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Road Rally USA» Forums » Reviews

Subject: A light racing game with a dash of strategy rss

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Seth Brown
United States
North Adams
Massachusetts
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WHAT IS IT?
A racing game where you don't just want to be first at the end of the game, but also at various stages along the way. Each car has an identical deck of cards, which they play to jockey for position as they move their cars forward along the track until the finish line is reached.

COMPONENTS

The player aids for each car look pretty good, and the associated car decks with three colors of cards (and the scoring deck) are of good size and quality and have big easy-to-read numbers. The cardboard tiles laid out to make the track are of reasonable thickness, and the little wooden car pieces are cute. Tiny checkpoint markers are slightly fiddly, but adequate for the task. Overall, components here are quite satisfactory.

GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
To start the game, deal each player a few stage scoring cards, then choose a random player order and each player draws 5 cards from their car deck. (Each round after the first, player order is reassigned with the leading car becoming first player, second becoming second, and so on.) On your turn, you must play a minimum of 1 card from your hand. You may play as many more cards as you like, provided they all match the color of the first card you played this turn. At the end of your turn, draw 2 cards from your car deck if you played green cards, 1 card if you played yellow cards, and 0 cards if you played red cards.

Once all players have moved in a round, check the board to see if any stages have been passed. If so, whichever player has the card for each passed stage may opt to play it. Whenever a scoring card is played, whichever player is in first gains 5 points, 4 for second, 3 for third, 2 for fourth, and 1 for fifth. Whoever played the card gets double the points for their position. Also, if any car is exactly on the space of the stage being scored, that car receives a 2 point bonus. The last place player, instead of scoring a point, may opt to draw 2 cards. If the player holding the relevant stage card does not play it, no points are scored for that stage.

When a player crosses the finish line, one final stage scoring occurs at the end of the round, and the player with the most points wins.

GOOD POINTS

*The game is visually satisfying. There's something about seeing your little wooden cars amidst this big track of random road tiles that just looks fun. Thankfully, each tile has 8 spaces, so it's only a dozen tiles to lay out, even if the course itself looks vast.

*Player aids are nicely put together. Nice car detail on the player aids and decks, with each car not just a different color, but a different model from a different year. The pictures of each car on the car decks and player aids look pretty good -- as soon as we starting playing, one player said, "Ooh, I want to be the Mustang!" Also, the player aids comprehensively contain all the information you'll need to play the game, handy for those who can't remember what the different icons do.


*Feels different with different numbers of players. Five-player game is a more catch-what-you-can feeling, but the three-player game was more enjoyable because it felt more strategic, with the decision of when to strive for first and when to recharge.

*Staged scoring makes for more interesting decisions. Obviously, you don't just want to leap out ahead at the beginning and then run out of gas. But you also don't want to save everything for a big endgame push, or all the intermediate stages may score without you. You need to balance the desire to play red cards (and draw nothing) to move ahead with a few 3s and 4s, or play singleton green cards that will only move you 1 or 2 spaces, but will replenish your hand for a big push later. In addition, you don't get to use all the scoring cards in your hand, so if your first scorable stage has you in 2nd or 3rd, you have to decide whether it's worth scoring, or passing that up and hoping you're out in front by your next scoring stage.

*Easy to learn. The few special space rules are detailed on the player aids, but the basic rules are very quick and easy to learn, and the cards are simple displays of numbers from 1-4, with one of three colors. Even a non-gamer could likely pick up this game pretty quickly.

*Short game option is great for when you're pressed for time. I had two friends from out of town stop by and ask to play a game, but we knew they could only stay for a half-hour or so. We set up the three-player short game, and even with teaching included, the game didn't take too long thanks to only half of the track pieces being used.

*MarioKart mechanic gives boosts to the player farthest behind. Allowing the last player to draw 2 cards instead of gaining a point on Stage scoring is a nice way to give that player a chance to get back into a reasonable scoring position. Likewise, the checkpoints award 2 cards to the player in last, meaning that falling behind early on doesn't have to mean you automatically lose the game.

*Special spaces add variety to the track. Various spaces on the board confer different bonuses when you land on them, including detours (move ahead a few spaces), gas stations (reshuffle your deck), checkpoints (first there gains 2 points), wrenches (look at and reorder the top few cards of your deck), and rainbows (you may play 5 cards of any color this turn).

BAD POINTS

*The game doesn't quite feel like a race. In spite of the wooden cars and the little track layout, it feels more like a resource management game using the few cards in your hand.

*No real "arc" over the course of the game, finish line notwithstanding. Your first turn will be played pretty much the same as your 12th turn.

*It's easy to feel powerless given bad draws. While each player's deck is the same, being forced to play a single yellow or especially red card at a time will really slow you down in comparison to a player who is able to play a fistful of red cards at once. Consequently, there may be times that the game feels like there aren't many decisions to make -- especially when you get stuck with a 1-2 card hand, can't draw green cards to increase that hand size, and in fact have very few decisions to make. By the end of the game, it was not uncommon in the few games we played for many players to be unable to even cross the finish line, because they had gotten stuck with small hands and no mobility or options.


CONCLUSION

Road Rally USA is a mostly light racing game with a bit of strategic jockeying for scoring position thrown in. Easy to learn and interesting to look at, it's a reasonable game for non-gamers who might be attracted to the racing theme, and includes just enough strategy that some gamers might enjoy it too, even if some gamers are put off by the dry feeling and lack of control. It's fast enough to learn and play in under an hour, especially with the short game variant, and anyone should have little trouble picking it up and giving it a try.

IS IT FOR YOU?

Do you like racing or classic cars? Road Rally USA, while not aesthetically stunning, does have visual appeal if you like that sort of thing. If you don't have a racing game, you could certainly do worse than getting this one to fill the niche, ready to be pulled off your shelf and quickly taught if you have any guests who decide they're in the mood for a racing game. It's a decent light game that's simple enough to teach non-gamers but with enough strategy to keep things interesting for gamers, and especially good with 3 players.

Conversely, if you are someone who demands that your racing games not just feel like hand management, or someone who is easily frustrated when bad card draws end up seeming more important than your strategic decisions, Road Rally USA may not be for you.

*Review copy provided by publisher
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