To celebrate Sport Relief this week, Zatu challenged me: what are the best sport-themed board games? I had to think long and hard about this one. The theme of sports tends to be an under-used one among tabletop games. Motor racing is the most common genre among those titles available in print today. It’s easy to fill this list with car-themed games, alone!
But what about whistles, funny-shaped balls and the clatter and stomp of hooves? Don’t you panic. I’ve got you covered. Enter through the turnstiles and join me on the podium as we celebrate the top 7 sport-themed games…
Asmodee’s Formula D looks like a standard roll-and-move board game. Up to 10 cars race around a multi-lane track, aiming to see that chequered flag first. This race sees each player in control of their vehicle’s gear box. On your turn, you decide: do you want to go up one gear? Or slow down by one gear?
The higher gear you’re in, the bigger die you’ll roll. First gear means a d4 (a four-sided die). Second gear means a d6 (a six-sided die). If you get up to sixth gear, you roll a d30. Woah, there. Thirty? Yes, a thirty-sided die! You could move thirty spaces on the track in one turn.
You might be thinking: why not stay in sixth gear all race, then? Well, like in real life, you can’t drive around hairpin bends in sixth gear. The corners in Formula D have ‘danger zones’ (humming that song from Topgun, yet?). Each corner has a requirement: you have to end your turn a certain number of times in them. As in, driving slower; as in, rolling lower numbers. If not, for every space you overshoot the danger zone by, your car gains wear. If your car takes too much wear, it blows up and you’re out of the race!
There are beginner and advanced rules to Formula D, meaning anyone can play. Roll-and-move is a mechanism familiar to casual gamers, so it’s easy to explain the base rules. The added element of pushing your luck is a wonderful bonus. You’ll cheer, you’ll gasp, and you’ll wince with every die roll! For more advanced players, drivers and cars have asymmetrical powers. Certain vehicle parts gain wear depending on how you drive. You can even add varying weather conditions.
Castell is the most strategic and ‘heaviest’ game on this list. It’s a Euro-style board game by Renegade Games. Set in Catalonia, Spain, players compete to try and build human towers. Castell is a real Spanish folk tradition. Some castellers can balance themselves eight to ten people-high! Think of it like competitive circus acts. The game lasts 10 rounds, and you get to travel a whole host of Catalan villages and put on shows for victory points.
You start with a modest crew of castellers, but over the course of the game, you can hire more. Castellers have a number and height associated with them. Same-number castellers have to be in the same tier of the tower. Following tiers have to be one casteller fewer (like a pyramid). Over the course of the game, you also train your team to become stronger or more flexible. The aim is that this helps you put on all the more impressive shows.
Your turn itself is simple, but there are depth and variability to boot. A clever skill-to-geographical-area wheel rotates each turn. This means you can learn different skills depending on your location. Also, you can plan where you need to be next turn in order to learn your desired skill.
Castell has a fascinating theme. It’s a thinker, though. Not one to introduce to casual gamers!
Flamme Rouge is quite the darling among Stronghold Games’ recent titles. It’s one of the most successful and popular modern board games with a sports theme attached. Slip into your lycra – this is about cycling!
Between 2-4 players (it’s best at four) race to try and cross the finish line first. Each player has two riders and the game comes with cool plastic cyclist minis. The cardboard tracks themselves are individual segments that fit together like a jigsaw. As a result, you can design a plethora of your own race layouts, or stick to those suggested.
Flamme Rouge is all about hand management. Each of your bicycle chappies has a deck of movement cards. You’ll pick the top four cards from each deck, and select one of each, in secret. The three cards you didn’t pick go to the bottom of their respective decks. Then players reveal their two cards, and cyclists move that number of spaces forward. The race leader moves first, and then everyone behind him. Players can overtake through one rider, but not more than that. Meaning you could get stuck at the back!
If there’s a one-space gap between riders (after everyone’s moved), those lagging behind gain from slipstreaming. They shuffle forward one space. If there’s more than one space, you don’t benefit. Whoever ends the turn as race leader, however, has to take an exhaustion card. This only has ‘2’ movement space on it, so it clogs up your deck.
There’s a wonderful balance towards the ideal of Flamme Rouge. You’ll want to be part of a slow-but-steady pack, mooching off the race leader. But you need to be near the front if you want to burst off into the lead…
If you love baseball, chances are you’ll get a real kick out of Baseball Highlights: 2045. The future is upon us, the year 2045, and robots have started to replace humans in the sport of baseball! These cyborgs and ’bots have powerful arms for pitching and hitting. But sometimes you can’t beat a good ol’ fashioned Natural (human) to get the job done.
Baseball Highlights: 2045 is a deck-building game. There’s added hand-management and trick-taking mechanisms, too. Two rival players start with a standard 15-card ‘roster’, of average players. They take it in turns during quick innings to try and outscore each other. This is like baseball – TV highlights, one might say – but with all the slow bits cut out!
You get the top six cards each from your 15. Then players play them one at a time, like a seesaw. One team tries to load the bases and score home runs. Meanwhile, the fielding team attempts to outsmart the big hitters by playing defensive cards that trump them.
At the end of the innings, whoever gets more pawns ‘home’ wins. You’ll get money to spend on Free Agents at the end of each mini-game. They go straight into your six cards for the next round. Knowing this, you can begin strategising your hand management for later. You thin out as many cards like those you bought, keeping your roster at 15 ’borgs, ‘bots or naturals.
The base game comes with 120 cards, but there are plenty of other add-on packs you can buy, too!
Camel Up is not a racing game, per se. It’s more of a betting game, where up to eight players aim to make as much money at the races as possible. The race is one lap around the pyramid, with five coloured camels participating. The pyramid itself is like a dice cup, with each camel having a corresponding d6 die (faces numbered 1-3, twice).
On a player’s turn, they can do one of a few different actions. They can shake the pyramid and release one die, moving that camel said spaces forward. If camels share a space on the racetrack, they sit on top of one another. If a camel’s die gets revealed, they move and carry any other camels sitting on top of them, too.
Players can bet on which camel they think will lead the race at the end of the ‘leg’. (A leg equates to once all camel dice have come out of the shaker.) The earlier you claim a bet, the bigger the payout. Non-winning bets lose you money. Instead, players can also place bets on which camel they think will win, outright. Also, they can wager which camel they think will lose. Again, stakes pay out better the earlier you bet.
There are also opportunities to place an oasis or desert tile. If a camel lands here, the camel moves forward/back one space, respectively. The tile owner also earns money. Also, two rogue camels race the opposite direction. They could end up carrying other camels in the wrong direction! Camel Up is one of the most fun and entertaining family games on the market today.
Automobiles is part of the ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ trilogy by AEG. It’s stand-alone to those other two titles, though. This bag-building game sees up to five players try to zoom around NASCAR-esque tracks. A bag-builder is like a deck-builder. Only, instead of buying more cards, you buy more cubes, better cubes, to put into your bag. The theory is you’ll draw a stronger selection of cubes in future turns…
Each player begins with a felt bag filled with standard cubes. Monochrome cubes (white, shades of grey and black) represent gears. Coloured gears represent engine modifiers that you’ve got going on under the hood. Engine modifiers differ from game to game, which results in a lot of replayability. Some fix your car (think of it like placing a band-aid… Or a pit stop). Others give you much-needed turbo boosts!
At the end of your turn, you draw seven cubes from your bag (meaning you can plan during down-time. You place cubes in adjacent spaces on the track to progress. You can opt not to activate cubes and use their value instead to buy better gears or mods.
You have to place gear cubes on corresponding colours of the track. Slower gears (white) travel shorter distances, while the top gear (black) whizzes along. The faster you travel, the harder you rev your engine, so the more wear (brown) cubes you have to take. Wear is useless, but it goes into your bag, regardless. There are ways to ‘thin’ it out of your bag, but that relies on you buying the right kinds of engine modifiers. It also relies on you drawing them out of your bag at the right time!
My last pick, Mölkky, is a bit of a curveball. Mölkky is a throwing game, like bowling. It could (it should) be a sport in itself. I’d definitely pay to watch it! Now, you can’t play Mölkky on a tabletop. Please, kids – and responsible adults alike – don’t play this indoors! Zatu stock this, though. So in my mind, that makes it a legitimate candidate for this list…
Mölkky is an outdoors/garden bowling game from Finland. Twelve wooden cylindrical pins numbered 1-12 get stacked upright, about 3-4 metres away. On your turn, you throw a wooden rolling pin-like device at the stack. If you knock over multiple pins, you’ll score as many points as pins you knocked down. If you knock over one single pin, you’ll score the number on that pin.
After your turn, you place any pins knocked over back upright before the next player takes their aim. But you don’t return the pins to the tight bunch they started in – they remain upright at the point where they landed. This means the game gets more and more widespread as turns progress! Not to mention every game will gain a unique layout.
Players keep their scores in an accumulative manner. You need to score exactly 50 points to win. If you score over 50, you bust and your score leap back down to 25. This makes the latter part of the game a precise – and competitive – affair! If you fail to hit any pins, you score zero. If you score zero on three consecutive turns, you get eliminated!
What Is Zatu Doing For Sport Relief 2020?
As you may know, Sport Relief is this Friday! So, the purpose of this blog was to get you guys into the fundraising spirit (with the best theme: board games!). But, if you don't feel like hosting a board game marathon - don't worry! You can still get involved with Zatu's fundraiser.
To raise lots of money for a great cause, Zatu Games got in contact with their gaming family and collected a lifetime supply of donated board games. Their goal is to raise £500 for Sport Relief and giveaway over 20 board games to one very lucky winner. But how? Donate to their Just Giving page and you will be in with a chance of winning! Follow the link or take a look at their Facebook @ZatuGames to find out more.