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Subject: PLAYTEST version review - best stockcar racing game with a board! rss

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Garry Rice
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I've always been interested in car racing games, but haven't had much luck finding one where I felt I had any serious choices/strategy/tactics to consider. I've played Formula D (not Nascar, I know!), and while its fine for what it is, it's always struck me as relatively light with the decisions rather obvious and interaction between players rather limited...and if you fall far behind...well...soblue Perhaps that is one of the attractions I have to Nascar - there's always the chance to pull everyone back together if a yellow caution flag comes out.

I've played Stock Car Championship Racing Card Game and really enjoyed my experience - but that game is best played with a large group of people (at least 6, preferably more in my very limited experience). What about a game that scales well for different numbers of players, whether it's just 2 or a group of 6 or 7?

Several months ago, I came across the page/blog for Thunder Alley here on BGG and my interest in the game grew greatly between the information posted here and the information available on the GMT website: http://www.gmtgames.com/p-359-thunder-alley.aspx. I quickly preordered the game and hoped that interest in the game would climb rapidly so that the game would "make the cut". While it has been steadily growing, the orders are coming in much slower than I would like, so I was absolutely thrilled when the designer (Jeff Horger) posted a response to another like-minded BGG member who asked about getting playtest/pnp files that he would be willing to make them available for those interested. I replied immediately, and in the matter of a few hours, the files were waiting for me in my email, much to my delight. I've since put the game together and had cards printed at Gamecrafter (it should be noted that any of the pictures shown below are NOT reflective of what the final components will be. I took liberty to make my own designs for the event cards, and obviously the files were playtest files and NOT final graphics. Following are my thoughts on the game:

SUMMARY OF GAMEPLAY:

The game is very approachable from new to experienced players alike. That said, experienced players will likely defeat new players since there are definite strategies to consider for the game, and they are not all evident immediately (Indeed, I'm sure I've not found them all yet!). Gameplay is very straightforward. There are 4 types of movement (shown and described below), and each player takes turns activating one of their cars and moving it. Once a car has been activated, it cannot be activated again that round (all cars are activated once each round). At the end of the round, an event card is drawn that could cause various kinds of havoc (or not) on the track...ranging from additional damage markers being added to cars to knocking cars out of the race. This is also what determines if a yellow flag comes out or if the race continues under a green flag. Players then have an option to pit and remove all the temporary damage from their cars (but NOT the permanent damage).

THE RACING CARDS:

These are the types of cards that players will be using to move their (and other players) cars:



Racing cards are comprised of a large number in the upper left corner that designate how many movement points can/must be used with this card for your car. The smaller number is used if moving a car out the pits after a green flag pit stop. The color of the top of the card denotes what type of damage the car receives. All "4" movement cards do NOT give the car damage. All "5", "6", and "7" movement cards give a temporary damage token, and all "8" movement cards give a permanent damage token. The center of the card demonstrates the type of movement that you are allowed to use with the card, and any text below shows any additional action you may take with that card. The color stripe at the bottom is ignored at this time.

Types of movement are as follows:

d10-1 Solo Movement - This allows you to move one of your cars sideways and forwards the designated number of spaces. It may push other cars sideways for 2 movement points, or forward for 3 movement points.
d10-2 Draft Movement - After moving sideways as desired, this card moves all cars directly in front of and all cars directly behind you forward with your car (i.e. you push all cars in front of you and pull all cars behind you with you). If there are no cars in front of or behind you, it is treated as a solo movement card. You are not allowed to change lanes once you start moving forward!
d10-3 Pursuit Movement - After moving sideways as desired, this pushes all cars in front of you as you move. Again, you may not change lanes once you start moving forward!
d10-4 Lead Movement - This causes all cars directly behind you at the start of your movement to play "follow the leader". They all do exactly what you do when they reach the spot you were in.

THE EVENT CARDS:

These are the cards that will come out at the end of the round after ALL the cars have moved. In my limited experience, if you play the minimum suggested number of laps on a given track, anywhere from 6 to 10 of these cards will come out, and they really do give alot of flavor to the game. You can also play to minimize possible damage (to some degree!) from these cards by limiting how much and what type of damage your car takes during its turn(s).



The cards have a flag in the upper right hand corner that let you know whether the race continues as is, or if a yellow flag restart is in order (there's nothing like being far in the lead and about to lap a car...and then having a yellow flag come out and everyone lines back up and everyone is close once again...now I know how some of those drivers feel when those late yellow flags come out at the end of the race!). There are 2 red flag "Rain" cards in the deck as well. If both of them come out after the first lap is complete, the race ends immediately. If one of these cards is out, this can change the feel of the race dramatically!

There are only 2 cards that directly knock a car out of the race...if you don't want to risk this, don't use any "8" racing cards, and you don't have to worry about that! Of course, if you draw more than 1 eight, you don't have that option...(you always have 1 more card than the number of cars you started the race with, so you always carry 1 card over from 1 round to the next). Many of the other event cards award a penalty to the car that has the most wear tokens of a particular type. If there's a tie, the color strip from the next racing card is used to determine the car affected.

WEAR/PIT STOPS:

Another thing I appreciate about this game is that it simulates pitting and the difficult decisions of when to pit much better than any of the other racing games I've played. Do you stay out and move up in the positioning, but deal with potential reduction in movement? Or do you pit and get yourself in good shape for a couple of rounds?

Wear tokens are accumulated on each car from the Racing Cards they play. Accumulate enough, and they start to affect your movement. As soon as you have 3 tokens at the start of your turn, you need to subtract the number of wear tokens the car has from the movement number on the card.

Green flag pit stops are particularly nerve-wracking. Not only do you have to move back 5 spaces, you also have to use the much lower number in the grey wrench area the next turn to move out of the pits. If a number of cars stay out, you will find yourself pretty far behind (most likely).

THE TRACKS:

The base game will include 2 tracks - Tri-Oval (similar to Daytona in NASCAR) and a Short Track course. The playtest version included 2 more tracks as well - a Road Course and a triangular track (similar to the Pocono Raceway in NASCAR). Going in to playing the game with my son, I really wondered if it really made the game feel any different depending on which track you were racing...in short - YES!



The Tri-Oval is your typical speedway feel. Cars can definitely get strung out on this course. However, since its a longer track, its more likely for a yellow flag event card to come up and pull everyone back together before you get lapped (any car that is lapped at the end of the round gets removed from the race).



Short Track Racing is a completely different beast! Get out of line or knocked out of the line and you are in serious trouble. It is very easy to get lapped in this race, and it isn't uncommon for the cars to get almost all the way around the track in one round. You really need to be careful that your cars do NOT get lapped on this course!

The road course adds a different feel as much of the course is just 2 lanes, and pinches down to just 1 lane at one point on the course. This course tends to be deceptively fast, since you can usually only go 2 wide, thus cars usually fly along on this track, even though it looks "large"!

The Triangle Track is probably closest to the Tri-Oval, but even the triangle track felt a bit different than the Tri-Oval due to the arrangement of the straightaways and the corners.

THOUGHTS ON THE GAME:

(1) The game scale wonderfully, as you increase the number of cars you control based on the number of players. With 2 players, you control 6 cars apiece. With 7 players, you're down to 3 cars apiece.

(2) There is a real strategy to which cars you choose to activate first to last. A first timer's tendency is to just try to pull away with their lead car, but they will quickly find out that its much more efficient to use cars further back to push your other cars further ahead and save their lead car movements for later in the turn (in many cases), or to start with the lead car and pull their other cards along. You need to find the best way to make your cards work together to get the most out of your cars.

(3)There is tons of player interaction in the game. Do you use 2 movement points to move sideways and bump another player's car out of line (and thus out of the draft and out to dry)...or do you just try to move your cars up. Do you play nice with other players and help each other...or do you knock their cars that have already moved out of the draft line (and often way behind!).

(4) Pit stops (as I've mentioned) can be excruciating decisions, especially as the race is coming to a close. You've just entered the final lap and the event is a green flag. Your car has 2 damage tokens. Do you pit and clean your car up and hope for a yellow flag next round or ride it out and hope for the best? If a yellow flag doesn't come out with the next event, you'll likely be left way behind with no way to make a late charge.

(5) The game is easily customizable. Already there is discussion about posting a page on GMT with a bunch of optional rules, such as adjusting the length of your pit stops based on what wear tokens you remove when you pit (one which I'm looking forward to trying next time I play!).

(6) While cars can get eliminated, players usually do not get eliminated, as every player controls multiple cars. The object is also to score the most points, so that does NOT always mean being sure to come in first. For example, a player that has a car come in first, 12th, and 21st in a 7 player game WILL lose to a player that has all their cars place in the top 10.

(7) Its very approachable for the younger ages as well (although they will likely not get the strategies...my son still insists on keeping a car in first to the detriment of his scores...). Rules are simple to understand.

(8) It plays relatively fast. Once players get a grasp of the rules, card play goes pretty fast and game really does move along. Your turns keep coming up pretty quickly as everyone is just moving one car at a time, and you're invested in other players' turns as how they move will affect where your car is and what you want to do.

Who may not like this game?

(1) Players who want more control over their options. The racing cards you draw are completely random. A draw of all Solo movement cards is generally not desirableshake. This is probably not going to happen to often, but it certainly is possible, and is rather annoying when it does so...My friend suggested that perhaps to make this more of a "gamer's game", one could draw half of one's hand like normal, then use a draft to finish out the hand. I'm not sure that necessarily fits the aim of this game, but I do understand where he is coming from...and it certainly would add more control to one's hand.

(2) Having cars damaged at random due to the event cards. Again, this is somewhat controllable by what racing cards you play on your cars, but there are times you can't do much about it. If the collision card or the Pile-up card comes out, there's not much you can do...but then again, I'm sure just about every NASCAR driver can tell you about the hopeless feeling as they watch the car in front of them slide out of control and directly into their path...and there's nothing they can do about it!

(3) Players who like having little cars to push around... The game will ship with cardboard counters for cars that you flip to denote when the car has been activated for the turn. There's just something that draws a player into a game more when you're pushing little plastic (or wooden) cars around instead of a piece of cardboard.

SUMMARY

I've had alot of fun playing each of the courses one time so far (and the Triangular course twice...I am only 2 hours from the Poconos after all!). I would love to get more plays of this game in, especially with more people. It plays well with 2, but this game is one that can really shine with more "personalities" in the game The picture below is of the playtest copy I put together...I got plastic cars to help add to the "feel" of the game, and just turn them backwards to show when they've moved.




If you enjoy NASCAR/stockcar racing, you really should consider supporting this game! Go to GMT Games and pre-order this game NOW

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René Christensen
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Re: Best board based stock car racing game I've played!
I totally agree with you on Formula Dé/Formula D and Stock Car Championship Racing Card Game.
I own Formula Dé and have been playing it for many years - such much that I don't think I will ever play it again.
I also own Stock Car Championship Racing Card Game, but have only played it twice with two or four players.

But I also own Real Action Stockcar Championship, and:
1) you get a lot for your money. Two tracks and 20 (TWENTY!!!) cars.
2) Realism Package is avaiable. Get more realism into your races.
3) but there is a lot of dice rolling in this game!
But still I think it is one of the best racing games I've played and I have played a lot (cars, motorcycles, horses, chariots and so on).

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Chad Winter
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Re: Best board based stock car racing game I've played!
garry_rice wrote:
Support this game today! Go to GMT Games and pre-order this game NOW


Okay, okay! I did! Thanks for the review.
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Garry Rice
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Re: Best board based stock car racing game I've played!
chad56s wrote:
garry_rice wrote:
Support this game today! Go to GMT Games and pre-order this game NOW


Okay, okay! I did! Thanks for the review.


Okay...perhaps my enthusiasm is a little over the top But I really do enjoy the game, and it really does feel like a NASCAR race in many ways.

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Adam O'Brien
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Re: Best board based stock car racing game I've played!
I am not sure if anyone has played both to compare, but this looks an awful lot like a slightly more complex Daytona 500. Can anyone support or deny this?

Good review, btw.
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Garry Rice
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Re: Best board based stock car racing game I've played!
3dicebombers wrote:
I am not sure if anyone has played both to compare, but this looks an awful lot like a slightly more complex Daytona 500. Can anyone support or deny this?

Good review, btw.


I have both and they don't feel anything alike. There is some slight similarity in that you are moving your opponents' cars along with yours at times, but the similarity ends there.

Some thoughts off the top of my head:
(1) The cars that get moved in this game are ones that are logical to move, not just some random mix of colored cars.
(2) You have more options for movement with the 4 movement cards.
(3) The objective is not money, but how ALL your cars place. In D500, you can take just one car, but then you often need to make sure you come in first if at all possible, whereas this is more based on a team score. It matters where ALL your cars end up.
(4) There is no pit option or car wear in D500, both of which are major factors in Thunder Alley.
(5) TA really feels like a NASCAR race. D500 just wishes it was. Seriously, TA adds much more flavor and feel to the race with its events and pitting, etc, whereas D500 is "just another racing game" with nothing to make it feel like its a NASCAR race. It could easily be any type of race (indeed, I believe there are multiple versions of this with different type of racing, such as Formula 1 or whatever it is).

Hope that all makes sense...
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Garry Rice
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Re: Best board based stock car racing game I've played!
Slotracer wrote:
I totally agree with you on Formula Dé/Formula D and Stock Car Championship Racing Card Game.
I own Formula Dé and have been playing it for many years - such much that I don't think I will ever play it again.
I also own Stock Car Championship Racing Card Game, but have only played it twice with two or four players.

But I also own Real Action Stockcar Championship, and:
1) you get a lot for your money. Two tracks and 20 (TWENTY!!!) cars.
2) Realism Package is avaiable. Get more realism into your races.
3) but there is a lot of dice rolling in this game!
But still I think it is one of the best racing games I've played and I have played a lot (cars, motorcycles, horses, chariots and so on).



Rene,

I wouldn't mind getting a chance to play this one, but it's one I'd like to try before buying. The way it works looks interesting, but I'm just a tad wary when a racing game uses dice.
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Sean Todd
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Re: Best board based stock car racing game I've played!
garry_rice wrote:
...whereas D500 is "just another racing game"...


Heresy! Boo, hiss!
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Garry Rice
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Re: Best board based stock car racing game I've played!
greyareabeyond wrote:
garry_rice wrote:
...whereas D500 is "just another racing game"...


Heresy! Boo, hiss!


There's a place for it and I can enjoy it from time to time, but it doesn't come close to what I want from a race game
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Re: Best board based stock car racing game I've played!
Thanks for the great review Garry! I do want to make two comments about Thunder Alley.

First, unfortunately, we cannot call the track "Daytona" or any flavor thereof, thanks to trademarking, copyrights, etc., etc., etc. The track included will be an Tri-Oval Super Speedway. It may get a name (Billingsley Super Speedway???) but it may stay generic.

Same holds true for Pocono. Though, a good name for this one will be significantly more difficult ("Tri-Oval with Three Distinct Corners" is a bit over the top, I fear! ).

Second, Jeff and I have gone back and forth on several rules. He obviously has a lot more time "in the seat" playing the game, and several suggestions that have popped up have already occurred to him, or been suggested by his CAGS buddies. But, we've agreed that there are a good number of rules that are not going to make the cut, but should otherwise be included for those that want more depth of play. The mechanics of how these will be distributed (whether as additional "optional" rules, which Jeff and I both feel have a certain stigma based on the name), "realism" rules, or simply a separately available manifest of rules, has not been determined yet. And, of course, some of these range from "just missed making the cut" to "this one is probably hair-brained." As we start getting closer to that magic number of 500, we'll have a better idea of how we want to do this.

Thanks again for the great review!! It really is a fun, challenging game!

Chad S.
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garry_rice wrote:
It plays well with 2, but this game is one that can really shine with more "personalities" in the game



See you at GLG in November my friend Really nice review. Well done.
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vandemonium wrote:
garry_rice wrote:
It plays well with 2, but this game is one that can really shine with more "personalities" in the game



See you at GLG in November my friend Really nice review. Well done.


Looking forward to it already Van Thanks!
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Larry Rice
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Yeah, gotta play this one sometime in the next couple weeks when I'm home. I've already p500ed.
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As long as GMT can promise Brian France will not be allowed anywhere near this version of NASCAR stock car game, I'll preorder
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legendno6 wrote:
As long as GMT can promise Brian France will not be allowed anywhere near this version of NASCAR stock car game, I'll preorder


I think that's a pretty safe bet since they're staying away from everything "NASCAR"
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Really nice review Garry. I look forward to playing again.
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garry_rice wrote:
legendno6 wrote:
As long as GMT can promise Brian France will not be allowed anywhere near this version of NASCAR stock car game, I'll preorder


I think that's a pretty safe bet since they're staying away from everything "NASCAR"


Now if we could only get Brian to do the same, all would be right in the racing world
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legendno6 wrote:

Now if we could only get Brian to do the same, all would be right in the racing world


I'll have to take your word on that...this is the first year I've really watched any NASCAR regularly (since my son has taken an interest in it), so I had to google Brian to figure out what who you were talking about ).
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garry_rice wrote:
legendno6 wrote:

Now if we could only get Brian to do the same, all would be right in the racing world


I'll have to take your word on that...this is the first year I've really watched any NASCAR regularly (since my son has taken an interest in it), so I had to google Brian to figure out what who you were talking about ).


He's as big a fruitcake as F1's Bernie Ecclestone with none of the entertainment value. And a master of mismanagement...fix what isn't broken and leave what is broken alone.
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garry_rice wrote:
legendno6 wrote:

Now if we could only get Brian to do the same, all would be right in the racing world


I'll have to take your word on that...this is the first year I've really watched any NASCAR regularly (since my son has taken an interest in it), so I had to google Brian to figure out what who you were talking about ).


You should take him to Pocono Garry! Zach and I will be at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday. In person the race is virtually NOTHING like watching it on TV. You just don't get any appreciation of the speed, the smells, the SOUND - oh man, I get giddy thinking about it - watching the pack come around wide open - 43 800 horsepower cars - it is like a living beast roaring. Just magnificent.
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vandemonium wrote:

You should take him to Pocono Garry! Zach and I will be at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday. In person the race is virtually NOTHING like watching it on TV. You just don't get any appreciation of the speed, the smells, the SOUND - oh man, I get giddy thinking about it - watching the pack come around wide open - 43 800 horsepower cars - it is like a living beast roaring. Just magnificent.


I'm afraid the sound might be a bit too much for him yet, but I would like to do so at some point! Could have gone to Dover a couple of weeks back with one of my other brothers and his oldest son, but since Lydia was due any day, I didn't feel I could go (as much as I would have enjoyed it...and it would have been interesting to actually see that pile-up in person ).
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pennincao wrote:
Really nice review Garry. I look forward to playing again.


Thanks Chris! Perhaps we can put in the drafting rule or modify a rule to allow swapping cards if you get too many of 1 kind next time
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Jose Luis Rodriguez Mena
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Preordered!!!
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Thanks for pre-ordering!
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Great review for something that looks like a great game! I watched the videos and read all the reviews and really would love the game to get produced (of course i p500ed as well already!!!)!

I already asked Jeff for the files for a playtest copy myself, so i could pre-review thebgame as well for the german market wherevthere are lots of motorsport fans, that would love the mechanisms as well for Non-Nascar-type of races as well!

It would be great if you could share your designed event cards with Jeff so he could send them as well to people interested in making their own copy.

Best


Jens
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