So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Gaming Pit Stop - Reviewing Daytona 500

Many of my readers probably watched the Daytona 500 race this past weekend.  (Okay, the crossover between NASCAR fans and my readers probably isn't overwhelming.)  I didn't.  But, I did get to play Daytona 500 a couple of weeks ago.  I enjoyed it, and would gladly play it again; it's a keeper.  But there are some issues...

Daytona 500
Daytona 500 is an odd little game.  Published by Milton Bradley in 1990, many would suspect that it has little for gamers.  However, it really has some strategy, probably because the designer is actually very accomplished.  Most would think it's really about NASCAR racing, and it is - sort of.  A lot of people would assume it's a family game.  On that, they would be right.

Milton Bradley (MB) has produced a whole lot of games over the years, most of which are viewed better through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia than the magnifying glass of gameplay.  MB is known for such childhood wonders as Ants in the Pants and The Game of Life.  They published iconic games such as Axis and Allies, Scotland Yard and HeroquestDaytona 500 falls closer to the iconic set.  The designer was Wolfgang Kramer, who was Germany's first full-time professional game-designer. He has nearly 200 games to his name, many of which have made it across the Atlantic.  Daytona 500 is one of his best known.

Kramer designed several games around auto racing, and this game is arguably his best.  But it's not purely a racing game.  It's more of a race team investment game.

Each player starts with $300,000 and a hand of cards which will move the race cars around the track.  Based on the cards in hand, players will bid on the cars with which they expect to be able to win a race.  The second phase is the actual race.  Players play cards in their hands to move their car around the track, which is shaped like the track at Daytona.  The race consists of one lap.  The catch is that playing a card, in general, does not move just your car, but also moves other cars.  The turns narrow the playable spaces on the board, and can squeeze cars so they cannot move their full amount.  The result is that the timing of card play creates some great strategic decisions.  (Ones, in fact, that I didn't master at all!)  Each player is awarded money for how they finish in the race.  These two phases are repeated three times, and the winner of the game is the person at the end who has the highest cash total.  In theory, one could win the game without ever winning an actual race.

The curves make everyone jockey for position.
The auction process is what starts to move this away from a family game, though for casual play amongst adults it would be fine.  I am not sure at what age children would have the understanding of risks and rewards that is required by the auction phase.  At a minimum, they would have to be old enough to understand the relative value of money.  That said, I suspect kids too young for the auction phase would enjoy it as a straight forward racing game, performing the second phase by itself just one time. 

The only drawback to Daytona 500 is that it feels a little slow.  Most games with auctions tend to bog down during the auction phase.  This is no different.  At the same time, the racing phase feels a little slow, too.  The cards encourage counting spaces, which slows the game down a little, making it feel a little less like a race.  It is hard to pick a card too far in advance, since the previous player can change the board pretty drastically

And there is one more drawback to this game...

Top Race is a a very similar game to Dayton 500.
Daytona 500 is out of print, as one can imagine.  On eBay, it goes for a pretty penny.  As I type, there is a copy for sale for $125.00, and a new-in-shrink copy for auction starting at $39.99.  The auction will probably approach $100.00 USD before it is sold.  Going over that amount is likely.

So, do I recommend this or not? Yes, but with reservations.  If you are a die-hard NASCAR fan, this is a great game.  It may be worth the price on eBay.  I would also say that it is a possible thrift store find - that's how I got my copy - and I would definitely pick it up then.  (You could always sell it on eBay!)  Otherwise, there is an alternative game to fill that race car passion: Top RaceTop Race is a very similar racing game by Kramer, which is still in print and reasonably priced.

It's Your Move!

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