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.


Isamoor said...

Thanks again for your feedback! Give your roommate a big thanks from me as well.

I think you already covered most of my feedback, but I did a little more thinking during the morning commute. The only big issue left is the annoying car crowding in 4 player games that can block a player in. I'm looking at the following solutions:

1. Leave it as is. Tough luck sucker.

2. Let a wrench move you through a car. But frankly this is just a rules nightmare I don't want to open.

3. Let you *push* an opposing car. I kinda like this one since it's a blessing and a curse to the opponent in a turn.

4. Do like many other race games (PitchCar Bolide) and just re-order players each round. Make 1st go 1st and on down the line. With a turn order box I could also put CatchUp mechanic reminders on the board. And the game end condition would be easier to explain; just check it when you go to redo turn order.

I already have some good wrench placements for the base map and might show that to you later today. Thanks again!

Seth Jaffee said...

My reactions to your ideas:

1. This may be acceptable - it means you can purposely block someone and make them crash. Only problem with that is that crashing is such a major setback!

2. This isn't terrible, and was suggested by Tyler also. I don't think it's a rules nightmare, but I do think that it's cleaner to keep wrenches from doing anything and everything.

3. This is very interesting... push an opponent (sideways I presume) - could you push them into a wall and make them crash? I'd suggest not. Maybe just push Roborally style, where you can't push if there's a wall int he way (but you could push a stack of 2 adjacent cars). You could add Damage to the game, where pushing causes damage, but I think it's cleaner to leave that out. I also think pushing from behind could work, but might be better to make a rear end collision a Crash, while a sideswipe is just a push. In any event, for this game I think pushes should have no repercussions for the opponent, except perhaps being moved over a space. I guess you could limit it to 1 space per turn, so you can't shove them way over. In that case, maybe pushing forward 1 space would also work, so you only crash on a rear end collision if you REALLY crash into them (need to move 2 or more spaces, not just 1).

4. While I could see this working, I think it might be "too much work" (tm) for this game. I think I'd shy away from that and just keep the clockwise turn order. One other thing about this is you'd have to determine who moves first if 2 players are neck-and-neck (tied for position).

Isamoor said...

So I just gave the "Redo Turn Order" option a try last night with the wife and I each playing 2 cars for a full board.

It worked like butter. The only crashes were due to my stupidity, but there was still a bit of choking and shuffling in the turns like you would want.

As for "what if they are neck-and-neck", then they just keep the same relative turn order as last turn.

It really went very smooth and didn't slow us down hardly at all. And trust me, I'm actually very much against variable turn order in games. I'm afraid I agree with the other race game designers though, sometimes it just needs to be there.

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention:

Since you can double shift with a wrench, it is still possible to take off the turn after crashing... you just have to spend a wrench and can only make it into 1st gear. This makes it slightly less harsh.

Anyway, thanks again for the help!