Monday, October 28, 2013

Thrash-Car KS Preview - Part Days Of Thunder, Part Special Olympics

When Dave Killingsworth, the owner of SolarFlare Games and designer of Thrash-Car, asked me to do a preview of this game, I was a little hesitant because I'm pretty much convinced that the "car racing with combat" style of game has reached its apex with Rush N' Crush, but I like racing games, so I figured I'd take a look. I warned Dave that if I get a review copy, it's getting reviewed regardless of whether I love it or hate it, and he is to be admired for his courage. Suffice it to say that while the game has some merit, like many Kickstarter games, it seems like the kind of game that could've used a little more development and perhaps more exposure to all kinds of different people so that they could get some feedback to make it more than it otherwise is. It's certainly not what I'd expect to find in a hobby game, and I think it would do well in a mass-market, Wal-Mart aisle instead of at the local FLGS. 

Thrash-Car is a card-driven car racing game where players speed around tracks by playing cards and rolling dice. It's very adversarial and exhibits what I would call "screw your neighbor" kind of play; the core of the game has you playing cards against your opponents to slow them down and mess with them. If you're in the same space as opponents, you can attack them with a "trading paint" attack, rolling dice and playing cards to gain the upper hand. It's very funny and has great artwork including some from one of my favorite artists, Jason "CupidsArt" Benningfield. On paper, it really sounds like a winner, but in practice it's an incredibly simple game that is very "beer and pretzels". We, at the Circus, all agree that it's too simple, but that said, I think it's fun for what it is. One of the Circus members now refers to it as "Days of Blunder", if that's any indication.

I'd talk about the components but, as noted, it's a preview of a Kickstarter campaign that's going live in a few days, so all I can tell you is that the board has two tracks, one with four spaces and another with six. The card art has been previewed and it's very nice looking, with cartoony characters that lampoon the NASCAR fanbase quite a bit, and it's all very humorous. I think that the game is really nice looking from what I've seen on their site, from some of the promo images I'm privy to, and from the nice prototype package I was sent. I think, from a production perspective, that this game will look very nice and really fit into the "satire game" genre very well. I was also sent a 3-D model of one of the cars and if it's representative of the final product, it will certainly be top quality.

Now, while most of us had some fun playing it, I stand by the assertion that it's just too simple. It's something that I would expect out of Gut Bustin' Games; a mass-market kind of game that is geared toward people who aren't used to playing Runebound or Rush N' Crush, where the rules are heavier and the experience deep. This isn't pejorative, either, because I think that this is what Dave wanted it to be. My major complaints about the game revolve around the lack of many spaces, and the fact that if you don't play the game a couple times to realize that the game is really a "gang up on the leader" kind of game, you'll have one guy getting out in front and staying there. Card management is a big mechanic in the game since cards can help you, hurt others, or do both, and so playing the right card at the right time is important. There's tons of cards, most unique, so if you like the game you'll have to play a lot of games to see every card in the deck. 

Speaking of the cards, though, there is one thing that really should be mentioned that we kind of analyzed and determined to be the number one problem with the game. During each turn, you draw cards back up to seven. What this means is that you start your turn with seven cards, but the other players still have a handful to attack you with, and what ends up happening is that the player who's turn it is gets nailed repeatedly. In some ways I'd think it would play like Kill Dr. Lucky where the last guy in line has to "stop" the leader and the other players conserve cards until their turn. The fact that you always draw a full hand of cards stops this from happening, and it ends up being a blood-soaked free-for-all.

That would be fine if there weren't so few spaces, or if you could easily advance to the next space on the track, but since everything in the game is a target-based die roll, with cards modifying the roll, it ends up being stagnant much of the time, with nobody really advancing much and cars being wrecked out. The upshot is that it takes what could've been a fast and furious 45 minute game and doubles the time involved. Unfortunately, it's a bit frustrating and there's so much luck needed in the die rolls and card draws that it feels like a much longer game than it actually is, and it's already too long for what it is. It's more about who can last longer than who can finish the race, which isn't really a racing game. For me, personally, it seems like so much emphasis was put upon the messing with other people that it's just doesn't even feel anything like racing, but rather like a six-space version of Talisman with nothing but PvP encounters.

One of the things I liked the most about the game, besides how it embraces the silliness of NASCAR and the hilljack poverty porn stereotypes that surround it, is that each racing team has its own theme and special abilities. Pairing that with the fact that there's a big upgrade deck that allows you to customize your car, there's a lot of variability in how the game is played by different teams. Still, it's very simple and it kind of feels to me that the game is an extension of one of my most hated racing games ever, Nitro Dice. It's almost like they took that craptastic mess of a game and built onto it, making it better, but still not great because the basic premise of Nitro Dice just didn't work. It does give you lots of laughs, though, but the laughs get a little thin after an hour and a quarter of playing. 

The Kickstarter project will launch in a couple of days, so check it out, watch the videos, and decide for yourself, but I have to tell you that this is not something I will back for the aforementioned reasons, although I do believe it has a place in the gaming world. It's for someone, just not us.

Why Dick Trickle Is Not A Bad Thing:
- Really great art and interesting flavor text make this both pretty and funny
- This has "take that" style of play in spades
- As a "beer and pretzels" game, it's pretty solid
- Pretty good as a "holiday with the folks game

Why The Only Thing Getting Thrashed Is The Time You Spent Playing:
- This does not exude racing, and as a racing game, it's pretty weak
- Drawing up to seven cards every causes pretty hectic play
- It's too long for what it is, even with the short races

Where Rush N' Crush would be a great racing game without the combat aspect, Thrash-Car is simply not much of a racing game that would be utterly boring and repetitive without the combat. Luckily, between the "take that" card play, the confrontational nature of the game, and the funny stereotypes elicited by the flavor text and artwork, it works pretty well. I wouldn't recommend it to many people, but if I did, it would be to people who like very simple and confrontational games to play over a couple beers. 

If you're looking for a game that is simple enough to play when the family comes into town for Christmas, but that isn't so dull and boring that you don't want to put it on the table, it's probably a really good fit. If you're a fan of Formula D(e), Rush N' Crush, or Formula Motor Racing and are looking for a solid racing game, this is not. 

Now, here's the part where you'd expect a score, and I'm not going to do this because this is a preview of a Kickstarter game, and therefore it may or may not be representative of the final product. I calculated the score based on the normal Circus methods, and it's probably a great thing for Dave because the score was not all that shit hot. I will say that one person scored the game higher than the rest of us and really enjoyed a lot about the game, while the rest of us found it middling at best.

Check out more on the game here:

This game rules? Maybe not, but they have rules online!

Superfly Circus Disclaimer:
This is a PREVIEW of a game, and therefore no score will be listed, and the final product may vary greatly from what I just wrote. We did our level best, in good faith, to tell you all what we RECEIVED, and if the game changes during the production or development cycle, take it up with the publisher if you bought it based on this preview. I can only write about what was received, and as far as I'm concerned, Kickstarter projects are vaporware until they are actually produced and delivered. Caveat muh-vuggin Emp-tity-tor. I, as of this writing, have backed only a very small handful of products, only one of which was a game, so let this be my two cents of advice: Be very careful with Kickstarter "backing" because you can be fucked stupid just as easily as you can get delivered the game of your dreams. Whatever you do, don't use the above preview as anything other than a review of a game BEING DEVELOPED AT THE TIME OF WRITING, and the game is just as likely to be completely different than was described as it is to be exactly as described.

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