Hello reader. This is the fourth entry in my countdown series themed around my favourite gameplay mechanics. In each article I will discuss one mechanic, explain what it is and why I like it. I will also shine a light on five games I particularly enjoy that utilise the mechanic in an interesting way. For this article I've selected Race.
Previous entries in this series covered Tile Placement, Worker Placement, and Deck, Bag, and Pool Building.
What is the Race mechanic?
Players compete to achieve a fixed goal ahead of their opponents. Most typically, illustrated by being the first to reach the end of a track or passing a specified threshold. For example, 'the first player to score 10 victory points, wins'.
Why do I like it in a game?
I find that the Race mechanic can instil a sense of momentum in a game. Sometimes that might be obvious, such as in a racing themed game. You can see the finish line, and the location of the game pieces. It creates a sense of urgency to find a way forwards, faster than your opponents. Other times it might be more subtle. In a strategy game you may know the target for victory, but not necessarily how close your opponents are to it. The Race mechanic engages you with the game, as you try to work out an efficient strategy to reach the target first.
I especially like the Race mechanic when combined with a racing theme. I find that racing games really bring out the competitive edge in people, and it’s good fun - as long as it remains good natured!
Games that utilise Race
There are a lot of games that feature the Race mechanic, and a lot of racing themed games to choose from. Thunder Alley, Rallyman GT, and Pitchcar are all great examples of the latter. Games like Catan and Scythe feature the mechanic as a means to trigger game end, which I like. However, I've chosen five varied games from amongst those I prefer to play:
Player Count: 2 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2002
Odin's Ravens is a fun head to head racing game, combining the Race and Hand Management mechanics in an effective way.
Players each control one of Odin's Ravens: Hugin or Munin. The objective is to be the first to circumnavigate the world, represented by land cards.
A land card has two distinct spaces, each depicting a terrain type. At the start of the game, sixteen land cards are laid out side by side; this forms a flight path for the ravens to follow. Both ravens begin on the same card, in different spaces. Over the course of the game, players will move their raven along the spaces on their side, to the last card. At this point, the raven moves to your opponent’s side and then travels along spaces towards their starting point. Your starting point is your opponent’s finish line, and vice versa.
Players each begin with a personal draw pile of twenty five flight cards and eight Loki cards. They will draw five (from either pile) to form a starting hand and play as many as they wish on a turn. Players draw three new cards at the end of their turn but can hold no more than seven cards.
To move their raven, the player must use a flight card. The card must depict the terrain type shown on the next land card along the track. Loki cards allow the player to draw new cards, move either raven, or manipulate the land cards.
Careful hand management and use of Loki cards can offer big advantages. Where matching land cards are lined up, players can move over them all by playing the equivalent land card. But remember, Loki is capricious. Your opponent can call on him in the same way!
Player Count: 1 - 5 | Complexity: Low/Medium | Released: 2015
Tiny Epic Galaxies is a game of intergalactic expansion and conquest. Your objective is to expand your own empire by colonising strange new worlds. It is the colonising that utilises the Race mechanic.
Players each receive a play mat representing their home galaxy. On it they will track their empire’s culture and energy (the games resources), and store their fleet of spaceships. Players also track their empire level, which I think of as representative of the empire’s maturity. The higher the level (the more developed the empire), the greater the available actions. Players also unlock more ships as they increase levels, so progression here is important.
On a turn, the active player will roll dice (the number of which depends on the empire level). 'Spending' rolled dice will enable the player to gain resources, increase their empire level, or move a ship; these options are dependent on those action symbols having been rolled. Players may also activate the ability of a planet they have already colonised.
To colonise a planet, players must first move a ship into that planet’s orbit. They then need to move it along an orbit track in order to claim the planet. Players must spend action dice showing the relevant symbol to move ships in orbit. Each planet will provide a number of victory points and an ability. There will be two planets more than the number of players (maximum: six) in play at one time. However, players will often be competing for the planets offering the better rewards. To win the race, players need to make the best use of their dice, and abilities on available planets.
I really rate this game. It plays as well in solo mode as it does at higher player counts. Gameplay is streamlined, fun, and easy to engage with.
Player Count: 2 - 5| Complexity: Low/Medium| Released: 2014
Istanbul transports us to the hustle and bustle of the city's bazaar district. Thematically, players are merchants who, along with their assistants, race around the district picking up and delivering goods, and earning Lira. The prize you are ultimately working towards is Rubies. The first player to acquire a set number (determined by player count), wins.
The game board is formed of sixteen tiles, each representing a different location. These tiles can be laid out in a number of configurations, which adds variability and replay value. Players begin with a merchant disc, four assistant discs, and a wheelbarrow to hold goods. On a turn, the active player will move one or two spaces, horizontally or vertically. They will then take the action provided by the tile they end their movement on. However, there is one restriction. The player must drop off or pick up an assistant in order to carry out an action.
The challenge in Istanbul is finding the most efficient routes to gather what you need, in order to secure Rubies. Ideally doing so without ending up with no assistants. In one location, Rubies can simply be purchased, at progressing increasing values. In another, the player can trade goods, at progressively higher quantities. Rubies can be acquired in three further locations after players exchange goods or Lira multiple times, to collect tile sets. These tiles will either increase the capacity of your wheelbarrow or provide bonuses, so they are often a primary target.
I hinted at replay value earlier - Istanbul certainly has it. When you've mastered the three standard configurations, the board can be setup randomly to keep even experienced players honest. On top of that there's an expansion to add more variety!
Player Count: 2- 4 | Complexity: Low | Released: 2016
Flamme Rouge is a thematic, tactical bicycle racing game, that invokes the excitement of the closing stages of a road race. It is a well constructed game that plays intuitively and smoothly. The design throughout is reminiscent of 20's-30's art deco poster designs. It really suits the game and appeals to me aesthetically.
The aim of the game, unsurprisingly, is to be the first over the finish line. Each player has two riders, a Rouler and a Sprinteur. Over the course of the game, players will use energy cards to move the riders along the track. Players each have two personal decks of energy cards, one for each rider. Each energy card has a numerical value, which indicates how far the rider can move, when the card is played.
On a game turn, players simultaneously draw four cards and choose one for each of their riders, discarding the others. Beginning with the rider foremost along the track, each is then moved according to the value shown on its energy card (in accordance with movement rules). The played cards are then removed entirely from the game.
There is a need to balance risk and reward here that I really enjoy. After movement, riders with exactly one space between them and the next rider gain a slipstream bonus; they move forwards one space (beginning with the rearmost rider). Ending a turn with an empty space before your rider(s) will gain your rider(s) an exhaustion card. Exhaustion cards are low value energy cards that slow your deck down. Flamme Rouge is a game of cat and mouse. It's easy to learn and easy to play, but a challenge all the same. This is definitely a game for fans of the Race mechanic or racing as a theme.
Player Count: 2 - 10 | Complexity: Low/Medium| Released: 2008
Finally, to the best thematic motor racing game, in my opinion, and a firm favourite amongst my gaming group. Formula D is a reimplementation of Formula Dé (1997) with several changes from the original. Mostly notable is the inclusion of Street Racing. Like Flamme Rouge, the Race mechanic is evident in the win condition - be the first over the finish line.
With the base game, 2 - 10 players can take part in single-seater racing around the Monaco Grand Prix Circuit - or tear up the streets of Race City in illegally modified GT cars. At its most basic, Formula D is effectively a roll and move racing game. In that sense, it's accessible and works well for large groups and/or players who enjoy a light game. However, by implementing the advanced and optional rules, Formula D becomes a more strategic tabletop racing experience. With multiple tracks available via expansion products, players can run leagues over a 'season'. Or they customise and compete in their own multi-circuit and/or multi-discipline events. The scaling complexity is a big draw for me, along with the theme. I've written a two part how to play guide, to talk players through Basic and Advanced Racing. It also delves into gameplay concepts and mechanics in more detail.
My group enjoy playing over a twelve race season, using tracks from Formula D and Dé (which are fully compatible). We use all advanced and optional rules, in addition to some custom rules to add to the realism. For example, we limit repairs mid-race, and cap wear points spent over a season. It's been great fun and has proven popular at our local gaming store.
I highly recommend Formula D. Fans of motor racing will want to check out Formula D, if they haven't already.