WBG Score: 8.5
Player Count: 2-6
This is your car, your pride and joy. You will do anything for this car and nothing and I mean nothing will stop you being a dedicated owner who will stop at nothing to get this car across the finish line first. Well that is until you see the red car storming into the lead and you decide to bet your life savings on that instead.
Let’s auction off some rules.
To set up, choose one side of the double sided board, place all six cars behind the finish line in a random order and give each player a scoresheet. Deal out the speed cards evenly to each player then place the car specific speed 8 cards and the power cards in separate face down decks next to each other.
At the start of the game there’s going to be an auction phase. Reveal the top speed card and power. Players then need to bid to own this car and power combination. You bid by using the speed cards in your hand. Each card has any number of colours on it with a number in that colour. To bid on that colour car simply play a card with that colour on it. The player who has the highest number of that colour will win. The number they bid will be the amount they pay for that car which they will write on their score sheet. The auction will continue until all the cars have gone. There’s no real limit to how many cars you can have but every player must have at least one car. Once this phase is over any player that has multiple powers has to choose one to keep and discard the rest. Then start your engines as the race is about to begin.
On a players turn they have to play one of their speed cards. When played they have to move all the cars on the card the number of spaces indicated and in the order they’re listed. Cars can only move forward onto spaces that finish in front of the one they’re leaving but they can’t move through other cars. At some point cars will reach one of the three yellow betting lines on the track. Once the first of the cars cross one of them players must then bet on who they think will win the race by marking the car colour on their sheet. This will happen everytime a betting line is first crossed. As cars finish the race they are placed on the podium based on their position. Once either all the cars have finished or all cards have been played from players who are still on the track the race ends.
Players will then score money based on correctly betting on the winning car and when you made that prediction The more times you get the right prediction, the more money you get. You’ll also receive money from the final position of your car(s). Then takeaway what you spent at the beginning auction to get your final score.
I enjoy a good racing game and, sometimes even the bad ones. There’s a couple of issues I’ve had with the ones that I’ve played though. First is the amount of luck in them, regardless of how much they’ve tried to mitigate it and the runaway leader problem. Now I’m not saying that Downforce alleviates that altogether, but it does a darn good job of getting them either down to a minimum (luck) or making you use it to your advantage (runaway leader)
First the luck factor. The only real luck in a 3-6 player game is the cards that you're dealt at the start of the game but you quickly start to decipher how you can best use these cards to your advantage. Do you have a lot of green movement in your hand? Then maybe the green car is the best to try and bid on, or you could try buying another car with a better power for cheap and then betting heavily on green. Just in case that sounds like a simple enough decision, let me introduce you to the power cards. These come out with each speed card and could well change what is a sure fire car choice and make things that little bit tougher. The other thing it may change is how many cars you try and get your hands on. Since at the end of the auction phase you get to pick one of the powers you have in your hand, it may be worth getting hold of a car just because the power card will work well for you. It’s such a quick and simple auction mechanic but it adds so much to how your game is going to play out. It’s a weird comparison but it really reminds me of the drafting mechanic in Blood Rage and how important that is to your game. If there’s one bet I’ll make in this review it’s that I’ll bet you never expected me to compare Downforce to Blood Rage did you?
The other big decision you need to make is how many cars you try and get. More cars are great for choices of powers and chances to get a good finishing position, but how much you pay for those cars could well be your downfall.
The two player game does suffer a bit more when it comes to the luck factor though. It’s still a fun game but in this version you split the deck and then draw seven cards to your hand then draw another at the end of your turn. So making any kind of solid plan at this player count is potentially pointless.
Please gamble responsibly.
So the other issue that can crop up with a lot of racing games is the runaway leader. Let’s face it there’s no fun watching other players get lucky and race ahead of you knowing that, aside from an act of the cardboards gods, you’re not going to be catching up anytime soon. As much as I don’t mind losing games it’s far better to lose when you’ve had a good crack at winning, rather than have it out of your hands entirely.
Again downforce manages to shift gears and dodges around this beautifully. Yes, technically you can get runaway leaders but this is where the betting comes in and elevates this game from just another racer that only certain people might enjoy, into something for everyone.
The betting means that, even though your cars may be stuck in a less than advantageous position, you can still use your opponents to your advantage. You can easily just bet on those seemingly obvious front runners and then use your cards to make sure they get over the line in a position that benefits you. Sure you’ll be giving that player a bit of a boost but as long as you can bet on them early enough and still get your cars over the line in a good position you still have a decent chance of winning.
Mechanically this game is great, it’s a really clever design but it’s not complicated with it. Where Downforce shines though is in its interactivity. It’s not just about navigating the track and how you can get in front of the race, it’s how you can do all that AND screw up you friends or force them into putting you into a good position. Downforce isn't a take that game, yet, there is something soooo satisfying about moving opponents cars into single lanes behind other cars that you know they can’t easily get out of or, and I’m not saying I’ve ever done this, (ahem) playing a huge movement card and only being able to move them one space….and then making the screeching brakes sound. It’s a ton of fun and whilst it may trigger alarm bells in those that don’t like that kind of potential meanness in games, I think that the mechanics swoop in to save it. Also, as devastating as those moves may sound, I’ve seen cars in dead last weave around the track and end up in the top three.
This leads me nicely onto the other reason why I love this game. It gives you so many great moments and tension throughout the game. You may have stormed into the lead on your last turn but now you have to anxiously wait and hope that you're still in a good enough position by the time your next turn drives around to play the card you want.
Downforce is a game in which the race could go from a forgone conclusion on one turn and could have completely turned by the time your next one comes around. That kind of wild unpredictability may not be for some people but for me it’s something that’s tense, exciting and keeps things on a knife edge. I can’t tell you how many times there have been almost neck and neck tussles to the finish line. Honestly if I had nails I would’ve almost certainly bitten them off in some games.
As of quite recently my highest rated racing game (by a long way) was Flamme Rouge at number eight and Downforce has just unceremoniously taken its spot. It’s quick, clever fun that has a much wider appeal as far as racing games go and yes, you will be making vroom vroom noises as you move your cars round the track!