Downforce: Danger Circuit & Wild Ride – Remaking the Review of a Remake
Now in Live Action
It’s been over two years since we posted the review for Downforce, and we recognize the cultural phenomenon our review has become. The writing, the editing, the photography – it’s a classic. Fans of the site have been clamoring for more. What do you know, Restoration Games has obliged by releasing not one, but two expansions since 2017, Danger Circuit and Wild Ride. So here we go, it’s time… for more Downforce review.
Required reading: our previous review. Everything that follows assumes that you’re already well-versed in how Downforce plays.
What We’ve Learned
Downforce has probably been one of our family’s most-played games since we acquired our review copy. Since the first review went up, we’ve come to better understand the game’s faults and strengths. Before we get to talking about the expansions, let’s discuss those faults.
First: this is a great three player game, a great six player game, and a fine five player game. But it’s terrible for four players. Why? Because you don’t want to have two cars. The extra car is an anchor hanging off the back of your finely-tuned racing machine; the animated sidekick who gets cut from the live-action version. The only viable strategy any of us have come up with for owning two cars: position one as a road-clogging block at a choke point on the track, while your other car zooms ahead. But owning that car costs at least $1M and unless you come in fifth, it’s wasted money.
With three players, everyone (probably) gets two cars, so it’s fair. With six, everyone only gets one. But at four players, the most likely outcome is two cars each for two people, and one car for the other two. Woe unto thee if you are one of the poor souls with two cars: you are going to lose.
Second: pole position matters. Maybe too much. The owner of the first bid-upon car goes first, and can easily reach the first choke point before anyone else. If you happen to be the player sitting to their left, congratulations! You get to go second, even if you own the sixth car that went up for bid. And that turn order advantage means you might be able to get yourself up to the choke point second.
Put it simply: in base Downforce, leaders stay in the lead and it’s hard to make up ground unless the leader runs out of good cards for their car.
(We partially solved this problem with a house rule. After the auction is over everyone stands up and rearranges their seats based on auction order. So at least, the player who won the second car goes second, etc).
Third: the powers are rather imbalanced. Tricky (move the cars in reverse order) and Unpredictable (use the wild for a color already on the card) are the undisputed best of the lot. When playing with younger ones, we found it more enjoyable to handicap adults by preventing them from winning either of these powers. The rest are meh in the base game.
We could say more. There is a maniacal joy assigning the wild color to a car that’s already finished. There’s strategy involved in helping a car you bet on, but not so much that it betrays your bets. But we have to get to the new stuff.
Turbocharged: Danger Circuit
Danger Circuit, released in 2018, came with a new double-sided board and six new powers. The new powers in particular are a welcome addition. Each of them was more interesting and more balanced than the base game powers.
The two new tracks actually made the base game’s Cunning power (you always move your own car) more attractive. You can control your own destiny when approaching the rocky paths of Switchback Pass or the forks in the road of Crosstown Speedway.
Our kids frequently preferred the new tracks when playing. Their real strength is in creating choice. In the base game, the best path for your interests was always obvious, whether you wanted to move your own car or your opponents’. Success on Danger Circuit’s courses, particularly Crosstown Speedway, require you to plan a lot more.
You need to be more careful when considering taking the shorter but narrower paths. You also need to consider the order in which you move cars into the crossover loop, and what cards your opponents might still be able to play.
Approaching the Sublime: Wild Ride
And that brings us to 2020, and the release of Wild Ride. No new powers this time, but the two new tracks bring spectacular tweaks to the gameplay.
Improved Pole Position
In a brilliant yet simple move, these tracks solve the pole position issue by placing the cars in reverse. The owner of the first car still goes first, but the car is at the back of the pack, three spaces behind the starting line. Now, if you’re first, it probably takes using your precious 8-card to get to the choke point before anyone else. But by narrowing the start zone (only three lanes wide on Savanna Stretch and staggered width on Aloha Sands), players can create traffic jams right at the start. This can prevent opponents from getting very far off the line on their first or second turn.
Watch Out for Elephants!
Savanna Stretch also brings on-track obstacles in the form of animals. (No cardboard animals were harmed in the making or playing of Downforce.) Their movement mechanic keeps them just in front of the lead car for most of the race.
Keeping animals in the front allows opponents to trap the leader behind an elephant or a herd of gazelle. This makes the leader unable to move until the second place car passes it and triggers the animals to move again. This promoted the Cunning power to one of the best two powers in the game; the ability to control your own car effectively prevents getting stuck behind animals. On one play, my friends and I actually started strategically bidding solely for this power card, regardless of the color car it was matched with in the auction.
Aloha Sands is Wild Ride‘s 3D reformatting. This track adds cardboard ramps around the board, in most cases providing strategic shortcuts (there is one mandatory jump about halfway around the track). To use the jump, the number on the speed card cannot be less than the number on the ramp. The jump itself only actually costs one movement point to traverse. Again, this simple little tweak brings new viable strategies. It becomes important to save high-value speed cards for the cars you own to the end of the race; the 6-value ramp on the homestretch, in particular, is a powerful shortcut.
Our kids really loved the ramps, and enjoyed pretending to launch their cars over them. If there’s any quibble, it’s that the cardboard itself is completely decorative; you cannot end a turn with a car “on” a ramp, and the jump values are pre-printed on the board spaces onto which the jumps are placed. I suppose the good news here is that if your kids lose a ramp someday, you can still play the board without any consequence.
The Perfect Game
If Downforce is still a popular game in your household, Wild Ride is a must-have expansion. It does exactly what good expansions should – breathing new life into a classic, getting it back onto your table frequently, and even making you rethink the strategies you play with the original.
I conclude with a challenge: to beat perfection. At The Family Gamers, we have come to call a $29M score as “the perfect game” – owning a single car, betting on yourself the whole way, coming in first, and only paying a $1M bid to acquire the car in the first place. It’s mathematically possible to score higher by owning two or more cars, but we’ve never seen it.
Find Danger Circuit and Wild Ride on Amazon, or ask for them at your local game store. Can you beat “perfection”? Post a picture of your score sheet in the comments and give us a report on the play through (on your honor, folks). Start your engines!
The Family Gamers received a copy of Downforce: Wild Ride from Restoration Games for this review.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Downforce: Danger Circuit & Downforce: Wild Ride
Number of Players: 2-6
Age Range: 12+ (we say 8 or even younger)
Playtime: 30-45 minutes