Tuesday, 20 November 2018


Plays: 6Px1.

The Game

Downforce is a light game with a car-racing setting, but it is more than just a race game. You will find that you need to make bets, you need to make predictions and evaluations based on limited information. There will be some cooperation. You are not just racing to be number 1. You are manipulating the whole outcome to be beneficial to you.

There will always be six race cars in play, regardless of the number of players. If there are fewer than 6 players, some players will control more than one car.

This scoring sheet lists all the ways you gain (and lose) points. Before the game starts, you bid for the car you want. The amount you spend for your car will be paid in victory points at the end of the game. Competition starts even before you rev up your engines. The car positions are randomly assigned, the deck of cards are dealt out to everyone. Cards are used for movement. Before bidding, you get to see your cards. You know which cars your cards will be good at moving. The starting positions of the cars, and your cards, are two of the three factors affecting your decision in bidding for cars. The third factor is the special ability card on the right. Whenever a car is randomly picked to be auctioned off, a random special ability card is drawn to be paired with it.

After the race starts, there are three points in time when any car passes specific milestones when all players will make bets on which cars will be in the top 3. Refer to the Betting Payouts section in the photo above. At each bet, you pick just one car. If at the end of the game the car is among the top 3, you get a payout. You don't necessarily have to bet on your own car.

After the race ends, you score points for your final position in the race. Refer to the Racing Payouts section at the bottom. If your car wins the race, you get 12VP.

Car movement is determined by these cards. Each card shows one or more colours, each with a number. When you play a card, you must move the cars in the specified colours as far as possible, in the specified sequence and taking the specified number of steps. Sometimes if a car is blocked, you will not be able to move it. White is the wild colour. You may treat it as any colour not already on the card. If you have two whites, they must be treated as two different colours. Cards are all single-use. If your car finishes the race while you have cards remaining, they are all discarded. You wait till everyone else finishes.

This was the map we played. It is a little unusual due to the two loops. The junctions at those two loops easily cause blocking. The blue car is now being blocked by the red and the green cars. The race only lasts one lap. This is a quick game.

The Play

We did a 6-player game, so everyone had exactly one car. During bidding, since I had many black numbers in my hand, I decided I would get the black car. I bid quite high for it. In hindsight I should not have done so. If I had many black numbers, it meant others would have few, and thus it was less likely they would compete with me for the black car.

The car in the pole position was the red one, and Ivan won the bid for it. Being in the pole position had its advantages. He quickly sprinted ahead of the rest of us and created a gap. Only the green car was able to keep up somewhat. There was much blocking among the cars left behind. It was quite tough being blocked. It could really bog one down. In our game, we had blocking mostly in the early game. From mid game onwards, there was much less of it. It seemed the cars, especially those in the leading positions, moved very swiftly and smoothly.

Red had a huge lead at this point. Those yellow lines were the milestones for betting. The leading car had passed the first yellow line and was approaching the second one.

We had one funny moment around this time. If you look at the photo above, red and green were coming out of the second loop. One player played a card which had a green number, so he had to move the green car. He made a mistake, and instead of moving the car across the yellow line, he sent the car around the loop again. All of us pointed at that and started laughing - what are you doing are you trying to pull a fast one?! We all said that was certainly an unexpected strategy, and would have been super effective had he not been caught red handed.

In the second half of the race, many people rooted for green, and it eventually overtook red to win the race. My black car managed to break out from the lagging group, and gradually caught up to take second place. The hot red car ended in third place. I had a dilemma. At both first and second bets, I betted on red. At the second bet, green was doing better than red, but I gambled that Ivan would be able to regain the top position. I betted against the general consensus. By the third bet, it was obvious that red would not be able to catch up, so I knew I had to bet on green. My dilemma was between supporting red or my own black. This made me feel uncomfortable. I had bet on red, so I had the incentive to help it earn a good position. However, if my own black gained a good position, I would earn more points too. Helping one meant sacrificing the other. There was no win-win. In hindsight, I should have supported red. It came down to whether red or black would earn 2nd place. If red were 2nd and black 3rd, I would earn 5VP more. If black were 2nd and red 3rd, I would earn 3VP more. There was a 2VP difference so I should help red. Unfortunately during the game I did not make this proper analysis. Out of instinct I supported my own black. So I did not score as much as I could have.

The final positions - green was 1st, black 2nd and red 3rd. This by no means reflected the actual positions of the players. The green player did win the game, but I (black car owner) did poorly.

My final score was 12, and that was below average. The 5VP I spent on bidding for the black car was expensive. In our game we had an unusual situation. One of the players won his car without having spent any VP. That meant even before the race started, I was already 5VP behind him.

The eventual winner was the green car owner, because his car came first, and also he had bet heavily on himself. This was an unstoppable combo.

The Thoughts

Something about Downforce makes me uncomfortable. It is not a pure race game. Three things affect your final score - (1) how much you pay for your car (or cars), (2) whether you bet correctly during the race, and (3) how well your car(s) does at game end. In the first aspect, you exercise your evaluation skills. You decide which car (or cars) you want to invest in, and you try to win it at the lowest price possible. In the second aspect, you try to predict the result by assessing the current situation on the board, and also by guessing your opponents' intentions. A car which many people are supporting will likely do well. There is some groupthink here. Only the third aspect is purely about racing and coming first. However it is only part of your score, and sometimes not even a big part.

What makes me uncomfortable is the situation I experienced. By mid game green was far ahead and it felt impossible to compete. Not only had he bet on himself heavily, he also had many supporters because they too had bet on him. So it was no longer a racing game where everyone was trying to come first. The trailing players were only competing among themselves. This might be a groupthink problem. Perhaps the players should have ganged up on the leader, instead of supporting him.

Downforce is about predicting a final result and then working towards making it come true. It is not just purely trying to be first. It is about creating an end condition where you maximise your score and minimise your opponents' scores. This is quite a different mindset from a more conventional race game where you are immersed in the racing tactics.

One possible problem is people may tend to bet on the same car. After all, the board situation is open information. If most people bet on the same car, then all these people will be supporting that car, and that car will do well. However, to stand out from the crowd, you can't be doing the same thing as everyone else. You need to do something different. Yet if you bet on a dark horse, that might not be a good idea because few or no other players would be helping you. Again, this may be a problem only in our game. In closer races, it is harder to determine which car is doing better, and players may be betting on more different cars.

I may be making the game sound more complicated than it is, with all that talk of evaluation, groupthink, reading others' intentions, I-help-you-you-help-me, and manipulating the board situation to your desired end condition. In the end, this is still a light game that you can easily teach to casual players and non-gamers. The game is engaging because even on other people's turns they may be moving your car. They may also be blocking your car. There is certainly plenty of interaction. You don't need to overthink it like I do.

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