WBG Score: 8.5
Player Count: 2-6
This is a free review copy. See our review policy here. Downforce Board Game Review
There have only been a few occasions when this website has covered a game more than once. Downforce has already been reviewed here by Steve, last year. It's a great review, check it out. But I wanted to add my ten pennies on this classic, reinvented as a modern classic for one simple reason. It is so fun! The game is made by Restoration games, who if you don't know, specialise in taking old classics, sadly lost to the second hand markets of eBay and the such as they are out of print, add some modern twists and a new coat of paint and re-release modern versions. They have done this for a number of games now. You can check them out here. And Downforce was a big success for them back in 2017 when they released it.
Downforce is the re-imagining of an abstract race game made by the legendary Wolfgang Kramer initially in 1974 called Tempo. It was later released with a Formula One theme called Niki Lauda's Formel 1 and then Formel 1 Nürburgring, Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix , Daytona 500 and finally Top Race in 1996. A game that was on many family tables through the 90s. Sadly, the game went out of print and became quite hard to find. But thankfully, one family table that Top Race did come out on in the 90s was that of Rob Daviau, who decided to bring the game back for the modern market. He wanted to give us all the memories he once enjoyed as a kid. The game didn't need much work to make it suitable for the current era of gamers, it had already evolved into a very slick race and betting game through its previous incarnations. Just a new publisher to give it some modern distribution love. Let's get it to the table and see how it stacks up after all this time.
How To Set Up Downforce
The game works in two phases. A bidding phase where players try to become the owners of one or more of the race cars in the game. And then the race itself, where players via to push the cars they own to the front of the race, and place bets at three stages of the lap to try and increase their winnings.
To set up, place the board on the table. There are two sides to the board. One side is a little more forgiving with wider tracks to race on. The other is a little more cut-throat with pinch points and narrower corners. Lot's more on that later! Pick the side you want and place the six cars randomly into the starting positions and then place the six driver plaques by the side of the board. Shuffle the main deck and deal the cards out equally to each player along with a score sheet and pen. The cards show a number of combinations of car colours and distances you can move that car. Finally shuffle the six 8-speed cards and power cards and form two separate face down piles. You are now ready to play.
How To Play Downforce
The bidding phase will now begin. The first 8-speed and power card are flipped and players will decide if they want to bid for this combination or not. The decision is based on the cards they have in their hand, if they think they can control this coloured car well or not. It will also depend on where that car is on the starting gird, and what the power card is. There are only six in the base game sadly, but this does mean you will get to know them all well quickly, and know which ones work in each circumstance.
To bid, you will play one of your race cards. The number next to the colour corresponding to the current car up for bid will be your bid in millions. If you don't have a matching colour you can use a wild. Or, if you don't want to bid, you can use a non-matching card and declare that you are not after this car and car combination. The player who bids the highest wins that car and power card. They will add the 8-speed card to their hand, and take the power card, placing it in front of them. In the case of the tie, the player whose card they used to bid with had the most amount of lines on it wins. If the number of cars remaining to be bid on equals the number of players without cars yet, at this point, only players without cars can bid. When only one car is left if there is still a player without a car they must then reveal the card in their hand with the lowest matching value and bid that much.
This will continue until all cars have been bid on. If any cars remain unallocated a second round of bidding will commence for the left over cars. After that round, the race begins and any cars still unowned will race without ownership. Any players who won more than one power card must choose between them, keeping just one, returning any others to the box. The race can now begin.
Starting with the player who owns the car on the number one space on the grid, players will now take it in turns to play one card from their hand, and move the associated cars the shown number of spaces. Remember to take note of certain card powers that allow other players to move their own car, or cars that will move further based on certain race factors.
Cars can move forward or diagonally forward but not sideways or backwards. No reversing here! Wild cards can be used to control any car that does not have its own symbol on that card, you cannot move a car twice with the same card, unless you have a power card that says otherwise.
Players need to move their cars forward in the best way possible, thinking about not only their own path to victory, but how they car might affect the other cars, especially on the pinch-points, where one or two cars may block many others. Cars cannot move through, jump, or pass other cars in any way other than racing around them when the track is wide enough. There is more strategy to this than first meets the eye.
When a car passes one of the three betting lines on the track for the first time a betting round begins. Each player will secretly place a mark on their betting slip next to one of the six cars that they think at that point in the race will be the winner come the end of the lap. Be sure to mark your tick next to the appropriate place for either the first, second, or third betting phase, as each ones pays out very differently. You will be rewarded a lot more for accurate bets made early in the race compared with those placed near the end when the result is a little more predictable. Remember a runway leader could slow down a great deal if that car does not have many strong cards left to play. This game is not as predictable as you may first think.
When everyone has placed their bet, the game continues until either all cards have been played or much more likely, all cars have crossed the finish line. As each cars does this, move it to the podium position based on its place in the race, and then determine final scores. Players will score points based on the finishing position of the cars they own and the cars they bet on, but must remember to remove the amount they bid in the first auction phase from their final score. The player with the most money at the end of this is the winner. You can play multiple laps across either side of the board for a longer game, or a best of three. Whatever works for you.
Is It Fun? Downforce Board Game Review
The first time you play this game it will feel quite lightweight in strategy. The game is very simple to learn and teach and on your turn you simply play a card and do what it says. But as you learn the strategy you will realise there is a lot more depth to this game. At the start of each race, every player knows exactly what cards they could play. Each player has access to every possible card from turn one. As such, you can plan your entire game right from the off if you wanted! This would be hard as of course you need to react to what other players do, but this is quite a unique thing in games and opens some interesting options.
There are two main things to think about when you play a card. Which cars you want to progress, and which cars you want to hinder. If you were controlling the red or green car in the example below, and had a few cards with high yellow numbers, you may want to wait for a situation like the below before you play them. The yellow car currently cannot move until the black and orange move out of its way, and even then, it will be blocked from moving any significant distance until they all and the green car get round the corner and open a path way for it. Playing a high yellow now would be a great way to burn through a card that would otherwise help another player.
These sorts of turns are a lot more frequent when the cars reach the corners and pinch points, which one side of the board has a few more of. So, you can tailor your game if you don't like the take-that element. Reaching the long single lane corners at the right time and navigating through them with the right cards can be the difference between winning and loosing at this game. Playing your 8-speed card at the right time is also crucial. Do you want to get an early lead and get away from the pack to fly through these corners without the possible congestion, or hold it back for a late charge to surprise the other players? A lot of this will be dependant on your betting strategy. As players can bet on any car, not just the ones they own, there may be times when players want to hold back their more powerful cards for one car so that other players do not bet on their car, before a mid-game charge after the second betting phase is over, to race forward and catch the other players by surprise. If you bet on a car that ends up winning in the first two betting phases and no one else does, that is a £15M swing in your favour!
The intricacies of the strategy envelop you, and for me, make this game a huge hit. I am not a huge fan of race games but do enjoy the tension of them. Betting games however I find can be very rewarding, especially with the potential to generate huge rewards. This is very much part of Downforce, and a big reason why I enjoy it so much. But I think the main draw comes from the card play. This game is pitched as a race game. You realise quickly it is more of a betting game. But after a few turns, you in-fact discover this is a hand management game. It's about what cards you play and when. Developing your understanding of this and ultimately becoming more successful at managing the game to the benefit of your cars and bets is highly satisfying.
I would recommend this game to any family who are looking for a fun game to play as a group, especially if you have an interest in Formula One. The theme will obviously be a push or pull for a lot of people. But I would also encourage anyone who enjoy clever card pay to look at this too. It has some interesting strategies that I have found to be quite addictive. I have been thinking about this game a lot the last few weeks, and cannot stop playing it.