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Subject: Playing Against an 11-Year Mario Andretti rss

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James Fehr
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Hi there! Follow my gaming exploits on Twitter (fehrmeister)
Let me just start by saying that I must have had the greatest Secret Santa in the world this Christmas. He gave me my ultimate grail game! I had it on my wishlist, but not because I expected anyone to give a second thought about sending it to me. Yet here I am, the very happy owner of an honest-to-goodness Carabande set - and not just any version, but the Audi Rennspiel-Action edition! And not just the base set, but the Action set as well!

Anyway, Santa knows how grateful I am, so let me move on with the report. Monday, February 15th was the Family Day statuatory holiday we celebrate in parts of Canada, including Alberta where I live. My children were eager to bring the Carabande set out again in the afternoon so we cleared off the dining room table and started building a track. For this track, my 11-year-old son and I came up with our own design that used all of the pieces. Shortly after the starting straight piece, the track made a tight loop around to a jump that would cross the straight track just in front of the start. The short loop was deliberate so that an unsuccessful jump where the car doesn't go far enough and lands on the perpendicular track below wouldn't be as much of a penalty. Little did I know at the time that this would benefit me more than anyone. A successful jump would mean landing on a piece of track that curved to the left, just to keep it interesting and to encourage some restraint and finesse when flicking the car. After the jump, the track made a long oval shaped loop with a few twisty corners around both ends of it, which meant that it would probably take at least several turns to make it around back to the start. Included with the action set are two special "X" and "Y" pieces. The "Y" piece, which features a rail in the middle of the track that makes a small opening on one end with a side-eddy space for cars to get trapped in if they don't hug the other edge rail, was placed on the first corner of the tight loop with the jump. The "X" piece, which features two guard rails that form an hourglass shape that keeps everyone but the best flickers from shooting through in one turn, was placed in the first big straightaway.

Pleased with our design, my 3 boys and I started into our first game. I fully expected to beat them significantly, as I thought I had the advantage being 20 years older and having a lot of Crokinole experience in my past. Our previous games of Carabande had me in the lead or close to it.

Each of our races was 3-laps long. We all had a fair bit of trouble with the jump at first, doing the short loop a few times before arriving at success. My 11-year-old Sam seemed to figure it out first and then he was off like a shot. I was amazed at how fast he learned to use the rails to sling around the corners and carom down the straight stretches. Even the "X" piece wasn't always slowing him down. While the rest of us were pretty tense and trying very, very hard to make our shots, he was relaxed, free and easy, quickly sizing up the situation and then letting her fly. His disc was airborne several times even without the jump, but usually landed right-side up before it stopped. It was uncanny. He easily won our first game, with his 9-year-old brother Adam coming in second. I came in third only because the other 9-year-old twin Isaac was finding it almost impossible to make the jump. But even Isaac really enjoyed playing.

With my pride brought down a notch, we started a second game, this time with my 7-year-old daughter Julianna, and 12-year-old Bethany, while Isaac took a break. Sam's car took off right from the get-go, and once again, he came in first. And once again, I came in third. The two girls loved it, and Bethany ended up coming in second, not too far behind Sam.

Then I brought my wife Heather into the act for the third race. She was very impressed with the track, and thought this looked like her kind of game. She tends to be pretty good at dexterity games, and gleefully took up the challenge to end Sam's winning streak. After an initial log jam at the "Y" piece which took a little while to clear, Sam made the first jump before anyone else again. But Heather was determined not to let him get too far in the lead and cleared the jump soon after. There were moments that it was close, but she ended up trailing behind him about a third of the length of the track for most of the game. Just when she would get closer, he would pull off some amazing shot that would leave her open mouthed and shaking her head. Meanwhile, the rest of us were finding the jump more difficult than ever, even though by now we had more experience with it. There were often multiple cars sitting on the ramp at once, sometimes blocking other cars. Julianna's disc was sitting right in front of mine at the top of the ramp twice where I ended up hitting her disc and sending it successfully over the jump onto the right track below where she could carry on down the straight stretch. In fact, I helped her out so much that even she, my 7-year-old, beat me in the final lap. So once again, Sam won, with Heather in second place, Bethany in third, Adam in fourth, Julianna fifth, and yes, I cam in dead last, even though I was trying my absolute hardest. Apparently I was trying a little too hard.

Heather hadn't enjoyed playing a game so much in a while. Coming in last just adds to the fun challenge of it for me when I play next, which will be soon. It made for a great afternoon, and we can hardly wait to set it up again.

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