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Game Preview: Crazy Race, or Running on All Fours

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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If you boil games down to their winning condition, you can usually describe them as being a First, Last, or Most — that is, games in which you want to be first to some goal (racing games), games in which you want to be the last one still in the game (combat games), and games in which you want to have the most of something (economic games).

These are broad terms, and not every game fits one of these categories, but they're helpful to think about when you describe a game to new players. If you lead off with the goal of the game, then they can cement in mind what they're trying to do and ideally you can relay everything else in terms of the goal so that they can piece together the possibilities of the game and how it relates to being able to win.

Now when is a racing game not a racing game? When the race is over but you can still move toward the finish line, possibly surpassing whoever got there first. While described by the publisher as a racing game — and look, the title even includes the word "race"! — Crazy Race, released in early 2017 by Alessandro Zucchini and Ravensburger is actually a Most in disguise. Here's why:

Each player starts the game with a vehicle of some sort that's being pulled by a donkey. Why is the vehicle being pulled instead of driven? Because you're a lion who's escaped from the zoo, and while you've seen people driving these vehicles around, you can't figure out how to get one going on your own. Thus, you've coerced some of the other escapees — possibly through their respect for your position, but more likely through intimidation, an underlying threat that you'll eat them should they make you get out and walk — to pull you in the vehicle so that you don't have to get your feet dirty.

Sample donkeys and one of the vehicles

Each donkey has a starting position as well as a speed limit in the upper-left corner and a bonus number in the lower right that comes into play at the end of the game. You draw one of the five donkeys at random no matter how many lions you have at the table.

The game lasts multiple legs (as if it were a race!), and in a round of play, each lion attempts to spur their chauffeur to action once, starting with whoever holds the king's crown, which is given to the lion at the front of the pride at the start of a leg. On a turn, you're going to roll dice to see whether you move, but to determine how far you'll move, well, you get to decide that on your own. You look at the multi-colored path in front of you, figure out where you might like to be at the end of your turn (whether the space is occupied or not), pick up one die of the appropriate color to match each space of that desired distance, then roll. Is the sum of the dice no higher than your donkey's speed limit? Great! Move ahead to that space, using the rolled dice as colored markers to indicate how far you travel in case you received a phone call offering mane insurance just as you rolled the dice and can no longer remember where you meant to go. Pesky telemarketers…

If the sum of the dice broke your speed limit, well, you attempted to push your donkey too hard too fast, so instead of doing what you wanted, the donkey moves you backward one space. Don't eat it out of spite, though! You're trying to escape the zoo, after all, so keep your blood lust in check for a few moments and try to move forward again next turn.

Why is this tricky in any way? Two reasons: First, the six-sided dice aren't standard! No, they come in five colors and the faces are set up so that they average 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, and 3 with at least one blank face and one 1, while the highest numbers of the dice range from 2 to 6. Second, the game board has some fixed spaces, but thirteen three-space arcs are placed at random in the game board each play, thus making for different combinations of colors, which means different combinations of dice depending on how far you want to go, which means different odds for moving or busting.

Rounds continue until one or more lions have passed the first checkpoint: a wooden tree token that feels superfluous and was perhaps included because the price of the components brought the retail price above €30 but not high enough to merit the next highest price level. Thankfully Ravensburger had a spare seventy thousand wooden trees from an earlier game in the warehouse, so now they can rid themselves of trees while also justifying the retail price. It's a win-win situation!

Once you finish that round, the donkeys need a breather from pulling your fuzzy butt, so you each recruit a new animal that awaits you there. These animals were revealed at the start of the leg, giving you time to make moves based upon which animal you might want as the lions draft new animals from the back of the pack forward. Animals let you reroll dice of a certain color, count a die of your choice as 1 no matter the pip count, roll one of each die and move as many spaces as the highest die, roll one die at a time until you bust or decide to stop, count each die as at most 2, move ahead two spaces if they start on a brown space, and so on. Not all animals have a power, but they do have a speed limit and a bonus number.

You crank through multiple legs this way, ending after the round in which someone passes the fifth wooden tree token while still marveling that they even exist. Each lion has collected a total of four new animals along the way, and now you sum the bonus numbers on these animals and advance that many spaces along the track. After doing this, whichever lion has moved the most spaces wins. Yes, it's a Most game, as promised.

I've played Crazy Race twice on a review copy from Ravensburger, once with three players and once with two, with the two-player game having two twists in that (1) new animals aren't revealed until someone passes a tree (to keep you both in suspense) and (2) you reveal two animals, plus one additional animal for (roughly) every three spaces that separate the leader and the non-leader. Whoever is behind in this race chooses an animal for both themselves and the leader, so the farther back you are, the greater your chance of sticking the leader with something useless — but you're also farther back, which is not a good thing to be.

Before the final reckoning...

Everyone's weighing the odds constantly, debating whether to add one more die to a roll, and the lion wagon cards list the averages of the dice to let you estimate things easily and keep the game moving. The special powers on the animals mix well with the randomized track as sometimes the discount on blue won't matter, so you might attempt to move less than normal so that you're not stuck with something you don't think is useful — but while you're playing it safe, someone else is taking chances and possibly widening the lead.

The powers let you customize play both to the randomness of the track and to your personal play style. Want to take crazy chances? Then grab the chameleons (which let you roll one of each die and pick the highest) or the squirrels (which have you roll the three beige dice and move the sum of the pips, which will be 0 to 6). Want to roll lots of dice? Grab the cheetah that has a speed limit of 12, but no bonus. Want to be a jerk? Take the hyena, which moves forward one space any time another player busts on a die roll.

You might have an animal for two to five turns depending on how risky/lucky players are, then you're grabbing the reins of something else, rushing to the finish in a way that might have you thinking Crazy Race is a race — even though it isn't.
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