I ran two card games over the weekend - Tom Lehmann's reductionist Race For The Galaxy trainer Jump Drive and Adrian Adamescu's Rival Kings, both were exceptionally good.
Jump Drive is particularly impressive, both as an introduction to some of the iconography and concepts of Race For The Galaxy but also as a stand-alone game in its own right. Tom has removed the produce & trade/consume elements, potentially the most confusing, and also has reduced turn options to three things - really two. Players either settle worlds, build developments or explore... and you can easily get away without exploring.
Exploring is the same as Race - you fish for cards by drawing some, keeping some and discarding some, but the game is so short and card-income so easy to come by, this is a desperation move that almost guarantees you a loss unless you can pull something special out of your hat, and I like this.
If a player chooses to only settle a planet, they discard cards as per Race, then draw a card as per Race's lead action reward. If a player chooses to only develop, they discard one card less/get a discount of one discard as per Race's lead action reward.
However players can do both in the same turn - settle and develop, but if they do so, they forfeit any lead rewards. This is fine, tho, because you want to be doing this late in the game, because you score VP and take card-income after every round, so it escalates super-fast in the end-game.
It's a game that lasts six to eight rounds and once players are accustomed to the card distro's and draws, will play quite swiftly indeed. It's short enough for bad draws to be inoffensive, and cards offer more inter-player synergies than in Race For The Galaxy that fire off what others are doing.
I really love playing it and it's going to be a hit in our groups, potentially more than Race is just because of how much easier it is to play, and I have no problem with that. Like Race, too, it's 100% expansion bait XD
Rival Kings is a light game with great interaction that primarily seems like a simple set-collector. Players want pairs of characters and buildings which they buy from common stacks - each with unique costs which end up being their VP values. A character and building that match both colour and symbol (vocation - mining, gentry etc.) will score both cards' VP value. Matching colour only will score the higher cards' VP value only. Cards that don't have any corresponding building or character will score 1 VP.
Players gain these buy playing separate court cards - members of the court are shuffled and dealt out, 3 per player, 2 of which will be played. Higher ranked members have fewer actions - the highest will only carry out one action, however they're guaranteed not to have any actions stolen from them. The lowest ranked members potentially can carry out four actions... but may be subject to intrigue by those above them who look down upon them (or so my teaching narrative flavour goes) who 'steal' one of their actions. However! If two or more players play members of the same rank, they all conflict first and those beneath them get away scott-free.
Actions as you can imagine are - gather cash, give away/return conflict tokens (worth -2VP at endgame), and buy characters or buildings. Buildings don't have any special abilities, but the most recent character you've purchased will let you do something unique and fairly powerful. The good thing about these special powers is you can't sit on them for long at all, as you want to be buying more characters which cover up previously bought ones, so your power always changes.
I love the interactivity in this, the conflicts between court members played in the first phase, and the special powers and protections of the characters purchased in the second. The set-collection scoring is kept simple to keep the game easy to play, and players belt the crap out of each-other as they go in a short-ish game which is over when one of four stacks (2 of buildings, 2 of characters) is depleted.