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Subject: I Eat Losers for Breakfast: A Review of Pitchcar rss

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Originally posted at menwithdice.com - used with permission.

We line up, waiting for the flag to drop. I size up the competition - some veterans here, as well as a few rookies. Once the flag drops, though, none of that matters. It's anyone's race to win. On the track, experience is your friend - but so is luck, and fortune favors the bold.

The flag drops. Two cars leap off the line into a commanding lead; a third guns the engine too fast and careens off the wall uncontrollably. That will cost him. I opt for a strategic position, just behind the leaders but close to the wall, hoping to pull off a surprise outside move. I hug the wall and ride the rails around the leaders, pulling into first place but with my competition riding my tail. Coming up, I notice a series of tight hairpin curves that could be my opportunity to clear the rabble. I accelerate into the first curve and rocket around the bend into perfect position to punch the next one - only to have my spine realigned as one of the guys towards the back decides to go aggressive, knocking me into the wall.

Now I'm out of position with a blocker in front - do I push my luck, or do I bide my time, positioning myself for an aggressive move in return? I opt for safety - rage makes no heroes out here. I'm forced to take the curves at unfavorable angles; too much acceleration here will only land me on my roof and effectively out of the race. I'm sliding towards the back of the pack, but now that I'm clear of the hairpins, I eye a long, straight length of track that could be my chance to get back into the mix. I punch the accelerator hard. Too hard, apparently, sending me careening off the wall, leaving me with a bad angle on the upcoming curve. Dammit! I need good position here.

Absent that, I'll take a healthy dose of luck. The lead car suddenly decelerates sharply. I don't know what happened, and I don't care - this is the opening I need. The other cars up front are forced to maneuver wildly. I opt for recklessness, smacking the wall hard and riding the rail around the curve sharply. The finish line is in sight - I just need to thread the needle through the mess in front of me. I pick my approach and punch the accelerator hard, screaming through the pack and knocking a few competitors aside, but not hard enough to warrant a flag.

Victory isn't something that ever gets old.


And that's what it's like to play Pitchcar. Normally, this is the part of the review where I'd discuss the rules and talk about all of the interesting decisions. But Pitchcar isn't that kind of game. It's practically impossible to create a strategy. It rarely creates tough decisions. It has no metagame whatsoever. It is all about flicking wooden discs - the cars - around a wickedly cool track. The rules are about as simple as they could possibly be - you can't jump more than two track lengths; you can't knock opponents' cars off the track; and you can't flip your car. That's about it. There is really no fundamental reason that I should like this game - it pushes absolutely none of the buttons that I usually go for in a game.

But this game has seen more plays in less time than any other game in my collection. My kids love it - even my six year old. My wife enjoys it - and she hates anything more complicated than Uno. The components are fantastic. The track functions beautifully; the number of different configurations that are possible out of the base set is surprising, and once you've added an expansion or two, it only gets better. Although it's not a cheap game, it certainly feels like it's worth the asking price on quality of components alone. But the gameplay really shines, in ways that are extremely difficult to analyze. This game just shouldn't be nearly as much fun as it is. But it manages to evoke a sense of the tension and exhilaration and frustration of racing, and does so in a way that's highly addictive. While the decisions may not be brain-burners, they're meaningful - turn-by-turn tactics are very important. A player needs to be constantly planning a couple of turns ahead, trying to put his or her car into position for the next shot. But it's also easy to have those plans foiled by an opponent's shot or by one's own misfires, and half of the fun is in watching everyone try to cope with the results of bad flicks.

Make no mistake - this game is a ton of fun. It brings out something in nearly everyone who plays it that's hard to describe. I've never had a session that hasn't resulted in everyone on their feet, yelling and laughing and trash talking, cheering great shots and jeering great failures. I've played it with six year olds and grandfathers, all equally enthralled by the simple act of flicking a wooden disc around a track. It's a game that has no right to be as good as it is, but it's one that should be in every gamer's collection. It reminds us that, sometimes, fun can't be analyzed. It just happens.

One winner. The rest are losers. And I eat losers for breakfast.
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Kevin
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Oh - I generally lose at this to my 7 year old daughter and 11 year old son - they have no fear shake.
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The Big Bopper wrote:
Oh - I generally lose at this to my 7 year old daughter and 11 year old son - they have no fear shake.

My six year old is a monster at this. I blame his tiny little dexterous hands.
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