldn’t care less. I bought this expansion because I loved the base game, I wanted more cards and I needed this one to play the other expansion, Rebel vs. Imperium.
The robot play mat looked too daunting and I just took the cards and left that horrible thing in there and put it away.
On a day off, I thought: “Why not?” and sat down, read the rules and just played and it was not as difficult as it seemed. The game was tight, the robot was a competent opponent. The start worlds makes sure that every game plays a little bit different and you can adjust the difficulty level if you want to. Sometimes I won easily, sometimes it was a close call, I even lost at some occasions. Wow, that’s like playing a real multiplayer game. Weird.
I have to conclude that I really like this solitaire variant. So don’t let the robot play mat frighten you and try this nice solo version of a very good multiplayer game.
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