Wednesday June 8, 2011– Formula D Board game Review

Pull on your jumpsuit that has every brand slapped on it from Pennzoil to Gran’s Cookie Jar Investment Firm, then flex those driver’s gloves and start pretending that you are a formula 1 racing car driver—The Formula D Board game makes it possible.  This game makes you feel like you can sit behind one of those single seat, low wing, and V8 engines without losing 50 (or so) pounds.  If you start getting bored playing the game, do what every racing syndicate does; throw in a few bucks to make it interesting.  My nine year-old walked away very happy when cash became a goal of this race.


Formula D is an auto/sports game that has passed through a few publishers, which we need not go into.  The current company, Asmodee, has three expansions and one promotional thingy.  The game works with the original publisher’s supplements, creating over twenty additional race tracks, if you can find/buy them.  Despite all this industrial mumbo-jumbo of marketing; the point that should be taken, is that Formula D has a solid racing mechanic which keeps a fan base enthusiastic.  Both are so strong that I found the game by reading criticisms of other racing games which I was researching.   That’s right, I was checking out another game, but I bought this one.


Crunchy Bits

There are five basic components to this game system. 


Wear Points:  I love it when a game system promotes something as one thing, only to have it really be something completely different.  Formula D claims that WPs (Wear Points) is damage taken when you break the rules.  In reality, it is a resource for you to use to bend the rules; where the expense is cheaper with foresight and more costly when used as a reaction.   Run out of this resource and BOOM you are out of the game.  Unfortunately, it does not provide the visual that most NASCAR fans are hoping for.


Stick Shift/Gears: At the being of your turn you can up shift or down shift your car moving into a better gear.  This means you roll a different die for your car’s movement; they are nicely color coordinated with your gears.  A higher gear is represented by a larger die, such as D8 then D12.  Don’t be fooled by the dice, especially you D&D players, despite the fact you are rolling an eight sided die; it only covers 4-8 with the odds favoring 6-8 rather than a four or five.  All the dice are stacked in this manner, if you shift up to sixth gear and roll that 30sided die, then expect to move around 25 spaces, you will never roll 20 or under. 


Corners: Each of the track’s corners has a stop value, which demonstrates slowing down for the curve.  You have to end your movement within the corner area an number of turns equal to that’s corner’s value.  The sharper the corner, the more times your car has to end their turn.  If a corner has a value of two, then you need to end your turn twice within that area.  If you do not do this, really bad things happen.


Breaking:  You do not need to move your full movement that you rolled; sometimes you simply are force not to.   All you have to do is put on the breaks, keeping your car in current gear, but taking Wear Points.  This is an easy mechanic, every movement point you do not use takes one off your Wear Points.  This is especially helpful during those 2 or 3 level corners.


Overshooting:   You do not have to make that last stop in a corner, you can overshoot it.  Overshooting allows you to take that last die roll’s full movement out of the corner but you take Wear Points for every space beyond the corner that you drive.  This is only for the last “end movement” for the corner, if you have not stopped the other times, then you wipe out your car and are removed from the game. 


Fiddly Bits:  There are a few minor rules that require a regular D20 die with the full range of numbers.  These fiddly bit rules mimic the realism within a Formula race, such as collisions or starting performance.   In the advance game the number of fiddly bit rules increase.  Unfortunately, these additional rolls have a low chance of failure along with a small penalty.  This makes each individual roll unimportant, unless you are playing with a large group of players, where there are more rolls, and the rolls add up. 


The Advance Game

The advance game categorizes the Wear Points to six different car elements, which are then loss to specific rules.  Overshooting affects your tires WPs, while breaking wears down your brakes, and collisions affect your body.  This place more tactical decisions on the player with their resources, a player will not be able to overshoot every corner while ignoring breaking.  Additionally, there are more fiddly bit rules and optional fiddly bit rules, like weather conditions and hard or soft tires.   


Soft Chew

Formula D feels like a racing game and then strives to be even more realistic with advance rules and supplements.  The greatest strength is that the game achieves this feel with the basic simple game system.  Decelerate before the corner, accelerate out of it.  Do you beat up your car now to get an advantage or do you play it safe, the choice is up to the player.  There is a fair amount of risk/luck with the game, which might disappoint those tacticians.  The advance rules favor the tacticians, so let them play that game.  Also this is a game that favors more players, it plays ten, and it is pointless to roll for collision with a two player game. 


Ironically, there is a small chance of role-playing with the optional rules.  There are a dozen characters to choose from, each with their own car stats and special abilities.  If you talk like you are from Harvard when you play Professor Plum, then these characters will give you plenty of attitudes.  Most of their special abilities are geared towards the game system, but there are a few that reflects personalities.  Like How Sweet!  She is so good looking that players passing her lose a movement space because they have to look.


Tasty Bits

Build your own car: You can create your own car and it is easy to do.  Because the Wear Points act as a resource, this really hints at how you plan to drive.


Bitter Bits

Formula D selects a “wide range” approach to their rule system.  There is a basic game followed by an advance game, with optional rules added, and then more with further expansions.  This provides more choices for players and also provides more rolls that have a small chance of an effect.  True, more rules covers more stuff, but what are the costs to game play?  Their approach moves towards a more realistic game, but at the same time bogs down actual play.   Players have to find their own balance between flow and realism within the crunchy mechanics. 



This is a great fast pace racing game that anyone would enjoy.  Additionally, you can customize it to fit your group, do one lap for those who like short games or do three for longer ones.  Take time to build your own car or just grab one of the characters.  Add more optional rules to make it more tactical or just make a bet to add tension.  Although this is a simple racing game, there are plenty of choices to make each turn and you do have to put some forethought into those choices. 


I am really tempted to buy some of the supplements; they are little pricey-around $30.00 for two maps and more optional rules.  My gut feeling is to draw out my own maps just for the fun of it.  However, there is some math and drafting skill that is needed to do this.


Content: Four out of Five.  This is a good example of how a strong game system concept can overshadow the written material.  Even though it is a simple game, the rules are not well organized or clear.  I am glad that I watched reviews on YouTube and even then I made a few mistakes in the first few games.


Style: Three out of Five.  This too has strong concepts overshadowing the actual look.  The way they organize the player’s cards, including a stick shift to move so you can keep track what gear you are in, is clever.  However, the actual look of the game is very bland.  Sure, they cover everything with art but it looks like they knew that they had to.  You are not going to impress anyone by setting up the game.


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