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Game Preview: Wacky Races: The Board Game, or Riding Nostalgia to the Finish Line

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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My lack of video game knowledge has bit me once again. In my overview video for Wacky Races: The Board Game, an Andrea Chiarvesio and Fabio Tola design that was released on the U.S. market on April 26, 2019 by CMON Limited, I wondered how large the nostalgia market might possibly be for an animated TV series that debuted in 1968 and lasted only one season.

Turns out that the nostalgia hook isn't reaching back that many decades as Wacky Races appeared as an NES game in 1991, followed by several more such titles on various game systems from 2000 to 2008. Everything old is new again, especially when you can possibly entice players familiar with one game into another one a decade later.

I've neither seen the animated series nor played the video games, so all I can do is evaluate the board game in front of me. Wacky Races: The Board Game is for 2-6 players, with six race cars on the track at all times no matter the player count; after everyone lines up at the starting line, you add neutral cars as needed until all six starting positions are filled.

On a turn, you must play a terrain card from your hand, advancing to the next empty space on the track. You can then optionally play up to two more terrain cards, but you can do so only if the terrain on the card matches the terrain of your current location (except for a few special spaces). If a space already has two racers on it, you skip that space and land on the next one. After you move, Dick Dastardly and Muttley — the series' villains — advance down the middle of the track to the next empty space of the terrain card you last played. If their car is now ahead of all others in play, you place a trap card face down on that space, then move their car to the back of the pack. As soon as someone hits that trap, that player reveals the card and carries out its effects — unless they have a special power that cancels that particular type of trap.

In addition to a trap-cancelling card, each player has three other special power cards, and you can use them at any point during your turn, with those powers allowing you to draw extra cards, steal cards, swap places with other players, and so on. You get to reclaim a power once the last racer in the game reaches the gas station at the halfway point on the track, but otherwise they're usable only once.

Neutral cars move after everyone else has moved in the round, with these cars moving one space, then 0-3 more spaces depending on whether they are on the three terrain cards revealed at random from the deck. Beep beep! Google-assisted self-driving car coming through!

After three games on a review copy from CMON Limited, I can say thatWacky Races: The Board Game feels the same from start to finish: Play 1-3 cards, move 1-3 spaces or possibly more if a space ahead of you is occupied, after which you're probably creating a block that someone else will leapfrog. The first player to reach the finish line wins, but you have almost no opportunity to create a breakaway moment or plan for future turns or surge to victory with a last minute burst of energy. Belying its own title, the game doesn't feel much like a racing game as everyone kind of moves in a group bit by bit, then the game ends. The design has a great look to it, with miniatures that match your expectation as to what CMON would deliver, but beyond that the game doesn't move far past the starting line...

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