We are poised on the starting line of a board game review for Downforce. Will it be in pole position in the board game racing genre or will it stall on the starting grid?
Wanna find out? Well, buckle up punks, because this is my review of Downforce! In the eternal words of Murray Walker, it is Go, Go, GO!
Unfold the six section board and choose which side you want to race on. Separate out the cards which show a driver and the number 8 on, and the cards which show unique abilities. The other regular speed cards are shuffled and distributed evenly among the two to six players.
Place the cars on the grid in a random order. Finally hand each player their individual bidding and betting score sheet. At this point you will probably remember pens and pencils aren’t included in the box and will scramble to find a writing implement. After which you are ready to start your engines!
The board game, Downforce, is played over two phases, the first is the auction phase. During this phase players will use cards in their hands to bid for a colour car and its matching unique ability. They will do this by playing a card with that colour on with a value of 1 to 6, this represents the amount in millions they are willing to bid. Alternatively they can pass. The player who places the highest value wins the car and marks their expense on their score sheet. This will be deducted from winnings at the end of the game. In exchange they get a unique card in the car’s colour that propels their vehicle eight spaces when played. All cards, whether winning or not, are returned to players’ hands.
Players are allowed to buy more than one car in the auction but every player must have at least one car. Each player can also only have one unique ability, so if they have purchased more than one car, they have to decide which one to keep.
With every player owning at least one car, the race can begin. The owner of the car randomly placed on pole position starts. Players will take it in turn to play a card from their hand. Each card will indicate which racing cars get moved, how far and in what order. If a car is blocked on the track it only moves as far as it is able. Also, when moving other player’s cars you might choose to take them on more scenic routes!
Whenever the lead vehicle passes a yellow strip on the board a betting phase will interrupt the race. Now players bet on which vehicle they think will win the race, it doesn’t have to be their own. Predicting it right earlier in the race reaps bigger payouts at the end of the race.
Cars that pass the finish line are placed on the podium printed on the board. When player’s have no more cars left in the race they stop playing cards and wait for other cars to cross the line. If players run out of cards their cars stall and they do not finish.
Scores are then worked out. They are tallied by adding any betting payouts and race winnings together, and then subtracting the cost of the auction purchases. The player with the most money wins!
There is a two player variant whereby you have access to all your cards, but you start with a hand of seven, drawing a card every time you play a card.
What it’s like
Downforce is more tactical than it first appears. The auction phase is a tight balancing act. You don’t want to spend too much, but equally you want to get the car you think might have a hope of crossing the line in the lead. Perhaps you don’t, perhaps you will wait to the auction and have whatever dregs are left for as cheap as possible and try and bet your way to victory. The unique actions may also sway your bidding.
Racing the cars leads to more decision making. Which cards do you play and when? Ideally you want to burn your opponent’s moves by playing cards with their colours on when they are blocked in. Whereas playing your unique eight movement card has to be utilised to the fullest. That is unless you have bet on an opponent to win the race instead of backing yourself. Perhaps they have paid more for their cars so them winning and you taking the second place prize money and betting pay-outs wouldn’t be so bad!
Blocking the track is an integral part of Downforce. It can stimy the gameplay slightly, but its working out how best to negotiate these impasses that also adds to the challenge. Some abilities can help with this, but being first into turns is frankly vital.
Downforce does an excellent job of allowing you to get into the racing action as quick as possible. The auction and betting phases give the game just enough additional interest to keep more seasoned gamers interested too.
The two player variant surprised me. It was much better than I thought it would be. However, I think this is really most likely to hit the table at higher player counts.
I really like how easy to teach the game is. The special abilities are trickier for non-gamers or younger players to grasp at first, but running through those is the hardest part of the teach. They could be left out as per the beginner’s variant, but I think it is worth persevering with them if you can. Let me elaborate…
The beginner’s game
I’m wrestling with the beginner’s variant a little. Firstly, if you are an adult you can probably cope with the usual rules of play, leave out an element like the special abilities if you’re struggling through your first few races. Most people will be fine though. So the beginner version is more a family variant. I think it is great that it is included in the box as this gives the game a way to play with younger players.
To get down to the recommended age of 8+ this will probably need to be used. It is a fun, mostly luck-based, race and entertaining enough. It is my preferred way to play with my youngest, age 8. However, it nerfs the game quite a bit. Of course, you can add in other elements over time, adding betting or unique abilities wouldn’t be an issue. Overall, I much prefer the main version and wouldn’t buy it for the family variant alone. For most people it will be used as a 10+ board game. So, that’s where my minor gripe lies, I think the age on the box is a little misleading.
Released in 2017, Downforce was a reimplantation of the 1996 game Top Race. Cosmetic changes were the big differences. These include the bigger double-sided board, updated cars and more user friendly cards. While I’ve never played the original, I’ve looked at these changes and I have to say, Downforce is a big improvement.
The cards are never going to win a beauty pageant. For a start there isn’t a beauty pageant for board game cards. However, if there was, they still wouldn’t win. However, form follows function here and as you fan them out you can see all the colours and numbers really clearly. There is no aids for those with colour vision deficiency though.
The double sided six-fold board has a simple and clean look, the little touches of landscape around the track are welcome, but not distracting. Downforce comes with a big six-section board. It is one of those boards that you are a bit nervous when unfolding and folding back up! There is a bit of air in the box but this disappears rapidly if you add the two expansions in and through away the cardboard trough insert.
The individual score sheets are plentiful and well designed. If you do run out, more can be downloaded and printed from the Restoration Games website. Some may wish to laminate the sheets which may have been a better option from the publisher. There are no Downforce pencils or pens in sight though so you will have that mad scramble for writing implements that I alluded to in the Set up.
Downforce is a really fantastic production in the box and it is a pleasure to see the little race cars whizzing round the track on the tabletop.
What the kids thought
Max (8): I like the art and how the cars slide along the track. The best bit was betting on who would win. It was a bit long for me though and it was tricky to hold all the cards in my hand. I prefer the easier way of playing, but I miss the betting.
George (11): I like the bidding for the cars and the abilities. The abilities change the game in a fun way. The little cars are cool and look good on the board. I enjoy it at the end of a race when it is a close finish and you don’t know who is going to win!
Harrison (14): I don’t know why I am so bad at it, but I seem to always lose! Normally that would mean I hate a game, but I don’t because it’s really good fun! I like the bidding for cars, but it can be frustrating if you miss out on the cars you want.
Final thoughts on Downforce
In my review I described Rallyman GT as a racing simulation. Downforce would be the arcade version! It is a race, but it is arguably how well you negotiate the auction and predict the bets that seals overall victory.
I love that it is relatively easy to get into and explain. It is that accessibility that makes it shine like burnt rubber on tarmac glistening in the warm sun! The betting, blocking and the unique powers ramp it up just enough to give it more depth and replayability for longevity, but without overcomplicating it so you need to refresh the rules every time it gets to the table!
Yes the blocking will be frustrating and you will have to adapt, and yes there are more complex racing games that will appeal to more seasoned gamers. However, in terms of sitting down to the table and launching into some quick and easy fun, Downforce takes pole position. I like its complexity and love that six players can play with minimal extra time added to the overall too.
There are also two expansions available which add more tracks and minor rule tweaks which I was lucky enough to unwrap at Christmas! I think the extra tracks and challenges will be welcome as I can see Downforce hitting the table regularly.
Downforce is a streamlined racing game. I can see this hitting the table more times than Lewis Hamilton has won Grand Prixes. It takes pole position with gamers and non-gamers alike. It also has the ability to handle that sometimes awkward sixth player while still remaining outside of the party game genre.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Can seat up to six players
- Expansions available
- Entry level game with plenty to think about
- Betting on the winning car!
- Getting blocked in can hinder your game
- The beginner’s version is a little luck dependent
- 8+ could be a bit misleading for the full experience
- No help for those with colour deficiency
Need more games?
If you already own Downforce and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
- Flamme Rouge
- Formula D
- Rallyman GT
If you want to buy Downforce after reading our review click on one of our affiliate links below (note there has been no affiliate links until this point)
For clarity: we don’t get paid for our reviews. However, we were kindly gifted this game by Coiledspring Games. I liked it so much I brought the expansions and gave them to my family to wrap up for Christmas, which suggests how much I enjoy it. We have tried not to let any of this affect our review in any way.
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