Monday, October 05, 2009

Gear Burn

I saw a cute print & play game on BGG by the guy who designed Equilibrium (Tasty Minstrel is considering Equilibrium for publication, but it won't be any time soon as there are other games in line before it). It was a racing game, and it only needed the board and some dice and markers, so I thought I'd give it a try.

The game is called Gear Burn, and the general gist of it is this:

On your turn, you MAY first upshift or downshift into another gear. Then, you roll some dice depending on what gear you're in... this is kinda like Formula De. You roll 1d6 for 1st, 2d6 for 2nd, 3d6 for 3rd, and 4d6 for 4th gear. The highest die showing indicates your Speed, and you MUST move forward that many spaces during your turn. The smallest die showing indicates your Maneuverability, and you MAY move UP TO that many spaces left/right during your turn. If you crash into a wall or another car, that's real bad (you lose a turn). You begin the game with 3 Wrenches, and once per turn you may spend a wrench to re-roll any 1 die. This is good for when your roll guarantees you'll crash - but you can only do it once per turn, and only 3 times per race.

I ended up playing a 2p game with my roommate Steve. It was much more fun than I expected! I did note that all of the movement mechanics are based on averages, so even though the average roll on 3d6 is greater than the average roll on 1d6, you could go as fast or faster in 1st gear as you do in 3rd sometimes. That seemed odd. also, it seemed pointless to upshift to 4th gear, as the gained benefit (more likely to roll a 6) didn't outweigh the penalty (more likely to roll a 1, and it takes 2 turns to get down to 2nd gear if you need to). I could ALREADY roll a 5 or 6 pretty easy with 3 dice...

I suggested we play it again, only this time using a different distribution of dice:

1st gear: 1d3
2nd gear: 2d4
3rd gear: 3d6
4th gear: 4d8

This way, not only are you almost guaranteed to be able to go faster in the higher gears, there's a real reason to shift up to 4th gear - you can really haul some ass! Moving 7 or 8 is worth it sometimes, even if you lose some maneuverability. In 3rd gear the most you can move is 6 spaces.

This worked really, really well actually, so I emailed the designer and let him know. He posted some thoughts in his blog.

We played a 4 player game after that as well. Here are some other small comments I made about the game to Shea:

- It might be nice to be able to move through cars sideways (but not forwards), meaning it would be harder to find yourself boxed in. With 4 players it frequently got blocky and that led to a couple forced collisions. Some of that would be good, but currently it MIGHT be too much (maybe not though).

- There's a catch-up mechanism which is that if you're in last place on your turn, you get to add 1 to your Maneuverability. Sometimes while in last, that added maneuverability is just not helpful, while 1 additional speed would be. I might like to try it with "+1 to Speed OR Maneuver" giving the losing player the choice.

- There's also a penalty for being in first place: you have to subtract 1 from your maneuverability. This was rough, which it's supposed to be, but possibly too much so. If you crash, lose a turn, then start the following turn in 1st gear and roll a 1 (which is 33% on 1d3)... you automatically crash again? That's harsh! Maybe the penalty shouldn't apply in 1st gear or something. Or maybe a different penalty should apply. Or none... such a penalty encourages people to be in 2nd so that when the gu in first finally crashes they can coast past them for the win.

- Tyler thought it would be neat if the game were modeled after the video game Super Off Road, where you could customize your car with Tires (for extra maneuverability), Engines (maybe lets you upshift twice in a turn, once per race), Nitros (move additional 2d4 distance or something)... etc. For a 1-off game players could customize their car at the start, or for a campaign mode there could be prize money which you spend on upgrades between races. I think this is a neat idea, but I can also see playing the game without it.

- I observed that there isn't any choice in the movement portion of the turn (99% of the time anyway) - the choices you make are what gear to be in, and whether to use a wrench. Shea mentioned making additional maps which could potentially give you a reason to drive to one space instead of another. I suggested putting prizes (I was still on the Off Road thing, so I said Money or Nitros) on certain space on the board - tempt people into the outer lane approacing a curve for example to get the prize. Shea suggested additional wrenches, which is also an excellent idea.

- Shea also mentioned the same thing Tyler did - that wrenches could allow you to drive through a car without crashing. He and I also had the same idea that a wrench could allow you to shift 2 gears in one turn. I don't know if the wrench should get too complicated, but I do like those uses for it. he said he'd probably add those uses and shy away from the Off Road style upgrading and any campaign version of the game. That's probably fine, but if it were to get published I think the added depth of potential upgrading and campaign mode would be worthwhile.

Shea also looked at some math on various dice distributions (see his blog post) - and is likely to go with the following distribution:

1st gear: 1d4
2nd gear: 1d4 + 1d6
3rd gear: 1d4 + 1d6 + 1d8
4th gear: 1d4 + 1d6 + 1d8 + 1d10

It's not a bad idea because it reduces the components down to 4 dice rather than 10, and it doesn't use a non-standard d3... but I think it won't work as well. When you upshift to 4th gear, it's because you want to haul ass. You don't want to roll about the same as you would in 3rd gear - you want to SPEED UP. If I were putting the pedal to the metal, I would much rather roll 4d8 than 1d4 + 1d6 + 1d8 + 1d10.