There have been a lot of race games published recently, including the re-release of the classic Formula De. Powerboats is Cwali's entry into the genre, and has the players racing speedboats among islands, trying to be reach the finish line without having your boat explode!
The quite-large board is made up of a frame and interlocking panels which can be rearranged to provide a new track every time. The panels are two-sided, but they should be all be played on either the advanced or the basic side. The board has nice art depicting water and islands overlaid with a hex grid that the boats actually use to move.
On the panels are marked the starting and ending positions as well as the three positions of the marker buoys which the boats much successfully navigate to complete the course. The buoys are cute red+white cardboard affairs that probably need a bit of glue to prevent them come apart unexpectedly.
Each player also has a little plastic speedboat in their player colour. These are cute and fit neatly into the hexes on the board. They are clearly pointed at the bow which is helpful since boat direction is important in the game.
Possibly the most unique part of the game are the dice used to record the current speed of the boat. These are unusually shaped dice which have values from 1 to 3 on them. They're an appealing marbled blue and instantly recognisable.
One small niggle is that rather than have player mats, each colour boat is associated with a player position around the board. If you're in a group with people who insist on having a particularly coloured boat and people who insist players use the correct dice-spot, then people will probably have to get up and swap seats.
Power boats has amazingly simple rules, so it's very easy to teach new players. All the interest complexity and gameplay come from player interactions and the consequences of these simple choices. The rules are simple.
On your turn you
1. Choose whether to add or remove 1 dice (you choose which of your dice to remove)
2. Pick up any newly added dice and any of your existing dice you want to reroll and roll them. Place the newly rolled dice with your other dice
3. Move your boat a number of spaces in a straight light equal to the total of your dice (optionally turning left or right by 60 degrees or one hex-side)
There are a couple of other rules. If your boat would end up on top of an opponent's boat, it stops as many hexes before as needed to be on clear water. This interaction can be murder on the open water.
Finally, if your boat would crash into a buoy or run into a shore, you are forced to pick among the three directions (straight, slightly left, slightly right) which gives you the longest possible free run. You take a damage token for each space you can't move, collecting three of these causes your boat to explode!
Player order is chosen and then players in reverse order of play, place their boats behind the starting line. They they take their turns (noting that everyone starts with no dice and has to add one). Once you've crossed the start line, you're into the race proper.
The race consists of going around each of the three marker buoys in the correct direction. Each buoy has a arrows indicating this (placed during setup). Any boat which ends up missing the buoy or going the wrong way has to turn around and try again.
Finally, the race is completed when players have passed all three buoys and get their boats across the finish line. It's worth noting that the rules about crashing apply here and might even force you to turn away from the finish line to avoid hitting an island behind it (and go around once more)
Finally the players are recorded in the order they finish the race by getting their boat through the finish line (in the correct direction). It's worth noting that you can still crash after finishing (and may be forced to choose a safe non-finishing path if you are going too fast!)
There's a multi-race setup in which some damage tokens are carried over and points are allocated based on finish position within each race, we've had just as much success running one or more single races so people aren't stuck in a bad position.
Notes and conclusions
One of the most exciting parts of the games is trying to get around all the many corners, and take advantage of long straights to keep adding more dice and speed up. Only being able to shed a single dice per turn gives a terrific feeling of hurtling towards oblivion if you manage to get up to four or five dice! Being forced to
The somewhat unthematic safe-stopping if you land on your opponent's boats can be actually really useful when you aren't quite going to make a turn sharply enough. Counting on it during the game can be pretty dangerous, though, although with 5+ players it becomes a regular feature as the crowd of boats tries to get through a popular chokep-oint. Sometimes choosing a longer and unpopular route can put a player into the lead.
Naturally, as a race game, the only included catch-the-leader mechanism is playing better. Not a problem in such a light game which plays so fast. Typical player turns last only a few seconds, so even with 6-players, there is very little downtime.
I'm really looking forward to picking up the Powerboats expansion at Essen this year, just to see what the extra elements bring to the game. For the times when a simple race game is called for, I nearly always bring powerboats out because it's so easy to explain and fast to play.