Instant Game Night Reviews: Downforce
“Is Downforce a good game to bring to game night?”
Year Published 2017
Designers Rob Daviau, Justin D. Jacobson, Wolfgang Kramer
Artists Tavis Coburn, Michael Crampton, Jason Taylor
Publisher Restoration Games
Age Range 10+
Playing Time 20-40 Minutes
Downforce is a high stakes racing game where players take control of their own racing team and guide their drivers around the track, hoping to reach victory and earn the 1st place grand prize. But only a fool doesn't hedge their bets. As the owner of a racing team, of course you are betting on yourself. But if you fall behind, why not throw a little bet on the team that's in the lead? It's only money after all......
Below you will find a brief summary of the game play along with our thoughts on whether or not Downforce is a good game to bring to your next game night get-together.
Please note: We do not intend this review to be a thorough explanation of the rules of a game or how to play. Rather, our reviews are aimed to provide you a basic overview of the game play along with our thoughts on how suitable a particular game is to bring to a game night with family or friends. If this is your first time reading an Instant Game Night review, please click here to read about our review format and rating system.
A game of Downforce is played over 3 phases - the auction, the race, and the betting. Before these can begin, however, the dealer will distribute all the speed cards evenly to all players, with the exception of the six "8" speed cards. Those should be set aside for use during the auction phase.
During the auction, players will shuffle all of the "8" speed cards together in one pile. In a separate pile, the 6 power cards should be shuffled into their own stack. Then, the top card of each stack is revealed, showing a color (which corresponds to the car of that color) and a power card (which is a special ability) that will be given to the highest bidder. Players will examine their hands and decide how much they wish to bid on that color/power combination.
Bidding is done by playing one of your speed cards face down in front of you. The speed cards will have a number of different color stripes along with a number in each stripe. This corresponds with how many spaces you'll be able to move that color of car during the race. Thus, if the player has only a few cards of that color, they may wish to not bid at all. However, if the player has a large number of cards with this color, they will likely want to bid quite high.
If for instance the orange car is currently being auctioned and you would like to obtain it, you might lay down a speed card that has an orange stripe with a 5 or a 6 on it. If you do not want the orange car, you might lay down a card with an orange 1 stripe, or you could play a card that has no orange on it at all (which is effectively a bid of "0").
Once players have laid their cards face down in front of them, everyone reveals their cards and the player who bid the highest wins that car along with the power card. If there are less than 6 players in the game, some or all players will have more than one car and power card to manage. In these cases, players must choose only one power card to keep.
The player who controls the car on the "1" space will begin the race. Each turn, players will play exactly one speed card from their hand and resolve all lines from top to bottom. This player must move all cars which are able to be moved, even if they themselves do not control the car. When moving, cars may only move forward in either a straight or diagonal manner (not backwards or side-to-side). Cars cannot leave the track and may not pass through other cars, so it is common for cars to get "stuck" and unable to move. In these cases, or if a car has already completed the race, their speed points will go unused. Once the player has resolved all the lines on the card, the next player will repeat this process.
This continues until the first car passes one of the three bidding lines (yellow lines on the track). When this happens, the betting phase occurs.
After the player whose car crossed the betting line finishes their turn, all players in secret will place a check mark next to the car they believe will win based on how the race has unfolded thus far. Players can bet on their own car or any other players' car. This betting will happen three different times throughout the race. A successful bet will net players a certain amount of money at the end of the race if that car finishes in the top 3 positions.
The race will continue until either all cars have crossed the finish line, or until all speed cards have been played. When a car crosses the finish line, it will move to the top-most available position on the finish track. If a car does not finish the race, it does not earn a position or any money for their performance.
Once the race has finished, players will calculate their winnings for both the race results as well as any successful bets that you made throughout the race. Then, players subtract the total amount spent during the auction phase. The money left over is that player's winnings. The player with the most money, wins. In case of a tie, the player whose car finished in a higher position will be the winner.
At first glance, Downforce seems like a simplistic party game. And certainly the mechanics and flow of the game are quite simple. But after your first few plays you quickly realize how much strategy you can actually put into the game. Which cars you bid on during the auction and how much you spend is a critical part of winning. Equally, smart betting throughout the game can often be enough to win even if your cars finish last. Throughout the game, players also need to analyze their hand and decide when to push there cars ahead and when to play those cards that benefit other racers. This is one of the main reasons I love Downforce, you can play it with anyone at any level of strategy. My five year old loves playing, and often he beats me without breaking a sweat! But equally, I could play with five other gamers and have a thrilling time.
Downforce is a racing game that keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. This game produces so much fun tension and exciting moments. You'll find yourself standing up as two cars fight neck and neck for first place. You'll pump your fists when the car you bet on the entire race crosses the finish line first. This game is just fun, plain and simple.
Our rating system:
G rabs your attention
E asy to play & teach
N ewbie friendly
G ood rulebook
H olds attention
! our experience
Downforce Rating Breakdown
Grabs Your Attention
Downforce is a beautiful production and has a commanding table presence. The colorful speed cards and fun miniature cars really give players the feeling they are spending a day at the races. We think you'd be hard pressed to walk by a game of Downforce and not stop to take a second look.
Setting Downforce up is a very quick and straightforward process. Once the auction phase has ended, players simply have to choose one card to play each turn. We find that the game flows very smoothly with a few AP-inducing moments but overall a very quick game to set up, play, and tear down.
Downforce is such a memorable game. Something about the tactile nature of physically moving cars around the track combined with the player interaction throughout really makes it a hard game to forget.
Easy to Teach and Play
Downforce is a very easy game to teach and play with newcomers. The only slightly complex teaching concept is during the auction phase, where you have to make sure players understand the cards in their hand and which cars they might want to bid on. Aside from this, Downforce is an intuitive and smooth game to play with new players.
As mentioned above, Downforce is incredibly newbie friendly. This begins with the theme. Everyone has been to or watched a race on TV at some point in their lives. This, combined with the welcoming artwork, attracts attention right away and the quick smooth gameplay keeps players engaged and interacting in a way that new players are highly likely to enjoy.
Downforce features a lot of player interaction throughout the course of the race. With other players constantly moving your cars, there are plenty of "hey, don't put my car there" moments and playful taunting when another player's car is stick and you play a 5 speed card of their color. We really enjoy the interactive nature of Downforce.
Good Rule Book
The rulebook for Downforce is attractive, easy to read, and to the point. There isn't a ton of unnecessary fluff, and the book does a good job of inserting images to help reinforce the movement rules, which is one of the most complex aspects of the game. Overall, the rulebook is quite well done.
Downforce never gives players the chance to lose attention. Once you've finished your turn, you find yourself glued to the race, watching carefully to see how your cars are being moved and what card in your hand might be the next best play. We are thoroughly engaged when playing Downforce, from start to finish.
Downforce is a game that sticks to its theme very well. All aspects of this game make the players feel like they are actively participating in a race with millions of dollars at stake. While there aren't a ton of components or artwork, the overall game comes together in a thematic package that is really enjoyable.
Finally it's time to tell you about our personal experiences with Downforce. We have played the game with as few as 2 players and as many as 5. We think the game scales pretty well, but with 2 players it can be a lot of keep track of due to managing 3 different colors of cars. Because of this, we would recommend playing with at least 3 players (this is our ideal player count, as all players control 2 cars) or up to the maximum of 6, in which each racer controls only one car. It is a bit strange with 4 or 5 players, as some players control 2 cars and some only control one, but it is still a fun experience nonetheless.
Everyone we have introduced this game to has always had an enjoyable time and has never turned down the chance to play again. It is always a high energy experience and players cannot help but get invested in the cars they have bet on. We would recommend Downforce to just about any game night group, and we find it works well as a game to open the evening and get players energized for the rest of the evening.
Overall, Downforce is a game night essential for us and we can't wait to play it again!