Today I played my 50th solo game of Race for the Galaxy (with the Gathering Storm expansion). I bought it two years ago and it was one of the best acquisitions ever.
Yes, the game has icons. But the symbols are very clear and easy to grasp. I have a lot more trouble with words like "veil" and "deed" in Gloom of Kilforth or "vigilant" in Legendary Encounters: Alien as I keep forgetting the Dutch translation of these words - and which gameplay mechanic they might refer to. And even compared to other games using icons (Great Western Trail) the symbols are so easy to learn. Then there is text on the cards that have rare effects and there are cheat sheets.
The game takes place in a rich SF setting with an Imperium, rebels, researchers, diplomats, traders and alien relics and lifeforms. You build your civilization by placing cards with developments or worlds in your tableau. Paying for them with other cards from your hand, or with effects from cards you've played earlier. You can try a military strategy and conquer worlds, you can go for production worlds and sell goods, you can explore for valuable alien worlds and technologies. For the young readers out there: it is Wingspan done right.
The solo rules are from 2008 and they brought us The Robot. A piece of programmable cardboard that adapts its strategy to its starting world, just like a human player would do. It selects its actions randomly with dice and still outsmarts you. As it has a brain the size of a planet.
Playing against The Robot really turns the game into a race for the galaxy. It has three difficulty levels, so you can work your way up while getting familiar to the game. But right from the start, when you are new to the game and The Robot's on easy, there's no slacking. You have to make every card count.
A game will take 15-25 minutes and if you never tried it in the last 11 years, I'd advise you to give it a chance. It is iconic for a reason.
P.S. 1: the new edition of Race for the Galaxy has some promo words included. But The Robot is old and does not know them. 1 Player Guild-member Dimitri started a project (endorsed by Lehmann and Rio Grande Games) for community tested solo rules. It's now nearing conclusion.
P.S. 2: shortly after I bought the game, I discovered the app and put it on my tablet. That's the multiplayer version, so it doesn't come with The Robot, but you can play against a multiplayer AI. A session takes about 5 minutes. I've played the digital version near 3,000 times now. Race for the Galaxy is brilliant.