Let’s get ready to rumble. This week on Battle of the Boards we’ve got not only two racing games facing off, but two racing games with a heavy dose of high stakes betting. In one corner we’ve got the rubber meeting the road in Downforce. While in the other corner we’ve got some crazy desert antics in Camel Up. Which game is right for you? How can you be sure? I guess there’s only one way to find out. Let the battle begin!
Don’t let appearances fool you, the tiny cars and winding track might have you initially comparing the game to something like Formula D, but it’s less a racing game and much more a betting game. Players begin the game bidding, yes already bidding, which power they’d like and which cars they will be angling for. What are you bidding? Oh, just end game points, no big deal. There will always be six cars racing, so it may be possible that players will be “overseeing” multiple cars. You’ll notice that I didn’t use the word “controlling” and that is for a reason.
You see, players will begin the game with a hand of cards, most of which depict multiple colored cars and numeric values assigned to each. When it is your turn you will get to play a card from your hand you’ll not only be moving your car(s) but all cards listed on the card. This is where the game becomes interesting. There are a couple of rules. You must move the cars in the order from top to bottom, which just so happens to be most spaces to least spaces. So do you play the card that moves you 6 spaces, but then also moves your main competitor 5 spaces? Or do you play the card that only moves you 2 spaces but will cause the lead car to create a bottle neck for all the other vehicles. Decisions, decisions.
Ultimately it may not be that important how well your cars do. Let me explain. At three different points during the race you will be allowed to “bet” on who you thing the winning car will be, even if it’s not your own. It’s possible that you may start to help a fellow opponents car win the race merely because you were betting on it all game long and have to many points on the line for it not to finish first. The game will force you to make tough decisions the entire game while keeping you on your toes, ready to strike when the opportunity presents itself. Yet, on the surface the game still manages to remain very approachable to non gamers with simple actions and straightforward scoring.
It’s worth mentioning too that the game also has two expansions that add new and exciting race tracks and new player powers. These should help the game stay fresh going forward with new and interesting strategies to explore.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to watch a camel race you’re really missing out. I guess they actually climb up on top of each other, in a no rules race to the finish. While I can’t confirm real camel races actually work this way, it sure makes for a fun racing game. Unlike in Downforce, players do not and will not ever control/manage any singular camel. Rather, players are merely bystanders wathing the animals race and placing bets on both the winner and the loser.
The race will be carried out in a series of rounds, until one camel crosses the finish line. Each round players will take turns taking actions until each camel has had a chance to move. Once the last camel moves the round ends and a small cleanup phase will take place before the next round begins. So what actions fo players have to choose from? Well first and foremost, they can progress the race. Arguably the most fun part of the game is the thing that earns you the least money. To process the race the player merely picks up the pyramid in the middle of the board, gives it a shake, and releases one of the colored dice. This die will indicate which camel moves and how far, one, two or three spaces. Simple right? Well sort of.
When a camel moves it is going to carry with it any camels on it’s back. You hear me right. When a camel ends it’s movement on an occupied space, it will climb on top of the back of whatever camel(s) are already there, possibly catching a ride if that camel has yet to move that round. This makes the race extremely unpredictable as camels are constantly climbing onto and off of each others backs, catching rides as they go. But this is just one of the players possible actions. They may also place out oasis and dearest tiles aiding or hindering camels that land on them, making bets for the round, and making final bets. The last two actions are where players are going to make the majority of their cash.
Betting on a particular camel for a round can be done just three times each, with the greatest payouts going to the players who bet first. They will receive money if the camel ends the round in first or second, but will lose money if that camel comes any later than that. So it’s important to bet early to get the biggest payout, but don’t bet too early or you’ll be hating life as other camels rush into the front. As stated you also can bet on the over all winner and loser. Each player has a single card for each camel, and you simple place this camel facedown onto one of the two betting spaces. At the end of the game the biggest payout will go to the player who bet correctly first and then decreasing, but costing all players for their incorrect guess. It’s a real juggling act, deciding when to and on whom to bet when there is so mush chaos going on each round.
So, which game do I recommend. Both games are fantastic group games with Downforce playing up to six players and Camel Up playing a massive eight players. Both games are quick, with Camel Up probably being the quicker of the two. In the end it probably depends on the type of experience you are looking for. Downforce will leave players feel clever while Camel Up will result in more cheers and moans. For me, I think I’ve outgrown Camel Up and need something that gives me a little more control like Downforce. Either way, both are fantastic games and I can’t recommend them enough.