Down Force Review by Joel Wright

Designer; Wolfgang Kramer, Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson
Pubished by; Restoration Games
 Art by; Tavis Coburn, Michael Crampton

For some reason I like Formula 1 racing, I look forward to the new season each year and most race weekends in the racing calendar. There are some courses I really couldn’t give a flying wheel nut about, Monico I’m looking at you (why not just do a time trial to see who is the fastest, then parade the cars around the track a few times so we let just the rich people party on the overpriced yachts). I also like board games with a racing theme to them, but I have struggled to find one that really emulates a fast racing action that the F1 race normally throws at you.

Enter Downforce

Downforce has been on my radar for months after seeing a couple of reviews hit Youtube, and I have anticipated its UK release since. I was half expecting to have to wait until Essen, but it was released a couple of weeks ago I couldn’t wait to snatch it out of Christoph’s hands. So, has it lived up to my expectations like a long drawn out British Grand Prix race buildup event and excited me enough that I’m gliding over the finish-line Hamilton style? Or did it stop and fizzle out because it looked good on the outside and rubbish inside, a lot like a Mclaren car!

Designed by Wolfgang Kramer as Top Race back in 1996 it has its engine retune by Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson fromRestoration Games, and been put back out on the track with all new upgrades and livery design while keeping the old chassis intact.

The reason I wanted this so much is because it was described (by other reviewers) as simple and quick to play, plus it plays up to 6 petrolheads. And it is! Out of the box, I put the board out place the cars on random starting positions and deal out all the cards evenly to everyone; then you are ready to begin.

First, you need to bid on cars to own. Auditioning for the playing piece you want is an interesting beginning to any game, which I haven’t come across so far. No one gets to choose their preferred choice of colour. All the cars have a +8 movement card these are shuffled and put face down in a stack along with the power cards. The top card of both stacks are flipped over and everyone secretly blind bids on the turned over cards (colour of the car and the power card) using a card from their hand they were dealt at the beginning. You might have your eye on a colour you like to play with normally or you might want the car in pole position, but that power card looks awesome, then again it conflicts with your hand of cards altogether. Oh, to win a bid, the card you use needs to have the colour of the car on it and if you win, you still keep the card to use again and als you get a +8 movement card for the colour only to add to your hand. BONUS

Once every player has to have at least one car, you can begin the real game and race like Micheal Schumacher in a Ferrari, or not in some cases. Some say it’s a simple version of Formula D, I say it’s more along the racing line of Ave Cesar. On your turn, you play a card from your hand and move all the cars of the colours indicated on that card. Each card can have one colour or all the colours on it; and each colour has a number, top always the highest number. It is really simple, you play a card and starting from the top of the card move the colour of the car the number of spaces it says or until it becomes stuck behind other cars. then you move the next colour below and then next and so on until you have tried to move all the cars on the card. Wait! that means you will be moving your opponents cars as well! Correct, and you will have cards without your colour car on them, too. There is a wild colour on some cards, allowing you to move any colour that is not already on the card. But trust me this can become very cut throat as other players moneverve your car behind other cars and it get jammed.

There is one last part of this game, at three points on the race track, there are yellow lines when the first car crosses one of these everyone will make a secret prediction who will win the race. When the race is over the players receive prize money for the positions their car/s finish and also get money if you correctly foresee who would be in the top 3. However, you also have to deduct money for how you bid to win your car/s.

A word of advice: don’t bet on yourself unless you are running away from the pack. I have found at the second time of betting there is a leader pulling a lead and that is the guy you should be putting your hopes on. Now I think I need to play this more to see that is the case and also the winner of the race is normally the winner altogether. This needs more stats analysis to be sure.

The auction part of this I didn’t have a problem with, it’s intuitive way of dishing out colours and powers, but some people will have an issue because they always sway to one colour. I must admit I have fought hard over red in the past. And when it comes to playing with a different colour you struggle to remind yourself which car you really want to be in the lead. I have to hold my hands up and say this has happened me. I planned to move the red car almost into the lead and then realised it wasn’t my car and the colour I did need to move became stuck at the back of the pack.

This leads on to another issue, there are bottlenecks on the track and a lot of the time cars can become jammed up like an accident on the M25 and everyone is trying to squeeze into the same lane all at once and it can come to a standstill for an age. These bottlenecks are mostly on tight corners, hairpins or chicanes which is thematic in a race. F1 cars do have to go through in single file formation but they don’t normally stop to have a coffee break! This can happen in Downforce, it can feel like you haven’t moved for a couple of turns at points. Because the leader is only being moved and others catch up to the back of the pack, then that car in front won’t move because there is that one player being a right dick and won’t move that car but just played a card with your colour on it and it was a 6 movement. However, because you are stuck behind that front car buying a family bucket meal at the drive-through, your 6 point movement is wasted, along with the sinking feeling your car might not even make it across the line.

Downforce is a short game, so my gripe of being bullied in one race is not a real issue because it is over in 30 or 40 minutes. To which you can play another race or just crack out another game. 30-40 minutes! This sounds a little short for a big box game that cost just over £30 in the shops! It sits on the realms edge of a filler. I haven’t decided if this is a good thing or not. I am a little disappointed at times when it is over in a flash but then again, we could play again or move on. I feel like it should be an hour at the least to make it feel worth it.

So let’s get a couple more gripes off my chest and get some other negatives out of the way. You are given a big pad of paper for everyone to mark down their predictions and score up the end of the race. Now if you play this a lot, that pad of paper will be gone, (if) there are 100 sheets divide that by 6, that’s only 16 races you get out of it. You can download and print out more afterwards. But this game could have benefitted from having whiteboards and dry erase pens, making it endless use. I have, however, laminated 6 sheets and put my own dry maker pens in the box now, so not to waste the paper, and it works so well.

Left: paper used, Right: my lamiated sheets

I wish this could take more players it could handle eight players easily if it wanted to and the playing time difference wouldn’t have made a difference, I don’t think. More player powers would have been nice too, given it more variability but I believe there is a reason for it.

Also, there is no slipstreaming in this!

Other than those issues I really enjoyed this game. It does give a real feeling of racing because of having to move all the colours on the card, making it feel really fast at points.

Being able to play this up to 6 players is a great factor especially in my gaming group which has grown over the last few months from a regular 4 to 6-8 people sometimes, it helps acommodate for the larger groups and because of its short game play it will help to start off the night while we wait for the latecomers to arrive.

At first I wasn’t sure about the artwork, but it has grown on me a lot and I’m not really bothered at all by its simplistic style on the game board. It feels like they tried to stick to the origins of the game it evolved from (Top Race) and was given a helping push into the 21st century using a bit of DRS (Designer realist satisfaction). All components are high quality and the cars themselves are big and clunky. The quality of the cards are OK but I have just sleeved them after playing a game with the kids and a couple have already shown signs of distress on the edges.

Another bonus to the game is that every car is used in every game, normally the only cars in action are associated to the players which means it could be a light field or packed full. In downforce every car is in and if you are playing with less than 6 players some people might have more than one car, another highlight you don’t see often in games. This also adds to more chaos action and chance that you have 2 or 3 cars means you have a better chance of winning, but bear in mind you will be spending more on cars that are deducted from your winning score.

This plays well with young children where you don’t use player powers or have to make predictions mid-race. You just play cards and try to get your car over the finish line first. And it works too; more simple and still fun.

This is a game I definately want to keep in my collection, it wouldn’t replace any other as of yet but if I was to choose a game to leave my shelves I think I would pick Camel Up to take up retirement over the likes of Formula D, Automobiles or Jamaica. Becuase this so simple to learn and play, Downforce is almost a gateway game into racing games leading onto the ones mentioned above and many others alike.

Side note: When I bought this along to game night on Thursdays, Nigel said straught away this looks like Top Race which he has on his shelf at home. After putting it all out on the table, he remarked that it was almost the same game with a few differences. Top Race has one track, the +8 movement cards are +10, track and cars are alot smaller, and no player powers. However, Top Race does have F1 names that drive the cars: like Damon Hillo, Micheal Schumachero, Alan Prost… you get it.

Post race analysis: I’m hoping there is an expansion in the works, to add more to the already fun, Downforce. More tracks of course, more powers cards goes without saying, making it 8 players might be slightly tricky, slipstreaming rule (Rob I’m looking at you, I know you can work it in), a trump card to allow you to jump over or switch with blocking cars, and dare I say it? events anyone. In the future, I would also like to see Downforce Legacy.


Written By Joel Wright

Edited By Claire Wright

Photos By Joel Wright

Review copy suppied by Meeples’ Corner online shop