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No Pit Stop Required – Downforce Review

Last review for Restoration Games I took a look at Indulgence. I thought it was fine for the genre, but nothing special. But it showcased how this publisher could go the distance with their plan to resurrect old games that deserve another chance to shine. This week I’m looking at Downforce, their entry into the racing genre. Featuring a prominent designer and a full fledged history, this has some serious potential. A short, pure racing game for up to 6 players that’s easy to learn, yet provides laughs along the way? All of this sounds promising, but for me you’re going up against my favourite racing game Snow Tails. Challenge accepted!

Downforcecover

Designer: Wolfgang Kramer
Publisher: Restoration Games
Players: 2-6
Ages: 8+
Time: 30-45 Minutes

From Restoration Games:

Tires screech. Gears shift. Drivers push their million-dollar cars to the limit. The difference between victory and defeat could be a single card.

Downforce is our restoration of Wolfgang Kramer’s classic. For nearly 40 years, this card-driven racing game has been the delight of gamers and families. Known by many names –
Top Race, Daytona 500, Cleveland Grand Prix – we bring it to you now as Downforce.

Fast-paced and easy to learn, Downforce offers the thrill of racing reduced to its essence. Players get their cards, bid for their cars, and the race is off. Betting during the race gives players a chance to back their favorites, even cars owned by other players. Can you get to the turn before them? Can you back the right car to collect on your bet? Every turn and every card makes a difference.

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START YOUR ENGINES!

Downforce is a racing, betting, and hand management game for two to six players. Players bid on cars, race them around the track, and bet on the winners. The player with the most money wins. Plain and simple so far right? The board is double sided so simply pick a race track (essentially “nice” or “mean” setting) and select your cars.

The first phase of the game is the auction where players acquire at least one car. Players simultaneously bid on each car and special power that is drawn from the deck using a card from their hand with a matching colour on it – the value being the amount of money used to bid. Special power cards might let a player move their cars additional spaces, move a color twice, or ignore a color. Players record how much they spent on their score sheet as it is deducted from their end score (a neat balancing mechanic). It is possible to win multiple cards, but you of course have to pay for them so you had better make sure they’re worth it!

Each player will play one speed card on their turn. The card determines the order that cars move in (top to bottom) as well as the number of spaces they move. The player who played the card moves each car however, not the owner of the car itself. In order to move, the car must be able to move forwards (front or diagonal), otherwise the moves are lost. A car must move into a legal space if able, but of course the player can deliberately set things up so that cars end up in one giant cluster of frustrated drivers – always a fun thing to do!

There are three yellow lines on the track, which stipulate the times when players can bet on which car they think will win the race even if its not theirs –  think how Camel Up works in that respect. The first time each line is crossed, players will check which car they think will win on their betting sheets. At the end of the game players will earn more money based on the cars final position in the race. The round ends when either all cars have crossed the finish line or there are cars that can no longer move (there are a finite number of cards and finished players do not play any). Players earn money for the position of their cars and the accuracy of their bets and subtract the amount they paid for their cars. The player with the most money wins.

WE GOT GOOD SPONSORS!

Indulgence was already a high quality product and even their 3rd entry “Stop Thief” which I don’t have looks the business as well. Downforce is their best yet! This is one of the thickest boards I’ve seen in any game, it could literally be used as a murder weapon. It’s double sided with two maps available and some very striking, vibrant artwork throughout. Add some cool plastic cars and stark, yet crystal clear cards and you’ve got something that has turned many heads when players walk past wondering why we’re shouting a lot (more on that later). You even get a gigantic score pad with easy to follow steps that will last you a ton of games before you need to consider laminating a few and getting some dry erase pens. For the price you pay, this is solid value.

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ROAD RAGE

The Auction mechanic is deceptively involved. You will be evaluating your hand, trying to figure out which color will serve your given movement the best on top of the 8-speed card that you’ll get for buying the car. Bid too high for a car and you hurt yourself when the accountant checks your balance in the end-game, but bid too low and you’ll lose out, potentially ending up with a car that you can’t move a lot with your hand. Players will move your car at times, but they’re going to block it whenever they get a chance so you need to have the facility to do a lot of movement yourself.

The actual race however is where Downforce shines. It’s a loud and frantic affair! Players will force cars to stop at pinch points and then use up big movement cards for those unlucky drivers stuck behind those cars. It’s also a test in diplomacy as nearly every game has had some negotiation between players, begging for the active player to advance other cars in the game. If you end up with a quiet game of Downforce, you’re not doing it right. Players are actively blocking each other and over-taking regularly and as such there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get engrossed in the theme.

It’s interesting to note that there is equal movement for all cars among the cards as well as the wild symbols that appear. So typically all cars should finish (though not always), but impeded movement will cost that player their chances of winning. So as well as a racing game, you have to consider good hand management too. When do I play that high speed card that also moves my rival? Save it for a bottleneck? Wait till the final turn so I can get across the line before they do? Lots of cool decisions to be made for such a simple game.

The Betting is reminiscent to Camel Up in a way, although it consistently feels like the car that makes it through the first single-lane sector has a significant advantage over the competition. If cars are close, it can lead to some doubt, but usually it’s not too tricky to figure out who might win and that’s a big of a gripe, but given you’re only playing this for 30-45 minutes, it doesn’t detract from the experience and of course, the leader should have a big target on their rear for other players to avoid playing their cards.

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POWWWWEEEERRRRRRR!

The Power cards add some cool advantages to the game, however it can be argued that some are more powerful than others. I for one would much rather be controlling my own car than worry about getting one extra speed if I happen to play a car with my colour on top. Of course this affects how much people are willing to bet on the initial auction. It is a shame however that there’s only just enough for one game. It surely wouldn’t have been too hard to have had some variety present in the box. However word on the grapevine is that we’re going to get some more Power cards in the future along with another map so I have high hopes for that.

I’ve mentioned before that Downforce is done and dusted in 30-45 minutes. That remains true to this day, the only times it’s gone over is with 6 players, or with people who are a bit slow at making decisions. Turns are lightning quick as well so you need to be constantly considering your next card while of course shouting at the player who just blocked you to get ahead. The rulebook is easy to read and there’s not a lot to read to be honest. Anyone can play this game taking at most one play to get to grips with the tactics. The variants at the back allow for some other modes of play, but frankly, just ignore them, the standard mode is just fine.

VERDICT ON DOWNFORCE

Downforce is not a perfect game. It can be argued that some abilities are a little too powerful even though you pay extra for them typically as a balancing mechanism and some games you may end up with a runaway race leader. But when you consider that this game is taught, played and dusted within 30-45 minutes, these are minor issues in the grand scheme.

Because my god, this game is fun in a box! So many racing games like to overcomplicate things, but this is just straight up frantic racing with everyone laughing and screaming over blocking each other and leapfrogging other players. Turns are lightning fast and easy to figure out (for most people anyway) and the varied scoring system and speed cards can lead to some very tight finishes at the end; which is exactly what you want in a racing game. Being able to cater for up to 6 players and actually scale well in that regard is also a huge plus point given how few games these days balance out player count with downtime and game length.

Add to that with the fact that this is exceptionally well produced with bright, simple colourful art, car minis and one of the thickest double sided boards I’ve ever seen, you have here what I would now call the poster child for what Restoration Games is capable of achieving. This is on par with the likes of Snow Tails for me – just simply a brilliant racing game.

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PERSONAL RATING – 10/10

YOU WILL LIKE DOWNFORCE IF:

You want a fast, frantic game that’s over and done in 45 minutes.

You enjoy the constant “blocking” of opponents and don’t get upset over it.

You want a racing game that actually involves racing without consulting a ton of charts.

YOU WILL NOT LIKE DOWNFORCE IF:

You want one of the more complex racing games with specialised rules.

You feel there can be a runaway leader at times.

You aren’t happy with the current balance of player abilities.

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Luke Hector

I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.

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