Reviewed by Kevin Whitmore

THE GREAT RACE (Platypus Games, 2 to 4 players [5 with the expansion], ages 10 and up, 60 minutes; £50)


The Great Race, authored by Maxence Vaché, has us travel back to 1935 to take on months-long expeditions across continents in their Citroën halftrack vehicles.

As an American, I must admit that I have only a rudimentary knowledge of Citroën.  But of course, they are a famous French auto manufacturer, and they really did sell halftracks back in the 1920s and 1930s!  The idea of Citroën halftrack vehicle expeditions across continents is historical. “La Croisière Noire” (the Black expedition) left from Algeria in 1924, traveling south for months.  The historic party split up, with some heading to Madagascar, via ferry from Kenya, while others pressed overland towards Capetown, South Africa.  Further, in 1930 the Croisière Jaune (Yellow expedition) departed Beirut enroute to China, arriving at the China Sea in 1931.   This back story really whetted my appetite for this game. 

In “The Great Race”, players will race across either Africa or South America.  Each player has his/her own halftrack and will mainly go overland.  But reflecting what happened on the historic expeditions, ferry routes are available and a legal option for the competition.  Each player receives five assistants (meeples) who can help during the expedition.  Each vehicle is managed via a very well-made dashboard.  The dashboard has recessed spaces for placing the assistants, and three gauges, with plastic arrows to record the gauge level.  The gauges track the fuel supply, the engine health and the chassis health.  The engine sets the vehicles maximum movement, while the chassis sets how many cards a player can hold.  Each vehicle also has a “windshield” that serves as a player screen during the planning phase of the game.

The game board is two-sided, with the players choosing to either race across South America or Africa.  Each continent has a dedicated bag of tiles.  The maps start bare but for known cities and known ferry routes.  Players may draw landscape tiles as they survey the route ahead, or just drive off into the unknown.  Each tile will require some amount of fuel to cross.  Some tiles are also filled with dangers, which must be overcome.  Other tiles will damage your halftrack’s engine or chassis.  Your assistants can help you overcome dangers and repair your vehicle.  But they must also drive your vehicle, and even raise capital.  Buying fuel is a constant need, and the price for gasoline in the wilderness is high.  The same holds true for spare parts, needed to repair your engine and chassis.

The game also features a deck of cards.  These cards are very powerful, and worthy of attention.  Each round, players will get at least one card to use.  But your assistants may be used to draw additional cards.  The cards add a lot of flavor to the game.  They provide access to free fuel and spare parts.   But even more interesting are some of the people you may find.  For example, a surveyor will allow you to place three landscape tiles.  The Con Man will allow you to swap tiles in front of an opposing team.  All manner of help and mischief lurk in the deck, giving the game an interesting narrative.

The game runs comfortably in under two hours.  Players will drive their vehicles towards the Destination City.  But traversing Africa or South America is hard.  Players will have to blaze trails, repair their vehicle, and fund the needed gasoline and spare parts along the way.   

Play has four phases.  Initially players go through a “Bivouac” phase where everyone gets a card from the deck, with the trailing player getting one extra card.  The needed cards are displayed and drafted in player order.  Then, during the Planning Phase, with screens up, players “program” their turn on their dashboards.  The assistants can be placed in four different roles:

  1. Fundraising – the more assistants you dedicate to this the more money you receive.
  2. Draw & Place two Tiles / Draw 1 card – On your turn, you can choose whether to draw and place tiles, or draw a card from the deck. Placing tiles allows you to know the route ahead, but also informs nearby opponents.  Drawing additional cards gives new options, provided you can hold these cards.  (The health of your vehicle chassis sets your hand limit.)
  3. Drive / Repair – On your turn you can decide to use the assistant as either a drive or a repairman. Of course if repairing, you best be able to afford the spare parts.
  4. Security / Remove a tile – Only here can an assistant be played out of turn. Assistants assigned to Security, can be played anytime you need rescue from a threat.  Alternately on your turn an assistant played here allows you to remove a tile next to your vehicle.

The third phase is the Convoy Phase, where planned actions are executed.  The starting player takes an action, followed in turn order by the other players.  During a turn a player may buy fuel, play cards and then must take a single “assistant” action.  Fuel is always available, but the price varies depending on whether you are in a city, or out in the wilds.  Playing cards is often a powerful way to shape a turn.  But each player must use an assistant to end their turn.  In this way the game progresses: landscape tiles are drawn and placed on the board, vehicles are moved, repairs made, additional cards drawn, etc.  The turns continue until all players complete doing all of their assistant actions (one-at-a-time).  Once a player has completed all of his/her assistant actions, their turn is done.  Soon enough everyone is done, and the fourth and final Maintenance Phase is quickly run.  Players rearrange the playing order based on their progress towards the Destination City, and the leaders get a small cash reward.

Play continues in the manner until someone arrives at the Destination City.  But since this is a gentleman’s wager, arriving first is not the entire enquiry.  The first to arrive will win 5 victory points.  But any other competitor who arrives in the same round will also receive a few points as well (3 pts for second, 1 point for third).  Then it becomes an assessment of the health of your vehicle, gaining an additional victory point for each point of chassis and engine left on the vehicle; and how much money you have to throw the biggest party (1 victory point for every 50 francs held).  So, don’t arrive too late, if you fail to arrive the on the same turn you cannot win.  But please do arrive in some style!  The most stylish might just pull off the victory even if he arrived a little bit later on that final turn.

The Great Race is beautifully built.  This is the first published game from Platypus Games, and they worked hard to make a beautiful game.  The game box has a beautiful cover, the maps and landscape tiles are well done.  The plastic half-track vehicles are nicely made.  The playing cards are well-made, if a bit monochromatic.   There is a dedicated bag for Africa and another for South America.  The game board features attractive art and a longitudinal scale for assessing who is in the lead.  I salute the publisher for delivering a handsome game.

Enclosed within the rules, and also in a separate supplement are “contemporaneous press clippings” covering the race.  While these notes can be ignored, they show the fidelity to theme the publisher maintained throughout the Kickstarter campaign.  I found all of these extras to quite engaging.

The author and publisher of The Great Race are French.  I cannot comment on the French rules.  The English written rules are well laid out, and do a good job of explaining how to play.  A few small glitches did get through proofreading.  But anyone should be able to learn the game easily from the rules.

In addition to the core game, the Kickstarter edition that this reviewer has includes a big array of extra modules.  I have played the game several times now, and am still adding in fresh modules.  The modules add variations such as weather, leaders, postal deliveries, diplomacy, customized vehicles, and “patronage”.  This is very welcome, as the modules allow the game to be approached differently from session to session.  For example, we were quite pleased to build asymmetrical vehicle attributes in one of our most recent games.  One player opted for a big engine aiming for large moves, while another went for a strong chassis to allow for more card-holding capacity.

The Kickstarter offered an expansion which enables 5th-player and solitaire rules.  I have these materials.  The Kickstarter also ended up offering one additional team.  So, the game I purchased has six teams included, with rules for up to five players.  I have not attempted to play the solitaire game, but have inspected the materials.  A rival, Renault, is the solitaire opponent.  A deck of cards is used to program the Renault’s movement.  There are also stickers and a French Passport included.  The solitaire game can support a legacy style of play, where cards and the passport get earned stickers.  The gameboard will remain unmarked, so no worries, the legacy game will not affect multi-player games.

Storage of the game was considered by the publisher who supplied a bevy of dedicated boxes to load the game box.  While generous, their solution was not what I ended up doing… (see below)

In “The Great Race”, players will vary activities from turn to turn by exploring, moving, repairing, and potentially hassling other players.  If you do not like games where other players can damage your vehicle, or alter your prepared path, be aware that this is part of the game space here.  Some of the cards in the deck allow such play, and are an excellent way of slowing down a leader.  Also, there is an exploration aspect to the game.  When surveying, players draw landscape tiles out of a bag.  Some tiles are easier to cross than others.  An unlucky player might be stymied, while another player has a turn of fortune.  If you demand a lot of control to enjoy a game, The Great Race might not be for you.

Overall, I am very pleased with this game.  There is room for improvement from the publisher, and I will mention the gaps I have perceived.  The biggest issue is that two different translations were done regarding the deck of cards.  The rules frequently use different terms than the summary card provided.  Further, the summary card reverses two similarly titled characters, and in another case appears to contradict the written rules in the manual.  Separately, in the module-rules there is a reference to a game material that was never produced (it was instead printed inside the module rules).  And while the English rules are pretty good, there are moments when the translation could have been better.

A very nice stretch goal from the Kickstarter campaign was an upgrade to the meeples.  Each player represents a different country, and the meeples come in various visages to represent their home country.  Overall, they are a great addition to the game.  Sadly, they are a bit too big to fit comfortably on the dashboard.  They work, but have to be arranged carefully.

I will also comment on the generous, if poorly realized, storage solution provided.  The game came with a custom liner inside the box that clipped the interior corners of the box bottom.  My copy arrived with a crushed/torn liner.  A fair number of (flattened) boxes were also provided.  Each box was keyed to indicate what I should store inside it.  All of this nested together nicely inside the special lined box.  But sadly, there was an extra box, as I had backed the 5th player expansion.  Also, the tile bags did not store easily inside any of the boxes provided.  Simply put, it didn’t fit!  None of this affects gameplay.  I ditched the liner for the needed space, and ditched some of the boxes.  The game now nicely fits inside the game box.

This reviewer is thrilled with The Great Race.  It packs history, racing, exploration and resource management into a well envisioned and excellently delivered product.  Platypus Games is planning on extending The Great Race into cross-continental races across Asia and North America.  I will be riding along!  I recommend you consider doing so as well. – – – – – – – Kevin Whitmore

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


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