- Designer: Wolfgang Kramer
- Game Restoration: Rob Daviau and Justin D. Jacobson
- Publisher: Restoration Games
- Players: 2-6
- Age: 8+
- Time: 30-40 minutes
- Times played: >40 with original, 3 with new Target exclusive version provided by publisher
So, before you gloss over this review and wonder why I’m reviewing a game that originally came out in 2017 – I’m excited to say that there is a new mass-market version of the game available, exclusively at Target. Given the reach of the national retailer, there should be plenty of people who will get their first chance to see this classic of our hobby (originally released as Tempo in 1974, and then later as Top Race).
The form factor is a little smaller – the publisher said they did this to meet the MSRP of $34.95, but the bits are all the same as the hobby version. The board and car miniatures are unchanged in size, and this does mean that the new version will be compatible with the current expansions (Danger Circuit and Wild Ride). The only other change in the new version is the addition of six new power cards that give each driver a special ability for the race. At the current moment, there is not a way for original Downforce owners to get these cards, but Restoration Games assures me they are working on a way to make this happen. I’ll talk more about these cards in a bit.
Rather than re-invent the wheel, let me quote fellow OG writer Brandon Kempf’s recent take on the original Downforce…
What do you get when you combine an auction, racing and gambling? Well sure corruption is a possibility, but we’re asking in the board game sense right now. What you get is DownForce, a newer release, or rather re-release and re-working, done by the folks over at Restoration Games.
DownForce is a re-implementation, if you will, of the classic Top Race from Wolfgang Kramer. Kramer was tweaking his card system for racing games and he added the auction mechanic where the players get to buy and pay for their race cars. DownForce takes it a step further and adds a bit of a betting element to it, a la Camel Cup.
At the beginning of DownForce there is an auction for the six cars that will be doing the racing. Each of those cards is paired with a special bonus power for that specific driver. Each player is going to bid on the cars that they want by using cards from their hand. Each of the cards in DownForce will have 1-6 cars on them in the various colors, and each car on that card will have a number with it. Players will pick a card with the color of the car being bid on and place it face down, the value of that color is what you bid, the highest bid wins. Each player will also have score pad, on that score pad the player who wins the bid will mark the bid price they paid for the car in the appropriate place and the auction continues on until each of the cars has been bid on. Players may only keep one of the powers they have won and the race is on, plus the 8 movement card, or cards, for the cars in their racing stable.
The cars are randomly set up at the starting line before the auction, and the player with the car in the number 1 spot gets to go first with turns continuing clockwise. Each player on their turn is going to play a card from their hand and then activate each listed on that car from the top down, unless you have the power that allows you to do this in reverse, moving each car the number of spaces listed on the card for that car’s color. Cars may only move forward and may move into diagonally adjacent spaces. The player must move each car the amount of spaces listed on the card, unless there are no legal movements left for the card. After a player is done, the player to their left takes their turn and play continues in this fashion.
During the race though the cars will sooner than later pass one of the three yellow lines on the track, these yellow lines signify the betting phase. When a car passes the yellow line, the active player will finish all the actions on that card and a betting phase will occur. Everyone will take their scoring pad and mark who they think will win the race at this point. This betting phase will occur three times in the game, thus the three yellow lines. At the end of the race, players are going to earn money based on their bets and whether the cars they picked came in, either first, second or third.
The race continues on in this fashion until either all of the cars cross the finish line or everyone has exhausted their hands. You see, when a car crosses the finish line, if that is the only car that player owns, they are out of the game at that point and will no longer play cars, in theory this will cause movements to slow down a bit and some cars may not have the power to make it across the finish line and thus those cars will gain no monetary reward at the end of the race.
When the race has ended, the player who owns the car that finished in first place will be awarded 12 million dollars, second place 9 million and so on down the line. Players will then total their betting lines and add that to their winnings for the race and subtract from that the amount that they paid in the auction and the player with the most money after that is the winner of DownForce.
While DownForce is most definitely a racing game, it really reminds me a bit of Thunder Alley in that ultimately it isn’t about who finishes first, it’s about who is the most well rounded. Who got the better deal during the auction, who bet smarter, and who finished the race. That’s, of course, where the similarities end with Thunder Alley as it has no auction or betting — come to think of it, they aren’t that similar at all except for the importance of having well rounded results.
The auction will set you up for the race, you have to look at your hand of cards and you have to smartly bid on cars that you think you can move, but don’t overspend. That’s something that we are slowly starting to see creep into our group, at first you are tempted just to get the cars and you’ll find a card with a 6 on it just to get it, but that’s really not the smartest thing to do most of the time. The special Power Cards that go along with the cars when you win the bidding war have some situational benefit, but overall they are a bit underwhelming, with a couple different Power Cards standing out as far more beneficial than others. But, they do give a bit of variance to the game.
The racing itself is smooth and really easy to get into and the tracks are well put together. Plus, it just moves fast like a racing game should since a race is only one lap around the track. I’ve seen complaints of bottlenecking causing issues and to that I say rubbish. The way the tracks are laid out with some corners narrowing to 1 lane is absolutely the way it should be, and a smart racer will use that bottle neck to their advantage. Getting themselves through the corner before everyone else and then pulling someone forward to block it, or blocking the corner up in an effort to catch up to the pack. Ultimately you may have to rely on some very loose alliances to make it work, but don’t hold fast to those alliances, they will turn at a moment’s notice.
Production on DownForce, like the other Restoration Games titles released, is through the roof. It’s one of those games where you take all the components out, you open the board and just start sitting everything around and start taking photos of it, it’s beautiful. The little miniature cars for the race are fantastic and my 3 year old nephew even enjoys racing them around the track, race cars are indeed the best. AB, our 9 year old has sat down and played DownForce with us and had a good time and really didn’t struggle all that much, just the general struggles of big sister not helping or Mom and Dad picking on you. Mechanically though, she had it down and played it just fine on her own. Strategy will come.
I have an obsession with racing games, some would say an unhealthy obsession — but what do they know. What I know is that DownForce is another great racing game that takes elements from other racing games and other game genres and wraps them into one beautiful package.
So, what’s the deal with the new version? Really, the only difference is in the new power cards. I’m not entirely sure why the Restorers felt that the cards needed updating, but man, I’ve got faith in Rob and Justin to make positive improvements, and thus far we’ve not noticed any issues with the cards. The new set is a little more focused on the Speed 8 cards, but they seem mostly balanced (and realistically, they don’t need to be extremely balanced IMHO as the bidding for them helps even stuff out anyways).
Above are the new Target exclusive cards. Below are the ones from the original Downforce.
Note that each of the cards is different from the new set. The new set is just different, not better or worse. Heck, I think it might be neat to have the full set of 12 cards for added variety. (However, I haven’t checked with Rob to see whether the two sets are meant to be forever separate or if they can be mixed/matched)…
Getting this new version of the game did get it back on the table, and we have again enjoyed the betting and racing that the game has to offer. I am excited that there is a chance for the mass market to enjoy this high-quality game, and help increase the visibility and popularity of these games of ours. If you don’t already own this Restored game, I would highly recommend it. (Or add it to the list of things you might want someone to give you for a birthday or holiday?!) If you have the original, I’d probably just wait for the new cards to become available or make up some proxies of your own…
Until your next appointment.
The Gaming Doctor