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.
Iello's Downforce is a new edition of Wolfgang Kramer's board game “Top Race”, which - then published by ASS - was on the recommendation list for Game of the Year in 1996. The winner in this year 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: Wolfgang Kramer had come up with a racing game called “Tempo” that was about a sprint on a straight track. This simple idea was reissued 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 especially important when it comes to chasing the racing cars over the track with the same hand supply of cards in the second part of the game. During the auctions, you should therefore rely on the racing cars that are assumed to be the best “control” - of course on the premise that you do not know the opposing 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 drivers' skills are quite useful: With the “Tricky” skill, the racing cars can be moved in reverse order of color, which can lead to additional tactical considerations during the race. With the special skill “single-minded”, on the other hand, you could move your speedster one more space forward after a sprint on a straight stretch. Overall, the influence of the cards is apparently small, but in the course of the race the skills can decide which car crosses the finish line when - and that is 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.
Money is also given as “consolation prizes” if the chosen car races to the finish in second or third place. It is possible to choose the same car color for every bet. Anyone who is sure that a racing car will win - or at least make it into 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 cards in hand in such a way that you influence the finish line 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 sound out the game concept - at least if you approach this board game with a few considerations from the start. Anyone who gets involved in downforce will be rewarded with a crisp course of the game reduced to the essentials, in which it is clear from the start that the game will not be a full-length racing circus, but a time-limited event with a motorsport theme. This will be especially pleasing for beginners and occasional gamers who have to work out rules independently and cannot fall back on the explanatory luxury.
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 you access to two new racetracks and six new special skills. The eponymous “dangerous passages” on the routes that end a player's turn are particularly exciting. Much more, wagons 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 a fast-playable and exciting alternative in the family segment in Downforce. Frequent gamers will probably grumble about the comparatively shallow tactical tricks, but 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. Overall, a game of downforce can be completed in around half an hour, and experienced board players can reduce the time even further. Variants with slightly modified rules provide a bit of 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 competition and, in terms of its sequence, is similar to, among other things, the camel race “Camel Up”. The fact that racing cars instead of horse-drawn carriages, athletes or dragon boats whiz across the track is largely thanks to Wolfgang Kramer's submission. Thanks to Iello, the - a little old - game principle is experiencing a revival. Downforce is not a profound motorsport simulation, but it can offer a quick introduction to the hobby - or inspire frequent gamers for a new setting.
Approaching the game completely headless is not recommended, even with downforce: Despite the simple mechanism, consideration is necessary and advisable in order to be able to achieve the best possible result in the end. It must also be noted that Iello does not advertise a terrific racing game, but simply describes Downforce as what it is: "A dizzying fast competition." After a first game, there is enough motivation and drive to bring downforce to the table again. One reason for this is the unpredictability that makes each game run individually. Downforce doesn't get boring so quickly: the time and entertainment factor is just right with this board game.
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