Repeat after me: "This game is a filler". Trust me, either way you interpret that statement (good or bad) will help you appreciate Formula Motor Racing. This is the latest Reiner Knizia/GMT game and was originally published in 1995 by Gibsons Games. I've never played the original so I can't comment on whether there are any changes as with the other games in the series (Battleline, Ivanhoe, Galaxy).
Gameplay is remarkably simple: Twelve cars (two of each color) are set out in a line and each player controls both cars of the same color. Players are dealt a hand of five cards and turns are of the "play a card, draw a card" variety. These cards generally move cars forward or back in the lineup. So what you have is a race where its relative position that is being determined rather than actually running a particular course. Cards can either apply to a specific color ("Move a yellow car 3 positions forward") or any car ("Move any car back one space"). Most of the time when moving a car forward the car immediately behind "drafts" and moves as well. This means that you can often play a card that helps another player if her car is right in front of a car of yours.
The game continues until the draw deck is exhausted at which point the players get one last card play and final placings are determined. Points are awarded as in real formula races, first = 10, second = 6 and so on. A complete game consists of three races with the winner being the player with the most points.
The game plays rather quickly as there's not really much in the way of grand strategy that you can employ, generally you have a look at the race position and either play a card to help yourself or one to hurt someone else (which often helps you due to the relative positioning). If you've got good cards for another color, wait until you're behind that car and play it. Furthermore, you'll find that even when playing with only three players the layout can change drastically between your turns. You might be doing great and then a couple of seemingly innocuous cards are played that send everyone screaming by you. When played with more players this is even more pronounced and recalls my initial point - this game is a filler, pure and simple. Anyone expecting either a (remotely) realistic depiction of racing or a (slightly) strategic game should look elsewhere. The game is neither but this doesn't mean it's bad. If you approach the game as an excuse to play a few cards, have a laugh at your bad luck and treat it as a jovial little time waster I think you'll enjoy yourself as much as I have.
If there's one legitimate complaint I can make, it's that the game, played as written, is too long. The early card plays are quite meaningless to the final outcome (with the exception of the few cards that remove a car from the race) and so playing through most of the deck prolongs things too much. If you find this to be a problem, the solution is easy: play through only half the deck. Even more drastic, and the way I've been playing lately, is to limit a race to just your initial hand of five cards. When played with 5 or 6 players this gives a nice length that feels about right. It also means that you'll have to play every card you're dealt, but to be honest, this doesn't really seem to affect things too much.
So as long as you keep that first mantra in mind ("Filler, filler") I think Formula Motor Racing can be enjoyed.
- Greg Aleknevicus