Board Game Gumbo: Beignets & Board Games -- first impressions of Downforce

Board Game Gumbo: Beignets & Board Games -- first impressions of Downforce

One of the first German games I introduced my scout parent gaming group was Camel Up. I knew racing is a pretty simple mechanic to teach, and one that many people are familiar even from mass market games, so I knew we would get up to speed pretty quickly.  Plus, Camel Up has a cool presence on the table -- the pyramid spitting out colorful dice, the camels stacking up in crazy combinations, and the graphically interesting race track -- so I knew even the most jaded non-gamer of the bunch would enjoy playing.

And I was right.  Camel Up has hit the table a ton since then, and two of the other families even bought their own copies.

I am always on the lookout for another racing game that can capture that feeling of pizazz on the table, easy game mechanics, shorter playing time, and interesting game play.  Formula D just never went over very big in that group, and frankly, I don’t think they are ready for anything too heavy (like Oracle at Delphi, for instance.)  

So when I found out that the team at Restoration Games planned to revise the Wolfgang Kramer racing hit into Downforce, I was justifiably excited.  I knew it was going to be for sale in Indy, and had it on my to do list. On a short break from my demo duties at GEN CON on Friday, I raced (!) over to the booth for a quick demo, which was all I needed to solidify my opinion.

Downforce is a quick playing card and board game that has a long history.  The original game was published almost forty years ago, but has gameplay that still holds up today.  

GAME PLAY:

Players draft ‘cars’ from six available colors, then use the hand that has been dealt to them to race the cards around the track, each player picking, playing and resolving one card at a time during their respective turns.  There are no dice in this game, just the points found on the cars that propel one or more cars located on the cards forward.

But this is not an ordinary racing game. Yes, it is important for your car(s) to do well, but you can hedge your bets on other cars that you think are moving quickly enough to win the race, too. Each person has three chances to bet on the predicted winners, although for diminishing results.

After one lap around the track, which usually takes about 30 minutes, players total up the winnings from the race itself and the bets that were placed on the winners, and subtract the cost for purchasing the car. Winner is the one with the most money left over.

The game is not overly complicated at all, and the rule set is short and clear. I guess the only tricky part could be the passing rules, but they are pretty intuitive.  Plus, each player drafts a driver “trait” that gives each car some kind of special power. Again, they are not complicated, and should be within easy grasp of even the newest gamer in your group.

COMPONENTS AND ART:

The art and graphics in the game are serviceable and perfectly suited for this type of game. In fact, as a fan of Disney’s Tomorrowland and EPCOT Center, I was a little bit nostalgic looking at the art elements. The artwork reminds me a lot of that retro-future look that has been present in some of the attractions found in those two areas.  The brightly colored cars, much larger than the ones in Formula D, really pop in pictures of them on the table.

The board is double sided, so you have two different tracks to play on right away. I am already seeing home brewed variants on Twitter, so it would not surprise me if Restoration Games comes out with additional track packs.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

After a few plays, I have found the game easy to teach and quick to play. It has that perfect blend of luck and strategy that is usually found in the best Euro games. This one is certainly not an exception.  I have not had a chance to show it off to the scout parents, but I am feeling pretty good about the chance that it will be well received.

I like the tension that is created when the draft starts.  Instantly, each person is frantically scanning their hands, looking at how much movement each car will have just from their own cards.  That shifts to the consideration of how much to bid on each car and driver.  Obviously, getting a good car for cheap (or cheaper) is the best option, but driver functions are certainly different enough that you may see some bidding wars break out.

Another thing I like is the unpredictability so far of the strategy for winning. In all of the plays, I have seen different players use different means to getting to the top spot.  I have seen players go all in when they drafted a good car and had good cards to back it up -- betting on themselves from start to finish, and that has won and lost with regularity. Most of the wins seem to come from good cars that may not be in first at the first pole, but end up winning the last two legs. This is just anecdotal evidence after a few plays, however.

BOTTOM LINE:

Downforce was one of my favorite pick ups at GEN CON 50.  The game is so easy to teach, and gives a lot of game back to you in only thirty minutes.  It is the perfect game to play more than once a night, as players come into your game night. Most players I have had jump in learn the game just by watching the previous one, with a quick little tutorial when the next game is ready to start.

This one is definitely staying in my collection, and I just might be ready to trade or sell Formula D at the next regional con. And if asked, I would definitely pull out Downforce before I suggest Camel Up. I am hoping that my scout parent group feels the same at the next board game night.

Do you agree?  Does Downforce replace Camel Up or Formula D (or both) in your collection? What does it do well for you, and how does it miss?  

Hit me up on Twitter @boardgamegumbo and share your thoughts, or post in the comments below.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler

--B.J.

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