"the understandably frightening and chimeric semicolon" -- HiveGod
Not Your Kid's Roll-and-Move Game
Formula Dé is a board game that replicates a "Formula Car" race for up to ten cars at once. Each player (or "driver") can run one or more cars in a race that goes for up to three laps. The boards are tracks that represent real-life racetracks from around the world.
Formula Dé has the distinction of being the highest-rated roll-and-move game on the Geek. A roll-and-move game is one where your turn usually consists of rolling the dice, moving that many spaces along a predefined track, and then suffering whatever you find at your landing space. Monopoly, Parcheesi, Sorry, Snakes and Ladders, The Game of Life, and Candyland are all games of this type (although some use cards or spinners instead of dice) and are mainly for children. None of them are favorites of most experienced gamers. The reason is simple: these games offer you few chances to make any interesting or significant choices. You just roll, move, and accept the consequences.
Formula Dé is different! Yes, you usually roll the dice and then move that many spaces. But unlike those other games, you do get to make some significant choices on every move.
[Edit: Formula Dé is now back in print! I will leave the next two paragraphs intact, but you can now get a complete new copy online or at your FLGS.]
Formula Dé is out of print. Fortunately a complete copy can be assembled from parts: you only need a board, a set of racecars, some special dice, some score sheets, and the rules. Interestingly, you can find nearly everything you need here on the Geek! The Files section of Formula Dé has user-designed tracks, print-cut-and-fold cars, scorepad files, and the rules in any of several languages. "Real" boards are also still available on the Internet and at your FLGS; over a dozen different expansion boards (mostly two-sided, with two different tracks) have been published. The dice are available online: a quick Google for "Formula De Dice" turned up several well-known online game stores that sell just the dice.
(I have heard a rumor that Formula Dé is about to be reprinted, and even that it may already have been printed, but that sales have been held up due to legal wrangling over trademarks with NASCAR. I have no idea whether this is true or not -- nor, if it is, what Formula Dé might have to do with NASCAR. It's a different kind of racing, isn't it?)
In the Box
We were fortunate to get a complete, unpunched copy off of eBay for a reasonable price. Our copy included the original board (two-sided, with Monaco on one side and the Netherlands "Zandvoort" racetrack on the other); the dice; ten plastic racecars with separate spoilers; ten cardboard "dashboards"; ten wooden "gearshift" pawns; a pad of score sheets that fit into the dashboards; basic and advanced rulebooks; and a pencil which I'm pretty sure wasn't original equipment. (The vendor did say he'd used this copy, although the plastic cars and spoilers were still on the sprues. We think he may have only used a couple of the score sheets off the pad. In any case, it was a very clean copy and looked new!)
There are seven dice, one for each of six gears plus another for special events. Each die is in a different color and has a different shape, making them easy to tell apart. The dashboards show, by shape and color, which die to use with each gear. You put a gearshift pawn on each dashboard, atop one of the six pictures of the gear dice, to show which gear your car is in and which die to roll when the car moves.
The ten cars and ten spoilers have to be clipped from the sprues and put together. There are only five colors, but you can mix and match spoilers and cars, so that you have ten different color combinations to make every car unique. To match each car with a dashboard, use a dashboard of the same color as the car, with a gearshift pawn the same color as the car's spoiler. (By the way, the pictures of realistic race car models here on the Geek are not standard equipment. The actual cars are not painted or detailed, but they get the job done. )
The Monaco track is twistier than the Netherlands track on the flip side, with more (and more complex) curves. The Netherlands track offers longer straightaways. Having the two tracks is not just eye candy or empty variety; they actually provide very different race experiences. The Nederlands track lets you stretch your car's legs and roar down a long straightaway in sixth gear; that won't happen in Monaco where you'll be kept busy negotiating the many tight curves.
Rules of the Road
The rules are fairly simple. There are some fiddly details to keep track of, and at least one rather complex table that's used in the advanced game. But basically, you roll a die, move your car, and deal with whatever happens at the end of your move.
Yet there are choices to be made. What are they?
Your first choice is always: Which gear? For each gear, there is one special die. In first gear, you move by rolling a four-sided die whose results are either "1" or "2". In second gear, you get a six-sided die and a result from "2" to "4". And so on, up to sixth gear's 30-sided die whose range is "21" to "30". The ranges overlap, so you might roll a "12" at the high end of fourth gear, or at the low end of fifth gear. In each turn you can shift up or down one gear without penalty, or stay in your current gear.
Your next choice is: Which lane? The track is three lanes wide. You may need the inside lane to get through a curve quickly, or the outside if you're moving too fast. You may want to block a competing car behind you, to force it into another lane or make it brake hard to avoid a collision. Unlike most roll-and-move games, you cannot ignore another car that's in your way. You must pass as real cars do, by changing lanes.
Staying the Course
Curves must be handled carefully. In real life, cornering too fast can cause you to spin out; this can happen on the Formula Dé track, too. Each curve is marked with a border (so you can clearly see when you are "in" the curve) and is labeled with the number of times each car must end a movement within the curve. So when you approach a curve you need to pick a gear that's likely to land you inside the curve, rather than in front of or beyond the borders of the curve. Go too far, and you may spin out; fall short and you may have to slow way down on your next turn to avoid overshooting the curve. Complex curves may require multiple stops, which means choosing lower gears and slowing down before you reach the curve.
Sometimes the dice work out in your favor, and you can just dance through a series of curves, hitting the sweet spot in each one. That's fun -- but often the dice don't cooperate, and then you have some more hard choices to make!
Wear and Tear
Each car starts the race with a certain number of "wear points" in five categories: tires, brakes, gas, bodywork, and engine. (A sixth kind, suspension, is added by the Advanced Rules.) Bad luck or bad decisions can take wear points away from your car, and you can be eliminated if you lose too many of some kinds of wear points. (Yes, this game has player elimination!) Managing your car's wear points is another set of choices; experienced drivers will drive cautiously to save them, then deliberately use them up in extreme maneuvers to gain advanatage at critical times.
For example, if you overshoot a curve it puts wear on your tires. If your tires wear out completely, then even a mild overshoot will cause you to spin out and lose precious time; any more serious overshoot will eliminate your car. To avoid overshooting after you have rolled the die, you can put wear on your brakes; but this is no longer an option once you've used your brakes up.
To avoid overshooting before you roll the die, you may want to downshift. Normally you are allowed to shift only one gear up or down. But sometimes you'll need to downshift more than one gear. You can do this, but you must spend gas (to "over-rev" your engine as you double-clutch) and, if shifting more than two gears, also accept some wear on your brakes and engine. Too much wear on your engine will cause it to blow up, and you're out of the race!
Yet another decision to make is how closely to approach other cars. If your car's movement ends either directly behind or beside another car, your car and all cars in contact with it must roll for collision damage. Each collision puts wear on your bodywork; too much damage and (you guessed it!) you're eliminated.
Laps and Pit Stops
For a short game, you can go just one lap. For a longer game, you can go two laps, and then you have the option of making a pit stop after the first lap. A pit stop will slow you down, but allows you to replace your worn tires with brand-new ones. If two laps aren't satisfying enough, the Advanced Rules allow a full three-lap race with two opportunities for pit stops, and the option of repairing other worn parts of your car.
The Advanced rules offer several optional additions including:
* Three-lap races
* Slipstreaming, which is getting extra distance by pulling right in behind another car at high speed
* Longer pit stops in which you can restore a couple of other wear points in addition to your tires
* Weather, and different tire types that offer hazards or bonuses depending on the current weather
* Car Construction allows you to customize your car by balancing your "wear points" differently
* Dangerous Spaces where accidents occurred; passing over one risks your car's Suspension wear points.
Also in the Advanced Rules are "time trials." Having the pole position (being the lead car at the start of the race) is a big advantage. In the Basic Rules the starting positions for all cars are randomly assigned. If you use Time Trials, then each car runs one solo lap before the race starts. Points are awarded for the real time that a driver takes to round the track, for the number of die rolls required, and for missteps along the way. The cars with the lowest scores get the best starting positions for the race itself.
Rules, Schmules. What's It Like to Play?
I have gone into the rules in some detail because I felt it important to show how this "roll and move" game isn't like a traditional kid's game. There are real decisions to make in Formula Dé, and the best drivers will shine.
Managing Your Luck
Although skill counts for a lot, there's no denying that the game is extremely luck-based. In any one race, a driver can get good dice, bad dice, or fair dice. One unlucky roll can be enough to put a strong leader several cars back, if that leader comes up short on the next curve while the cars behind hit the curve just right.
Real aficionados play Formula Dé in seasons, tracking the stats for each player over multiple games on different boards, and declaring the overall winners only at the end of the season. I have never tried this myself, but it is said to even out the luck quite a bit and allow the really good drivers to emerge from the pack.
The one drawback to the advanced rules is that there are a lot of statistics to keep track of for each car. There are tables for the effects of each of three kinds of tire, indexed by the current weather and the number of laps since the tires have been changed. There are six different kinds of "wear points," and the number of times your car has stopped in the current curve. You must remember to roll for collisions, for slow or fast starts at race start and in pit stops, for engine damage when you roll high in a high gear, for suspension damage when crossing a Dangerous Location, and for weather changes. The values for a hit or a miss in each of these are different, and some of them vary with the weather.
It's not too much to learn or to keep track of, but your first couple of races are going to be slow while you look things up in the rulebooks. I recommend that you use a good player aid and perhaps one of the variant dashboards available here on the Geek, as an alternative to the score sheets that come with the game. But play a couple of games before choosing a dashboard, or you won't understand how the different dashboards work and you won't be able to make a good choice.
You will also spend a lot of time counting spaces on the track. After a while you can take shortcuts: the straightaways are numbered along the sides so you can just add instead of counting. The curves are marked with the length of the longest and shortest possible routes through them. But you still spend a lot of time counting and adding, especially since you may have to consider the effects of a couple of possible lane changes before making a final decision.
The more you play, the easier and more natural this all gets. Eventually you should be able to play quite quickly, and this will help to give the game the "fast-paced" feel that's advertised.
"Does it really feel like a race?" Yes, it does! Formula Dé is an exciting game, and you can almost hear the roar and whine of the engines. Some parts of the reality are represented in abstract and unrealistic ways, but that is in the nature of any game. Formula Dé does a good job of presenting gear changes, car wear, tight corners, long straightaways, pit stops, collisions, spinouts, oil slicks, and much more. The randomness may put off gamers who prefer more control over their play; but enthusiasts would say that luck and unexpected events are a part of any real-life race, and should have their place in the game.
To minimize the effects of luck in single games, it's best to play 3-lap races with the full rules. If time is a constraint then don't use the time trials, as they could chew up most of an hour before the race even starts. But do use everything else, because all of those extra rules mean more choices for the players and more opportunities to play well (or poorly).
Unless you have at least six players, give every player two cars or more. Formula Dé is at its best when the track is crowded, and drivers must maneuver around each other and compete for the best paths through the curves. If there are only a couple of cars on the board then there is little interaction between drivers and the game really does become a fairly dull roll-and-move experience. Having more than one car can also keep a player in the race when one of his cars is eliminated.
The advertised playing time (on BGG; the box doesn't list a duration) is "120 minutes." I'm not sure I believe this if you're playing a three-lap, full-rules game with a lot of cars. We found that a single lap with ten cars takes about two hours, even once we became familiar with the rules and could move very quickly. A good compromise might be six cars and two laps: experienced players could finish such a game in under three hours.
A Miniature Session Report or Two
This review was written after playing a single lap on the Monaco track with the basic rules, followed by a full three-lap race with all options (except time trials) on the Nederlands track, followed by two more Monaco laps. We've now logged over twelve hours of play, all told.
In the second race, we found out how luck does (and doesn't) influence the final results. The pole position car was eliminated halfway through the race, just when it looked like it could never be caught. It probably wouldn't have happened if the driver had been more familiar with the effects of rain on her car's tires -- but if she had been more familiar, she'd have been driving more cautiously and catching up with her would not have been so difficult. The next car with an apparent lock on the lead finished third in the end, passed at high speed in the final curve by a car that hit the last two curves just right. Two cars that started in last place remained in last for most of the game; they had been given a poor choice of tires for the weather, and also suffered some pretty awful dice. Even so, after a judicious pit stop they were able to make up a lot of lost time and were participants in a five-car brawl for the fourth-to-eighth finishing positions. With more suitable tires and slightly better luck they would have been contenders throughout. Perhaps more tellingly, in the third race the car that started sixth worked its way up through the pack to finish a scant hair behind the winner.
We learned that it's important to have lots of wear points for your tires, your brakes, and your gas: these affect how well you can corner and how well you can handle any overshooting. The other categories of wear are usually not too heavily affected: most cars can expect no more than one or two collisions per race, suspension can be preserved by steering around dangerous spots, and so on. It may seem that the win in the end will go to whoever gets the best dice in the final curves; but a driver who can husband his car's resources and have a few points of brakes and tires left at the end of the game will have a much better chance of negotiating those last curves.
I'll say it one more time: Some players are going to find that Formula Dé simply depends too much on luck. But Formula Dé is strong, thematic, and exciting. If you enjoy any kinds of dice-driven games, and especially if you enjoy auto racing, Formula Dé should be near the top of your list!
- Last edited Wed Apr 11, 2007 1:04 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Sun Oct 22, 2006 9:58 pm
John Di Ponio
I TOTALLY agree with the review, especailly using the advanced rules where the game shines! The game is pretty easy to teach....if one can grasp the quick play rules....they can grasp the advanced rules too! I have had this game for many years and what makes this game so much fun is the track possibility! They races are never dull!!! Always a new track to race!!!