Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Um Reifenbreite

On my second visit to Carcasean this year I played Um Reifenbreite, a Spiel des Jahres winner about bicycle racing. I played against Michelle and Chong Sean. I made an appointment with Chong Sean beforehand to visit him on a Sunday, and I didn't realise he is actually closed on Sundays. So he actually went to the cafe just to play with us, which is very nice of him.

In Um Reifenbreite, you have a team of 4 cyclists. To win, it is not only about being the first to cross the finishing line. This is a team game. Points are awarded for every cyclist, depending on the order of arrival. The first to cross the line gets the most points, the second gets less, but still a significant number, the thirds gets less than the second, and so on. The gaps between the earlier positions are larger, and the points earned by the later cyclists is few. So there is still emphasis to make sure most of your cyclists cross the line early. You cannot rely on only one star performer.

Movement is by rolling 2 dice. However you have some energy cards (numbered 5 or 6), which can replace one or both dice. One important aspect of the game is drafting. When the cyclist in front of you moves, you can choose to draft, i.e. following him. This is nice especially when he rolls a high number. You are basically piggybacking on his good fortune. There are some rules about when you can or cannot draft, e.g. terrain and breakaway. If you use an energy card, you can choose to declare a breakaway. When you do this, cyclists behind you cannot draft. Drafting is not just for taking advantage of your opponents' cyclists. You can also use it to help other cyclists in your team.

There are event cards in the game. Whenever 7 is rolled, an event card is drawn and executed. Use of energy cards is considered a die roll too. I know one of the events is a fall. Thankfully I didn't experience this in our game. When a cyclist falls, he causes other cyclists immediately next to him and behind him to fall too, and they in turn can cause other cyclists to fall. There can be quite a nasty chain reaction.

There are terrain effects too. When on cobblestones or when moving uphill, your movement is reduced. When going downhill, your movement in increased. There are corners, where if you are on the inner lane there are fewer steps, i.e. you can go past the corner faster.

We played a short game of this. I just wanted to get a feel for it. We played a route of our own design, not one from the rules. It had cobblestone, uphill stretches and downhill stretches. Michelle was not very fortunate, and had some laggards early in the game. Chong Sean had a star cyclist who lead the pack. He was quite liberal is using his energy cards. In contrast I was rather conservative. I had a few unlucky rolls, e.g. a cyclist about to pass the finishing line rolled a small number, to stop just before the line. Well, at least I didn't roll a 7 and get a "fall" card for that cyclist on the following turn. I was surprised I didn't come last. Michelle came last. She had a cyclist beating all of mine, but all her other cyclists did worse than most of mine too.

Cyclists in a pack, turning an uphill corner. Red terrain means uphill.

The board has cartoonish artwork, and the first thing Michelle said when she saw it was, "Is this a children's game?". The transparent dice tower is Chong Sean's and doesn't come with the game.

One of the drawings showing a cyclist cheating.

This is a light and fun game. I think the short game is probably not enough. It doesn't feel satisfying enough, and I think with a longer route there is a better chance for luck to even out. Although there is luck in the dice rolling, I think there is still a fair bit of strategy in the game, in drafting, in when to use your energy cards, when to break away, in how to position your cyclists. You don't need to move the full movement points that you roll, and sometimes it is better to move slightly less, e.g. you move to the position right behind another rider, i.e. you have the opportunity to draft later. Sometimes you can take a route that will prevent other cyclists behind you from drafting. So there are interesting decisions. There is also blocking to consider, although we didn't use this tactic much in our game. I think the game needs the full 4 players, i.e. 16 cyclists, to be at its best.

We played the advanced rules. There are three rule sets, basic, advanced and professional. The professional rules add things like cheating, i.e. you cheat and get to move faster, but risk being photographed and disqualified. There are also sprints, i.e. bonus points for the first three cyclists to pass interim checkpoints. They are a bit too much for me for the first learning game so I decided to play without them. But I don't think they will add too much complexity after you are familiar with the game.

I think Um Reifenbreite is alright. It's moderately light (Carcassonne + Inns & Cathedrals-light but not Coloretto-light) with enough interesting decision making. There are opportunities for clever play. There is interaction with your opponents. It is quite fun. I don't need to own it, but I wouldn't mind playing again.


Anonymous said...

Really excellent game!! Good fun.The original version of the rules work well but I'm a huge cycle race fan and you really must use the Homas Tour Pro rules to take the game to a higher level. They are available free on the web.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

What does the Homas Tour Pro rules add to the game? I never followed or understood much about the cycling sport myself.