My job is not the day shift or the night shift, it's the always shift!
I will chop your head off!
After seeing the review for this game on The Dice Tower, I was immediately intrigued. Despite the semi-reserved recommendations towards this game, I knew from the art and the customizable race tracks that this was something I really wanted to pick up. I was already in the market for a good racing game, and Formula D seemed a little too luck-based for my tastes, so this fit the bill very well.
In this game you choose one of six teams to race as: The Rockabillies, the Aliens, the Underworld (Devils), the Monsters, the Wizards, and Food Fight (based on another of Cryptozoic's games). Each team has a different advantage. The Rockabillies are good at "flipping" cards (more on that later), the Aliens need a lot of upgrades on their car, the Monsters rely on having most of their cards in their hand or discard pile, Food Fight works well as a fairly conservative team, and lastly the Underworld and Wizards tend to take the most chances and are risky as a result (the Wizards moreso because they rely on a shared deck of "boost" cards). After choosing your team, you pull up to the starting line and get ready to start the game.
On your turn you can do a number of things. You can play a card from your hand, play the top card off your deck (known as "flipping" in this game), draw four cards from your deck to your hand, or draw a card off the "boost" deck. All these cards will usually have a number on them telling you how many spaces you can move, and most will have a special ability on top of the base movement that the card grants you. What keeps things interesting is that some are only usable if you "flip" them, while others may only be usable if they come out of your hand. Occasionally you may be able to draft past another player, which is when you land on their space. That basically allows you to move to the space ahead of that player. If there are multiple players in a row, you draft to the front of all of them. And, like most racing games, turns will usually have a speed you need to keep under in order to pass through them unharmed.
You can also do a couple more actions if you happen to be sitting on a Pit Stop location along the track. One is receiving an upgrade, and the other is to shuffle your discard pile back into your deck. The latter tends to be very important because your deck is in essence both your fuel and hit points. If you run out of cards in your deck and your hand, you must return to the previous Pit Stop and begin your following turn there.
I refer to this game as a kart racer because it reminds me so much of Mario Kart; The racing is central to the game, but you're able to harm other players as you go along. When I played with my wife, she tried to keep it a fairly peaceful race, but when I got an upgrade that did damage to her every time I played a card with 4 or 5 movement on it (which can happen fairly often), that lit a fire under her to start fighting back. And that's really the spirit behind this game. If you aren't having a good time hurting other players on your way to the finish line, this becomes just another racing game. I do think it still feels like a racing game at heart, but the added "screw you" cards and being able to push your luck as you run out of cards in your deck just seem to give this game an extra layer of originality.
What really sold me on this game was the components. Being able to design my own track is not only a blast, but should be a requirement of most racing games, in my opinion. Sure, the rulebook has a few tried-and-true tracks in it, but at the end of the day you want to make a really killer track where you have to jump through a ring of fire before making a sharp turn into a mob of fans (Yes, there is a ring of fire to jump through in this game). Add in some fun little obstacles you can put anywhere on the track, and this really gives you a lot of freedom to design the track you want.
I also love the little tokens used for the player markers. They're these small, transparent plastic "ice cubes" that feel a lot heavier than they look. You just apply some included stickers onto them to show what car they represent, and they're good to go. I really think that these are cool and unique tokens for player markers. I hope that other games take notice of how great these look, because it doesn't seem like they would cost a lot to produce, and they look pretty awesome.
The only major complaint with this game, for me, is how it balances with different amounts of players. I've played games with a full house of 6 people, and some with only two. Neither really felt like it flowed in the way that the developers wanted it to, and in many ways both plays felt like different games. With two people it really did feel like a quick and simple race to the finish line. The person who ended up trying to stock up on upgrades was last, while the person who just kept playing 5's and 6's (while minding the turns) finished well ahead of the other. The other two-player game was more based around going through the track the fastest, and that made it a lot more competitive as a result.
With all 6 players, this game becomes almost becomes chutes and ladders, to a degree. Some players are getting left in the dust while a few are fighting over the leading position on the track. At first, however, the track is so clogged with cars that it can be really difficult to break away from the pack. I also noticed that there was a lot of fighting over the Pit Stops, and some people just had to wait until someone moved or take their chances by proceeding to the next one. A lot of this really bogged the game down, and it became next to impossible for people lagging behind to catch up with all the "screw you" cards applied to all players flying around.
After playing both, I think that somewhere around 4 or maybe 5 is the best amount of players for this game. Having too few players eliminates a lot of the strategy, while too many players slows the game to a halt. With the right amount of people though, this game can become a really fun beer and pretzels-kind of racing game.
In the end I'm really glad I picked this up. It's very far from a pure racing experience, but that's okay by me. The track customization alone was enough to make me interested in buying this, but the easy-to-understand mechanics and subtle humor sealed the deal. I really hope that we can see some expansions for this, and would love to see more outrageous obstacles like the ring of fire come into play. If the developers can figure out a way to balance out the difference in the amount of players, that would be a big plus, too. The artwork might put some people off, but the mechanics are easy enough to get non-gamers into while still providing enough strategy for veteran gamers to appreciate. If you're like me and you want a more "arcade" racing experience versus a really realistic one, I highly recommend picking this up. It's not going to be for everyone, but I was very impressed with it overall.
My BGG Score: 8 out of 10