Late to the Game: Formula D

Formula D © Asmodee
Formula D Image: © Asmodee.

It’s been a few weeks since the sound of engines stopped roaring through my living room on Sundays. If your household is anything like mine, you or someone you live with is missing the thrill of regular motor racing. While Formula One has never quite taken off in the U.S., here in Europe it’s enormously popular. Even the smallest teams fielding cars destined to spend the season as back markers invest millions on development each year*.

Formula D attempts to recreate the thrill of Formula One racing in a board game, and I was keen to see how well it did.

The Formula D board is absolutely enormous and covers most of my dining room table (this is not a travel game). The board is two-sided, allowing for F1 racing or an illegal street race. Each one has slightly different rules, both of which could be applied to either track. The F1 circuit is based on the famous Monaco track and follows it faithfully with accurate corners given their correct names. Each corner is assigned a number; players must stop that many times as they pass through the corner to avoid damaging their cars by driving too fast through them.

Formula D Gearbox & Damage Points © Sophie Brown
Formula D Gearbox & Damage Points. Image: © Sophie Brown.

The speed of the car is determined by the gearbox, which assigns die rolls. In first gear, only ones and twos can be rolled. Second gear allows rolls of two to four and so on up to sixth gear, where the die rolls range from 20 to 30.

Clearly, the lower gear you are in, the easier it will be to stop the required number of times in a corner. However, driving too slowly will allow opponents to pass you and win the race.

This is a game of intense strategy and thought, as gears can only be shifted up incrementally and engine braking (shifting down more than one gear at a time) costs damage points—just as in real life such heavy braking would damage your car. You need to constantly look ahead and plan your speed many moves in advance to avoid being caught out.

Damage points are one of the major ways in which the beginners’ game differs from standard Formula D games. In the beginners’ game, damage is assigned unspecifically. Each car begins with 18 points; failing to stop the correct number of times in corners or driving too closely to other cars can result in damage and your points are reduced accordingly. Lose all 18 points and your car is out of the race.

In standard games, however, damage is assigned to specific parts of the car including the tires, brakes and engine, with each area having just a few available points. This removes an issue in the beginners’ game where it is too easy to think, “I’ve got 18 points and can afford to run this corner and take the damage.” Instead, it makes the game much more realistic, although I’ve seen plenty of F1 races where the drivers seem to make equally risky decisions!

A Street Race Character from Formula D © Sophie Brown
A street race character from Formula D. Image: © Sophie Brown.

The standard game also allows for much more detail to be added into the race, including tire choices and weather conditions both during “qualifying” and the race itself. You can also choose to play races with multiple laps, bringing in pit stops to repair damage points.

These all add up to a game that, in your imagination at least, is very similar to a real F1 race with a lot of the same decision-making required that would also be made by real drivers and team bosses. Football manager-style games have been popular for decades and Formula D does a good job of bringing that kind of play to motor racing. In the street race, each character has different abilities, which can benefit them during the race. However, there are also new issues to contend with, including dangerous road surfaces and locals taking pot shots at the cars as they race past.

You do not need to be an F1 fan, or even a fan of motor racing, in order to enjoy Formula D, although those familiar with the circuit and style will certainly get more out of the theming. I am not a sports fan in any way, but even with my basic knowledge of F1, I was able to appreciate the game’s accuracy. Formula D streamlines the experience so that avid racing fans will be able to enjoy it without feeling talked down to, but players who have never even seen a race will be able to pick it up easily, too.

The basic game mechanics are incredibly simple to learn, so the difficulty lies in planning a good strategy around the track. Here, some knowledge of racing strategy can be very useful, but is still non-essential. The game can accommodate up to 10 players, making it great for a busy night when games with limited player numbers could force people to sit out. If you appreciate strategy paired with a great theme, Formula D will be another great game for your collection.

GeekMom received this game for review purposes.

*In 2012, the budget for Marussia F1 was just under $100 million. This year, they finished the season on zero team points.

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