Downforce, from Restoration Games, is one of the company’s first wave of restored and re-released games out this week at Gen Con (and in stores soon). Designed by Wolfgang Kramer, and based on his previous release Top Race, Downforce is a high stakes game of betting and racing – and I was delighted to discover what a great mix of both those aspects the game has.
I honestly didn’t know anything about Downforce, or its predecessors, so assuming it was a straight-up racing game I wasn’t super enthusiastic about trying it. Things have gotta be a little spiced up in a racing game for me to engage – I’m not a fan of games like Formula D, for instance. So, the (pretty snazzy) track board laid out in front of me, I expected to grab my favourite colour to play, and race. Oh, no Nicole. No no no. It got a lot more fun and interesting than that!
First up, there’s an auction phase. This was so intriguing! Each of the 6 cars comes up for a bid, along with its speed 8 card and a power card that will allow for some tricky moves during the racing phase. Players bid using their hand of racing cards, with the speed values as bids – if you play the highest number of the car’s colour, you win the bid and mark down that you’ve spent that much on the car. Oh, yes! You’re in the hole for that amount now. Let’s hope you can make some savvy bids and snazzy moves on the race track to try and get back in the black at the end of the game. Every racer will have one car, and it’s time to get going.
What I enjoy about the racing phase of Downforce is that you’re not just moving the car you control. You’ll be playing a card that has speed values on it for a number of cars, which will be moved in the order they appear on the card (unless your power card is “tricky”, letting you move in reverse order!) – so it can be 1 or more car that moves on every player’s turn. This means it can be tricky to predict how the race will progress, and makes the third part of the game – betting – a tricky, but possibly rewarding task! And don’t forget, each player has a power card for every car they won in the bidding phase, all of which tinker with the way players use their speed cards or move cars each turn. Perhaps a player will be ‘cunning’, letting you move the cars you control even on other players turns (oh you best believe I want the inside of the curve), or ‘aggressive’, being able to move the cars you control extra spaces on your turn – these powers aren’t overwhelming or imbalanced, just add a little spice to the racing phase.
So, this bidding phase – the first time any car passes each of three lines on the track, players will (at the end of that turn) stop briefly to bid on which car they think will end up winning the race. You think you have it that first turn – maybe not the car in front, but 2nd or 3rd place could come up for the win, right? Then the second bid happens and.. Oh, gosh. Maybe the car you thought would win has really dropped behind so you switch alliances and hope for the best.. Then the third bid happens and you really hope some great cards are gonna come up for your choice to win! Once all players have gotten their cars to the finishing line, the game scores out: you’ll earn money (hopefully!) for where your cars place, for where the cars you bid on place, and then will have to subtract the amount you paid at auction at the start of the game to total your winnings. Hopefully you got more in the former than the latter! But I know, that bidding is tricksy.
I am really excited to have this game in my collection, as it’s not ‘just another racing game’, which has a lot of fun to it with the auction and bidding aspects. There’s a great deal of exciting player interaction, enthusiastic cheering on of cards and celebrating once cars cross the finish line. For some. No matter where your car comes in, though, it’s a delight to play this game. It looks simply gorgeous, with bold and bright colours and lines – love that double-sided 2 track board! – and the game runs quickly no matter the player count. For something as light fun as this, that is a great thing. I wouldn’t hesitate to bring this out for any crew at game night for zooming these plastic racers around the track.
Downforce is for 2 – 6 players and plays in approximately half an hour. Designed by Wolfgang Kramer and restored by Rob Daviau and Justin D. Jacobson, with art from Tavis Coburn & Michael Crampton. Thanks to the Restoration Team for providing the Daily Worker Placement with a copy for review – and for Justin for teaching it to Nicole at Dice Tower Con!
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