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July 20, 2003

Favorite Games XXI

Vroom! Today is race day here in New Hampshire (or, for me, it's massive traffic day, as the people trying to get to the race back up all the inadequate local roads for miles).

I'm not really a NASCAR fan, though. My tastes go more toward Formula One racing, and today's games are two dramatically different takes on that sport.

Formula De is a detailed (if abstract) simulation of racing, complete with scaled-down boards representing famous grand prix racetracks of the world and rules that nominally simulate the details of Formula One racing. Most significantly, the game simulates the various "gears" of the car by using custom dice, of various sizes, from four to thirty, but usually not numbered in the familiar 1, 2, 3, etc. progression (though, to aid in quick recognition, the number of sides is always the largest number on the die). These dice are used to determine the number of spaces along the track a car moves in a turn, and you can shift up or down a die size every turn before rolling. Curves are represented by a rule requiring a minimum number of turns you must spend in the curve without tire damage or spinning completely out of control. This requires the familiar gear-down in to curves, then accelerate out into straits of F1 racing. Because of the time it takes to play, though, races are abstracted down to only a few laps (typically three), and the random factor in movement makes for a large number of overtakings (particularly relative to modern F1 racing, which has very few). Pit stops are allowed via advanced rules (letting you replace tires and fuel, but at the cost of a much slower pass along the starting stretch), and can be very critical if done properly (though not as critical as pit strategy is in the real thing). Weather (that is to say, rain) is nicely simulated, complete with a possibility that a race will start cloudy and turn to either rain or sun as things progress. Rules for "slipstreaming" reflect racing as it was over a decade ago more than as it is today (back then, getting right behind another car was a good way to steal some of its speed and thus pass them up... today, it's a good way to lose your downforce and spin out of control). Some of the rules are very unique for a boardgame... For example, playing with "time trials" has you trying to zip around the track alone while counting the turns it takes and timing yourself, in order to determine starting order. This is a very long process to just set up the board, but nicely in keeping with how it's actually done at the races! The game is very mechanical and not nearly as realistic as it tries to be (for example, the limited size of game boards forces them to dramatically reduce straits on most tracks, making high gears all but useless on most courses), but the level of detail gives it a very nice feel and presents you with choices at least representative of what drivers and team managers have, if not perfect accuracy. This game gives you a very good chance to pretend you're Michael Schumacher for at least a little while. Note, though, that it all but requires 4 or more players and is best played in long series of races, so unless you have lots of friends who are race fans and boardgame fans, don't expect to get too much of a chance to play this. The rules are fairly simple to learn (the more complex bits are optional and can be added as you get comfortable with the basics). The game isn't cheap, particularly if you want a good selection of tracks, but it's well worth it for fans.

Formula Motor Racing is a light, silly game from Knizia, breaking his normal mold of having a simple yet strategically rich game leading to a mathematically complex scoring system. Here, he sticks to traditional (before changes in the current season, that is) Formula One scoring (10 points for first, 6 for second, then 4, 3, 2 and 1 for the following spots), with each player represented by 2 cars (a team). But, where Formula De tries for (and roughly achieves) some degree of simulation, FMR is just a series of unpredictable card-plays, each of which can change the situation so dramatically that there's really no hope of serious strategy; any situation you set up with your play is unlikely to stay around until your next. Each player's team is two cars of the same color (tiny plastic cars are provided), and all the cars (including any with no player attached) are placed in a line. Each card then moves one or more cars forward or backwards in the line. Most cards affect on car of a certain color (the player of the card chooses which of the two cars of that color to affect) and the car immediately behind it ("in the slipstream", to again use a trick no longer actually representative of F1 racing). Other cards cause delays due to a fumbled pit stop, make a random car to spin out, crash, or fall to last place. The race ends one round after the last card of the deck is drawn, so some cards will remain unplayed, but not many. After each race is scored, the cars are left in their current order, cards are collected and reshuffled, and another game is played, repeating the process until a full series (however long you decided on) is played. Of course, there's more luck to each race than anything else (to the extreme that I've seen unplayed colors win over all human-controlled teams), and there may not be anything but luck at play in the game as a whole (excepting a lot of chances to play spoiler by piling bad cards against the race leader)... But despite that, it's a fun game and well worth sinking an hour or two into a long, fast-paced season of "racing". This game is the choice for quick pick-up play, and appeals far more broadly than Formula De. Fun, but lacking in any significant simulation.

Funagain Purchase Links
Formula De
Formula Motor Racing

Posted by ghoul at July 20, 2003 06:56 AM

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