Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Thursday, 13 June 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Downforce

Game: Downforce

Publisher: Restoration Games & Iello Games

Designer: Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson, Wolfgang Kramer

Year: 2017


Downforce is one of the first batch of three games that was released by Restoration Games. As a publisher, Restoration Games set out to breathe new life into some older games, giving them a new look and new mechanisms to help them stand up to modern board gaming standards. Downforce re-implements the original racing game of Niki Lauda’s Formel 1, designed by Wolfgang Kramer, and released in 1980. It’s probably fair to say that Downforce has been the most successful of those first three games and is no co-published with Iello in Europe, along with having a first expansion – Danger Circuit.

Whilst we have owned a few racing games over the years, the do not typically last in our collection because they don’t excel, or even play at all with two players. Downforce says two players on the box, so let’s find out how it works.


Gameplay

Downforce is a game in two parts. First you will bid money in order to buy the rights to the 6 different colours of racing car. Then there will be a race to determine a winner with cash payouts based on how your cars performed. During the race you will have 3 opportunities to place bets on how you think the race will end, you have no requirement to bet on your own cars, indeed it may be sensible to bet on someone else and then manipulate the game to ensure they do well!

At the start of the game every player will be given a share of the race cards. These cards each list between 1 and 6 of the cars each with a number from 1-6. These act both as movement cards during the game, and as your money in the first round. Each car will be revealed one at a time along with a special ability for players to bid on. Each player then plays a card from their hand, the only important factor being the number adjacent to the colour of car being bid on. The player who bids the most will gain control of that car, that ability and will have to pay an amount of money in the form of a negative modifier to their final score. This will repeat for each colour of car until all cars are owned, each player will then select one ability from their collection and the race can begin.

During the race players take turns playing cards and moving cars. When you play a card it moves cars in order from top (highest number) to bottom(lowest number). In this phase the number against each car is how far it is allowed to move in spaces. The active player gets to do all movement, which is important as some routes around corners are faster than others. If you are particularly cunning then you can block a route with some cars in order to prevent overtaking as a car cannot move if there is not a free space to move to! At 3 points during the game you will cross a betting line, at this point you check off one car that you think is going to win. There are cash pay outs (points) for that car coming in 1st/2nd/3rd place, and the first bet is worth more points than the second or third. At the end of the game you add up money earned from the pole position of your owned cars and any payouts from bets, then subtract the money spent on your cars at the start of the game. The player with the most money wins!


Amy’s Final Thoughts

Racing games have always been a genre that has struggled to inspire me, they often come with runaway leader issues or lean heavily on special course rules to make the game more unpredictable. Downforce manages to change this trend, partially due to the fact that you can gain a good amount of money by betting correctly regardless of who actually wins the race, but also because you aren't just limited on manipulating your own cars. Of course you want your cars to be in the lead, but sometimes it's just as important to move an opponents car out of your way first, or even into other people's ways. Courses are filled with narrow turns where only 1 or 2 cars can pass through and manipulating the race around these points can make all the difference.

There is still the slight issue of a car that gets in front staying in front. By designs the car at the front of the race cannot get stuck behind anyone. This issue is enhanced in a 2-player game where there is no-chance to gang up on a leader. However as soon as a third player is added into the mix getting an early lead can definitely paint a pretty big target on your head. But Downforce isn't just about the racing side of things, doing well in the auction phase is equally important, and doing well isn't necessarily what you might think it is. Winning lots of cars may well mean that your focus is split, but winning only one car means that if that car starts to fall behind your hopes are dashed. Knowing which colours suit your hands, which ability you ant to go for, and how much to spend (nothing stings more than paying five when the next highest bid was two) are critically important.

Overall I don't think Downforce has completely changed my mind of racing games. While it does simplify things quite a bit this comes at a cost of your standard racing attributes, like having to slow down through corners. However this simplification does make Downforce incredibly easy to pick up. I do really enjoy the combination of betting on winners and paying low for your car giving a potential victory even for players who aren't racing well, so long as they can successfully manipulate the field in their favour. Downforce is a racing game that stands out from the rest as actually being a fast, and furious game!


Fi’s Final Thoughts

We’ve played Downforce with both two and three players and have seen how it can play very differently depending on who has control over the most cars. It’s very interesting to see how the game could become quite different, the more players you add around the table. What’s most important to me though is that it does play really well, even with just two players. It’s also true that the two player game can be the source of much frustration as your opponent can pool their cars together to completely conspire against you and make life a misery! I’ve once been on the receiving end of a perfect score from Amy, with cars in 1st, 2nd and 3rd and a bet in every round for the 1st place car – that’s admittedly not a lot of fun!

What I find unique about Downforce is that it’s not like Airlines Europe where no-one has ownership over any specific car colour, you do have ownership, but if things are going badly for you then you can still score points by being observant and betting on the car that will come home in first place. I’ve never quite seen a game where betting alone will win the race if your cars come in last, but it’s a helpful part of the overall strategy.


Downforce is certainly easy to learn and teach, but each card you play is a tricky decision where you try to make the most of the car positions to block your opponent’s but still manage to make progress for the cars that you care the most about. The moment where you play a card with 6 movement for a player who is blocked is truly joyous. The card powers add to this with some extra ways to manipulate the situation and achieve those highs a little more often.

Downforce is just a perfect racing game for me. It scales really well, is easy to teach and only lasts around 30 minutes. I could share it with my parents and definitely plan to share it with some friends who are fans of motor racing. It really has a fantastic balance of mechanical elements and joyous moments to make it a stand-out game.


You Might Like...
  • Downforce is a racing game where it’s not all about your car winning. Correctly betting on cars and buying lo win the auction can also be a strategy.
  • The combination of a double-sided map and different power cards can add a fair amount of variety to the game.
  • Downforce is one of those games that can get players up around the table, whether cheering or despairing.
You Might Not Like...
  • Reading your hand and knowing what car colours will serve you best can be a challenging skill.
  • Being consistently blocked on narrow areas of the course can lead to a lot of frustration and can be a difficult pattern to overturn.

The Verdict
7.5/10 Downforce is a very smart racing game with ownership of multiple cars and betting mechanisms that make it work at all player counts. The card driven movement system is clever and manipulative and the different maps and powers allow you to use this in different ways that bring variety to each game. It’s certainly our go-to racing game for the collection.


Downforce was a review copy kindly provided to us by CoiledSpring Games.

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