Dale Yu: Review of Roller Coaster Rush

Roller Coaster Rush

  • Designer: Scott Almes
  • Publisher: Pandasaurus Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 15-30 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by publisher

In short: “Welcome to Roller Coaster Rush, a coaster-building game with oodles of kinetic fun! Your goal is to design and construct the best roller coaster for your investors’ theme park! At the start of each game, you design a model coaster using the blueprints you have available. During the game, you’ll attempt to actually construct your model by winning auctions for the track pieces you used in your design. If you lose an auction on one of your own blueprints, you’ll have to take that track out of your coaster – but if you win someone else’s blueprints you’ll get to add a new track to make your coaster bigger and better. Along the way, you can demo your model coaster for investors to see how well it works and earn some extra money for auctions. At the end of the game you get to unveil your fully constructed roller coaster and run it for the public. You earn victory points based on how far your marble makes it down the track. The player with the most points wins!“

To start the game, each player gets a hand of blueprint cards, $20 and their marble.  Each player puts their Investor card on the “uninterested” side.  They then find all the track pieces that match the cards in their hand as well as a starting piece.  Each player builds their starting prototype coaster from ALL of their starting pieces.  

[If you are familiar with the game, you can also draft Showstopper cards which give each player a unique scoring bonus criteria]

Turns go in clockwise order, with the active player choosing one of two options for their turn:

Option 1: Call an auction – choose a blueprint in front of any player and auction it off.  Point at an available card, and all player bid secretly in hand for that card.  The player who bid the most wins the card and pays the bank.  All losers take their money back.  The card is placed on the constructed side, and if necessary, transfer the matching roller coaster piece to the new owner of the card.  All affected coasters are now rebuilt using all their available pieces.  Once a coaster piece is constructed (i.e. won in an auction), it is a permanent part of your coaster and cannot be later stolen.  The player who won the card as well as the player who lost the card flip their investor card to the “interested” side.

Option 2: Demo for investors – run your model roller coaster and earn money. You may only choose this if your Investor card is on the “Interested” side.  Drop your marble from the start piece and see how far it goes.  If it does not make it to the end, you can drop a second time.  Taking the further path, score 1 coin per track piece that the marble completed on that furthest run.  Flip your investor card back to the “Uninterested” side after the run.

The game continues until all the blueprint cards have been auctioned off.  At this point, everyone’s roller coaster will be fully constructed.  The final scoring is done via the Grand Opening of everyone’s completed roller coaster.

As with the demo for investor action, drop your marble up to two times from the start piece and see how far it goes.  This time, for each completed piece, score victory points equal to the flags printed on the piece itself (also seen on the matching card).  [If you have added in the Showstopper cards, you also score bonus points for each completed portion which matches the criteria on the card…]  The player with the most points wins.  Ties broken in favor of the player with the most money left over.

My thoughts on the game

So when I saw the preview of the game, I was immediately interested.  I like amusement park games, I like dexterity games.  And this game lets you use marbles to actually run down your tracks?!  I was definitely ready to try it out.

It’s definitely fun to assemble and plan out your rollercoaster, and the way the game works, you’ll constantly be building and rebuilding your coaster as your track inventory changes.  It really doesn’t matter which pieces you start out with, as you’ll have to win every piece in an auction by the end of the game.  Further, as the auctions grant no benefit to the original owner of the track (as all payments go to the bank); it is generally not important which pieces you start with.

Sure, you might earn a buck or two more if you have pieces that let you get a good run; but in practice, we’ve found that we rarely get a run of more than 3 pieces of track.  Between the natural force of friction as well as the bumps in the track and the seemingly low escape velocity of the ball on some of the curves; most people were getting 2-3 bucks per run for money.

The tracks are made out of thin plastic – the same sort of material used for vac tray inserts for games.  This allows you to have a wide variety of pieces in the box as they are light and can nest, but I do have some worries about the long term durability of them, especially at the puzzle piece joints.  We have already had a piece or two that simply doesn’t want to join up well with other pieces – and any bumps or gaps at this joint can really slow your marble down.  Also, after coming off of the steeper pieces (if you’re able to figure out how to get the ball to go up the first side); the ball would often careen out of the next piece if the ball was moving too fast.  The rules acknowledge all this by asking you to run your coaster twice each time and to take the best result.

I perceive the game to be marketed to the more casual gamer, and I think this is the reason for the auction system.  If this was being targeted more to serious gamers, there could have easily been a draft for pieces at the start of the game, and then the more typical circumstance of paying the current owner for the piece, and the current owner paying the bank if they bought their own piece.  This feels like it would be more attractive gameplay-wise, but certainly at the addition of complexity.  

Otherwise, the base scoring is simple and pretty elegant.  Just see how far your marble goes and count the flags on the pieces it traverses.  I really like that aspect of the game.  I do try to remind newbies to make sure they get their coaster in shape near the end of the game – you’re only allowed to change your layout when you buy a piece or a piece is bought from you; so you need to do your experimenting in the early stages (Trying to figure out what works or not); but as you get near the end; you might not be able to change your coaster layout again!

Adding the showstopper cards makes the game a bit more complex, but not much.  If nothing else, having the bonus scoring criteria gives you a little more focus on what pieces to try to buy and add to your coaster.  The cards feel balanced enough; though we’ve only played with them for a few games, so I can’t definitively report on them.

Roller Coaster Rush is a light game where the fun is more in the building and running of the coaster than the final result – the mechanics of the game are quite simple.  The track pieces and connections between them can be frustrating at times, but they should be the same for all players – so make the best coaster you can, and hopefully luck shines on you and your marble goes up and down all the hills!  It’s a game that I really wanted to work for me, but in the end, it’s not a ride I’d wait in line for as it didn’t meet my lofty expectations.

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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