The third and final expansion for Tom Lehmann’s Race for the Galaxy card game, The Brink of War adds an entirely new mechanic to the normal world-claiming and development: prestige. Prestige is a sort of currency, a hybrid between the game’s victory points and goods. You normally earn prestige by adding specific cards to your tableau, although there are a large number of powers that can generate it as well.
Of course, one of the advantages of having a lot of prestige is simply that you could become the Prestige Leader. After every phase, players check to see if one has more prestige than everybody else; if so, that player becomes the Prestige Leader and places any prestige earned that phase (and any subsequent phase in which is is Leader) on the Prestige Leader tile. At the end of the round, before new phases are selected, if the Prestige Leader has one or more prestige on the tile, he earns one VP and draws a card; if he does not have any prestige on the tile (e.g., he just retained Leader without increasing his prestige) then he simply gains one VP. If one or more players is tied for Leader (with at least one prestige each), they each get one VP instead. Due to the free VP doled out by the Leader mechanic, games played with The Brink of War have an additional 5VP in their starting pool beyond the usual 12 VP per player.
The other major addition to the game is the Search/Prestige action. Once per game, each player may use their Search/Prestige card instead of selecting a phase normally. If they choose the prestige option, they pay one prestige and then earn an additional bonus to whatever phase they would normally have chosen; this bonus is in addition to the bonus they receive for selecting that phase. If they choose to search, there are nine categories of card for which they may go digging: a development that gives +1 or +2 military, any military windfall world of strength 1 or 2, any normal windfall world of cost 1 or 2, any world with the “uplift” chromosome symbol, any world that can produce “alien” goods, any variable-point 6-cost development, any world with a military strength of 5+, any card that is capable of consuming two or more goods, or any card with a takeover power (either offensive or defensive). Before any phases are resolved, the search actions happen (in homeworld order if necessary) by revealing cards from the top of the deck until a card that meets the search criteria is found; the searching player may either take that card (putting the rest face-down on the discard pile) or ignore it until they find a second such card, which they must take. If the deck becomes exhausted without finding a valid card, the search fails and the player retains his Search/Prestige action for later use.
The Search action is just one way the game compensates for the ever-growing size of the deck. With all three expansions, the deck has doubled in size from the core game’s 114 to 228. As a result, there are a lot of additional Explore powers littered throughout the newer cards, as well as a new “draw and discard” power that helps players cycle through their options. All of this card filtering comes at a small price, however, as games played with The Brink of War usually take about ten minutes longer than an average Race for the Galaxy game, at least while players are getting used to the new options.
The Brink of War is a fitting conclusion for the Race for the Galaxy story, and the addition of the prestige gives the game an extra dimension that makes it feel like a more “complete” game overall. While the base set is still just as playable today as it was when it was first introduced (and is still how newcomers should first experience the game), the gradual evolution of the game over the last three expansions has been quite rewarding for those of us who have been along for the ride.