Designed by racing royalty.
I am reliably informed that Vin Diesel spends most of his spare time being filmed driving cars very quickly indeed – at full throttle, you might say. I must admit that I preferred him before he got his licence, marooned as Riddick on a distant planet, but, to paraphrase P. T. Barnum, nobody ever went broke underestimating the public’s taste, so fast cars are clearly where it’s at. Frankly, I don’t give a fig about boy racers who Sellotape blue lights to the undersides of their Ford Fiestas and drive up and down the main road in Mitcham sounding like they are making popcorn, but it seems to be very popular amongst the pesky kids, and those Fast & Furious films keep coming off the production line, even if our wannabe leaders have pronounced negatively on the latest offerings. Still, Jeff and Carla Horger have a bona fide list of games to their credit, including Thunder Alley and Grand Prix in the racing genre, so when they release a new racing game it is time to sit up and take notice. Fast & Furious: Full Throttle takes us away from the track racing of their previous two offerings, and instead invites us to share in the nitrous-fuelled escapades of those nocturnal nutters.
What’s in the box? Racing royalty’s recent release!
The components are generally good, and the double-sided game board is particularly impressive. Full Throttle’s arena is big, heavy and sturdy, and the point-to-point nature of the racing means that each side offers a vast array of possible courses, short or long, narrow or wide, twisty or straight. A start card and a finish card are supplied to pop on top of the board and define where your chosen course begins and ends, and several routes are detailed in the instructions to take nascent racers on their way. There are also various tokens for card upgrades, player boards and gear indicators (similarly thick), some character cards and a large stack of gear cards. One of the two packs of cards in my review copy was noticably bent, which is probably worth a mention, although this was less of a problem when the entire stack was shuffled together, and hopefully this was just a one-off.
Use cards to denote the start and finish of the course.
The idea of Fast & Furious: Full Throttle is easy enough, and you drive your car as quickly as possible between A and B in an attempt to make the vast amount of money the other kidz have spent on their machinery look stupid and futile, while you strut around at the finish line letting everybody adore you. Something like that. If all else fails, think racing and you won’t be far from the mark.
Souped-up machinery…but the game is mechanically easy!
The board is huge, double-sided and of great quality.
Once the course is decided, either by creating your own or choosing one from Full Throttle’s rule book, the characters are chosen (if you like), obstacles placed and upgrades applied, you are good to go, and the game plays pretty simply. Each player begins their turn with six cards (with exceptions detailed below) and can discard any two cards on their turn to shift down a gear, or any three to shift up a gear. Players then discard sets of cards to flip the same number of cards off the top of the deck and choose one of the speeds indicated on those cards for their current gear. So, for example, you are in third gear and discard three fifth gear cards to then flip three cards from the draw deck. The indicated speeds for 3rd gear on the flipped cards are 4, 5 and 8 – you choose 5, move that number of spaces and your turn is done.
Initially it feels odd that players do not use the cards in their hand for speed, instead discarding them to flip other cards, but it works pretty well once you know what you are doing and it is also commendably quick. Needing three cards for an upshift as opposed two only two for a downshift is also a neat touch – upshift twice and you’ll run out of cards in your hand and will be going nowhere, but you can downshift twice and still move. This is a crafty little detail in the design of Full Throttle that helps to keep the racing at least a little in the realms of reality.
Fancy an upgrade? Use your token!
I mentioned above that players have the opportunity to upgrade their cars before the start of the game, placing tokens on their board. These may then be used in different phases of a turn, and the player boards spell out their effects pretty clearly. Some of these allow for a nitrous boost of speed, others for aerodynamics, others for blocking and so on, and they present an injection of strategy to fight against difficult card draws or tricky moments during the race. The better racers will be using these to their advantage from the start and they prevent Fast & Furious: Full Throttle from degenerating into a total luckfest.
Use tokens for upgrades, but beware penalties.
Talking of luckfests, there is no doubt that a card draw can throw out an unlikely and unexpected result, but, as hinted at above, the game cleverly allows its players to mitigate against this. You can discard any set of matching cards during the movement phase, but discard cards of your current gear, and you know that you can pick the minimum speed for that gear if the card draw runs against you, while the more cards you discard from your hand, the more you are able to iron out the variance. Of course, it makes Full Throttle unrealistic for the purists, but, lest we forget, this is Fast & Furious we are talking about here, so it is all about the absurd moves. In fact, the game ticks along a a fair old pace, and I have to admit that the rules are clear in the main and well executed, and even that old racing bugbear of how to implement cornering speeds is nicely done.
Ignoring the limits? Prepare for damage!
In Fast & Furious: Full Throttle taking a corner above the recommended speed will reduce your hand size for the following turn, and the more you exceed the limit the smaller your hand will be. This can totally destroy a player’s next turn, but it is a temporary inconvenience rather than a game-breaker and serves you right for attempting to break the laws of physics. It is a clean and easy way of penalising players for taking corners too fast without having to deal with tyres, fuel and a hundred other factors, and a similar mechanism deals with the issue of being blocked by other racers. The game does include the option of adding the possibility of damage to the cars, but there is little here in the way of arbitrary fiddliness, and it keeps the player turns ticking along.
These cards keep the game ticking along.
One of the fundamental problems with racing games is that they can play very slowly indeed, and it seems to be that the more realistic a game aspires to be, the more time it takes for a player to make their decision. I love the purity of Bolide, for example, but it takes forever to play, while only Powerboats has come close to giving me that feel of momentum and fun that racing games should provide. It seems that designers need to make some kind of trade off between detail and enjoyment of play, ironically between realism and speed. Both of the Horgers’ previous racers are card-driven games, but Fast & Furious: Full Throttle pares it down to the minimum in the interest of spills and thrills. The aim of Fast & Furious: Full Throttle is squarely on fun play that can be taught in five minutes (probably less) and then placed on the table, and aspires to throw out those “ooh” moments that you might get from big screen automotive pyrotechnics.
Tight enough for two? Depends on how you set up!
Fast & Furious: Full Throttle is also passable as a two-player game, which is rare for racers, even though it is certainly at its best with the full complement of four players. In two you should choose one of the narrower routes across the board and lay down a decent selection of obstacles (trucks, taxis, road blocks) which can make the racing very tight indeed. It is by no means perfect, but at least it provides a little of the excitement that so many other games lose when the player count drops. It really is a case of the more the merrier, or should that be faster and furiouser, and the option of adding even more players would be something to consider.
However, Fast & Furious: Full Throttle is up against some very big hitters in this “light racing” category, the most notable of which is Formula D, and there’s also Flamme Rouge coming up fast on the rails, and I have found it tricky to work out whether it is aimed at gamers (who, like me, might well not care what film this is based on) or fans of the films (who might not be interested in the game at all). I even wonder if this game might have been better off as a racer in its own right, without the licence and the pictures of the actors on the cards. You would have to be a big fan of the films to go out and buy this based solely on its link to its big screen cousins, while gamers might well head directly for one of the more better known titles. Full Throttle is a strange fruit, even if it bears the names of some fine designers.
Fans of the films will enjoy the character cards.
Play your cards right? Or roll the bones?
There’s no denying that the cardboard components are top quality, even if the cards are a little less so, and the game design is robust and fun. Hunt around and you will also be able to dig out the official variant that does away with the cards altogether and instead uses dice for the various gears, although you will need to supply these yourself. I understand that the decision to go with cards in the game was made on the basis of cost, but for a little extra expense the dice option is a good alternative to consider, and has the benefit of turning Fast & Furious: Full Throttle into a fun dice-chucker, which somehow always seems more entertaining than turning over cards one at a time. It speeds things along just a little more as well.
There is much to commend in Fast & Furious: Full Throttle. The component quality is good, the rules overhead is low, it tends to be fast and is occasionally furious. The track options are very many indeed (I didn’t count them all, but there are loads of them), especially when you begin to add in obstacles, and the core game design is solid. Despite all that Fast & Furious: Full Throttle is going to find it difficult to get into many gamers’ collections as it may well be too light for the hardcore and too gamey for novices. As a recreation of street racing, or at least my understanding of it, it has much to commend it, but that’s just not my bag, and drawing piles of cards off the deck, while quick, can be tiresome. It is also up against some heavy hitters in this category, especially as the reboot of Formula D now offers street racing, and more intent and intense racers may well go for the Horgers’ heavier offerings anyway.
Fast and furious? Or slow and steady?
Watch out for the truck!
Like the cars it represents, Fast & Furious: Full Throttle is a unique creation, but players will need to make up their own minds about its worth. If you have always hankered after a game that gives you a little of the feel of those interminable films or maybe a video game like Burnout, then Fast & Furious: Full Throttle is for you, and it sits well as a quick blast at the end of a game evening. If you are looking for a pure racing game, especially one that tips the balance more towards skill, then you are better off looking at one of the many other options.
The Horgers have created yet another solid race game, and one that is an entirely different flavour from their previous offerings. Despite wanting to love it and admiring its many plus points, I only liked it in play, but it is by no means a bad design and worth trying if you and your fellow racers fancy a change from Formula D. On balance Fast & Furious: Full Throttle gets a 7 out of 10 from this racer. Right, off to the carpark to pull some donuts…
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I have been playing Hobby games for as long as I can remember, including Waddington's Formula-1 in my teens and family card games before that. I mainly play with two, sometimes more, and I'm happy to give any game a try. I lean towards medium-weight games with simple rules and deep gameplay. Homo ludens and proud of it.