There are board games with sporty settings, but overall the number is manageable. If you aim at racing, the number of playable alternatives continues to shrink. Especially beginners, family and casual gamers look into the tube. A fast racing board game with a colorful mix of concepts is Downforce, published by Iello. In Wolfgang Kramer's board game review on Downforce, we reveal whether you have fun when the speedsters do their laps on the racetrack.
Downforce by Iello is a new edition of Wolfgangs Kramer's board game "Top Race", which - originally published by ASS - was recommended for Game of the Year in 1996. The winner of this vintage was “El Grande”, also by Wolfgang Kramer. Exciting: Even at this point, Kramer's idea was no longer fresh. The roots of Top Race go back to 1974: With “Tempo”, Wolfgang Kramer came up with a racing game that involved a sprint on a straight track. This simple idea was relaunched six years later as "Niki Lauda's Formula 1" and thus licensed for the first time. Further editions of the "Tempo" variant followed until it actually became a real racing game.
Downforce: Buying the best drivers for millions
After an editorial revision of the classic racing game from the mid-nineties by Rob Daviau and Justin D. Jacobsen, sports game lovers can now once again steer the fate of their racing team and then steer the car down the slopes. It is already clear: Downforce relies on a two-part game process.
Racing is a multi-million dollar business and that's what it's all about initially. Each of the two to six players takes on a racing team - but without having a racing car at the beginning. First of all, they have to be bought, or more precisely: to be auctioned.
The player receives his hand cards with which he can place his bids. The principle behind it is simple. The printed numbers and colors symbolize the commandments. A separate auction round is started for each of the racing cars in turn. When it comes to the red speedster, for example, players choose one of the cards with a number assigned to the red car - this is the amount in millions that the racing team will have to pay if no other player makes a higher bid.
The trick behind this is obvious: the higher the bid, the higher the costs, the lower the profit may be at the end of the game. Because the bid amounts are set off in the final scoring, this reduces the victory points - so you can use a bit of tact when submitting your bids.
The simple principle is easy to understand, easy to understand and entertaining. The auction rounds are at the same time an essential element of the game, behind which there is more hidden than it initially seems. Because each player receives the same number of cards in hand, but these are given out randomly, color accumulations can occur.
This is particularly important when it comes to chasing the racing cars around the track in the second part of the game using the same hand pool of cards. During the auctions, you should therefore bet on the racing cars that you think you can "steer" best - of course on the premise that you don't know the opponent's strategies. You can, but don't have to, bet on your own racing team to win.
In any case, it is helpful to have an additional speed card that you get with every auctioned racing car and - and this is interesting from a tactical point of view - a special card that influences the behavior of the cars on the racetrack. Each player can take one of these special skills into the racing phase. Incidentally, no player goes out empty during the auction phase.
The skills of the drivers are quite useful here: With the "tricky" ability, the racing cars can be moved in reverse color order, which can lead to additional tactical considerations during the race. With the special skill "Focused", on the other hand, you could move your speedster one more space forward after a sprint on a straight line. Overall, the influence of the cards seems to be small, but as the race progresses, the skills can decide when which car crosses the finish line - and that's exactly what the second part of the game is about.
Bet on winners, not yourself
The aim of Downforce is not to be the first to cross the finish line with one of your racing cars, but to achieve the highest possible profit by cleverly placing bets. Bets are made three times on each of the two racetracks on the double-sided game board.
A marking line shows the point in time. Placing the bet is again simple and understandable for anyone without board game experience: You simply mark every racing car on your rating sheet that you expect to finish in the top spot, which you then do twice more in the course of the game . Of course, there are lower winnings on later bets, because the prediction chances increase accordingly.
There is also money as a “consolation prize” if the chosen car races to the finish in second or third place. It is possible to select the same car color for each bet. Anyone who is certain that a racer will win - or at least finish in the top 3 - can use such a betting maneuver and possibly gain an advantage. The same applies, of course, if you can control the race with your hand cards in such a way that you influence the finishes in your favor.
There are also lucrative prices if your own cars achieve good placements. The influence from the auction phase is noticeable here. If you manage cleverly, you can have a large racing team without having to spend huge sums of money - still on the premise that other players miscalculated when they submitted their bids. So there is a certain, albeit manageable, risk slumbering in the composition of the racing team.
Racing with a gentle tactical note
In addition to juggling with the financial means, players are also directly responsible for the race. The wagons move around the circuit by playing cards in hand. The cars are moved as many spaces as the cards in hand indicate - this applies to all the cars shown. So if you are the owner of the red racing team and want to push your red car six spaces forward, you can hardly avoid letting the competition's cars drive. The cards are balanced differently: So you can push the driver field closer together or with a single car - especially in combination with the special vehicles - get a head start.
The tactical component during the racing section of Downforce is present and also noticeable, but does not reach the strategic depth of more demanding racing board games such as Rallyman GT. Downforce compromises between the complexity of the rules and ease of use for beginners. This is exactly where the revised version of Iello scores: you can start playing immediately with the instructions open.
Neither a tutorial nor a "test game" is needed to be able to explore the game concept - at least if you approach this board game with some considerations from the beginning. Anyone who gets involved with Downforce will be rewarded with a crisp gameplay reduced to the essentials, in which it is clear from the start that the game will not be an evening-long racing circuit, but a time-limited event with a motorsport theme. Beginners and occasional players who have to work out the rules themselves and cannot fall back on the luxury of the explainer bear will be particularly happy about this.
If you want to expand the family-friendly board game with a racing car setting, you can do so with the "Danger Circuit" expansion, which gives access to two new circuits and six new special skills. The eponymous "dangerous passages" on the routes that end a player's turn are particularly exciting. Cars can then be placed in such a way that blockages arise.
It is a pure expansion: the basic game must be available for this. Language versions can of course be mixed - also because Downforce does without text except for the skill cards.
Number of players: 2 to 6 players
Age: from 8 years
Playing time: 30 to 40 minutes
Long-term motivation: medium
Published by Iello / Huch
Author: Wolfgang Kramer / Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobsen
Year of publication: 2018
Cost: 30 Euro
Anyone who likes board games with a motorsport theme will find Downforce to be a quickly playable and quite exciting alternative in the family segment. Frequent players will probably grumble about the comparatively shallow tactical tricks, but they can still have fun with the new edition of "Top Race". Last but not least, this is due to the short playing time, which only depends on the "thinking time" of the other players. A game of Downforce can be completed in around half an hour, experienced board players can reduce the time even further. Variants with slightly modified rules provide some variety.
Iello also captured the charm of the mid-XNUMXs at Downforce. You can chalk that up to the game or highlight it as a positive aspect, depending on your point of view and taste. The small plastic cars are poor in detail and functional, the design of the cards is almost non-existent. This does not affect the course of the game, on the contrary: especially when looking through the cards in hand - and this happens at short intervals due to the rapid succession of players - the sober one proves to be helpful.
Of course, the topic is interchangeable, but it still fits the basic concept. It is essentially a betting game and the process is similar to the camel race "Camel Up". The fact that racing cars, of all things, instead of horse-drawn carriages, athletes or dragon boats whiz across the route is largely due to Wolfgang Kramer's template. Thanks to Iello, the game principle – which has gotten a little old – is experiencing a revival. Downforce is not an in-depth motorsport simulation, but it can offer a quick start into the hobby - or inspire frequent players for a new setting.
By the way, it is not advisable to approach the game completely headless with downforce either: Despite the simple mechanism, consideration is necessary and advisable in order to be able to achieve the best possible result in the end. It should also be noted that Iello does not advertise with a grandiose racing game, but simply describes Downforce as what it is: "A dizzyingly fast competition." After a first game, there is sufficient motivation and drive to bring Downforce back to the table bring. One reason for this is the unpredictability that makes each game unique. In any case, Downforce doesn't get bored that quickly: the time-entertainment factor in this board game is just right.
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