I can't lie, I love motor racing. So it's no surprise I would want to play Rallyman GT based on the theme alone. What is a surprise is how deep and tactical the game is, making each turn feel like a well-crafted puzzle. That element is what had my friends gripped, wanting to play again as soon as we'd finished. We've even arranged to continue with a championship, having races take place every couple of weeks!
The gameplay is simple: place dice for where you want to go, then roll them and avoid rolling hazards. You balance the risk by choosing how many dice you roll. Roll them safely, one by one, or all together "flat-out," gaining focus for later on. As you play, you start to learn the importance of your position on the track and your speed. Both of these influence your next turn. To learn the rules in detail, check out the "How to play".
The Mechanics - Pun Intended!
Rallyman is easy to learn even if the rulebook seems quite lengthy at first. Simply put, it can all be boiled down to "Speed > Distance > Position" and "Place Dice, Roll Dice".
Each turn, the order is decided by the player speeds. If these are equal, the furthest goes. If players are running side-by-side, the one on the inner line goes first. Place dice wherever you want to move. You can either roll them one at a time, stopping when you choose, or roll them all together. The dice have hazards on them - roll too many and you'll crash out.
The simple instructions allowed me and my wife to pick up the core gameplay loop within 1 or 2 turns. There is, however, a great amount of depth in this as the track also has speed restrictions on each corner. This, along with "Speed > Distance > Position", means you can race to the corner and end up being behind coming out of it. It also means you'll have to figure out clever ways of combining dice. Each can only be used once and you can only generally shift up and down gears one at a time. If you need to make an emergency stop, you'll have to stack a number of brake dice on top. Be careful though as this can make a single roll possibly the most dangerous manoeuvre on the whole track.
The risk vs reward mechanic is the hook to this game. Often you'll be trying to work out the best path, only to be cut off the line you wanted. Or worse, blocked in! This encourages you to make bold moves that can feel amazing when they pay off. It can all go wrong very quickly though. During a game with my wife and a few friends, I'd pulled off a heroic move to take the lead. All with a complex arrangement of upshifts, downshifts and braking. There was a collective cheer when I pulled it off… which was followed by an even louder one when I then spun out on the following turn!
I ended up finishing last but enjoyed every minute of it.
The cars are small but intricately detailed and anyone that knows their cars will make out the inspiration behind them. There are a lot of tokens in the box; coloured gear tokens for each car, damage tokens and focus tokens which are the most abundant. Whilst playing with friends we managed to fill two jars full of them. But considering we hoarded piles of them during gameplay, the amount is probably justifiable. The dice all have a good weight to them. They are nicely coloured to help differentiate between the types and gear numbers.
The track is made up of double-sided hexagonal tiles which are gorgeously illustrated and fit together modularly forming any shape track you'd like. Whether you're careening past a grandstand, overtaking on a hairpin, or zooming down a wide straight before the finish line, the track offers plenty of variety.
The fact that the game allows you to create any layout you'd like is one of Rallyman's greatest assets. This makes the game endlessly replayable and gives those that enjoy the setup a time to work with their friends bringing out their inner track designer. You can scale the length and difficulty of any given playthrough by placing more or less tiles. Run many laps on a short and easy loop or play a long and complicated circuit for a single "winner takes all" lap.
With the expansions you can recreate many real-life circuits, but the fun is getting together with friends and creating your own complicated tracks. You can even use the game's handy, dedicated app to mock-up a track before getting anything out of the box.
Rivalries! Ford VS Ferrari Anyone?
Rallyman GT has several expansions:
- Championship & World Tour - adding extra tiles, real-world circuits (World Tour) and rules for multiple rounds scoring points as you go (Championship).
- GT5 & GT4 expansions - adding new cars, a green boost dice (GT5) (opposite of the brake dice) or an extra coast dice (GT4).
- Team Challenge - Tiles & extra cars for up to 12 players.
I feel that as much as the base game is perfectly adequate to have a really good time, it's definitely worth picking up one of the extra tile packs and the GT5 pack. This way you can make even more tracks, have a choice of cars, and the boost dice which is a fantastic little addition. The only thing I can say is that in the GT5 pack they have strangely opted to make the Ford GT40 the red car and the Ferrari blue! (Outrageous!)
Also in the works and nearing release is the Rally-centric sequel "Rallyman Dirt"! It'll play similarly to GT with the addition of a few extra mechanics such as jumping and drifting. Dirt's "Rx" (Rallycross) expansion will make it compatible with GT meaning you can create hybrid tracks with all the tiles! You'll also be able to shunt other players which was included in GT but only for early backers in the game's Kickstarter campaign. It would have been nice to have the Kickstarter content in GT, but it doesn't make the game feel weaker without it.
The nearest comparable game to Rallyman would be Formula D as it also pits players against each other to move cars around a track. Key differences here are the core mechanics and that you only get two tracks in the initial base box of Formula D (a double-sided board). Rallyman trades a quicker setup for an immersive racing feel which, in my opinion, is a worthwhile trade for the amount of replayability it provides. Not that Formula D isn't fun, but if you're looking for a racing game with depth, value and replayability in the base box, then Rallyman GT takes pole position.
Rallyman GT's biggest selling points are its replayability, beautiful aesthetic, and depth of mechanics. Its rulebook can feel heavy at first but once you've played a round or two it's actually quite simple. Having said that, the real highlight of the game is when a player gets to show their tactical guile. Leave your opponents having to pull off a daring move to catch up or compromise a manoeuvre to have the advantage of starting the next round in a higher gear. It's almost like a game of automotive chess!
The puzzle of movement and gearing is balanced with a need to manage the level of risk each turn. Attempting a "flat-out" role early on may be necessary to ensure safety nearer the end, but it could go wrong... This risk versus reward mechanic is where the game shines but, as Sir Sterling Moss once put it, to achieve anything in this game you must be prepared to dabble in the boundary of disaster. It can (and will) all go wrong at some point!
Despite this, on some turns you'll easily find you and your friends/family "Vrooming!" and "Screeching!" around corners blurting out the soundtrack to a movie franchise notorious for street-racing and "family". On others, you'll be intensely scrutinising the possible outcome of the current round and what opportunities that will leave you in the next. There is a surprisingly high skill ceiling for a game that can be simply broken down into place dice, roll dice, move cars, which is great!
There are a number of racing games out there with other themes or ways to play but none of them really capture the ebbs and flows of excitement in a real race like Rallyman GT. It feels less like Mario Kart and more like a racing simulator. That may sound daunting, but trust me, it is still able to be a load of chaotic fun, especially at the higher player counts. Although you can play a two-player game (or even solo!) you probably wouldn't want to. Best bet, grab a couple of friends, everyone pick a car and start your engines!