Ethan Van Vorst
I recently reacquired a box containing many, many games I have bought over the years from storage where they've spent the last several years. My parents used the box in question as a depository for various games, thinking that one of their kids must have owned any of the games inside at one point. The one in question, "Rombo - Il Gioco A Tutto Motore F.1" (I do not know Italian, although I do know Italian food, as anyone who has seen my considerable girth can attest), which I believe roughly translates as "Strange Formula 1 racing game in the storage box with no explanation as to how it got there or who originally bought it".
This is one very weird little game, so I'll try and take it step by step.
As far as I can determine the game must have been designed for youths under the age of 10. Well under. The board itself is a trifold thing which is not on your typical cardboard backing. In fact I can't really tell what material it's made out of, but the closest I can come to describing the texture of it is contact paper, like you'd put in your kitchen cabinets. There may be thin plastic sheet under there somewhere, but if there is it is flimsy stuff. The first thing you'll notice is that the board doesn't really set flat on any surface. You'll see the implications because of this when I get to describing the gameplay issues. In the meantime the board depicts a racetrack done in a young child cartoony manner. There are of course squares along the racetrack on which the cars will progress. There are 3 gas pumps located throughout the track, some with several gas dispensers which intersect with certain squares on the track. In several places around the board are large oil spots which are meant to slow racers down. In reality they look like the aftermath of the rampage of an unhousebroken St. Bernard. They are big and they are very yellow. Then of course the obligatory "Start", or in this case "Partenza" and "Finish", or "Arrivo".
This is where things start to get a little wacky. The game has 60 "Fuel Drop" cards. Actually they look more like airplane roundrels. They're printed on playing card stock and are round and about the size of a quarter. Depicted on each is a single drop of fuel. And boys and girls...the fuel is pink. I'll let you digest this and remind you of my theory by pointing out the title of my review. Maybe Formula 1 racing gas is pink in real life, I honestly don't know. When I dispense gas the stuff comes out clear with a hint of yellow/brown in it, but who can really say?
In addition to the fuel drop cards are 18 pitstop cards. 15 of these depict gas cans (in astonishing Pepto Bismol pink) and featuring a single number on the front, anywhere between 2-5 in value. The other three cards depict cars burning rubber, making sharp turns, etc. and are called "accident cards". The real draw of the game are the playing pieces. There are 4 Formula 1 racers in there, about the size of your standard Hot Wheels car, and they're halfway decent looking.
How it works...I think
The game's rules are in Italian, but there was an insert inside the game written in mostly comprehensible English. While the game is listed as being for 2-4 players I was only able to play with 3 since one of the Indycars was missing. In the end I substituted an old Hot Wheels "Super Van" from 1974 (think of the movie "The Van", and you'll have a good idea here) and put it on the starting line.
Each player is given 15 fuel drops. They can move forward 1 space per 1 fuel drop. To bypass an oil spill they must spend 2 fuel drops. Getting to one of the 3 fuel pumps is of primary importance because drawing the cards there can extend your mileage a great deal (the Pepto gascans), although not nearly as much as you'd like. These gascans do not have to be used immediately and can be put aside for when they're more urgently needed. And this will happen. If you run out of fuel drops and have no gascans at your disposal you are able to move forward 1 space per turn. The bonus here is that if an opponent has a car in front of you, it's space can be passed without having to count against your drops. This means there is a larger benefit to having more cars in the field, and it's probably not wise to go to flank speed right off the bat. The person who conserves their fuel will likely win the game in the end, although I found that all of my racers were largely out of gas and moving 1 space per turn by the time they reached the middle of the board.
If a player lands on one of the fuel dispenser pictures on the track , in addition to the Pepto gascans, they can draw an additional card called the "accident card". The player who draws it can give it to the person of his or her choosing and basically force that player to skip a turn and not move, which can become handy towards the end of the race. Due to the whole dynamic of not having to count spaces where an opponent's car is, there is much merit to staying in a group as you'll save a ton of fuel in this manner. Part of the problem though is that whoever gets to a pitstop gas dispenser first can largely monopolize it by simply moving 1 square at a time and taking half of the cards on the pile. The poor schmuck coming in dead last will get there and find only 1 card left and won't have a chance at all in winning. In this way I guess the game catches the feel of racing in that you have to know when to cruise and when to really drop the hammer, so to speak.
Now, remember the fuel drop cards? Every time one is spent to move forward a space it is placed at the finish line in one of three bubblegum pink fuel drums, marked "1", "2", and "3". These are an absolute enigma to me and I reread the instructions several times. Here, I'll share with you so that you too can understand my confusion.
From the instructions:
"The deposited gasoline drops are put by the player (at his choice) on one of the three stations shown on the board close to the starting line and marked 1, 2, 3."
And here's the kicker:
"The first player who reaches the finish line acquires all the gasoline drops stored in deposit #1, the second player gets those in storage #2, and so on. After all the players have finished the race, the one who has the most gasoline drops is the winner".
You can see the dilemma here. The player may not know early on in the game who is going to win (although by the halfway mark you have a pretty good idea), so he or she may place their spent gasoline drops in "their choice" of gasoline drums. This means that the person who wins doesn't necessarily have to be the one who comes in first. Think on that. A racing game where the person who comes in third can conceivably win the game.
Problems with the game
I don't know where to begin here. I guess I'll start with the gameboard itself. I can forgive the pink gasoline and giant urine stains decorating my track because I know that the game is designed to appeal to kids and they like bright, retina-shattering colors. But the board is, as I mentioned earlier, a trifold type and does not lay flat on any surface. This means any cars you place are typically going to roll into another spot, and occasionally right off the board. The board, being made of whatever it's made of, is remarkably easy to clean, but is that really a good tradeoff?
The playing cards suck, and there's just no way around that. I can see where there would have been an improvement in my experience had they gotten it on better card stock, but this stuff is very thin and there's no plastic coating to boot, and that makes the cards stick together more than your average Hoyle or Bicycle. The little gas drop cards are the biggest offenders. Each player has to be dealt 15 of them for use throughout the game and they're just not easy to deal, largely due to their unwieldy shape.
If you find yourself owning a copy of this there is one plus. Little kids love Hot Wheels cars, and here you have a pretty good little road track they can play with their little cars on and probably will think it's the coolest thing since Jello Puddin' Pops. The little Indycars included with the game are nice and any kid would probably love to add them to their Matchbox collection to boot.
"Rombo" is just one very weird and surreal game. The instructions, as they were, didn't answer all the questions I had or the situations that came up. Maybe if I could get a direct translation, I may have had a different experience, but I'm leaning towards doubting it.