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Subject: The Thoughtful Gamer Reviews Downforce rss

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Marc Davis
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Text of review from thethoughtfulgamer.com

Is love at first sight possible with board games? I say yes, and I can prove it. It’s happened to me twice before. I open up a box, and the components and look of the game immediately attract me. I open up the rules and I find them easy to understand and elegant. I get unreasonably excited to play just from reading the rules. Then, finally, when I play the game it’s just as good as I had hoped. The first time I fell in love with a game this way was with Dominant Species. The second time, just this past week, was with Downforce.

Downforce is a retooling of legendary designer Wolfgang Kramer’s Top Race from 1996. This is what Restoration Games does–they take older games and “update” them for a more modern boardgaming audience. Even with Kramer behind the original, I can’t imagine that this is anything more than a perfect version of that system. It’s wonderful.

The rules are super simple. You start by auctioning off each of the 6 F1 cars available. Auctioning takes only a couple of minutes. Everyone gets a hand of cards that they’ll use throughout the rest of the game. Each card shows between one and six car colors, with numbers from 1-6 next to them. You play a card to bid for the car color up on the block–whatever number corresponds to that car color is your bid. Each car you win gives you a small special power you can use in the race.

Race Time

After all the cars have been distributed (at least 1 to each player) the race begins. This is even more simple. On your turn you play a card from hand and resolve all of the car movements from top to bottom. That’s it. But because the track (of which there are 2) narrows in many areas, blocking cars from progressing is absolutely an issue. You also probably need some help from other people’s cards to even be able to move your car all the way around the track.

The race segment quickly devolves into infuriating wars of attrition as once cars reach the first bottleneck. Nothing is worse than someone playing a 6-speed card for your car, only to find yourself firmly stuck behind a row of other cars. And this game is MADE for taunting, so you’re going to hear about it too. Pro strats include going into a tight turn and just parking there. Let everyone else waste their cards bumping up against your rear, or let them move you. It’s great.

Owning a car that sees itself perpetually in the rear sucks, but you’re not stuck in the mud, game-wise, because at three intervals during the race everyone secretly bets on which car will win. There are payouts for first, second, and third, and they can be just as lucrative as finishing well with your own car. This is a brilliant bit of design because it solves two problems. First, it keeps people in the game when their car isn’t doing well, because they can put all of their money on a “side car” that they help along as much as their own. Second, it makes the game work with every player count from 2-6. If you only own one car but someone else owns three, it doesn’t matter. You have just as much of a chance as they do.

Stalled Out

Unfortunately it isn’t perfect. Losing the race still is a net negative on your income (because you had to pay to acquire it), and in my games there has almost always been one stinker that ends up being ignored because it’s doing so badly. It goes without saying that owning that car isn’t particularly enjoyable, even if you are shifting your focus to a betting choice.

The game similarly stumbles if one car manages to take a massive lead. Everyone will start to bet on the car, and since they are betting on it, they don’t particularly care if it stays ahead, so they won’t worry about trying to avoid moving it or catching up. That creates a somewhat dull game, but I’ve only seen it happen in earnest once. On a smaller scale, getting stuck without any good card to play, while part of the game, sometimes feels like it was completely out of your hands.

The good games are very good. Full of suspense, jeering, epic maneuvers, and surprise endings. It’s everything you want in a racing game, played out in half an hour. It’s light, and if you’re the competitive sort you’ll want to total scores from multiple plays, because people will be shafted without any fault of their own.

Elegance and Style

It’s just so fun. The art is sunny, clean, and bright, with wonderful blue and green tones that make it feel like a summer in Monaco. The cards are easy to read and understand, and the two tracks are adequately varied (one in particular is absolutely infuriating with its narrow lanes). I can’t wait until there’s an expansion with more tracks and cards. I want massive races! I want epic, multi-tier extravaganzas! Restoration Games, please take my money.

Above all, Downforce is a prime example of an elegant game. Every single rule adds to the player experience. Nothing is wasted, and nothing feels patched on to solve a problem. Every part of the game is there for a very specific reason.

That said, it’s a party game at heart. It’s for the end of the game night when you’re tired and giddy. It’s for family get-togethers and trash talking with your siblings. It’s for when you’ve had a bit too much to drink and just want to screw over your friends. Forget those nonsensical, gratuitous card games that seem so popular. This is the family-level, lighthearted, fun-time game for me. I was skeptical when I heard Rob Daviau announce the creation of Restoration Games. Why do old games need a new coat a paint when that time could be spent making even better games without the restrictions of old mechanisms? I was proven wrong. I don’t know how the other two games in their catalog are, but now I’m very interested to try them out. Count me as on board with this restoration project.

See more at thethoughtfulgamer.com and check out The Thoughtful Gamer Guild
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JR Honeycutt
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Thanks for the thoughtful review! I promise we've got more things coming for you <3
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Vince Leamons
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This game has gone through a very rapid change in opinion for me. I originally loved it, people wanted to play it all the time, and it was great. But after a few plays, maybe a dozen, it was becoming more and more obvious that the only winning strategy was to have the car in the pole position. That car is so much more likely to win that other people will bet on it against their own car right from the start, and will make sure it wins - the rest of the others are just playing for second place. This is particularly true in a six-player game, where everybody has only one car.

Very fun game that you're going to play a few times before getting bored with it. Needs some kind of rules revision to change the win probabilities.
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Marc Davis
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That's interesting. I originally feared that that was the case after one game where it happened, but after a few more plays I've had so many different types of results that I haven't seen any patterns yet. If the pole position is so powerful, doesn't the auction balance that out a bit? Furthermore, doesn't that provide players with an incentive to try to push another car in front of it, since if everyone bets on the same car and it wins, then no one pulls ahead relative to each other?

I feel like there are enough game mechanisms to balance out the pole position advantage, but I could be wrong. Only way to know is to play it more!
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Vince Leamons
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M013 wrote:
That's interesting. I originally feared that that was the case after one game where it happened, but after a few more plays I've had so many different types of results that I haven't seen any patterns yet. If the pole position is so powerful, doesn't the auction balance that out a bit? Furthermore, doesn't that provide players with an incentive to try to push another car in front of it, since if everyone bets on the same car and it wins, then no one pulls ahead relative to each other?

I feel like there are enough game mechanisms to balance out the pole position advantage, but I could be wrong. Only way to know is to play it more!


The owner of the car benefits relative to everybody else. The owner of the pole car typically plays his 8 card on the first turn (unless he's got a special ability that lets him gain squares otherwise), the goal being to get to the first bottleneck first. This is almost always successful. Watch the first betting round when he hits that yellow line - see how the players bet. I've almost always seen everybody bet on the leader (and when somebody hasn't done that, they've simply lost), which gives them all incentive to just keep pushing him along.

My thought for a fix for this problem goes along the lines of either (1) not playing with six people; or (2) playing six games where the pole car is assigned to each player once and then everybody bids for the next car.

I believe another problem is that the rules appear to allow people to bid zero for cars, which means that each round somebody is forced to take a car for the minimum (1). The only car that people actively bid on is the pole car, in my experience. This is such a big rules hole that I've re-read that section multiple times to make sure we were doing it correctly.
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Vince Leamons
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Perhaps my gaming group are just weird, but it takes concerted effort to get somebody else out in front of the pole car, and there's an incentive for everybody to let somebody else do the work of slowing down the pole car. It's better for any individual car owner to get his car into second place over making sure the pole car doesn't stay in the lead, because that doesn't benefit him specifically, it benefits the whole group, which is therefore not an advantage.
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Vince Leamons
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Another way to look at it: you say you've seen all kinds of results. Have you ever seen the player to the right of the pole player (i.e. the last to play) win the race? I've never seen him do better than fourth.
 
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Marc Davis
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I haven't tracked the results carefully enough to know that yet. But I won the last game I played (4-player game) by doing decently with my one car, and then going all-in on another color I had strong cards for in the latter half of the race. I put all 3 of my bets on that second color, even as it was in the middle through most of the race. There seems to be potential for strategy like that.

It could just be that our groups are acting differently too. I think everyone I've played with has bid with their hand of cards in mind, with a small preference for the pole car. I think I'm going to track results for the next few games to see if I can find patterns.
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Vince Leamons
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A four-player game might be very different from six. We have played almost all our games with six - it might be that this is just a very bad number.
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Marc Davis
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I think I've only had 1 game at six. This merits more investigation. If you play at fewer player counts and have a different experience, let me know. I should be getting in some high player-count games this weekend.
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Todd Kauk
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SJAirshark wrote:
This game has gone through a very rapid change in opinion for me. I originally loved it, people wanted to play it all the time, and it was great. But after a few plays, maybe a dozen, it was becoming more and more obvious that the only winning strategy was to have the car in the pole position. That car is so much more likely to win that other people will bet on it against their own car right from the start, and will make sure it wins - the rest of the others are just playing for second place. This is particularly true in a six-player game, where everybody has only one car.

Very fun game that you're going to play a few times before getting bored with it. Needs some kind of rules revision to change the win probabilities.


Wouldn't people just bid more on the car in pole position then if it was so valuable. Then they would spend more money deducting from their final score and it would become self-balancing?
 
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Asger Harding Granerud
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Todd Kauk wrote:
Wouldn't people just bid more on the car in pole position then if it was so valuable. Then they would spend more money deducting from their final score and it would become self-balancing?


Max bid is 6.

Asger
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Todd Kauk
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SJAirshark wrote:
This game has gone through a very rapid change in opinion for me. I originally loved it, people wanted to play it all the time, and it was great. But after a few plays, maybe a dozen, it was becoming more and more obvious that the only winning strategy was to have the car in the pole position. That car is so much more likely to win that other people will bet on it against their own car right from the start, and will make sure it wins - the rest of the others are just playing for second place. This is particularly true in a six-player game, where everybody has only one car.

Very fun game that you're going to play a few times before getting bored with it. Needs some kind of rules revision to change the win probabilities.


This was the response from Restoration Games:

"Yes. This is common in early plays in some groups. There's a strategic response to it, and most groups find it organically--one reason I love this game. For others, where it is a major problem, there is an easy rules patch: You can't play your 8 before the first betting line."

I'm fairly certain that the game wouldn't have been published over and over with new versions/editions if there was a major problem with the rules/win probabilities.

I have played this game a lot and have found no issues with the gameplay, only that we want to buy more race tracks/whatever expansion comes out! =)
 
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Vince Leamons
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Plenty of games are published with flaws, even over and over.

Look, it’s a fun game. For about ten plays. It’s completely believable that there’s a simple fix that will alleviate the problem somewhat. The right-of-pole problem I suspect is a little more difficult, but all I was doing was giving my experience - out of the box, the game has limited replayability, and needs a continuous stream of additional tracks to keep it fresh.
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Todd Kauk
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SJAirshark wrote:
Plenty of games are published with flaws, even over and over.

Look, it’s a fun game. For about ten plays. It’s completely believable that there’s a simple fix that will alleviate the problem somewhat. The right-of-pole problem I suspect is a little more difficult, but all I was doing was giving my experience - out of the box, the game has limited replayability, and needs a continuous stream of additional tracks to keep it fresh.


I'm not sure which hobby/strategy games you can point to that have been developed over time that have serious flaws in them. It is my understanding that Wolfgang Kramer is an extremely talented/professional designer and play-tester.

Agree to disagree on your opinion and conclusions. This game has been wonderful for our group and highly replayable!
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The Apostle Green
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Personally, I think it's a bad strategy to start out of the gate with your 8-card. For one thing, depending upon the track, 8 doesn't necessarily reach the first bottleneck in one move. But more importantly, I see a vulnerability of being the first to burn your 8, especially early on. The other players still have that loaded gun in their pocket, ready to spring at an opportune time (for instance, I've seen someone in 5th place leapfrog everyone else and cross the finish line first, using their 8 at the very end.)

After 100+ plays, I can say with confidence that there's a lot of subtle strategy to this game, and there are really very few situations where a race is truly a 'bust' for you.
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JR Honeycutt
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If you've really played 100+ times send me a geekmail!
 
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SJAirshark wrote:
Another way to look at it: you say you've seen all kinds of results. Have you ever seen the player to the right of the pole player (i.e. the last to play) win the race? I've never seen him do better than fourth.


last night my car came in second after i started last. i managed to get to mid-pack after the first bottleneck, jumped ahead after the second, and won the game by betting on the car color that i had the most of in my hand at every stage and paying almost nothing for my own car. i didn't have the cards to finish but knew that others would have them and bet on me and use them to push me ahead if i could just get to that third marker first. just because i was last to play didn't mean my car got left behind on everyone else's turns.
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M013 wrote:
I haven't tracked the results carefully enough to know that yet. But I won the last game I played (4-player game) by doing decently with my one car, and then going all-in on another color I had strong cards for in the latter half of the race. I put all 3 of my bets on that second color, even as it was in the middle through most of the race. There seems to be potential for strategy like that.

It could just be that our groups are acting differently too. I think everyone I've played with has bid with their hand of cards in mind, with a small preference for the pole car. I think I'm going to track results for the next few games to see if I can find patterns.


agreed this is a great strategy if you know to bet on the car and push it ahead late after everyone has bet on other cars.

watch people's bidding carefully. someone who bids relatively high (4+) on a car, but doesn't win it, probably has a strong hand in that color. this could influence your own betting.
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