Drew Dixon || @_DrewDixon
At the start of the final race of the 2021 Formula 1 season, Max Verstappen of Red Bull and Louis Hamilton of Mercedes were tied on points in the race for world champion, something that had not happened in F1 since 1974. The tension was palpable as the young, and aggressive Verstappen faced off against the calm, calculated veteran, and 7 time champion Hamilton. It was quite possibly the most exciting sporting event I’ve ever watched on TV.
I will readily admit I've jumped on the F1 bandwagon thanks to numerous friends recommending Drive to Survive. The sport has captured my affection. Last season, I watched most of the season's races. I listen to Formula 1 podcasts and watch drivers break down their tire strategy, power units, and driver performance on Twitch. Suffice it to say, I am thrilled the 2022 season has kicked off. You might be surprised to learn that the high stakes strategic decision making required to be successful in F1 has actually been translated into some really compelling board game experiences. If you’re like me and can’t wait to watch the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix this weekend, these games will give you the thrills of being in the driver seat in the meantime. See you on the track!
Every Decision Counts
Formula D simulates the high stakes tension during a race, tasking players with making numerous decisions faced by actual Formula 1 teams and drivers. Players decide when to shift gears, what tires to use, when to pit stop, and can even attempt dangerous high speed turns while risking penalties and damage to their cars. The gear your car is in, determines which die you get to roll with higher gears represented by dice with more sides. Attempting to blaze through a tight turn without down-shifting first, however, can damage your car. The game mixes in just enough luck to tempt players toward the occasional risky maneuver. However, players must plan such moves well and give careful consideration to the health of their car lest they fail to finish the race.
In Steampunk Rally players take on the role of famous inventors from the turn of the century in order to design their own steampunk themed cars. Thanks to a unique dice placement mechanic, players will design a different car each time they play. Each round players draft machine parts as well as boost cards that can either aid themselves or hinder opponents. Players can also discard dice or cards to power their quirky cars. Players then roll their dice and use them to activate machine parts which provide movement, shielding, and additional dice to activate more parts. Unique to this game, Steampunk Rally’s races take place in the rough terrain of the Swiss alps, so players will need shields to ensure their cars don’t take too much damage. Steampunk Rally is beautiful and inventive and the only racing board game that simulates the most crucial aspect of effective racing–designing a good car.
Adrenaline Kicks In
Downforce gives players opportunities to win without their car actually winning the race. In Downforce, players take on the role of high stakes investors, gambling on 6 different cars. While players do have cars in their possession that are paired with special performance abilities, players can still win without their car winning the race by strategically betting and using cards and abilities to influence the outcome. A mixture of deck building and strategic bidding, Downforce captures the feel of a tight race with a lot on the line.
Monza is a kid-friendly racing game by Haba. Players need a fast car, a good strategy, and a bit of luck. Colored dice indicate the spaces on the track players can drive on and players are tasked with deciding which lane to take and when to attempt to overtake other players on the track. Haba recently celebrated the game’s 20th Anniversary with a new edition which includes a limited edition metal embossed tin, metallic painted dice, new Advanced Driver variants, and a new track. While mechanically similar to Formula D, Monza is easier to learn and a good choice for racing enthusiasts interested in sharing the joy of racing with the next generation of fans.
Flamme Rouge puts players in control of a different but no less strategic type of racing: road biking. Players must also monitor and manage their characters’ exhaustion level. Like F1, competitive cycling is a team sport, so players must determine when to unleash their best sprinter, when to draft, and when to send a racer out in front to take the lead. Players lead their two cyclists (a Sprinter and a Rouleur) in a fast paced tactical battle, using cards from that particular rider’s deck to utilize slipstreams and avoid exhaustion in order to be the first to the finish line. The team dynamic and the lack of dice, makes Flamme Rouge slightly more strategic than other racing games on this list.
Lights Out!Can’t wait until the next time Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen face off? Then perhaps you and up to eight friends should place bets on camels instead. In Camel Up, players bet on which of five camels will place first and second in a race around a pyramid. Earlier bets result in higher payouts but must be made with less information about how the race might play out. The game’s pyramid also functions as a dice tower that releases one die at a time, causing players to pause from betting to see which camel is moving. In case you didn’t know, Camels are slightly less elegant than F1 cars and, as a result, sometimes land on top of one another and even drag each other to the finish line. Each turn is pretty simple as players will take one of four simple yet equally satisfying actions. Camel Up is easy to teach and while the races are typically pretty absurd, players will always feel like they had enough agency in the results that they will want to play again.