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Downforce and the Kramer Racing Games - It Came From the Tabletop!

JL Updated
It Came From the Tabletop! - Downforce and the Kramer Racing Games

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There Will Be Games

Powers or no powers?  Betting or no betting?  Josh and Al take a deep dive into Downforce and the other racing games from Wolfgang Kramer, debating which elements they like best from this long-running series.

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Intro/Outro music by Minibosses!

There Will Be Games

Josh Look (He/Him)
Staff Podcaster

One night during the summer of 1997, Josh Look's cool uncle who owned a comic shop taught him how to play Magic the Gathering. The game set off his imagination in a way that he could not sleep that night, and he's been fascinated by games ever since. He spent many afternoons during his high school years skipping homework to play Dungeons & Dragons and paint Warhammer minatures, going on to discover hobby board games in his early 20s. He's been a writer for ThereWillBe.Games and is the creator and co-host of the geek culture podcast, The Wolfman's Lounge. He enjoys games that encourage a heavy amount of table talk and those that explore their themes beyond just their settings.


Articles & Poscasts by Josh

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Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #308009 13 Mar 2020 13:32
I'll repeat the question in the proper place --

I'm listening to your Downforce episode right now and I got a beef with racing games that aren't really racing games. Games with betting and bidding and the like strike me as having more in common with Cosmic Encounter and Coup than "legit" racing games.

I understood what Downforce was before you guys got into the details so this wasn't a surprise. I've learned to put a jaundiced eye on titles with the setting before getting excited.

So yeah, there's racing in it. But, I can hear Al's excitement in other games that maybe have more focus on the go-fast aspect of the genre. That's more what I'm looking for.

So I'll throw the question out to the crowd -- what's the best game that's about making a car go fast? I have a couple of candidates (that I own) but I'd like to hear what else is out there. I really like the setting.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #308035 13 Mar 2020 20:06
Rallyman GT
Road Judge's Avatar
Road Judge replied the topic: #308044 14 Mar 2020 08:40
The best racing game I've played is Race! Formula 90

I own Formula D which is fine, but it wasn't as fun or tense as 90. Formula 90 has no dice which I like and instead uses cards for movement and in game checkpoints where you play cards to see if you pass the check.

The gentleman that owns it that I've played printed his own supersized roll out map and has formula 1 diecast cars. Allows you to roll them along and make vroom noises.

Its out of print, but second edition is in the works.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #308045 14 Mar 2020 10:03
Yeah, but the card thing rings me wrong. I want legit post-decision luck in a racing game. Does Formula 90 work that in somehow? Haven't read the rules.

I like Bolide which has it, Formula D (which has a "Formula Death" variant I'm looking at) and Rush 'n Crush. If I can lay my cards on the table and everyone can decide for me what my optimal move is the game isn't going to punch my buttons.

Talk to me about Rallyman Froh.
engineer Al's Avatar
engineer Al replied the topic: #308046 14 Mar 2020 10:49
SAG, I still remember playing Rush n' Crush with you, Shellie and Dave at WBC a handful of years back. It was super fun, but I seem to recall you had some sort of house rule? Can't remember what it was, but we had a super time and laughed a lot.

I think my favorite RACE game might be Snow Tails, but it has nothing to do with cars. Just a good, solid game. Unfortunately it does seem to burn some people's brains which can slow the game down and make it feel less "race like".
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #308048 14 Mar 2020 11:38
The house rule is to play with teams, and at least two laps on a short track. it almost isn't a house rule more of a best practice for playing the game. By playing that way you put the attack part of the game in the front, and the racing parts secondary. For this particular game that works very well.

I was using a bit of poetic license when I said make a car go fast. I'm not really concerned what the vehicle is, more about how the game is played. I typically am looking for a game where you get an opportunity to take risks and either have them pay off bigly, or crash and burn. It's easy to crash 'n burn in Rush 'n Crush.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #308049 14 Mar 2020 12:44
Race games with betting/bidding is the hill I’m going to die on here. I don’t have any attachment to the theme to begin with, but anything that makes the game less about counting spaces is good in my book. I won’t give most racing games the time of day because of that and what ones I have, I generally don’t like (ie, Snow Tails, Thunder Alley).

That said, Thunder Road is the best game ever published about making cars go fast, but even then, it has combat to detract from space counting.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #308051 14 Mar 2020 13:32

Sagrilarus wrote:
Talk to me about Rallyman Froh.

Rallyman GT has a Formula Dé feel to it, but allows for more control & maneuvering, both positionally and in the dice rolls.

Your car has a fixed set of available dice (custom D6's), dependent on the car model, tires, and the weather (rainy vs clear): mostly "gear" dice used to accelerate/decelerate, and a smaller number of coasting dice and brake dice. On your turn you plot out your course by placing your selected dice on the board, with some restrictions: each gear die must be a single increment higher or lower than the last, with coast dice being used as "fillers" to maintain the current gear, and the red brake dice can be added onto a space to allow gears to be reduced by more than 1 increment. Die types have a different number of "hazard" faces with the lower gears and coast dice having a 1:6 chance of a hazard, and gears 3-6 and brakes having a 1:3 chance of hazard. Your hazard limit, like your dice pool, is determined by your car & the weather.

Turn speed (gear) limits are indicated on the board in the relevant spots, with some additional reduction requirements when taking a particularly sharp path around a turn. If you exceed (or sometimes just reach) the limit when entering the space, you get different penalties depending on the danger level of the turn (small icon on the tile) and the gear you were in: you either skid out, ending your turn and reducing your gear to 0, or spin out and lose a turn. Additionally, particularly dangerous skids may cause you to draw a damage token which can remove some of your dice or ... in a strange design decision that still seems to work, can raise a yellow flag to nerf everyone's ability to pass for one turn or cause a weather toggle (sunny to rainy and vice versa). This same skid out/spin out event happens if hazards on the dice results ever exceed your car's limit. And yes, you can pit stop your car to repair lost dice (as long as your speed is low enough).

Once the dice are plotted, the player can then decide to either roll them one at a time which allows them to stop if they're uncomfortably close to their hazard limit, or they can "go flat out" and roll all of them at once. The incentive for the latter: it's the only way to gain focus tokens, one for each gear or coast die used in the flat-out roll. Even if you lose control when going flat out (which does allow you to replot your path up to the crash) you still gain those focus tokens... and you can probably guess what these do. Each token can be used to guarantee a non-hazard result during the one-by-one rolling, allowing you to make some really difficult maneuvers around turns and pass opponents. On any given turn you'll be assessing how many of these you have and deciding whether or not to go flat out to gain more, or burn them on a particularly crucial passing maneuver. This melds really well with the theme.

So far so good. Maneuverability, track conditions, some push your luck/bank your luck. There's also a jockeying/blocking aspect. At any given point in the game, player's cars are marked with their current gear. If you want to overtake an opponent, you must be in a gear that equals or exceeds theirs when entering the space adjacent to them. This sounds straightforward but can sometimes be quite tricky, depending on what gear manipulations you've needed to pull off when coming out of a turn or any other factor that may be affecting your chosen sequence of gears (or... a yellow flag because some dumbass put the pedal to the medal at the wrong time).

It may sound... busy (mostly because my words are) but the rules actually go down smooth and the game plays fairly quickly. And more importantly for me, it just captures racing without a ton of mechanical overhead or Euro abstractions and adds just enough chaos to defuse AP. Component quality is really good. The tracks are built with double-sided modular hex tiles & give you plenty of flexibility to build your own. For its price, the core box provides plenty of content and if you want more there are different car types (just some different dice pools & hazard stats) and additional track expansions which provide... honestly too many extra tiles but also rules for "campaign" style play, some thematic RL track layouts, and a "team" variant that I haven't bothered to pick up because I don't expect to play this with more than 4 people. The only component bummer is the plastic cars, which aren't molded very well and lack definition, but people are proxy'ing micro machines for them, and given the price ($35 for the core at OLGS) I'm fine with this.
engineer Al's Avatar
engineer Al replied the topic: #308052 14 Mar 2020 13:52
Yeah Rallyman looks very cool! But I just bought Downforce….

Josh, the more I think about the betting, the more I hate it. It just leads to the first car over the first betting line being supported throughout the game by all the players who bet on him, so whoever is in first place after that first bet will win the race.
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #308054 14 Mar 2020 16:38
I don’t believe that to be true because the betting payouts are way smaller than the winning payouts, and you’d think they’d definitely have caught that in play testing. could just play Downforce (which is a racing term, btw, look it up) without the powers or betting and you’d have an awesome Kramer racing game with 6 really cool tracks. Play 3 rounds, keep track of winning earnings, subtract bidding costs. Done, fixed it for you.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #308056 14 Mar 2020 18:46
Well . . . ask and ye shall receive!

Rallyman sounds really interesting. I think I need to have a much better look at that one.

Thank you for spending the time to lay out how it plays.

Regarding bidding and betting -- I'm a big fan of Frank Branham on one particular quote, "this is me, these are mine."

I just can't stand games where you're betting on someone to win. I want to be the red car, from the beginning. Me, mine, no one else's. Al joked about that on the podcast, a driver calling in a bet while racing. That was funny as hell by the way. Love you guys when you're on your game.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #308057 14 Mar 2020 19:00
I'm really enjoying Rallyman GT. There's some wonkiness due to the system incentivising hard braking before accelerating, but if you can get past that it's such a neat dice system that feels one step more complicated than Formula De but full of much more strategy.

So listen to Paul/Fro.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #308061 14 Mar 2020 22:23

Josh Look wrote: could just play Downforce (which is a racing term, btw, look it up) without the powers or betting and you’d have an awesome Kramer racing game with 6 really cool tracks. Play 3 rounds, keep track of winning earnings, subtract bidding costs. Done, fixed it for you.

I think those are the rules for Detroit Cleveland Grand Prix. You can play by any of the Kramer race game rules with any of the game tracks. We have Top Race, Detroit Cleveland Grand Prix and Daytona 500. We have mixed and matched rules from one game with the tracks from another just for variety. Now we have Downforce. It was worth getting just for the tracks. The rules variation and power cards are a bonus.
the_jake_1973's Avatar
the_jake_1973 replied the topic: #308107 16 Mar 2020 08:40
Championship Formula Racing is my choice for 'go fast' games. It is updated Speed Circuit, another old favorite, so the bones are solid and the dressing is a little more polished.

I missed out on the Rallyman GT kickstarter which is kind of a bummer.
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #308145 16 Mar 2020 16:00

the_jake_1973 wrote: I missed out on the Rallyman GT kickstarter which is kind of a bummer.

I did too, but it's been pretty easy to find it all at retail. Core game is $36 at MM/CS, etc. Still can't find the extra dice packs anywhere.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #308236 17 Mar 2020 22:46
Alright, now I gotta sorta have to buy Rallyman GT. The local game store just announced that they deliver now, and damn, I need to see this happen just so I can say I did it.

Since it's Rallyman, should I tell them they need to make the trip in fifteen minutes or the deal is off?
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #308247 18 Mar 2020 09:09
Hey Josh, Al, a general podcasting question. Is there a reason no podcasts are published in stereo? The two of you have very different voices (and I know both of you) so it's simple for me to tell you apart. But Not Playing to Win has three women that sound very similar. Is there a reason to not put one left, one center, and one right?
Josh Look's Avatar
Josh Look replied the topic: #308248 18 Mar 2020 09:16
The last two are the first two since I stepped down from editing duties. I never did it on the first 23 because, to be entirely honest, different sounds in different channels has always personally driven me nuts when I’m listening. Not sure why, but that’s just me.
engineer Al's Avatar
engineer Al replied the topic: #308255 18 Mar 2020 10:53

Sagrilarus wrote: Hey Josh, Al, a general podcasting question. Is there a reason no podcasts are published in stereo?

I guess it all depends on the software being used for mixing and editing and how familiar the editor is with the software being used. About halfway through our run I started sharing some of the editing duties with Josh who had been doing it all by himself up to that point. I wanted to have a chance to use some compression and a limiter, mostly so I didn't blow people's ears out when I laughed too loudly! At that point I also started using a stereo mix. It's not hard, especially if you have experience mixing music. I've been doing a stereo mix for podcasts since I started with the Fatcast about a decade ago. I also used it for The Nerd Trap which was really interesting since we had four voices. I like the feeling it gives that each person has a different seat at the table.

In regards to Josh's comment, I never mix it so that it's one voice entirely in each speaker. Just one voice a little louder in each speaker so that it's separated, but not too jarring for the listener. Again, the same way it's done with music. Each instrument has it's own place in the mix, but is never entirely to one side. So we have been in stereo for quite a while, even if Josh didn't notice. . .