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Subject: In the lead... until the wheels separate from the car! rss

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Merric Blackman
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After our game of The Castles of Burgundy it was time to turn our attention to one of the best recent games from GMT Games: Thunder Alley. It’s a racing game. Yes, I know, they’re known for their wargames. However, every so often they recognise a really good game and publish it. Thunder Alley is one of those. It’s a card-driving racing game, by which I mean you play cards to activate and move the cars.

What makes it special is that most of the cards activate more than one car: you move an entire pack along with you. A large part of the strategy is learning when to stay in the pack and when to make a break for it. And believe me, it’s a very strategic game. That said, the interactions of the players can make the game feel very chaotic, and the event deck throws in a small amount of chaos.

Here we are, all ready to start the race:

Merric-purple, Mikey-black, Scott-blue, Brad-green

In a four-player game, each player controls four cars. They have five cards in hand, and each card is played on a separate car, until all four have been activated. Then a new hand is drawn – the unplayed card can be discarded or retained.

The first turn saw us all keeping together in a pack and moving quickly around the track together. Or, at least, most of us stayed together – towards the end of the turn, one group of cars broke away from the others, and we actually finished the first lap in the first turn! I’d done really well and my car (purple) was in the lead, and two more of my cars were in that lead group. I was really well positioned for the next stage of the game.



Unfortunately, it’s at this point the first event card was drawn, and my lead car’s transmission failed and it was out of the race! The yellow flag restart meant we all were bunched up again.

Just one car fewer!



And so we were off again! This time, the pack didn’t form in the same way, and cars were falling further and further behind. My own cars weren’t in the lead pack; indeed, they were some way off the pace! Poor Brad even had one car that hadn’t finished the first lap… (The lead car is marked by a counter and is on the right of the following picture).



Without the big pack, our cars weren’t moving forward as fast. By the end of the third turn, we had only just completed the second lap.

However, I managed to get my cars up to second and third… and after the lead car drove into the pits, I was able to become the lap leader again. Unfortunately, my cars were taking some significant damage…



The race continued. By dint of some excellent cards in hand, I was able to get my two cars out to a big, big lead – and even though they then both had pit stops, no-one was able to catch up to them. Other players tried racing with damaged cars, but the damage slowed them down significantly.

Unfortunately, although I had the two lead cars, I also had one that was very slow. Both Brad and I lost cars that were lapped… I now had cards in 14th and 16th. Winning this race would be really hard!



Incredibly, no-one managed to catch my cars at all and they roared over the finish line in 1st and 2nd place! Brad’s car came 3rd, while Mikey took 4th, 5th and 6th!

The question was now who had taken the race – it isn’t the car that wins. It’s the team that does the best overall (with bonus points for leading the race at the end of each turn!)



We added up the points… and Mikey was declared the winner with two more points than me!

I love Thunder Alley – it’s the best car racing game I’ve played.
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Lonnie H
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Thanks for the writeup Merric.

That's also been our experience with the game. Clever game that plays pretty quick (around a hour or just over) that is fun and strategic.

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Read the rulebook, plan for all contingencies, and…read the rulebook again.
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Great writeup, Merrick!

A friend that played the game couldn't conceptually grok how a pack of cars could catch up with and pass a lone car ahead of them.

1) Well, as with any game, there are abstractions.

2) But I've driven in highway traffic where I'm by myself doing speed 'x' and a bunch of vehicles catch and pass me.

3) Or I'm the lead in a highway pack and I get behind a slower car and both lanes on either side catch and move past me.

It is a fun game!
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Michael Ricketts

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I had a lot of fun playing this game. Your lead car blowing up in the first round certainly helped the rest of us.
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Jack Bennett
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BradyLS wrote:
Great writeup, Merrick!

A friend that played the game couldn't conceptually grok how a pack of cars could catch up with and pass a lone car ahead of them.

1) Well, as with any game, there are abstractions.

2) But I've driven in highway traffic where I'm by myself doing speed 'x' and a bunch of vehicles catch and pass me.

3) Or I'm the lead in a highway pack and I get behind a slower car and both lanes on either side catch and move past me.

It is a fun game!


And in this case it's not that much of an abstraction! Just tell your friend to watch a race, and you'll see it multiple times. A car is in the pack, and pulls out to try and get around a car in front of him. If no one pulls out with him, he's left hanging out there on his own and will just start bleeding spots. And a car way out in front is often up there because they've got one other car in a tandem draft helping each other along.

Given the aerodynamics involved, drag, drafting, and downforce all play a huge role. As does getting fresh air into your engine. You'll often hear that one of the reason Earnhardt was such a great driver was that he could "see the air."

This is one of the best NASCAR games I've ever played because it handles this aspect of a race so well.

Great report!
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