Sunday, 15 June 2014

Game Review - Rocket Race

Every once in a while a game comes out that piques my interest…

Rocket Race is one such game…

Announced the week before Expo with a limited number of copies available and a fantastic premise to those of us who love the concept of steampunk and the magnificent inventions that it inspires in those that embrace it…

I have to say that I did abuse organiser privilege to sneak in and grab a copy before the trade halls opened, and that’s as well, because more than a third had been sold before I got there just from people watching the game being played. 

That said, there’s a lot to be said when you keep production values this high.  The box containing the game isn’t massive, literally enough to house the rules, the cards, the counters, and the dice with no space left over.  There aren’t that many cards, but there’s enough for up to a six player game (Four if you’re using the advanced rules), and it’s easy to get going but still challenging.

The basic concept is that you’re trying to build a rocket and get to the moon, to this end you need a Steering Mechanism, a Propulsion Mechanism, and a Capsule. You can also fit up to three accessories to the ship to improve the reliability.  All players start with ten finance tokens and in turn, the player who won the previous round draws a card from the deck and then all players take turns to bid on it.  Highest Bid gets the card and the amount bid gets put on the card to represent how long it will take to develop it.  At the end of the turn, everyone takes one finance token off everything that they’re developing that then allows them to bid with that finance token again.

Sound complex?

We thought so in the beginning, but when you’ve got the first game out of the way, you quickly get the idea that if you bid all ten tokens on the first thing that came up, you won’t be able to bid in the next round, your finance will only be one point in the turn after and so on, so the need for a particular part needs to be countered by the spending power you have and more importantly the spending power that you want to have in the round that follows.  Tactical voting happens often, just because you don’t want the bit, you don’t want the person next to you to get it for nothing, and those who manage to make a lot of small bids find that their finance replenishes far quicker than those who make a single large bid.

When you have all three parts of the ship, you can announce that you’re going to launch at the end of any turn, and then it’s a roll against the reliability of your ship (two dice against the combined total of the three central components and any components that are installed), with a roll under the total to succeed.

The dice roll to get off the ground is the only random element of the game, with everything else under the control of the players, there are other cards available (that must also be bid upon) that can allow you to stall the launch of another player, cause bits to fall off their ship, or (my favourite) allow you to launch your completed but as yet unfinished spaceship whilst still banging the nails in, in a bid to reach the stars before they do.

Of course, the point of steampunk is that it’s all about style, and it’s here where the game excels, the devices and contraptions listed on the cards all have the hallmarks of the magnificent foolishness that permeates the Steampunk Genre, and most people will find cards that perfectly match their personality when putting their ship together.  Personally I found the idea of a hundred hungry mice steering a bullet shaped projectile that’s powered by Volatile and highly unstable chemicals quite appealing, not very reliable to be sure, but still…

The basic game can be played with up to six, and takes up to ten minute once you’ve got into the swing of it.  The advanced game introduces the idea of leagues of invention and the rivalry of different factions which slows the game down slightly, but makes play a far more tactical thing rather than just trying to bolt your ship together and throw it up.

The production values are excellent, with full colour artwork, interesting text, and fully laminated cards in each box, and while I’m not sure the price point of £15 will hold for long once word of this gets around, it’s an excellent game and I think that a larger version of it with more contraptions, gadgets, and rules will not be long waited for.