Design by: Carlo A. Rossi
Published by: Mayfair Games
3-5 Players, 45 minutes
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
NOTE: This review was first published on the Opinionated Gamers website.
Is it possible to invent any new race games? Through the years, there have been hundreds upon hundreds published. One would think there couldn't possibly be any new ideas to justify the publication of yet another one. One would be wrong.
Road Rally USA by Italian designer Carlo A. Rossi is yet another entry into the already burgeoning field of auto racing games. It isn't even the first to carry a road-rally theme. Still, it has some interesting and fun aspects that do help separate the game from others in an already overcrowded field.
From my understanding, true road rallies challenge participants to complete segments along the course in the shortest possible time. These rallies are vastly more popular in Europe than in the U.S., which makes the name and setting of this game a bit surprising. What is even more surprising is that while the race in this game is divided into segments, they really aren't timed. Rather, points are scored, which I guess is a way of simulating the timing aspect.
The winding course is formed by assembling a dozen tiles, which can be arranged in dozens of different patterns. Each tile has eight segments, across which the road traverses. Various features are depicted on the tiles, including 21 diners whereupon the stage tokens will be placed. Points may be scored when cars reach or pass these stages, but that will be dependent upon if the players who hold the matching card(s) decide to play it. More on this in a bit.
In addition to the stage tokens, six checkpoint tiles are placed. A checkpoint is collected by the first car to reach or pass it. Each tile collected is worth two victory points.
There are numerous other special spaces on the board, including gas stations (allows players to reshuffle their deck), general store (allows players to play different colored cards the next turn), mechanic (rearrange the top five cards) and shortcut (bypass several spaces). Players will often manipulate their movement to land on these spaces.
So how does one move his car? Each player receives an identical deck of 21 movement cards consisting of green, yellow and red cards. Red cards are fewer, but can move one’s car three or four spaces. Green is the more plentiful color, but only moves one’s car one or two spaces. Players each begin with a hand of five cards, and may play as many cards on their turn as they desire, but they must all be the same color. Their car is then moved a number of spaces equal to the total value of the cards played. Pretty simple, but there are so many considerations, not the least of which is the number of cards a player can draw from his deck after playing the movement cards. This varies from zero-to-two cards, depending upon the color played. The slow-moving green cards allow the player to draw two cards, while moving swiftly with the red cards doesn't allow the player to draw any replacements.
It is important to maneuver your car onto gas stations—which allow you to reshuffle your deck and discards—before running out of cards. If a player's hand is depleted, he loses his turn, shuffles his deck, and draws two cards. This lost turn can be quite costly.
Cars are moved in order from first-to-last, so there is an advantage of being at the front of the pack. However, the player in last place when a checkpoint is reached draws two cards. A wise tactic is to lag behind in the early part of the race, building your deck with these bonus cards in order to make a big push as the race nears its final stages. The drawback of this tactic is that you may well miss out on the points scored from stage scoring.
Players are dealt four stage cards at the beginning of the game. There are 21 stage cards, one each for stage token. When one or more stages are reached or passed on a turn, a scoring may occur. Players have the option of playing a card matching the value of the stage(s) reached. If a matching card is played, that stage is scored, awarding from 1-5 points, depending upon the players' current position. Players in fourth or fifth place may opt to draw two cards instead of scoring points. Further, the player who played the stage card doubles the number of points he scores for that stage. As a further incentive to be in the lead, if a player lands on the stage token space and no other cars are ahead of him, he takes the token, which will be worth two points at game's end.
Of course, no one can opt to play a matching stage card, in which case the stage is bypassed, with no points being earned. This stage scoring mechanism is interesting, but also can be quite frustrating, particularly when you are in or near the lead when several stage tokens are passed, but no one plays the matching cards to trigger scoring. Players should attempt to time their surges so that they are leading or near the front when stages are reached that match the cards they are holding. Otherwise, their advantageous position may yield few points. Further care and judgment must be exercised, as players may only play two of their four stage cards per game. Proper timing is critical.
The game ends when four cars pass the finish line, after which a final stage is scored, awarding points to these top four cars. Players tally their victory points earned during the course of the game, including the points for any stage and checkpoint tokens claimed. The player with the most victory points wins the Road Rally championship and the game.
The Standard game introduces some additional rules and twists, including balancing the stage cards amongst the players. It really doesn't change or complicate the game much at all, so there really isn't a good reason to not to play this version.
I am generally not a racing game fanboy. However, Road Rally USA offers some interesting twists to the racing genre that makes it interesting and fun to play. While leading is important most of the time, there are advantages to hanging back to collect cards and then making a run as the game progresses. Properly managing your cards is very important, as you want to take advantage of those gas stations, general stores, mechanics and shortcuts. Indeed, true success in the game comes in managing the cards in your hand and timing your surges to score maximum points. I enjoy these features as they differentiate the game from others in the genre. While it may not be an exact simulation of road rallies, it is still fun to play. It is a race well worth running.