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RACEWAY 57

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Front Porch Classics, 2-5 players, ages 8 and up, about 60 minutes; $50)

 

The thrill of auto racing has been the subject of many tabletop simulations. One of the best looking of the bunch comes roaring down the pike from Front Porch Classics in their new release Raceway 57.

Handling up to five players, this edition of the game comes in a stylish (and heavy) wooden (!) bookshelf box which holds a mounted racetrack board, five metal race cars, five individual dashboards, two six-sided dice and a deck of race cards. As in all race games, the object is to the be the first to get across the finish line. It’s the getting there that is the core of the game.raceway57Each player chooses a car receiving a “Resource Reference card” and dashboard. Dice are rolled to determine starting position (high roller is in lane 1, second high in lane 2 etc.). All players note their car number and pit number (determined by their lane position) and set their Chassis, Tires, Fuel and Suspension dials on the dashboard to 7. The cards are shuffled and all players dealt three cards. The dice are rolled once again with high roller going first, the rest going in clockwise order, and the race is on!

On a turn, a player may advance (forward or diagonally) by either rolling one die OR playing one of his cards. (On the first turn, only a die roll is allowed.) Cards allow players to move up to 10 spaces but there is a catch. Values of 8, 9 and 10 may only be played if you are in last place. 5, 6 and 7 are a little more flexible and are allowed if you’re in the middle of the pack (or last). You may play cards 1 through 4 at any time. So far, pretty basic. But there’s an interesting addition that adds a bit of cool calculation to the race.

Movement is not without its costs. Every time you move, you pay resources. Which resource depends on where you land, how much you pay depends on how fast you’ve moved. There are three shades of spaces on the track. Black spaces will cost you tire resources, gray indicates wear on your suspension while white means
you’re burning up fuel. If you’re moving at a rate of 1-3 spaces, you’ll burn one unit of a resource, 4-6 uses up 2 and if you’re jetting along at the rate of 7 or more, three units are lost. There are four Wild Cards in the deck. (Two “Personality” cards, featuring 50s photos of racers may also be used as Wild Cards if you wish.) If you play them after moving, NO resources are lost. And, ONCE during a race, a player may “Red Line”.

Red Lining is a “press your luck” type of maneuver. After rolling the die, a player may declare that he will “Red Line It” and roll the die again. As long as a LOWER number is rolled, he continues to roll the die. The number of resources spent depends on the total movement. So, for example, is a player’s luck holds and he rolls a perfect 6-5-4-3-2-1, he advances an amazing 21 spaces but only pays THREE resources (for going 7 or more) in the resource matching the space he ends on. (Use a Wild card and that sprint costs you nothing!) Two special spaces on the board allow you to “drop down” from an outside lane to an inside lane (provided no space on the drop down line is occupied by an opposing driver). Finally, for drivers wanting to cause a little havoc, there is always bumping.

A player ending his turn in the space directly in front of another car may “bump” that car by issuing a “chassis challenge”. Each player rolls a die. High roller wins the challenge. If the aggressor loses the challenge, he loses 1 point from his Chassis. If the defender loses, he loses 2 points from his Chassis. Chassis damage is critical. If you are reduced to zero in fuel, suspension or tires, you are crippled! You cannot play a card or roll the die and may only advance two spaces on a turn. But if your Chassis points hit zero, you LOSE!

To replenish lost resources, a player may (and will have to) stop at their designated Pit Stop. For each turn in a Pit Stop, a player receives 4 points that he may distribute among his resources any way he chooses. In addition, a player may exchange up to three cards in his hand and draw new ones.

The first player to complete three rounds around the track wins! However, ALL players get an equal number of turns so if more than one car finishes the third lap, the car furthest over the finish line earns the winner’s laurels! (If still tied, the rules call for a “roll off” with high roller winning.)

Despite basic rules being, in some cases, stressed several times, nowhere in the rules does it state that you play a card and then draw a card! We’ve played enough racing games (and games of other types) to make this a “house rule”. But let the rules lawyers get hold of this and card play and hand management will be reduced to a virtual non-factor and the game will dissolve into a dice roll festival. Someone fell asleep at the wheel in proofing the rulebook here OR they really love their dice. The reliance on dice, a factor in many race games, appears here to a fault. Take the critical issue of Chassis damage.

Rather than providing a skillful way to resolve Chassis damage, damage is left to chance and dice rolling! This is a lost opportunity to elevate play and to allow skill to act as the deciding factor. Even more disturbing, if tied at the end of the game, roll the dice! To leave victory to a dice roll after an hour of work is weak game design and very frustrating for players. There are other and much more satisfying ways to determine victory than this. If as much effort went into the game design as in the graphic design, this would not have happened.

Despite these significant flaws, Raceway 57 has some strong positives. Resource depletion tied to speed and position is clever, forcing players to create a viable resource management strategy. The balance between staying in a Pit Stop to replenish needed resources and watching competitors whip around the track forces you to decide how much replenishment is vital before continuing the race. And, of course, deciding when and how to use your cards, including those very valuable Wild Cards, adds another level to strategy. Of course, in true Front Porch fashion, the game looks terrific!

Raceway 57 may not be the definitive auto racing game. But there are enough intriguing elements combining strategy, luck and good lucks to give a tabletop auto race driver a reason to rev his engines. – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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