Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Formula D

Let's talk about racing games. The gold standard for car racing board games has long been a game called Formula De. In this game the players drive formula cars around a track, avoiding collisions, slowing for the curves and then gunning the engines for the straightaways. Imagine a group of kids and adults standing around the table, rolling dice and cheering or moaning as the cars jockey for position. That’s a game of Formula De.

This year the game was re-released under the title Formula D. The new edition has a streamlined rules system that gets people playing quickly. You place tiny plastic cars down on a board with an illustration of a famous racetrack. The track is marked out in spaces and you roll dice to see how many spaces your car can move. In this sense it's pretty similar to Monopoly. Now imagine that when playing Monopoly you can choose to move faster or slower. Maybe you want to avoid Boardwalk, or maybe you want to land on it and buy it. So instead of rolling two dice you can choose to roll one and "slow down" near a property you want, or roll three to "speed up" and zip past Boardwalk. Formula D uses just this system to allow players to control their cars.

The excitement in Formula D comes from choosing when to speed up or slow down. Players want to speed ahead on the straight portions of the track but slow down when approaching a curve. The rules limit how quickly you can go from rolling high numbers to rolling low ones. If you move your car too quickly through a curved section of the track you run the risk of blowing out a tire or crashing.

So how does this play out in your living room? Your daughter's car is zooming down the track, she should slow down but she's feeling reckless. Everyone shouts "slow down crazygirl!" but she rolls the high numbers- will she crash or make it safely around the curve? Woosh- she gets lucky. Then it's your turn- the pressure to catch her is intense so you roll high as well. Screech- you roll too high and your car shreds tires. Any more rolls like that and you'll crash so you resolve to play more cautiously in the future. Meanwhile your son is rolling to get around the same curve, but your car is in the way. He has to slow down so he rolls low numbers but he promises you he'll speed up next round and take the lead.

Families can play Formula D as simple race around the track. Four players can finish a race in an hour or so (the tracks are big). The game includes optional rules for longer races, pit stops, customizing your car, and even tournaments and racing seasons. In addition you can buy additional boards with different race tracks on them.

Who would enjoy Formula D? Racing fans of course. The game certainly plays best with three or more players so it is well suited to groups of kids or adults. You do need to be able to count well and to understand moving spaces on a board. If a child can say “oh, don’t roll a six or you’ll land on Boardwalk,” then they’re ready. The manufacturers suggest ages eight and up. I personally think that Formula D is an exciting game, fast paced, with simple rules and a beautiful presentation. In the board game world it’s a justified classic. Locally the game is available at Hit and Run Games in Lexington and The Hobby Bunker in Malden.

Pros: Exciting and fast paced.
Simple rules.
Excellent for groups.

Cons: Can take at least an hour to play.
Requires some attention on the part of the players.

Beyond the Basics: This is a very subtle and strategic game. Adults and teens can replay tracks many times and still find the game exciting and rewarding.
Formula D (and De) has enormous online support and is played worldwide. There are dozens of additional tracks available and more on the way.

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