Lagniappe: Downforce Expansions

The recent announcements of the new editions of Camel Up and Mississippi Queen have a lot of BGG fans talking about racing games on the forums. Luckily for us at the Gumbo, we already have a great racing game in our possession. Is it made better with an expansion, or is it just a spin out in the infield? Let’s find out!

Downforce is the reimagined racing game from Restoration Games based on an original design by famed designer, Wolfgang Kramer. We originally looked at Downforce back in 2017 after visiting the Restoration Games’ booth at Gen Con, brought it home, and have played it a ton since Gen Con 2017. Although the game play has never gotten old, one thing that always excites racing fans is the promise of more tracks to challenge the drivers.

Restoration Games released the first in a promised line of expansion tracks this year at Gen Con 2018, appropriately named Downforce: Danger Circuit. Two new tracks come with the expansion, both credited to Rob Daviau, JR Honeycutt and Justin D. Jacobsen. The tracks are laid out, just like the original two tracks, as the front and back side of one racing board, making it easy to store the new tracks in the original box. We recently brought out both tracks for play at a Brew & Board Games night at our local brewpub.

GAMEPLAY:

Both tracks introduce slight changes to the mechanics. In Switchback Pass (which reminds me a little of the original Cars animated feature’s Arizona scenery), the drivers face tight spaces that can only be used to pass other cars. In other words, a driver can move onto the broken, cobblestone-looking roads only if they can safely get back onto the regular part of the track after passing the cars ahead. This presents some interesting challenges in playing the right cards to “bottle up” the cars, especially if you have enough power to zoom past your opponents (or move the car you are betting on to a favored position ahead of the pack.)

On the other side of the game board is Crosstown Speedway. In this futuristic looking track, the cars have to navigate a lot of turns, and two cool featured “crossover loops”. That gives the slower cars a chance to block the exit area of the loop, bringing the whole pack closer together for the next straight away.

PRESENTATION:

I have always praised the clean, racing look of the original tracks, cards, and box, and nothing changes in the new tracks. Both are very distinct looking, and can be easily identified by the color palettes and interesting new designs. Restoration Games is known for its quality production, and there is no drop off here.

Plus, you get some lagniappe thrown in with the two new tracks in the form of a few new power cards that can be used in the racing. We played with the suggested variant, in other words, to throw all the power cards (including the GEN CON 2018 promo card) into the pile, and pulled two out with each car. That way, players were bidding on multiple powers, but had to throw one of the choices into the discard pile.

BUT IS IT FUN?

I am a sucker for expansion content. Give me any great game, and in the case of a potentially great racing game, instantly I want to know if there are any extra tracks or mechanisms. I might not pick them up, but it will surely influence me to pick up the base game if I know the designers are on the lookout for more exciting ways to challenge the players. New tracks equal fresh, exciting experiences!

Downforce is the perfect game for more expansions. The two original tracks were fun, but maybe a little “samey” in their presentation. The addition of two tracks, with completely different ways of navigating the landscape, plus an interesting twist on the mechanics in the game, add just enough color to the palette of the game experience without weighing what is essentially a family weight game with too many confusing rules.  In short, these two new tracks are an absolute blast to play if you like racing games.

(Sidebar — nothing has changed about the auction except for the additional power cards, so even if you are not a fan of the racing part, you may still get a kick out of evaluating the combination of the starting position of the cards, the cost of each bid, the power combinations in your hand, and the power cards on the table to jury rig your way to a satisfying victory, even if you do not have the winning car.)

I haven’t played the tracks enough times to pick out a favorite, but I am kind of leaning toward the Crosstown Loop. I loved the fact that almost every car seemed to be in contention as we approached the first two betting lines because of the way the cars could be manipulated into bunching up at each loop. It made for really juicy decisions as to who to bet on! To me, that’s the best part of the game — looking at the relative strength positions of the cars on the board and calculating whether you have enough card power to send the second or third place car (or even fourth place?!?) to victory, even if it is not your own car.

Were there any complaints? Sure, a few. Some said that the game still suffers from a bit of a waiting problem, as particular players may exhibit AP as they try to math their way around the track. I never found the wait interminable, but I can see that some would take this game a lot more seriously than I do.    As for the art, I love the clean design of the car cards and the tracks, but some in the Gumbo think the artwork isn’t exciting enough for a modern racing game. But, these are minor quibbles, and the game and its two expansion tracks were a big hit at our brew night. I have played this game with my scouts at our various game nights, and I can’t wait to get them to try the new tracks, too.

If you like racing games, and you enjoy the bidding and betting mechanics that came with the original game, you should definitely check out the new expansion tracks for Downforce. Just understand that this is still a light, family style racing game, not a simulation, so it will not appeal to the heavy realism racing fans out there. The two tracks come in a reasonably priced package at an MSRP under $20, with most FLGS and online retailers selling it for less than that price.

Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!

–BJ

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