The guys have been talking about racing games this month, which prompted me to change my intended subject. I really really like racing games. I like them so much that I ran a Formula D tournament with my lunch group we called the EMSL cup (EMSL is the facility where we would play our games). I’ve run Formula D at Saltcon on the Meeple Nation tables for two years running (going on a third). I’ve had so many interesting and funny stories that have come out of racing games.
The guys have touched on a few of my favorites on the podcast, so I’ll mention them here, and then touch on a couple they haven’t covered (at least at the time of me writing this).
This game has been around in one variety or another for a long time. You play as a racer, driving your car (or cars if you are doing team races) around a track. Many of the tracks available for the game are based on real life race tracks (Monaco, Sebring, etc…), others are just ridiculous fantasy (Night City for example), which may include jumps, drop offs, or the police trying to stop your street racing fun. Your car is represented in two parts, one by a tiny replica car on the track, and the other by a cardboard insert that keeps track of the gear you are in, and the consumable bits of your car. As you travel around the track you may encounter a number of situations. Corners have a red zone that you must stop inside. The corner is labeled with the number of times you must stop. There may be damage markers left behind by collisions, or some tracks have hazard zones that are a track feature. You roll dice of increasing size and value that are color coded to a particular gear, starting with a 1d4 for first gear that has values from two to four, up to a 30 sided die for sixth gear that goes from 21 to 30.
In the most basic mode, your car's consumable bits are just an abstract idea, you have a number of “wear points” that your car has, and you spend them for a variety of things. In the next mode those wear points are distributed among six categories (Tires, brakes, gearbox, engine, body, and suspension). These points are the same for every car (mimicking the “stock” nature of race cars) The points you spend are based on the situation that you are in. For example, if you overshoot a corner, spend some tires, brakes, or a combination of them. Need to downshift in a hurry? Spend a gearbox, a gearbox and brake, or gearbox, brake, and engine depending on how many gears you need to skip. Just collided with another player? Then spend a body point. Spending all your wear points in one category may be catastrophic, causing you to blow up. Other categories are just mildly terrible, forcing you to drive more conservatively. The third mode is where things get more interesting. In this you play one of a number of street racers. The cars now have asymmetric wear points, and each racer has a special ability that may impact the other racers. In addition, you have Nitro, which may be used to help you get into a corner, but that is a limited resource, so make sure you use it wisely
The game does tend to go a little long, but it’s one I don’t mind. I’m usually looking at the track trying to gauge my next move, and how someone else’s move is going to affect my probability of getting into the next corner.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this one by name before, but I know I’ve talked about one of the experiences I’ve had with this game that really stood out. You might remember me talking about a game where we pulled out a sand timer and one of our friends thought we brought a timer just to time his turns and left in anger. That was Robo Rally.
In this game you are programming factory robots to race around the facility. There are a number of checkpoint flags that you are trying to get your robot to pass through in order. You have a hand of instructions like “forward 3” or “Right 90” that you are putting into your robot's programming memory to try to get it through the checkpoints. Robots can interact with each other by pushing each other or shooting other robots. If you take too much damage some of your programming registers will get locked, holding on and executing the last instruction that was placed in that slot. There are ways to get repaired so you can clear off that damage. You can also get powerups to add armor or guns to your robot. The factory has features that can help or hinder you as well, such as lasers, conveyor belts, pit traps, and turntables. Each round you look through your hand of cards and pick out the instructions you want your robot to do. Each instruction is done in order. Everyone does their first instruction, then their second, etc… The cards have a number on them determining the order in which they are played with respect to the other players instructions. If you are the last person still picking your instructions at that phase of the game, the timer is turned over, and when it runs out, your remaining instructions are picked at random by the other players at the table.
I really like this game, but it was hard to get to the table. In a group of computer programmers, the game felt too close to actual work for comfort.
This game has a lot of similarities to another game that the podcast crew talked about: Camel Up. In the game, you are a race car owner, so you want your own car to win the race, but at the same time you are making bets at different times about which car will cross a checkpoint first. You win money based on your bets, and based on your car's final position in the race with the player having the most money at the end of the game winning. Cars are moved along the track based on cards played, but your cards will move cars based on a color coded system, and will likely move more than just one car. In addition, you may have one or more special ability that can help your car's movement, or negate the movement of another car. I’ve only ever played this one on Board Game Arena, so it’s difficult to gauge how it plays in real time, and what the table talk is like. But while the movement and mechanics of the game are pretty simple, the strategy is very complex. I don’t think my win ratio is great at this one, but I have really enjoyed the plays I’ve done of it.
This is another one I’ve only ever played online, but I think I want to get a copy of it for my collection. This is another car racing game, but a bit different than the other car racing games I’ve played. I haven’t played all the tracks or variations, so I’ll only talk to the one that I’ve played. In this car, all the cars are the same. The cars move by placing a “vector” in front of your car. The length of the vector is based on the gear you are in, with the longer vectors also having more restricted turning options. There are two features of this game that I’ve found to be unique. First, there is no “try” or “undo” concept. You eyeball where you need to go, then pick the vector that you think is most likely to get you there. Once a vector is placed, you can’t backtrack and try another one. You just have to live with the results. Sometimes this works out great. For inexperienced players it usually does not, and you end up either being short of the line you wanted for getting around a corner, or drastically overshooting it. The other aspect is the impact your track position can have on another player. You have the option to exert pressure on a car that you are approaching, forcing a change in the options they have when placing their next vector. This could be keeping them in the same or higher gear, or blocking off some of the turning options they may have had on their next vector placement.
The game comes with markers that you use to lay out the track, allowing for a number of variations on track length and configuration. Online, that part doesn’t really translate, since they have to have a field for you to place your cars on, so there are limited track options, but as a physical game, there are a variety of ways you can lay out the track, making each race unique.
So these are some of my favorite racing games. What racing games have you played?