12th Jun2019

‘Downforce’ & ‘Danger Circuit’ Expansion Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

downforce-box

Downforce is a super simple and very fast paced board game that offers traditional racing action alongside a high stakes bidding mechanic to ensure the players remain fully engaged at all times throughout. This essentially splits the game into two phases that include an initial auction phase (where everyone chooses their car or cars) and then the race phase, which also includes several rounds of betting. The beauty of Downforce is that it plays out in an incredibly straightforward and intuitive way.

Each game opens up with the players being dealt a hand of cards, each of which will move some or all of the cars a number of spaces, clearly indicating which colour will move and how many spaces. The players will assess this hand to understand how much they can move each car, which is then used to inform their bidding preference. Bidding is simple – a deck of cards that show only a single card colour (with a movement value of eight) are stacked face down and flipped one by one. The card that is flipped is bid on by the players, who will place a movement card onto the board face down.

The value on that card which matches the colour of the car being bid on is each players bid, and the highest bid will take that car. All players return their bid card to their hand, but the player who wins it also marks how much they spend (with movement points equating to millions) on their score sheet. This will be subtracted from their winnings at the end of the game, so there is a bit of semi-blind strategy to consider when choosing whether to bid a high or low value for these cars. A player can bid for and win more than one car, but every player must control at least one, so should there ever be exactly as many remaining cars as there are players without, then the other players will be excluded from bidding.

With this done, the race begins. Racing in Downforce is super simple and very intuitive, but more strategic than you might think. This is partly down to turn order and the way in which cards are resolved, with the car at the top of a card always moving first (which can result in it having to slow down if it is choked up behind other cars, for example) and because of the track layout, which is linked to the previous point. Both the base board and the Danger Circuit board are double sided with tracks of various levels of complexity on each side.

There’s a Monaco inspired track, a beginner one and a dangerous desert based track among them, but the main thing is that each one of them has an effortlessly clean look that oozes charm and features the very best standard of graphical design. These maps are pretty, clear to understand and big enough to be both visually impressive and entirely usable. Around them, the players will move moulded plastic cars in the six relevant colours, each with their own painted black wheels and other minor details. Combine these aesthetic elements with nicely cut, thick cards that feature an equally high standard of usability, and Downforce is an exceptionally well made product.

With the race in flow, players will be jostling to try and maximise the movement of their own cars, whilst limiting that of their opponents. Whilst opportunities to really change this up are limited, it’s always worth using a “fast” movement card for one of your opponents when you know that they will lose a couple of movement points in a tight section. Meanwhile, using your own bigger cards when they can be most effective is key. In the most common variant of the game, each player will have a card that provides them with a unique ability – like moving faster on straights, or not losing movement when they land on the same space as another car, and again, these need to be considered.

At three intervals during the race, the cars will pass over a betting line, at which point each player will choose which car they think will win, by marking it on their score sheet. There’s absolutely nothing to stop you betting on another players car, and indeed, that approach is considered another key strategy. Players may also bet on different cars all three times, so again, you can spread your chances of winning somewhat evenly, or you can go for broke if you feel that one or two cars have a clear advantage. There’s a lot of fun to be had in ribbing your opponents about where they are, where they will finish and who they are betting on!

Downforce is very nearly the perfect game for the kind of beer and crisps, casual gameplay with a bit of competitive edge that many gamers are looking for. It will certainly be considered a little simplistic for fans of eurogames or heavier games in general, but as I mentioned before, that doesn’t mean that it is without a few tough choices. By combining hand management, betting and elements of risk or pushing your luck, Dowforce is actually more of a “proper” game than some of the more hardcore gamers you know might lead you to believe, yet it remains very simple to pick up and learn. As such, it’s a great addition to my collection and it could really rev up your family and friends as well.

**** 4/5

A review copy of Downforce was provided by Coiledspring Games

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