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GRAND PRIX EXPERT

Reviewed by Chris Kovac

(Andre Bonnet, 2 to 6 players, ages 13 and up, 90 minutes; 65€ in the EU, 77€ outside the EU)

 

Grand Prix Expert is a detailed five player resource management/racing game with the theme of managing and developing a Formula 1 Racing team for 1-3 seasons of racing. The game is self published by Andre Bonnet of France. The game comes with well produced components including the rules, full color tracks, full color players aid pamphlets, a pad of charts and plastic cars. In this game, you have everything from buying and building a racing car to researching the new components, testing them, then racing your car against the other players over the sixteen races in a season. The person with the most racing points at the end of the (up to three) racing seasons wins. Now onto the details.

The game really breaks down into two. One game is the long term management of your team and car development over the course of a racing season, balancing the benefits of developments with the cost of running your team. The second game is the races themselves where you pit your car against the various tracks and other players.

You start with a racing car and a racing deck in your color (cards with numbers from 1-10). You also get a player aid pamphlet with all the relevant tables and two sheets – one on which you keep track of your team’s developments and one used to calculate how well your team matches up to a track’s demand which affects how well your car will run in a race. Finally you get 35 million to start the game.grandprixexpbox

The management aspect of the game takes place at the beginning of the racing season when you buy your base components of Team, Engine, Tires, Fuel, and Driver. Your chassis is chosen by a die roll. For each base component, there are a number of different brands. Each brand is auctioned off among the players from top to bottom with the beginning bid equal to its value with some being removed by a die roll in order to simulate other, non-player, teams buying them.

Each one of these base components has various statistics which will affect how well your car will perform in a race, how easy it is to develop chassis components, buy upgrades to your primary components as they are developed and even how easy it is to sue other players over race incidents. Each base component you buy can be improved over the course of a racing season. Meshing these primary components together into a winning team yet at the same time not overpaying is one of the hardest aspects in the game.

As you buy each primary component, you write its statistics down on your team sheet. Now you have a research phase where you buy and meld research cards (never more than ten). The number of cards you meld is based on your team statistics and each card has between one and three symbols on it. The type of melds you need to develop a secondary component such as wings, brakes or suspension is illustrated in a table on the play aid. These secondary characteristics help you with the individual races (more on this later). You can also meld cards to have improved rolls on component tests (when they come up in random events in races) or on an upgrade point chart (which allows you to get upgrade points to use to buy component upgrades).

Once you have the upgrades, you can, before most races, test them to see if they work and if they can be installed in your car. You do this by getting a number of cards from a test deck (number again based on team statistics) and for every component success (primary or secondary), you spend money not only for the testing of the components but their installation cost. During the racing season, you can get money from loans, race positions or sponsors. Loans have to be paid back by the end of the season or lose all your points in that season. Money is won by placing in the top eight positions in races. Sponsorship rolls take place after the research phase and you roll on a sponsorship table. Your sponsors will either give you permanent money which you get at the end of every race or conditional money which you will only get if you finish in the points in a race. Now you can proceed to setting up for a race.grandprixexp2

Races involve taking all your statistics for your base components and plugging them into the race worksheet. Then for each race, a race type (endurance, speed, skill, etc.) is rolled on the race type table. This tells you which secondary components are most favored for the type track you are racing on. For every level of component you have of these favored components (never more than two), you plug the number onto the race chart. The team statistics plus these component numbers and your driver’s particular driving stats along with some simple arithmetic (all laid out in the work sheet) creates a track number for your team for that particular race.

The track number, first of all, determines which position you are in on the starting grid (the higher the better). Then, the track numbers of each player are added and averaged (rounding up) to create a number to which your track number is compared. You get a chit to say how much higher or lower than the average your track number is and this is called the “malus”. The malus will change over the course of the race due to race events and race strategy cards and affect how easy it is for you to advance during the race. Next, with your statistics determining what types and how many you can buy, you will purchase race strategy cards. These cards will be used during the game to improve your malus number. You also choose how many times you will pit during the race (up to three) with the more pitting the better your malus number will be. Now you can actually start the race.

Each race consists of a number of track sections with various numbers of spaces for cars and a card range. Some of these track numbers might be of a certain color which favors a race strategy card or show a pit space or show a number which indicates it is a race position spot. After all cars are placed in order on the starting track section and you have your initial six race cards from your race deck, you turn over an event card from the event deck.

The event card deck is composed of a number of events equal to the number of turns. Some event cards are set for each race and any difference in the number of turns is made up by random event cards. These events affect your malus and often require you to roll against some statistic on your primary component or against a specific secondary component. Sometimes they cause you to pit or, if you fail, to crash out of the race. After the event effects, you can play, in player turn order, up to three of your race strategy cards (you can play any number at the start of the race) face down. (Some race strategy cards are permanent for the whole race and some only last until the car pits so you should play them carefully.) Played cards are then turned up and the numbers applied to your malus number. Some of these strategies require rolls against components and if you fail, the card usually goes away and, in some cases, also causes you to lower your malus number. Now each player gets one more race card (to make a hand of seven cards) and chooses one to play for this turn face down. These are then all turned up and have the malus number added to them.

The player who is in the leftmost slot of a track section and has the highest number advances one track section. If you play a card higher than the track section range, it is treated as the highest number on the track section range. If you play a card lower than the range, you drop back one track section unless you are pitting. Cars in each track section compare among themselves as well and reorganize in the track sections by highest to lowest number. If you have to pit, you drop back two sections for a normal pit or two for a fast pit space. These pit spaces require the play of a pitting card. Based on your team’s statistics, you have certain “pitting” numbers and you must play a card of that number or higher in order not to retire from the race. Finally, the turn marker advances and you repeat the cycle of event, draw a card, race strategy, play race card and finally turn advance until the race is completed (18 or 24 turns).

If you finish on a numbered space, you get driver points as well as a cash bonus plus any conditional sponsorship money. This plus any money you had saved and any permanent sponsorship money can then be used for future development. Also, at the end of the turn, development rolls are made based on the race chart to see which primary components (engines, tires, etc) have new developments. For every new development of your specific component, you can spend your upgrade points to buy the new upgrade and attempt to install it on your car in the research phase. Then the same cycle repeats of research phase, track preparation phase, racing phase and end race phase until all sixteen races of a season have been run. The person with the most race points at the end of a season(s) wins.

Overall the main strategy in Grand Prix Expert is balancing the costs of building and managing your team with buying component developments all the while trying to get the best car to race consistently across the various race tracks. If you balance these well, you win races and get points towards winning the game; if you do this poorly, you end up in debt and with no points (unpaid loans result in you losing any driver points in a season).

The main problem with the game is the very poor rules translation from French into English. This, coupled with the game charts having tiles in both English and French as well as few if any play illustrations, makes for a lot of rule ambiguities and inconsistencies. This was so confusing that we made our own charts especially for the Race Strategy cards. If you can understand French hopefully the rules are easier to understand.

The components, as mentioned early on in the review, are fairly good though I believe the cards might wear out over time if you play the game a lot. Though it looks fairly daunting initially, the math in the game is fairly straightforward after a few games. If you can overcome these issues, Grand Prix Expert is an innovative and challenging game with great appeal to those gamers that like heavy resource management games and Formula 1 racing. – – – – – – – – – – – Chris Kovac


 

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