Game Overview: Take control of a team of race cars in Thunder Alley as you immerse yourself in the world of auto racing. A hand of cards will determine what actions you can take. You need to strategically play the cards to limit the damage done to each car on your team and also get as many of your race cars to the front of the racing pack as you can before the checkered flag drops. This is done by positioning your car on the track, so it can be pushed in a line of cars or doing the pushing itself to break away from the other cars. The first car across the finish line does not determine the winner, instead the win goes to the team who scores the most points across all of their cars.
Box Contents: As with all GMT games, everything is outstanding here. Four tracks are included on two double sided board and are very thick and durable. The cards are well made along with all of the cardboard tokens and player mats. The box itself has a storage compartment inside of it to keep everything together. Although, it is just big enough for the cards and the cardboard tokens must remain outside of that storage are. Baggies are included to help you keep everything organized, which is a must.
Clarity of Rules: In general, the 16 page manual is well done and has many examples throughout it that explain the game rules. The most challenging aspect is understanding what movement is allowed for the different movement options available to you. I do think that someone that is not familiar with racing terminology, may have more of a challenge in understanding the rules and game play.
Game Play: Game setup includes picking the track you will be racing on and which team you will be using. The number of cars used from your racing team is determined based on the number of players. The more players, the fewer cars you will control during the race. Each player is given a team chart, which allows the player to track the damage done to each race car and also track the number of laps/turns they have lead.
To determine the starting order of the race, cards are drawn which has a logo for each team on it, called the team bar. Whichever team logo that is being used in the game is listed first, they get to place their car in line, starting with the pole position and working backwards. A new card is drawn for each position. The game play is determined by cards that are drawn into your hand, which equals the number of cars they have on their team plus one. For each round of play, you will play one card at a time for each car that is running in the race. Each card shows the number of movements allowed when you play that card. It also shows any damage that you have to assign to that car at the time the card is played. There are four main types of actions that you will find on your cards. These cards may have additional text on them providing further details on actions you can or should take by playing the card.
Solo Movement: The active car is the only car that can be moved.
Draft Movement: This allows cars that are linked both in front of the active car and behind the active car to move together in one long line. If you encounter additional cars during your movement, you pick them up as well as part of the draft. Lanes can not be changed once the actions is started in a forward movement.
Pursuit Movement: This is a pushing action, where only the cars ahead of the active car move. Any cars behind the active car are left behind. If not linked with any cars, it acts the same as the solo movement. As soon as it links up, then you have to stay in the same lane and push the cars ahead of you.
Lead Movement: This pulls the cars behind you forward. You are not able to push any cars that you may encounter that are in front of you. This movement does allow you to move laterally and all cars linked, will follow along the same path.
As movement cards are played, the required wear associated with that card is placed onto the team mat for the active car. Some of the movements are temporary and can be replaced by taking a pit stop. Others are permanent and can not be removed. For the first two wear markers place onto a car, nothing happens. The third marker, causes the movement number to be reduced by three. This continues to increase for each wear until you have six. At that point, the car has been eliminated from the race.
Once all cars have moved, an event card is turned over. Different actions can occur from these cards. Some examples are the car with the most tire wears having a blown tire and having to pit, a debris caution, to a wreck knocking a car out of the race.
After all turns have been taken or under a yellow flag, you can choose to have your car pit to remove the temporary damage that it has. There is a single lane on the inside of the track, which is considered pit row. When pitting under green, you move your car to the inside lane and move back a five spaces on the board. On each movement card, a second number is displayed. This number is used to exit pit road, with no wear being applied from the card. Pitting under yellow is slightly different in that the cars that choose not to pit, remain on the board. The cars pitting, in order, are placed behind those cars.
Once the number of laps have been completed and as each car crosses the finish line, they are given a token which gives them the number of points. To determine the overall winner, you add up the points for each car from your team. The highest total for the team, is declared the winner.
Replay Ability: There is high replay ability within the game. No two races will be the same and you have multiple tracks available to you. Running a season by setting a schedule across all tracks and keeping points (both team and cars), will bring you back multiple times to play the game.
Appropriate Audience: The suggested 10+ age is right on with this game. Someone younger could probably play, but we are not sure if they will truly understand the strategy the comes into play.
What We Liked/Didn't Like: Being a huge NASCAR and racing fan in general, I was really excited to get a chance to play this game. The game did not let us down. We really love the mechanics involved with the cards and figuring out how to position your cars to get them to the front. The flipping of the cars from a dark side to a light side to show they have moved is such a simple concept, but one that makes you wonder why it hasn't happened with racing games before.
True race fans will quickly identify with restrictor plate racing that you see at Daytona and Talladega. Because the air to the carburetor is restricted, cars race in packs making them faster as a group instead of running by themselves. This only happens at the super speedway tracks. At all other tracks on the NASCAR schedule, cars get spread out across the race track and don't race in these packs. This is the one aspect of the game that failed to live up to the hype that I had for the game. When you use the road course, short track, or the "D" shaped track, you wouldn't see pack racing that occurs with the game. If the true racing fan can get past this, then it will be a winner for them.
The drawing of cards does present a luck aspect to the game. If you are looking for a pure strategy racing game instead of one based on some luck, this may not be the racing game for you. One thing we didn't care for, it seems the speed penalties jump too quickly for us. Instead of going from zero affect to reducing your movement by 3, we would have liked to see a slower transition to this level. If this was done, perhaps an actual pit lane could have been used to provide some additional strategy as you try to manage you car and get back to the pit lane.
Add-ons/Other Releases: An expansion track pack is available which gives you five additional tracks to play on. In addition, in September 2016 GMT released Grand Prix, also designed by Jeff and Carla Horger. The game mechanics are similar to Thunder Alley. The tracks are all interchangeable and can be used in both games. In addition, a recent successful Kickstarter release is adding a new layer to the game, with the crew chief expansion.