Reaping the Rewards: Play with Physics in ‘Roller Coaster Challenge’

Roller Coaster Challenge banner

In February this year, ThinkFun launched a Kickstarter campaign for Roller Coaster Challenge, a puzzle game about building your own tiny thrill ride. ThinkFun is well-known for its puzzle games (many of which have been reviewed here), and its first foray into crowdfunding was a success. Roller Coaster Challenge has since been manufactured and was shipped to backers this summer. It’s now available in stores and from Amazon, with a retail price of $29.99.

Roller Coaster Challenge components
Roller Coaster Challenge components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Roller Coaster Challenge Components

  • Game grid
  • 39 Track pieces
  • 36 Support Post pieces
  • 2 Tunnels
  • 1 Roller Coaster Car
  • 40 Challenge Cards
Roller Coaster Challenge car
The roller coaster car. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Car

The “car” is a small plastic piece with a large steel bearing underneath. It has a single blocky little rider (with its hands down—apparently this is not one of those “put your hands in the air” riders). The tracks are curved up on the sides, so that the car can slide down the track. It’s a little scary, though—the car jumps around a bit when it gets going, and probably wouldn’t meet safety standards for real roller coasters. Fun to watch, but don’t ride it yourself!

Roller Coaster Challenge connections
The start, end and bends attach to the posts; tracks attach to them. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Tracks

The track pieces come in several shapes and sizes: the start, end, and 90° bends all attach to the post pieces, which can be stacked to different heights. These pieces slot in vertically to the posts; the red bends go clockwise, and the blue bends go counterclockwise. The tracks themselves come in different lengths, and attach to the bends. They have some (barely visible) dots on the top surfaces that indicate whether they span 1, 2, 3, or 4 spaces, and the color coding indicates how many levels they drop down. For instance, the green pieces will descend one post segment over the span of its length, and the blue pieces will descend two post segments.

Roller Coaster Challenge Loop
What’s a roller coaster without a loop-de-loop? Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Loop

And, of course, you gotta have a loop-de-loop. The loop is actually four pieces that fit together, along with a base plate that attaches to a support beam. The loop only fits one way in the base plate, so it can be a little tricky at first. The loop attaches to the bends and start/end pieces the same way as the tracks.

Roller Coaster Challenge box insert
The box insert holds some of the pieces in place. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Box

When you first open the box, most of the track pieces are in various plastic bags. There’s a plastic insert that holds some of the parts: the loop pieces, the start and stop pieces,  a few blue and green tracks, the support posts, the car, and the box of challenge cards. After you open up all the bits, the rest of the track pieces just pile on top of this in a heap. It’s a little odd to me to have a molded insert for just some of the pieces. I suppose you could just take out the insert altogether and toss everything in—it’s all plastic and not likely to get damaged, and the cards have their own tuckbox.

Roller Coaster Challenge cards
Challenge cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to Play Roller Coaster Challenge

First, pick a challenge card—there are 40 cards in total in Easy, Medium, Hard, and Super Hard. Each one shows you a diagram for setup, and a list of pieces you’ll add to the grid. The diagram has numbers showing the height of the supports (whether part of the setup or as a piece to add), and indicates the track pieces by color and number of dots.

Roller Coaster Challenge setup for card 5
Starting setup and additional pieces for Challenge #5. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The goal, of course, is to get the car from the start to the stop. Add pieces to the board, and then put the car at the top and give it a nudge, and see if it makes it all the way to the bottom. Often, you can tell if you’ve succeeded simply because you have a continuous track from start to end, but of course racing the car down the track is a big part of the fun.

Roller Coaster Challenge tunnel
Going through the tunnel. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Some challenge cards include the tunnels, which are U-shaped pieces of cardboard. They slot into the notches on the grid, and come in two different heights. If there are tunnels present during setup, you must send the car through the tunnel at some point during its path.

Roller Coaster Challenge solution
Each card has a solution on the back. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

And, of course, if you get stuck, just flip the card over to see the solution. (Yes, that’s a minor spoiler above but it’s for the first card, and I don’t think it’s showing you anything you couldn’t figure out right away.)

Daughter playing with Roller Coaster Challenge
My daughter assembles some tracks. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

My 10-year-old and I sat down with Roller Coaster Challenge and worked our way through many of the challenges. In one sitting, we got through all of the Easy level and about halfway through the Medium, setting up and building the tracks together. The challenges start off quite easy, but since the game is rated 6 and up, that makes sense. It’s very easy to just fill in tracks between existing posts, and most of the time the locations of posts with bends will also be fairly obvious.

It is a lot of fun pushing the car down the tracks and watching it click-clack its way down, though some of the tracks are more exciting than others. The green tracks only travel down a single level, so they’re slower. The orange tracks drop down three levels, steep enough that they have a little hoop at the top to keep the car from just flying off the track, and that can really get things going. And, of course, it’s always the most fun when there’s a loop involved.

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I did jump ahead to try a few more challenges, including the very last one, and I found that they still weren’t too difficult for us. My daughter didn’t need any help figuring out the Easy or Medium challenges at all, and not much for the harder levels. She does tend to like these puzzles and engineering tasks, but I’m guessing that the included challenges may not provide a huge challenge for puzzle-lovers or older kids.

With that said, we did enjoy playing with Roller Coaster Challenge. Just like marble run toys or gravity-powered racetracks, pushing the car and watching it race to the bottom was fun. For us, we treated it almost more like a LEGO set where we got to build a lot of different models, rather than puzzles that we really had to work to figure out. That is one of the other functions, of course: once you finish building all the challenges, you can just create your own roller coasters. ThinkFun announced that they’re working on an online system that will let you design rides using drag and drop, and then create digital challenge cards that you can send to your friends.

If you like roller coasters and want to build some yourself, check out Roller Coaster Challenge!

Disclosure: I received a review sample from ThinkFun.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.