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Subject: Mina's Not-So-Mini Review - Automobiles With Two rss

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Milena Guberinic
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Mina's Fresh Cardboard
Mina's Not-So-Mini Review - Automobiles With Two

I'm not into cars. I'm not into racing. In fact, I despise cars and I despise racing. Both smell and make me puke. Literally (I have vestibular issues and getting into a moving vehicle always demands I use drugs of some sort and cars are the worst offenders). I must confess that I had little interest in Automobiles and I only bought it on a whim when it was on super sale at Coolstuff Inc. on the final day of Dice Tower Con. It was cheap. REALLY cheap. And Peter, my partner, likes cars. And he likes racing. I couldn't NOT get it. Right?

The Overview

Automobiles is a cube-based deck-building race game! Each cube color is associated with an ability that allow you to move your car around the track, minimize wear, improve handling, or boost your speed. The goal of the game is simple - cross the finish line first!

To set up the game, you will select either the Monza (advanced) or Daytona Beach (basic) track on which to race. You will then lay the gear and wear cards on the table and select one card of each other color. These cards will describe the ability of each cube color. The cards also have a price and a value. The price is shown in the top right-hand corner and indicates the cost of a cube of that color and the value is the amount of cash an unused cube of that color will give you when buying new cubes.

You will select a race car and place your car in P1, P2... spaces according to player order. You will also place your lap marker on space 3 of the lap track.

You will start the game with a bag containing 5 white, 5 yellow, and 2 light grey cubes.

Each turn, you will draw 7 cubes from your bag and may choose to take a standard turn or an alternate turn. On a standard turn, you go through the following phases in order.
1. Action Phase - Select cubes from your active pile, apply their effects in sequence, and place them in your used pile. Some cubes are associated with effects that allow you to acquire or remove other cubes or move on specific spaces of the track. Others are gear cubes that allow you to move around corresponding spaces of track (i.e. a black cube allows you to move on black spaces and a white on white spaces). You may only move forward and only to spaces connected to your car's current location.
2. Buy Phase - Use any leftover cubes in your active pile as money to buy new cubes from the stock, placing them in your used pile.
3. Car - Move your race car according to the cubes you played for their action effects.
4. Decline - Gain a number of wear cubes depending on the darkest colored section of track onto which you moved.
5. End - Remove all the cubes from your active and used piles and draw new cubes.

On an alternate turn, you cannot use any of the cubes in your active pile or buy any cubes and you cannot move. Instead, you remove all wear cubes from your active pile and proceed to the end phase.

If you cross the finish line when your lap marker is on the final lap space, the game will end at the end of the round. The player whose car has moved the furthest wins the game!

The Review

Played prior to review 5x

1. Impressive insert and components
Everything has a place and everything is in its place in Automobiles. The insert contains a lidded tray that holds all the cubes in their own separate little compartments. This makes it easy and quick to set the game up and put everything back into place when you're done.

The player aids serve a dual purpose, showing you all the information you need to play the game and acting as an organizer for your active, used, and discard piles.

2. Intensely satisfying sense of building a racing engine
Automobiles is all about the engine. Much like Dominion and its deck-building relatives, Automobiles challenges you to create an efficient and effective way to propel your point engine forward. The points just happens to take the form of a track in the case of Automobiles. You are literally building a vehicle and supporting it with a crew that will both propel your vehicle forward as quickly and efficiently as possible and allow you to effectively dispose of the wear your you will inevitably have to take as you move forward. You have to create both a way to move around all sections of the track as effectively as all others and eliminate all the wear you take on as a result of that movement. You can choose to build an engine that sticks to the exterior parts of the track or uses boosts and engine upgrades that demand you take on lots of wear in order to move through long sections of the track in one go if you can find a way to quickly eliminates the huge amounts of wear you would take. Or you can play it safe and create an engine that doesn't demand you take on as much wear in the first place. What you do is both up to you and the combination of abilities available to you in the form of upgrades. But whatever you do in the game, you will feel the power of your engine. You will feel its strength and you will feel it sputter. You will create, dismantle, and adjust. And you will move forward.

3. So many things to think about on each turn!
In Automobiles, each turn presents you with a set of 7 action cubes. You can use those cubes to execute their actions or you can save them to buy new cubes. How you decide to do this will depend on your position on the track (i.e. your ability to use them for movement) and how necessary it is for you to adjust your engine.

How you use your action cubes to move around the track may seem to be automatic (i.e. if you have a cube of the right color, use it to move forward), but the decision to push ahead is not quite so simple. If you can only move forward one space, it may not be worth it to take on wear. If you are ahead of your opponent, waiting another turn may help you avoid having to take on any wear by drafting on your next turn. And even the order in which you use your cubes isn't entirely clear cut because certain sections of the track allow you to choose between two different gears and on others you may get further ahead using one combination/order of gears than another.

There is also the question of how to allocate the value of your remaining cubes to add new components to your engine. Do you need more ways to eliminate wear? Were you slow to get through a certain section of track because you were missing gear cubes of a certain color? Do you need to just rush to the end of the track because it's the final lap, wear be darned? How you make these decisions will depend on the stage of the race, state of your engine, and available cube powers.

4. The cubes are not a gimmick
When I first encountered Automobiles, I feared that it would simply be a deck-building game in cube form for absolutely no reason. But there is a reason for cubing the fun in Automobiles! In fact, there are two!

First, the cubes are instrumental in helping you visualize the movement of your car around the track as you place each cube on the section of track it is helping you traverse. As you build up to large turns, particularly when actions allow you to draw more cubes from your bag, the ability to keep track of your vehicle's movement in this way becomes very important. Had cards been used, this whole process would take a lot more time.

Second, the cubes are instrumental in helping you plan and adjust your engine over the course of the game. Being able to see the cubes in your discard pile gives you information about the cubes you need to add to your roster and certain actions allow you to manipulate your discard pile by either adding cubes from your discard back into your bag or using the composition of your discard pile to move your car forward.

5. High replay value
The replay value in Automobiles stems from variability and primarily from the variability in the specific functions of action cubes. Each cube color can have one of four different functions and the combination of functions assigned to the cubes will differ in any given game. While in one game, dark grey cubes may be particularly powerful due to the presence of a Diesel Engine that propels you forward equal tot he number of those cubes you have in your discard pile, in another, wear cubes may take on a whole new value as the Pit Team allows you to convert them into more valuable cubes. In one game, you may have multiple options for eliminating wear cubes, while in another you may have only one. In one game, you may be able to draw bunches of cubes to create explosive turns even without moving on darker spaces of the board. You get the idea. The combinations of cube colors you acquire and the actions you have available to you will drastically alter how you play each game.

The replay value in Automobiles is also generated by its double-sided board and option to play up to 7 rounds. While one side of the board is more open to creating a simple, uni-dimensional "deck", the other forces you to create a more varied "deck" through sections of track that cannot be traversed in higher gears. And the option of playing 7 rounds instead of 3 completely alters the demands of the game, increasing the need for long-term strategic planning.

6. Super fast-paced, fast-playing, and quick to set up and tear down!
As I mentioned above, the insert goes a long way to making Automobiles one of the easiest games to set up. The game feels like it sets itself up. The speedy setup carries over to the playing time, which clocks in around the 30-minute mark if playing the basic 3-round game with 2 players. And despite the seemingly long, multi-step turn structure, turns happen very quickly. Plus, while it isn't your turn, you can plan out your entire turn because your opponent can't do much to thwart your plans (at least when playing with 2). This means that you feel engaged and invested in the game even when it isn't your turn!


soblue 1. As impressive as the insert and components are, the box is too big
I love how the tray that stores all the cubes separately expedites the setup process for the game, but I hate how it wastes space in the box. I think the tray could have been an inch shorter and the box an inch shallower, which would a) make the cubes easier to grab out of the tray and b) reduce the amount of space the game takes up. Space is important to me; I don't have a lot of it and I have MANY games.

soblue 2. When you fall behind, you can see it and that can be demoralizing
Automobiles is a pure race game. It has a track and your position in the race is quite obvious at all times. It isn't impossible to pick yourself back up after falling behind, but in the final few rounds of the game, it can happen that the winner is clear, leaving little incentive for the losing player to do much of anything. Now, this isn't a true problem of the game; this is simply something that comes with the territory of playing a map-based race game. Peter has lost every single game of Automobiles we have played. Peter frequently loses, but he rarely, if ever, loses hope. The complete absence of hidden scoring in race games tends to make him lose hope and that's true for Automobiles as well.

soblue 3. Probably quite different with more than two players
With two players, the map is relatively open and it is almost impossible to block your opponent. With more players, you would have to be more careful and clever with your maneuvering around other cars.

The fact that there are fewer cars on the map also provides fewer opportunities for drafting. This isn't a problem per se, but it is another factor that limits the demands the game places on you to maneuver your car effectively when playing with only two players.

Finally, some of the cube powers are relative to the number of players in the game, providing advantages that depend on your order in the race. Such powers become inherently more powerful and more attractive when more players are involved.

Ultimately, the game works very well and is very fun with two players because building an effective cube engine is so satisfying, but a tighter two-player map that would increase the emphasis on maneuvering well would be a very welcome addition. *And I have heard one is coming...*

Final Word

You know what happens when expectations are blown away by reality? HAPPINESS! I didn't have great expectations for Automobiles. In fact, I had the opposite of great expectations. I expected to dislike it and fire it because I don't like cars, I don't like races, and I don't like trash in my deck builders. And yet I LOVED Automobiles. Why? Because it combines deck-building and racing in a way that no other game has done before; it gives me multiple effective ways of quickly dealing with the trash in my deck, allows me to build an engine that literally propels me forward with each turn, allows me to adjust my engine and effectively estimate my current needs by visualizing the contents of my deck at a glance, and is colorful and fun! And all in 30 minutes with virtually no down time! Perfect!

MINA'S LOVE METER heart heart heart heart LOTS OF LOVE


Mina's Love Meter

angryBurn it! - I dislike this game so much that it makes me angry. (I rate these 4 or less on the BGG scale)
Dislike - I don't like this game, but I can see why others like it.
(5 on BGG scale)
heart Some like - I find this game somewhat appealing, but it doesn't really grab me. I am glad to have had the opportunity to try this game, but it is unlikely to stay in my collection for very long.
(5.5 to 6.5) on BGG scale)
heart heart Like - I like this game and appreciate the design. I am happy to play this game occasionally when the mood strikes and enjoy doing so.
(7 to 7.5 on BGG scale)
heart heart heart Some love - I love this game. It's not perfect, but it really appeals to me and I will play it frequently.
(7.5 to 8 on BGG scale)
heart heart heart heart Lots of love - I really love this game. The design really speaks to me. I want to play it most of the time.
(8 to 9 on BGG scale)
heart heart heart heart heart All love all the time - I ADORE this game and can see myself playing it many times and for many years. I would go to sleep clutching it in my arms and want to play it all day every day...only not literally because that would be insane.
(9 to 10 on BGG scale)

To see my other reviews, visit this geeklist.

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Andy Pelton
United Kingdom
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I think this game really shines with 4 or 5 (preferably 5) (and experienced players) as there is a lot more to it, you get into situations where you could cover more spaces but that gives you more ware so do you hang back and draft behind another car just so you don't take any ware. Also with some setups it is possible for the player in last to make up huge amounts of distance and win the game, as just crossing the line is not good enough.
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steven smolders
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Love to play boardgames with my family and spending time toghter
We mostly play it with 3 but i have played it with 4 aswel and all games where really fun. Seeing who zips past everyone or it creates suspence when you go into the last round everyone is really close to each other and it will be a foto finish. Really having fun playing this game.
I hope thye will make some cool expansions for the game. New cards aswel as new tracks.
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Its pretty good fun, and a lot easier to "shuffle" a bag full of cubes. Its all very slick, but the winner of our games is usually someone who manages to exploit some card and move an entire lap in one turn (a bit of luck is involved too of course...)
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Douglas Flewelling
United States
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Great review. I think 3-4 players would be best, more people to draft and more blocking. 5 players is a little long.
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Peter Elsenheimer
United States
Howard City
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I've seen someone who was seemingly-hopelessly last on the track pull off an amazing turn that launched them forward as a serious contender for the winning finish.
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