Downforce is a Formula One racing game that has more than stood the test of time. It is a reprint of sorts by Restoration Games, bringing back the classic ‘Top Race’ by designer Wolfgang Kramer. And boy, are we glad they did…
The board in Downforce might look similar to that of other racing game Formula D, with a circuit (on each side of the board) made up on individual lanes and movement rectangles, but this is a very different beast. Here, up to six players control cars using a hand management approach with cards, which can – and will – force them to help out their rivals!
However, there’s a brilliant spanner in the works in Downforce. This isn’t just a race of seeing the chequered flag waved to mark you crossing the line; it’s about earning the most money come the end of the race. That can be achieved by placing bets throughout the game, upon who you believe will actually win the race.
On each card is one of many combinations of some, few or all of the cars (determined by colour), and how many spaces that car has to move, if that card is played. The cars must be moved in order – top-to-bottom – by the player that plays that card.
First of all, an auction takes place for players to acquire a car (which comes with an asymmetrical player power). Therefore, players start in debt depending on the price of their bid. Then players play one card from their hand on their and move cars accordingly. However, there are some bottlenecks in the circuit, meaning paths can (and will) become blocked, since cars cannot jump over spaces. Therefore, turn order in which cars must be moved becomes crucial!
There are various trigger points throughout the lap, and when the first car passes this point, everyone must secretly place a free bet on which cars they think will finish first in the race. If these are correct come the game end, the player will earn cash, with higher rewards for predicting correctly earlier in the race (and diluted prize money if the predicted car finishes second or third, accordingly). Players also receive precious dollars for their end-race position, so between this and the betting, minus the investment for your car in the first place, determines your overall score.
Downforce is a wonderful experience because even if your car is losing, you can still do well by betting on another car to win, and using your hand of cards to help that car. This gives you a reason to cheer when other cars, not just your own, are moved, meaning that players feel part of the race at every turn (which means high interactivity, and the feeling of less ‘down-time’ between turns).
Fans of Downforce will be eager to hear that there’s also an expansion – Danger Circuit – which does what it says on the tin: it’s another double-sided board with two more tracks of a more hazardous nature for players to race (and wager)
Player Count: 2-6
Time: 40 minutes
Downforce, a game suitable for 2-6 players, designed by board game veteran Wolfgang Kramer, has players not only racing high-speed Formula One cars but also introduces high stakes bidding on these million dollar machines, while also frantically betting on who they think will be topping that winner’s podium!
A card based game, involving bidding, racing and betting, Downforce is based on the older racing game Top Race. Players must first bid on a selection of cars that are about to race around the track, the winner taking proud ownership of a car after each one is auctioned off. The race then begins, and players must play their cards strategically, especially since most of the cards in play will move not just their car but all the others too!
You will need to plan for just the right time to play your card, as if you run out of “fuel” for your car later in the race, you will be seeing dust! Don’t fret though! If you don’t think your car(s) are going to make it, you can always bet on the others! Put your money where your mouth is and if you manage to predict the winner throughout, you’ll be greeted by a sweet windfall at the conclusion of the race. Once the race is finished, your winnings are added up, your costs are taken from this and the winner is the one with the thickest wallet by the end!
Isn't it just like Formula D?
The biggest mistake I made with Downforce when I first saw it announced was to compare it to Formula D. I recall telling my partner how I imagined it to be a copy of the ever popular Formula D. Of course, reading into Downforce and exploring what it had to offer quashed these thoughts swiftly and my interest peaked! It was a unique take on a racing game and the different elements it promised to offer intrigued me.
How does it play?
So, how did it play? Did I feel like a big player in the Formula One world, or just a regular guy dreaming wistfully about owning my own F1 car? The game itself plays nicely, with a good flow about it. I was worried that it would be staggered, especially during the bidding and racing phases, but it kept things fairly streamlined with little downtime.
The bidding element is definitely a fun addition to the game, however I felt it can at times give others an unfair advantage, especially since the cards you use to bid with (each player plays a card for the coloured card on offer and the highest number wins) are randomly dealt, meaning someone has really rubbish cards, although the game states that everyone will end up with at least one car!
Once you have won a car, you gain the car, an “eight” card that is for that coloured car and can be used while racing and also a driver ability, which is another element I really liked, allowing players the chance to change up the gameplay. For example, one of the abilities allows the owner of the car to move their car when it moves, rather than the player who played the car.
Using a card-based moving mechanic was interesting, especially since I was used to the dice-rolling method used in Formula D. Each player will have a set of cards that lists various different cars, all with a set amount of spaces they can move forward. The key here is that if you play a card, you then move all the cars listed on that card from top to bottom. So, while you may take the lead, the others will be swiftly bringing up the rear, but you will also be at risk of running out of big move cards for your car! It kept the game interesting and definitely keeps players engaged throughout!
Finally, the betting element of Downforce adds another dimension to this already great game! Being able to guess who you think the winner will be is always fun but it can change the tides really quickly, especially if someone has found themselves behind in the race but has a hunch that one of the other cars is going to storm to victory.
All of these dimensions, when combined together, have produced a really smooth, streamlined racing game that will keep players interested and engaged throughout. The concept is incredibly simple as well, so you will find yourself teaching this to newbies in no time at all. Just be careful though, as they may feel like starting their own F1 team straight after playing! I definitely felt like that after my first game.
Final Thoughts on Downforce
Overall, this game really appeals to the masses, both veteran board gamers and families alike! It is simple to pick up and great fun to play and it has definitely creeped up my list of favourite games!
The usual production quality of Iello helps this game shine and having Kramer as the driving force (pardon the pun) behind it has produced a fantastic little number. If you are looking for a racing game that is a little different from the normal racing genre then Downforce is definitely a game to try out! It will have you playing again and again just to try and reach the top of that winner’s podium! Just be ready because as soon as those lights go out, it’s anyone’s game!