Thoughts From The Gameroom

The ramblings of a Euro-gamer from South Dakota

Posts Tagged ‘race game’

Gentlemen, start your engines. A review of Thunder Alley

Posted by sodaklady on March 1, 2013

We like race games, all kinds of races and all kinds of game mechanics from the quick and fun GMT Formula Motor Racing to slow and analytical Bolide; from dog sledding in Snow Tails to escaping pirates in Cartagena. Thunder Alley caught my attention when it was announced for GMT’s P500 list and I proceeded to follow the designer’s blog and subscribed to the game page.

This game has had quite a life already and it hasn’t even been printed. From the P500 where it lagged, to Kickstarter where it perished, and back to GMT with a guarantee to be printed this summer thanks to a contribution from a fan, it has several laps under its belt before the race even started.

The files section on Board Game Geek contains a Print and Play version for 2 players, which is the basis for my review. It contains the simple oval track, the Race Cards, Event Cards, and lots of chits representing your cars, damage markers, lap points, and place trophy points.

The two main things that separate this race game from others are that you control a team of three to six cars, depending on the number of players (2-7); and when you activate a car, it often affects many cars, including your opponents’.  This doesn’t sound like a big innovation and in truth, I couldn’t grasp how it would feel to race with these rules– what made it fun or special. That’s why I finally put together the PnP version to try it out myself.

This is the Dover short oval track.

This is the Dover oval short track.

The board shows a simple oval with an inside track that is used only as the pits. Pitting occurs at the end of each game round no matter where you are on the track. This is a simple way to handle pitting and works very well although not totally thematic for those who are anal about such things.

The player mat for each player's team also has a handy reference for damage results and End of Turn Sequence.

The player mat for each player’s team also has a handy reference for damage results and End of Turn Sequence.

Each player has a player mat to keep track of the damage for each of their cars. The damage can be either permanent or temporary, the latter being the only kind that can be fixed during a pit stop. The cars are two-sided, gray and white backgrounds so you can keep track of which cars have been activated on a turn.

Thunder Alley cards

The Race cards contain various pieces of information. At the top is the title of the card shown in a particular color which denotes the type of damage taken when that card is played. In the top left corner are two numbers, the larger is the number of Action Points used on a turn, the smaller is used only when leaving the pits. In the center is an icon to show the type of movement you’ll be using on the car you activate this turn. More on this later. Some cards have text which applies when you play this card, and at the bottom is the Team Bar which is used to choose starting positions at the start of the game and to settle any ties. Simple and very useable cards but I’d personally like to see the movement arrows reflected at the top left so it can be seen when the hand of cards are fanned.

Each round begins with dealing cards to players, one more than the number of cars they control. Then players take turns, starting with the owner of the pole position car, playing a card to activate one of their cars and continuing around until all the cars have been activated. Then you perform the end of the round sequence which is:  determine the Leader, perform Pit Stops, determine first player (the lead car), and remove any lapped cars (ouch! Keep up!)

The movement mechanic is the heart of the game, of course, and is like no other game I own or have played. It is quite simple and very effective.

Solo movement is just as it states, you activate one car and move it using the Action Points on the card. It takes one point to move to an adjacent empty space, straight ahead or laterally (sideways); two points to move sideways when that space is occupied; and three points to move forward if you must push a car that is in front of you. If you push a car laterally, it moves into the next lane unless it is already in the inmost or outmost lane, in which case it is pushed backwards one space. Doesn’t that sound like racing?

Draft movement involves a line of cars linked forward and backward to the activated car. The whole string of cars move the allotted movement points, including any cars that are picked up in front of the line as it moves. You can move laterally only at the start of movement, spending movement points as you do in solo movement; once you start forward, you must keep going forward in a straight line until all movement points are used.

Pursuit movement is rather like pushing the line of cars you have linked to in front of you. Like Draft movement, you can only move laterally at the beginning of your move. Not being a race fan in real life, this felt like the least thematic part of the game. Come on, if the car in front of me makes a break for it, I’m going to stick to his tail if I can, right? Maybe that’s it, the cars behind are just not able to keep up.

Lead movement is the final type and is just as it sounds, leading the string of cars that begin the movement linked behind the activated car. Unlike Draft and Pursuit, you can zig and zag through the pack however you wish provided you have the action points, and the cars behind you will follow your actions exactly. This really feels like finding the whole in the pack and making a break for it.

Damage (or wear) on a vehicle slows it down, the more damage, the less movement points you can use. If you activate a car that already has 6 damage markers, it is eliminated.

At the end of the race, points are awarded for the Position each car finished, one point for being the lap leader at any time, and an extra point for leading the most laps. After adding the points for each car on your team, the player with the most points wins and does a victory lap around the table, finishing with a couple of donuts if they still have tires.

We were captivated by the game in almost no time at all. It’s simple to grasp, offers a challenge but isn’t brain-burning, gives you the thrill of a real race without all the noise and fumes, and most importantly…it’s fun. There’s the feeling of racing that I can’t explain effectively, something that doesn’t come through by simply reading the rules and understanding the concept. It can only be understood by doing–by seeing the movement of cars and changing of positions that you caused with a simple turn of a card.

If you can’t print your own version or see a demo somewhere, then take just trust me on this: if you love racing or racing games, you should try this game. I’m pretty sure you’re going to love it.

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Posted in board games, Do-It-Yourself Games, Reviews | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Race Games: Powerboats vs. Snow Tails

Posted by sodaklady on December 21, 2008

I recently bought two new racing games, Powerboats by Cwali and Snow Tails by the Lamont Brothers. I’ve had a chance to play both games twice, Powerboats with 2 and 3 players; Snow Tails with only 2 players. They’ve both left me with a good first impression but which one leaves me wanting more?

Powerboats is, obviously, a game about racing boats around a lake. The board is modular, made up of 6 double-sided pieces that can be combined in a variety of ways, and shows land and water overlaid with a hex grid. This variety is a huge plus, offering so many different race courses that it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever play the same game twice. The board shows recommended spots (marked A, B, and C) to use as the starting/finish line, and  the 3 course buoys but I see no reason you can’t just lay out a course in any manner you wish. In fact, I was a little disappointed in the placement of these and would rather choose my own course marker spots.

Movement is determined by special 3-sided dice. These are cool looking and unique but if you enjoy the dance of the dice when you roll them, you’ll be disappointed. This is more like dropping the dice rather than rolling them, but they do offer a method for randomization. On your turn you can add or remove a die from your “speed” track, then choose to roll as many of your dice as you wish. This is a clever way to speed up or slow down and ensures that you can’t slow down too quickly; you can’t step on the gas for a long, straight stretch and then go to a super slow speed to make a corner. Very nice.

This is a quick, light, fun game offering no real tough choices and between the dice and the many small islands you need to maneuver around, it can cause frustration. It’s very likely that you have 3 dice and want to really step on the gas to catch up but instead find yourself putting along at 4 or 5 hexes on your turn. Or you re-roll a 3, hoping for a 2 or a 1  to turn around a spit of land and get…a three. If moving three causes you to crash into land, you take a damage token and lose all of your speed (lose all of your dice). When you get your fourth damage token, your boat is too beat up to continue and you’re out of the current race.

Snow Tails takes you to snowy climes, racing sled dogs. Your weapon of choice this time is cards–a deck for each player with numbers 1-5. On your turn you can play 1, 2, or 3 cards but they must all be the same denomination. These are played on either or both of your dogs or discarded to determine the strength of your braking. Movement is determined by adding together the numbers on your dogs then subtracting the brake number to get your speed, then, if the dogs’ numbers are different, drift the number of lanes that the numbers are different. So… your left dog is pulling at 5, your left dog is pulling at 3 and your brake is set at 2. Your speed is 6 (5 + 3 – 2) and you drift 2 lanes to the left. It’s fairly simple, logical and thematic but it does take time. And you don’t always get to go exactly where you’d like to go because you’re limited by the cards in your hand. If you try to plan this turn and still take into account the cards left in your hand that you’ll have to deal with in the next turn, your brain is likely to ice up.

If you’ve misjudged your speed or drift, you could collide with another sled, which means you don’t get to refill your hand to 5 at the end of your turn, or run off the track, which gives you a “ding” card. The “ding” card counts towards the 5 card hand limit so avoiding them is paramount if you wish to retain control over your sled. If you should have to draw your 5th ding card, you are out of the race, of course, since you have no number cards to play.

The game comes with many double-sided track pieces, some straight, some curved, and two u-turns. If you’ve become proficient at handling your sled, you can throw in a piece of track that narrows down to a single lane or one that you set up trees on so that the first player who hits one takes out the tree and damages his sled. 

Snow Tails is different from other race games because the card management is more complex, taking into account several aspects of movement at once. It requires more thinking and planning than Powerboats which means it isn’t as fast a game, but that is precisely the thing that keeps me wanting more. The challenge to manage the cards, to find the right combination of speed and drift, is addictive. And even with a damaged sled, you can still have enough control to win, as evidenced by the second game we played when I had 3 ding cards by the half-way point but still came in first.

I enjoy both games and am glad to have them in my collection but I consider Powerboats to be a lighter game, more likely to be put in the “family game” category. Given a choice, I would rather play the tougher but more interesting Snow Tails.

Posted in Game-related Thoughts, New Game, Reviews | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »