Reviewed by Chris Kovac
AUTOMOBILES (Alderac Entertainment Group [AEG], 10 and up, 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up, 45-75 minutes; $49.99)
Automobiles is a bag builder (building up a set of cubes drawn randomly from a bag) designed by David Short and produced by AEG games. It is the third game in the AEG transportation series (the other two being Trains and Planes). To win at this game, you have to be the first and furthest past the finish line of the race track after a set number of laps.
To set up the game, first choose the track you are going to race and put to the side of the board the cube tray with all the colors separated. The cubes on the left side should be in the following order and have their action card to the left of the particular set of cubes: Brown – Wear Cubes, White – 3rd gear, Light Grey – 4th gear, Dark Grey – 5th gear and Black – 6th gear. The cubes on the right side can be in any order (yellow – garage cubes, red – handling cubes, blue – engine cubes, green – performance cubes and purple – pit cubes). For each of the colors, shuffle its respective deck and deal out one card which you place next to the respective color. These are the powers these cubes have for this race. I would recommend using the standard set of combinations of these cards’ powers recommended by the rules as it balances the powers of the cubes better than a random draw.
Each player gets a player card, car, lap marker in one color and a cube bag. You place the lap marker on the number of laps in the race (three is recommended for four players though you can race up to eight laps). You then randomly choose a starting player who places his car in the starting position and, in clockwise order, the other players place their cars behind him as marked on the board. Next, each player receives the standard set of starting race cubes (two fourth gear cubes, five third gear cubs and five yellow garage cubes) which they place in their bag. Starting with the start player, all players buy their custom set of cubes starting with $10 for the starting player. Each player after the starting player gets one more dollar to spend (i.e., 4th player would have $14.00). The cost of the cubes is listed on the cube’s description card on the top right-hand corner of the card. You then put these cubes in your bag, mix thoroughly then draw seven cubes which they put in their active space on their player boards. You can now begin the game beginning with the start player.
Each turn can either be an “alternative” turn (pitting the car)) where the player does no actions but gets rid of all wear cubes (more on these later) on their active space or a standard turn where you will go through five phases before the turn passes to the next player in a clockwise order.
In the first phase (called the action phase), the player uses both the gear and special-colored cubes (if any) he/she has drawn to move his/her car around the track, eliminate wear cubes and possibly get new cubes (due to a cube’s special power). The track consists of colored spaces which match the gear cubes. You get to move one space per cube that matches the color of the space you are moving. Lower gear cubes move the cars fewer spaces than higher gears. So, for example a sixth gear space would be equivalent to five third gear spaces. You must be adjacent or diagonal to the space where you have a gear in order to move to it. You cannot move to a space occupied by an opponent’s car. You put the used gears/special cubes used for movement on the track to mark your movement for this turn. Any other cubes used during the turn are placed in the used space of your player mat. After you have used all the cubes you wish to use from your active space, any remaining cubes in this space can be used in the next phase.
The next phase is the buy phase. All cubes except third gear and wear have a buy value which is the number of dollar symbols shown on the action cards. New cubes go to the discard section of your player mat. You cannot save any “money” between turns.
The move phase follows. You move to the furthest space as shown by your move/special cubes on the track and places all such cubes on the discard space of your player mat. If you pass the finish line, move your lap marker down one space.
The fourth phase is the decline phase where you gain wear cubes based on the highest gear space you used this turn which ranges from one wear cube for a third gear white space to four for a sixth gear space. However, if you end up in a space directly behind another player, you are considered drafting and do not accumulate any wear cubes regardless of which space you moved during the turn. These wear cubes are placed in the discard space of your player mat and take up space in your bag when the cubes go back in the bag.
The fifth and final phase is the end phase all of your used cubes are moved to the discard space on your player board. You then draw seven more cubes from your bag. You only put cubes back in your bag from your discard space once you have drawn all your cubes from your bag. The next player then starts his turn.
The game continues until the first player passes the finish line with the required number of laps, then all other players get one more turn. The player who is the first and in case of ties furthest past the finish line wins.
In order to win this racing game, you have to balance your bag with the right amount of gear and special cubes including those that will eliminate wear from the track that you are racing while at the same time trying to maximize your movement with each draw from the bag. If you have too many cubes, you may never get to use your special cubes efficiently while too few and you cannot use the higher gear spaces of the track effectively. The most disconcerting thing about this game is the irregular movement resulting from the random draw of the cubes. One turn you might only move one space or not at all; the next, you might move half the track or more depending on cubes drawn. I liked how the colored cubes can have different abilities. Different combination of cubes can affect how you plan for a race. This also makes the game more replayable. The rule book is well written and illustrated. However there are only five tracks if you include the first expansion which can limit the game replayability to some degree. However, this a good medium weight game which can appeal to both gamers and more experienced casual gamers. Automobiles is an interesting take on the racing game genre. For me, a good solid eight and a half out of ten. – – – – Chris Kovac
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