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FORMULA DE – MINI

Reviewed by Nick Sauer

FORMULA DE – MINI (Eurogames/Descartes, 2-8 players, 30+ minutes; $26.95)

 

When Eurogames first published Formula De, it was released at roughly the same time as Mississippi Queen (Winter 1998 GA REPORT) by Rio Grande. Since both were race games, I inevitably started comparing the two in my mind. While Mississippi Queen struck me as more of an abstract race game, Formula De seemed to be designed as more of an attempt to simulate actual racing. As a result, Formula De was a touch more complex than most German style gamers seemed to enjoy. The designers of Formula De, Eric Randall and Laurent Lavaur, must have appreciated this point as well because they have made a more streamlined version of the game titled Formula De – Mini which is published in America by Eurogames/Descartes.

The game comes in a conveniently sized bookshelf style box. The contents include eight cars in four colors with separately attachable spoilers in the same colors. The “dash boards” used to mark you car’s current gear come in the same four colors (two of each) and include a matching color gear shift (pawn), and a really neat jigsaw puzzle style end piece. Thus, you can set-up your dash board to match the colors of your car on the track.fordminiill

There are five dice for the various “gears” that move the cars and, a 20 sided die for determining other game effects (mostly damage to your car). For veterans of the original Formula De, the sixth gear die is missing but the dash boards do include a space for it if you wish to add it back in. There are also 200 tokens which are used to track damage to your car throughout the race. Finally, the map included with the game is a one piece double- sided map featuring two different tracks. The components are the standard high quality pieces we have come to expect from European games and, match perfectly to the older Formula De components.

The game play itself largely parallels the original version of the game. Each player starts with a car with the matching dash board. Pole position is determined by roll of the 20 sided die. The one noticeable difference from the earlier game is that players also start with 20 tokens, which the rules call Life Points, for their car (or each of their cars, if players have more than one car). The race starts with the player in the first position. Each player starts in first gear and, on their turn, rolls the 20 sided die to determine whether they have a bad start, normal start, or flying start.

The “gear dice” are the key to the game system. Each gear has a distinct die (color coded) that gives a range of possible movement numbers. A player may only shift up one gear at the start of their turn. They may downshift one for free and can downshift more by giving up one token for each further shift down. The gear you shift into determines which die you roll, with higher gears having higher numbers.

So, why does one shift down? The answer for that is corners. Each corner on the track is marked by a red line surrounding a number of spaces. A car must stop in that set of spaces a number of turns equal to the flag shown on that corner (which is one for all of the corners on the maps included with the game). Since a player must move the full amount they roll on the die, careful choice of gear selection going into a corner is a major factor in the game. Of course, a player wants to move as far as possible to stay in the lead but, at the same time, doesn’t want to overshoot the corners. So, what happens when a player does overshoot the corner with their die roll? This is where Life Points enter the picture again.

For each space a player overshoots, they must return one Life Point to the bank for that car. A player can also opt to use these as breaking points and have their car not move the additional spaces. Why would a player do this? The corner could be blocked by other cars or the player might want to position their car for a better gear shifting option on the corner following the one they just entered. It is always important to look to your next turn before deciding which gear to use and where to ultimately position your car. There are also rules for checking for body damage when cars end their movement in adjacent spaces and rules for checking for engine damage when players are in the higher gears. Again, any such damage acquired is paid for with Life Points.

Two other uses of Life Points are new to the game. Once per race, a player
may expend three Life Points to “turbo boost” their car. At a cost of three Life Points, the player may move their car one more space. This sounds expensive but can be particularly worthwhile if you are going to miss stopping in a corner by one space. The other new use of Life Points is slipstreaming. If your car stops behind another car that is in the same or lower gear (minimum of third gear), you may spend one Life Point to slipstream around the car. This allows you to move your car three extra spaces and, if you end up behind another car with the same conditions as above, you may pay another token to slipstream again.

The game continues for two laps with players taking their turns in the order of their race positions from the start of that turn. The first player to cross the finish line wins.

With Life Points flying put the window at such a high rate of speed, one might wonder if it is possible to recover them. It turns out that there is by making use of Pit Stops. Each car can pit only once per race. The pits have their own lane and a player can enter at any speed. Once in the pit, the player rolls the 20 sided die and, if they get a number greater than their current Life Point total, they can immediately leave in third gear. They gain a number of chips such that their total number of chips equals the value rolled on the die. If a player is unhappy with their roll, they can opt to not leave and roll over again on their next turn. There was some concern amongst some of the game discussion groups that these rules were not properly translated into English but, Ron Magin from Eurogames assured me that the French pit stop rules, while not as concise as the English, do not contradict the English rules. Since these rules parallel the pitting rules from the original game I would be inclined to agree with him.

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Formula De – Mini. The first game we played was on a two lane map (normal maps have three lanes). While it played well, I was left with concerns over whether the game would translate well to a three lane map. The second side of the map has a more traditional three lane track and, the game actually played even better on this. If you are just looking for a neat race game to play every now and again, the two maps included with the game will work fine. However, if you are looking for a little more variety, the game should work well with the regular Formula De maps that Eurogames publishes. You will need to get a sixth gear die but, gear dice sets are conveniently available from Eurogames (and trust me, you will want the extra gear dice to speed up play anyway). Given that you get 20 chips for a two lap race, one might guess that the rule is 10 Life Points per lap. However, this is for maps that are noticeably smaller than your conventional Formula De circuit so, this number might have to be adjusted up a little for the larger maps.

Formula De was played quite a bit by one of our local groups when it first came out. A league was even set-up to play through all the tracks. Unfortunately, due to its length and the slightly fiddly play, the game fell out of favor after awhile. Formula De – Mini’s switch to Life Points from specific points for each system really streamlines and speeds up game play. It is enjoyable and simple enough that it should easily appeal to the lighter German games crowd. I might just start taking out my old Formula De tracks for a few more test runs. – – – – – Nick Sauer


 

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