One at a time, five red lights illuminate an LED screen. Aerodynamic super-cars, each worth $15m, growl impatiently on a tarmac grid, their drivers teasing the bite. Engines roar, nerves jangle. The lights vanish… And it's go, go go!
Perhaps you’re a fan of racing game Formula D to be checking out Circuits 3: Singapore and The Docks, one of its six expansion packs. However, as we mentioned in our initial review for Laurent Lavaur and Eric Randall’s modern classic, this isn’t just a board game that appeals to Formula One aficionados…
Formula D: A Quick Re-cap
For those who have not played, Formula D (Asmodee) is a dice-rolling, grid movement game, with ongoing elements of press-your-luck. Up to 10 players take control of their own F1 car and race it around a multi-lane track. The game revolves around their gearbox. At the start of their turn, the player decides whether to stay in gear, move up or move down. Depending on their current gear, they then roll the corresponding die and move that many spaces. The higher the gear, the bigger the die. First gear is a four-sided die, with pips of one to two, while sixth gear is a monstrous 30-sided die that ranges from 21-30.
Players can’t just slam it up to sixth gear and then whizz around the track for the rest of the race. Not only does that sound dull as ditchwater, thematically it makes no sense. In real life, whether you’re Lewis Hamilton or the owner of a three-wheeler Reliant Regal, you have to slow down around corners.
Happily, the same applies in Formula D – players have to stop a certain number of times in each corner of the track or face a penalty (they’ll lose ‘wear points’ from their car; either generic points in the simple version of the game, or specific points from different parts of the car in the advanced rules, such as tyres, brakes, the gearbox, and so on). Run out of points? Your vehicle stutters to a halt and you’re out of the race.
Therefore, the crux of Formula D is calculating those gear dice and pushing your car to the limit – can you risk going up a gear and maybe rolling something that sees you overshoot the corner? Or do you play it safe and tootle along like the Safety Car, letting first place further extend their lead? “He who dares, wins, Rodney,” as Del Boy so often put it (getting back to Reliant Regals).
What Comes in this Expansion?
The base game of Formula D comes with components (including cars, gearboxes, asymmetrical driver abilities and the all-important dice) and a double-sided board. On one side you have one of the most iconic racing tracks, the Circuit de Monaco, and on the reverse there’s a fictional street race of approximate equal length.
But we’re here to talk about Circuits 3 – Singapore & The Docks. This is an expansion that consists of a two-part playing board. However, it is double-sided, offering two new race tracks: The Marina Bay Street Circuit, home to the Singapore Grand Prix, and the other is an industrial dockyard. You could compare this type of expansion to those seen in the Ticket To Ride add-ons – you’ll need the base game with its components, first.
Rules and Gameplay
The Singapore track offers more of the same F1 goodness. There are glorious straights and tricky corners to navigate – including the three-stop Carlton Millenia and three wicked corners in quick succession (Suntec, Crossroads and City Hall), immediately after a tempting 26-space long stretch. You’ll want to get up to a high gear to scream down there, but not so fast to risk overshooting or you’ll land in hot water, having to slam on the brakes.
Singapore offers the warm, familiar, fuzzy feels you get with good ol’ regular Formula D. You could whip this board out to those that have experienced the base game and not need to explain anything.
Flip the board over to The Docks, however, and this is where you’ll find some additional rules that mix things up a notch. This isn’t a traditional race; this is a dash around the docks, so the track is something of a meandering series of circuits. Technically it’s one long route consisting of three ‘loops’, each of them ‘starting’ by crossing through the same giant square section of track (the ‘Central Hub’ segment, clocking in at 19 spaces wide by 11 long). This offers not only varying strategy, but fantastic potential for mid-race carnage, too.
Players can play a classic F1 start (cars on a grid, positioned in a slight staggered alignment behind each other). This grid is at the top of the Central Hub. Follow the first ‘loop’ around and you’ll arrive back at the Central Hub, but at its base. Drive through it and into the second ‘loop’ and you’ll arrive at the hub once again, but now in the middle. Carry on through and complete the third and final ‘loop’ and you’ll end up top, back at the start/finish line.
However, there is another option: an 'In-Line' start. Instead of being behind each other in a horizontal line (since you look at the track from a bird’s eye view), up to 10 cars start in a vertical line, on the right-hand side of the Central Hub. And, if you’re going for a three-lap race, players can pick which order they wish to complete the laps – meaning they can and will get in each other's way as they attempt to cross up to 19 lanes (legally, via one long diagonal line) at once!
Usual rules apply to the Central Hub: players cannot ‘zig-zag’ across lanes in attempt to slow themselves down, except when avoiding an obstacle such as another vehicle, or perhaps damage that has been left on the track due to an earlier collision. Of course, since collisions have the potential to occur here – especially if there are 10 cars on the track at once! – it becomes even more of a hazardous section since you’ll have to drive across it three times.
The pit lanes can only be reached in a specific location (in an abandoned warehouse at the end of ‘loop three’ – it spits you back out into the Central Hub). Therefore, if players want to push their cars to the limit and then take a tactical pit-stop to ‘fix’ their depleted wear points, they’ll need to think about completing loop three earlier in the race, to benefit from a much-needed kiss of life from the mechanics.
Other obstacles of worthy note lie in wait in The Docks. A Container Zone with cumbersome shipping containers blocks sections of the circuit, meaning drivers will have to dodge in between them. Also, an oil spillage has left a section of the track perilous for race cars that end their turn on the slick surface. End your turn here and you’ll have to roll the black D20 ‘danger’ die. Roll a number that’s equal or lower than your current gear, and you’ll have to lose a precious road handling wear point!
At a glance the oil spill might even look like a drink stain on the board, but don’t panic; it’s meant to be there. And, as if by chance, that’s a rather smooth segue to the next part of our review…
Components and artwork
If you’ve played Formula D before then you’ll be prepared for the size of the track. Circuits 3 comes with two main boards; together they sit side-by side to make up one giant race. The printing is excellent, and they match up a treat. Each board comes in at about the size of the main board in games such as Architects of the West Kingdom, for comparison. Considering there are two of these, you’ll need a sizeable table to accommodate.
However, they crease six fold and fold away into a cardboard sleeve, so they’re not going to take up much shelf space or room in your games bag. You’ll struggle to fit the boards into the main box alongside your base game of Formula D with the default insert, though.
The Singapore side of the board is the actual Marina Bay Street Circuit. This will get nods of approval from Formula One buffs. In the F1 racing season, the Singapore Grand Prix takes place at 8pm local time, because the tropical climate of the location makes it impractical for a more traditional afternoon slot. It’s gratifying to see that race proceedings are set after sundown.
Streetlights illuminate the sidewalks of roads and parks that pass under and around the track itself. Modern 3D skyscrapers loom on the outskirts, windows lit. Boats pass by through inky waters, along the marina. The well-lit track itself looks juxtaposed against the night, seemingly bright by comparison. It’s an impressive feat that a grey road would be the detail that pops out at you.
On the reverse, The Docks is set during the day, meaning all of the gritty details can be admired. There is an industrial train line, factories that you could imagine belching out smoke, and ferries being loaded up with steel containers. The borders of the corner sections, instead of having traditional F1 red and white stripes, are black and yellow – classic colours associated with construction. It all adds that extra percentage of flavour, helping you feel that little bit more in sync with the location.
Final thoughts on Circuits 3 – Singapore & The Docks
The point of Circuits 3 – Singapore & The Docks is not to reinvent the wheel. The base game is a superb, solid experience in its own right. Quite simply, these two boards instead offer wondrous variety with regards to racetrack locations. Collect enough of the expansions (to date, in early 2019, six ‘Circuits’ packs have been released, including this one, all with double-sided boards) and it’s easy to see how you could create your own racing ‘season’; a ‘campaign’ mode, if you will.
The Singapore track might appeal to the more serious racing fans, who will appreciate the geographical, technical accuracy. Meanwhile, The Docks might lure in the more casual gamer with its Wacky Races aura. Perhaps a more modern comparison might be Nintendo’s Mario Kart – especially that Central Hub. You can’t drop a banana onto the track, but collisions decided by the danger die will leave behind debris.
Formula D is by no means perfect. With Circuits 3 being business as usual, parallel faults from the base game can and will occur. It’s a large board so size might be an issue; it can be tough to catch a runaway leader; the dice can be cruel (but that’s dice for you).
We’d also recommend adding in a house rule to prevent analysis paralysis kicking in for that one player that insists on counting out all different routes they could consider for their 23 step-move. Formula D is supposed to be a race involving high-octane mega-cars, not a slog through rush-hour. Therefore, players should try to play quick to keep the tempo pumping. We’d suggest that players should have to pick up their car and count out their move as they go, and are not allowed to back-track moves if they realise they’re going to collide or over-shoot their target. After all, you don’t see Sebastian Vettel reversing mid-race, because he’s decided to take a corner a little bit differently…
Given the levels of difficulty you can apply to Formula D, there’s always an array of replay-ability. It also means that you can play this expansion with pretty much any crowd. It works just as well for younger children (or grandparents!) who you might be introducing to board games – it is, after all, a logical step up from simplistic roll-and-move games. Thematically it will appeal to petrol heads, and to those that love press-your-luck and calculating the perfect move.
But we think this game and its many expansions also strikes an inner chord with anyone who loves a bit of escapism. The fact that Formula D comes with a basic plastic-moulded gearbox – with a mini gearstick that you physically move each turn – means that even the most serious-faced soul will struggle to contain an excited, occasional “vrrrrrrmmmm!” as they speed off into the lead.