A board game turns out to be the perfect way to experience rally racing in this contest of speed and precision from Mayfair Games and Carlo A. Rossi.
|Road Rally USA||Mayfair Games||Board Game|
In The Box
There’s a lot of gear included in this game, from the five small wooden cars you’ll race against to the heavy cardboard track tiles, and it all looks fast and flashy. Even the point counters have racing stripes! We’ll start with the tiles that form that actual game board where the racing happens. They’re relatively small but allow for multiple track layouts, from a smallish game of seven tiles to the full 12-tile version. Setting up the default board is simplified by matching squares, and once you learn the rules it’s possible to set things up in any way that still connects roads.
The five car tokens have corresponding cards and player mats. These mats are really just for flavor and to remind players about the rules, but we would have preferred sturdy cardboard construction over the relatively light paper versions included here. The cards are very nice, in small decks that showcase your ride on one side and a series of colored numbers on the other. There’s also a small deck of cards that represent 21 different stages you’ll drive through during a full game.
A big pile of cardboard tokens complete the package, most for keeping score, but some for placement along the track to be claimed for points. Road Rally USA even includes markers for tracking the turn order, which come in handy.
How It Plays
It’s funny to think that we’ve described classics like Candy Land as “race games” without really thinking about how racing could be translated faithfully to a board. Road Rally USA smartly focuses on rally racing, which is actually like the driving equivalent of a strategy game–a series of fast sprints and challenging segments best tackled at relatively low speeds. The base rules in Road Rally USA are simple: Play numbered cards of the same color from your hand to move along a grid defined by the track tiles. The first time you look at your hand and see several cards of the same color, it’s tempting to throw them all down and speed on ahead. The problem is that playing “fast” colors will drain your hand and may cause you to speed past strategic tiles.
Running out of cards is the equivalent of running out of gas, so you’ll want to plan stops at gas stations along the way to avoid inconvenient delays. Similar planning is needed to take full advantage of those scoring tokens mentioned earlier. You’ll randomly draw and hold cards representing stages in the game, but timing when you play these stage cards is critical. Picking up stage and checkpoint tokens earns you points, but the single best way to score big is to be leading the pack after reaching a stage on the board that you’re also holding as a card. You don’t have to play stage cards but they tend to make a big difference. There are plenty of tiles that offer other advantages, from the gas stations mentioned earlier, to shortcuts, to locations that give you advantages when moving or drawing cards.
The variant rules allow for more flexibility, modifying how some of the special tiles work and outlining how to create a custom race track. In a nutshell, it’s everything you liked about the base game with more nuance and strategic depth.
Strategic depth makes this a game that can be hard to handicap in a family group with mixed ages. Players around the recommended minimum age (8) tend to focus on speed, leaving them exposed to more strategic racers able to use stage cards at just the right time.
If you like race games you’ll love this. It counts less who comes in first at the end than who has more victory points, which is an interesting twist. You do need to stay in first place for at least some of the game, though.