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Subject: Racing to the top rss

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That's my perp! Futsie, all right - crazy as a coot! He's got to be stopped!
I had not heard of Top Race until recently when it appeared in a helpful hot deals post. I soon discovered that it was a Formula One racing game by Wolfgang Kramer which had received a Spiel des Jahres recommendation way back in 1996. The version I got hold of was the much enhanced German edition published by Pegasus Games in 2008.

The components in the Pegasus edition are very nice indeed. There are two large double sided race boards which are wonderfully illustrated with a tremendous amount of detail and loads of playful little touches to enhance the bird’s eye view of each track. Let’s face it one race track can look very much like another so the artists must be complimented for making all four look distinct and interesting.

Image by Rob Corn

More praise must be given to the wonderfully detailed two-tone plastic racing cars. As soon as I pulled them from the bag I could hardly resist pushing them around the track and making broom-broom noises. They do look quite delicate though so I managed to refrain.

Image by Rob Corn

The cards are clear and of a decent size, not the thickest of most lavishly illustrated but definitely serviceable. For me the only down side is the paper money, which initially tends to stick together and worse still gives me flash backs to monopoly.

The game is simple enough to learn and can be played with 2-6 players- the more the merrier. Each race takes about thirty minutes and you can play as few or as many races in one session as you wish. What I especially nice about this version is that in addition to the basic rules there are other optional variations you can introduce.

Players are dealt a hand of cards, each of which has one or more different coloured racing car illustrations and a movement allowance form 1-10. Before the race commences the cars are auctioned. Each player begins the game with 200,000 and can bid in multiples of 10,000. When a player wins an auction they take ownership of one of the six different coloured racing cars, this choice will usually be determined by the number of high ranking cards of particular colours that they hold.

Image by Mark Gallardo (not Pegasus edition)

On each turn players select and play one of their cards. Then, starting with the car depicted at the top of the car and working down, each car is moved the corresponding number of spaces forward, either straight of diagonally. If a car finds that it cannot move forward the full allocation then it finishes it’s turn in the space behind.

There are also special cards, some depict a white car and act as wild, they can be applied to a car of any colour (apart from those already shown on the card). There are also three breakdown/ sprint cards. These cards show two different coloured cars. When played as a breakdown whichever of the two cars is ahead suffers a breakdown and cannot move until the other car on the card catches up with them. When played as a sprint the car behind immediately sprints forward (as long as the track is clear) until it is level with the other car shown on the card.

There rules also include several rule variations. Pit stops can be introduced which allow players to forfeit a movement turn to take a card from the top of the discard pile or one of those which is laid out at the start of the game. Each player can make a maximum of three pit stops during the course of the game.

Another variation introduces betting. When the first car reaches each of the three betting points that are illustrated on the board each play secretly places a bet on the car that they think will win the race. At the end of the race winnings are paid out, selecting the right car early on will yield better odds and hence more money than guessing correctly later in the race.

Yet another option replaces the auction with a share system. Players secretly invest in shares of the cars they think will perform well and are adjusted before each turn.

Image by Matt Hiske

This is a really fun and exciting racing game that looks wonderful. My first impressions were that the game would turn out to be a little too simplistic; depending too much on the initial card draw. However, a few deeper strategies come to mind as you play. Working out ways of blocking narrow parts of the track, the best time to offload unhelpful cards, judging how to pace your race all need to be considered. Adding the extra variations gives even more to think about and helps keep the game fresh. There may be deeper racing games out there, but I haven’t come across any that are more fun.

Image by Geo

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