Some board game concepts seem well beyond the scope of what a piece of cardboard, some plastic pieces and a few dice rolls can convey, but Formula D really blew my mind the other day. This is a race car driving simulation, but in a board game. Is that even possibe?
Yes. Yes it is.
One of my friends from work was begging me to try the game, so we sat down after the workday earlier this week to test it out. After the initial “WTF is going on?” part of learning a new board game wore off I was hooked.
Formula D is deceptively simple, like many Euro-games. The board looks somewhat daunting at first. There are hundreds of spaces dotting a stylized recreation of the famed Circuit de Monaco grand prix track that encircles Monte Carlo. Players are given small plastic trays that house a gear shifter and damage meter.
The gear shifter is a very clever little pawn piece with a small notch at the bottom that holds it in place under the cardboard, giving a neat recreation of a real-life gear shift. I personally thought it was a neat touch on top of the already gigantic, but finely detailed game board.
Most of the gameplay revolves around players selecting their gear of choice each turn, having the option to shift up once or shift down once without penalty. The various dice included each represent a different gear. 1st gear is a 4-sided die that can go 1 to 2 spaces, 2nd gear is 6-sided and can go 2 to 4 spaces and so on. The craziest of course is the 6th gear with a gigantic custom 30-sided die that can go from 23 to 30 spaces.
The board is dotted with many hair-pin turns, which require you to land your car inside the red-highlighted zones to avoid wearing your car down. What this translates into is frantic gearing-up and gearing-down to race across straightaways and slow down on sharp turns. We found that counting spaces and planning ahead was key to deciding which gear was the best to go with.
Missing a turn inside the red spaces or gearing down too quickly (such as going from 5th gear to 2nd) causes your car to take some damage. Starting from 18, damage slowly ticks down until you reach 0, which I guess is just game over. We played decently safe and never got close to 0 damage, even avoiding the optional pit-stop half-way through.
In the end I came away thinking it was a surprisingly easy game to pick-up and fast to play. With 2 players we zipped through a 1-lap game the first time in about 20 minutes and a 2-lap game in 30. With more players it seemed like the most the game would take would probably be about an hour. Formula D does support up to 10 players, so it looked like things could get pretty epic pretty quick. Since the road is only 3 lanes wide there was a lot of opportunity to block each other. More players might even make it possible to block the road completely.
We’re thinking of trying this as a warm-up game to the next game night at the office, since we can rope in everyone and it is so easy to pickup. I actually can’t wait to see what a 6 to 10 player game would look like.