Type: Race

Time to play: 60 minutes (Teaching: 10 minutes)

Best played with: 4 Players (2-6 Players)

And they’re off…..what a better way to start this formula one style racing game review. If you want to experience the thrill of a fast paced race around a simple track then read on and I will explain why I think Downforce is the closest game to Flamme Rouge for bringing out the excitement of the race.

Downforce takes the world of motorsport and two fixed tracks that come in the base box to give you a couple of really interesting games experiences. However, the theme is at an overarching level – there are a few breaks in the in turn decisions that won’t feel like a normal motor race. Nonetheless, for someone seeking a good race game the theme comes out sufficiently to make this a very interesting game.

It’s also worth knowing that this is a Restoration Games production. A group making themselves famous for re-inventing older games and making them accessible to new player markets. With that in mind you should expect something at the lighter end of the market – this won’t be a deep thinky game, but it will have some pretty interesting turns / decisions along the way.

In fact, one of those interesting decisions hits you right at the start of the game. The track is laid out and you have a deck of cards which you will use through the game. Each car has a position on the grid, and each card will move certain cars a certain distance. Specifically every card shows one to all cars and shows how far to move them. Knowing the grid position and your set of cards, you know which car or cars you have the most ability to control and are most likely to do well under your control. With this, you are asked to bid at the start of the game for the car of your choice.

This auction is really interesting. A one time bid that will have the player willing to pay the most win the car – and a tie break based on what card they used. A player will want to bid for cars they can score but buying too many cars at the auction can leave you in a position where your car doesn’t finish in games with smaller player counts – and cars that don’t finish, don’t score! Bids will be deducted from your points at the end of the game. So you want to have the car that will win, but the person in second could win overall if they didn’t bid that high for the car.

This is a really interesting sub-game at the set up, made even more interesting by the fact that player powers are available with each car being offered. The powers are definitely distinct and there are more powerful ones – judging what is worth to buy the combination of the power and the car is the challenging. Especially since this is a relative challenge with what else comes up that game.

Back to my earlier comment though, this is a break from the immersion. The theme doesn’t really allow for this auction mechanic, but it’s cool so let’s give that a pass.

The next step is to pick a card in your turn – you will then move every car on that card in a certain order. This means that you will advance not just your cars, but potentially the cars of other players which feature on the card. The skill in the game is not really in the card selection to get you over the line first, but in the timing of the cards to use them to block cars with other cars or to use up cards that help opponents when they cannot benefit from them.

This is a game not about pacing yourself or managing your position, but instead it is about managing the overall race. You will manage your own car and others in such a way as yo maximise your movement, minimise theirs, and block where possible. I compare this to Flamme Rouge where you are simply expending a limited pool of energy over the course of the race – this is less thematic, but not every race game should be the same. This is a game about how a race evolves and you have the sort of omnipresent power of shifting all cars and simply trying to manage the spectacle. In some small way you are making an epic race, but you have your own motives with specific cars.

This positioning of the player then not as the driver of the car, but almost some sort of divine spectator is then further enforced by the games use of the betting mechanics. You can bet at three points in the track as to who is going to win. When the first car crosses a threshold, all players predict the winner. A sort of catch 22 in that you would clearly be most likely to think that the car in the lead will win (surely true at the last checkpoint) but if every player puts that then they will get the same points. Here you need to be crafty and make the right bets at the right stage of the race to get the maximum balance of points at the end of the game.

It’s not just blind betting though. You might know who is in the lead, but you also know who has had more turns and who has played lower cards, been blocked more. Plus you have control of your own card choices. Can you support the car you bet on or sabotage the leader? This might give you an edge not just in the race but in the betting.

So you, the divine spectator, bet on a winner at the start and bet three times in the game. The more you get right the more you score. This is a betting on a race game in that respect, but with the game ending at the end of the race – you should still see it in that category.

You might not like this if you are looking for the follow up to games like Formula D where you shift gears for corners and try to win on the track to win the game. However, if you enjoy the concepts outlined above the game really delivers these and each track changes the challenge. Expansions, plus the variation of the cards / auction will give this a decent amount of replay ability. It is probably ultimately limited by the simplicity of the base game, and the impact of luck, but there’s still plenty to enjoy.

Last notes,

  • If you like with a player driven finish condition, this is a good variant
  • If you want no luck, then watch out for the card distribution here…
  • If you win, try again – the opening auction will change