GRAND PRIX from GMT Games is the follow-on game to THUNDER ALLEY from Jeff & Carla Horger. It has all the quality hallmarks of a GMT Game including two, large (215.9 by 279.4 mm) heavy duty, double-sided, playing boards, one race track on each side. It also has some similarities to its predecessor but unless we have been playing THUNDER ALLEY wrong every time we have played it, GRAND PRIX is quite the different game even though the theme of Motor-Racing is the core mechanic.However, having said that, it should also be noted that the tracks for THUNDER ALLEY are compatible with GRAND PRIX and vice-versa.
When you open the GRAND PRIX box, apart from the aforementione race-track boards, you will find one sheet of race counters (42 cars) and one sheet of 222 various game Markers, 2 decks of cards, a drawstring bag and a Rules Booklet, all in good, durable quality. Personally I prefer Motor-Racing games to have miniature car models but I understand the use of card counters because of the costs involved, shame though. I should mention that although the two boards have beautiful art on all sides depicting the four different race tracks, and that the boards are made of heavy card. They are folded into 8 (American Letter sized) segments and because of this they are also subject to wear and tear along the folds, and they do wear quite quickly. When you first remove these boards from their large protective zip-loc bags and lay them out they do not lie flat; you have to exert slight back-bend pressure on the folds to get them to lay flat and be usable to play with.
The car counters are both good and bad in my opinion. The front sides (that with the bevel edge) shows the Player's cars nice and clearly defined and coloured. There are two cars per Player colour, making 12 Teams of 2, team cars differentiated by the number allocated to each. The flip side of each team car shows the same car illustration and number but the background is slightly darker unless you are playing under certain house-lighting in which case both sides of the counters look remarkably similar, only the bevel edge versus the straight edge allows you to tell the difference (and the colours of course).
The other 18 car counters are generic in colour with the only differences being that with the exception of two counters which are unmarked the other 16 counters have various shape and colour symbols; all of these generic counters are neutral or NPC, Non-Player Cars. The coloured symbols on the NPCs denote which of these the players get to control - each player is randomly given a colour - though these cars cannot win awards and are not affected by the hazard counters. They are supposed to be the "also-rans" that drop out or are lapped regularly by the top drivers, but the way the movement works it isn't that unlikely one of them will cross the finish line first.
The game is a card driven strategy race where the players need to use guile, tactics and explore their luck to the best of their ability - yes there is some luck involved, mainly because each player is randomly dealt a hand of Race Cards; the skill and tactics come with the playing of those cards. The Event cards come into play at the end of each Round (after all cars have moved) and the effects may be immediate, affect the weather, or they may possibly affect the action in the next Round; as the Events deck is shuffled there is no knowing what is going to occur untilo it does - so no black clouds showing that rain is likely, for example.
Players need to remember that there are always 22 cars on the track at the beginning of each Race. The players choose a Racing Company and always have two cars each plus a number of "player" NPC cars with the remainder of the 22 cars coming from the NPC pool. Each player puts one of their own colour cars into the bag and then they are drawn out for starting positions, filling in the Grid accordingly. Then this draw occurs again with the cars now drawn being placed in reverse order from the twelfth Grid position forwards towards the starting space. Finally the NPC cars are placed in the bag and drawn for the remaining Grid positions. The weather and number of laps for the race are determined and the players are dealt their Race cards - the GRAND PRIX is about to begin.
Be wary to read the rules comprehensively as there are a couple of major rules that are in amongst the text but can easily be skipped over if you read through them too quickly. One of these is that the players take turns in Race order (the Grid position of each car) to take their Actions. Each Turn players select a Race card and activate one of their controlled cars. In a 2-player game each player is dealt 12 Race cards and each Turn they pick one to play. The Race cards have one of four Movement types on them plus 2 numbers, a large one which represents race movement and a smaller one for Pit movement. The types of movement are: Solo, Line, Pursuit and Lead. Each of these brings something different to the table. Movement is one of the mechanics that takes a little getting your head around if you are a regular player of Motor Race games. In most Formula Motor Racing games cars only move in and through empty spaces, sometimes dragging cars along behind them because of the slipstreaming (pushing and pulling cars along is called "linking" in this game) and sometimes zipping in and out of lanes depending on a number of variants - driver skill, car details etc. In GRAND PRIX Driver skill is never brought into play and lane crossing is only allowed if the correct card is played, possibly even diagonal movement is allowed, but any movement is only allowed according to the card played.
Movement cards allow cars to move one space/section of track per the larger number on it (unless the car is in the pit lane, then it is the smaller number). The type of Movement allowed may drag cars along or/and push cars in front along the same number of spaces. This gives the game the feeling of perpetual motion, just like a real race, with cars often moving more than once during a Round, though only once under its own steam, so as to speak. It is quite possible that by the end of a Round at least one car has traveled completely around the track. Corners allow for overtaking and lane changing but there is no speed or gear necessity for driving round them, players can move cars around them at the same speed as they are moving on the straights.
Some cards not only show the movement points, the actual number of track spaces moved, they also have a small coloured icon on them, and this represents the damage or wear the Player's car takes for activating the card (bringing it into play and using it for a Player car) remembering that NPC cars do not take this damage or wear. Cars can be voluntarily resigned from the race if they are carrying too much such baggage or they can move the cars into the Pit Lane (which in GRAND PRIX runs all the way round the course like a cycle track along a main road) and begin to repair, change tyres (or tires) etc. Generally cars are not allowed on the same Grid space as other cars but this rule doesn't count in the Pit Lane where they are allowed to stack. The Rules say that the car at the bottom of a stack in the Pits is the lead car but at GGO we turned that upside down so that the top car is the lead car, it's much easier to remember car positions that way and all you have to do is slip the cars under the stack as they arrive on the stack.
Tyres and Wear, along with the Weather, are important cogs in the machine of the GRAND PRIX game mechanics but it is the Players skills in selecting the cards that make the game both interesting and strategic. There are three types of tyre, Wet (Blue counters), Hard (White counters) and Soft (Red counters). If the race begins with Dry weather then players must choose to have either Hard or Soft tyres on their cars, they cannot begin with Wet tyres. At some time during play all Player cars must change their tyres (unless it remains Wet all through the race) once at least, NPC cars are not subjected to this law.
I like THUNDER ALLEY but there are times when I think it plays a bit slow. No such worries with GRAND PRIX, or at least we haven't encountered any, well almost anything to hold it up. Saying encountered reminded me that there are a number of small fiddly counters that come into play, damage, wear etc. so there have been a couple of times when we have not used the full game rules and simply raced the cars according to the movement mechanics. This provides an even faster game and yet still requires players to make good choices when selecting cards to play thus ensuring that the game remains more about strategy and less about luck.
Because there are no speed limitations on cornering the four tracks - Circuit Dr Tomas Gomez - Badajoz Spain; Niedra Cebulskie Speedway - Cincinnati - USA; Vasel Towers Circuit - Seoul - South Korea and Bucketeyo Park - Saint Paul -Minnesota USA - really only provide just a different viewpoint with no extra strategy or thought required but it does make a nice change to play on the different boards though.
I have played several Motor Race games over the years and am pleased to say that GRAND PRIX is up there with the best of them.
From the GMT Games website (http://www.gmtgames.com/p-504-grand-prix.aspx)
- Sample Cards
- Here's a near-final version of the Grand Prix Rules. Mark Simonitch has asked for any of you who are willing to take a look and send him any edits you find at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
- Bucketeo Park
- Circuito Tomas Gomez
- Vasel Towers
- Niedra Cebulskie Speedway
- How to play (video) by Top Shelf Boardgames
Articles on Grand Prix in InsideGMT:
- Closed Curcuit: Thunder Alley, Grand Prix, and New Tracks, by Jeff and Carla Horger
- What's New in Grand Prix?, by Jeff and Carla Horger
DESIGNER Jeff & Carla Horger
COMPONENT ART Kurt Miller
RULES LAYOUT Mark Simonitch
PRODUCERS Gene Billingsley, Tony Curtis, Andy Lewis, Rodger MacGowan, Mark Simonitch