Road Kill

Avalon Hill, £22
Designed by Don Greenwood and Dan Verssen
2-10 players, 30 mins per player
Reviewed by Steve Owen

Roadkill is, as the name suggests, a game of road warfare set in a world akin to that of the Mad Max trilogy - a wild, desolate, oil hungry America of the future. It differs from other games of this genre (Car Wars, Battlecars, Thunder Road etc.) in being essentially a card game where the cards are used in all actions, including movement and the resolution thereof. They also form the game board. The cards reflect a design philosophy of Roadkill's originator Don Greenwood in their ease of information storage and use as a rules aid. So how does Roadkill measure up?

There are 128 cards, mainly black and white, with fairly crude but functional graphics. They are laminated but rather thin and certainly mine are looking somewhat worse for wear after eight games. There are numerous plain but informative control panels which have tracks for time on road, fuel, damage and mechanical problem markers. The counters, by comparison, are of various sizes and colours and quite attractive. The rules, as usual, use tiny type but are reasonably comprehensive. As an aid to beginners there is a separate single rulesheet and, in conjunction with this, a mounted mapboard. The bookcase box cover is simple, colourful and suitably violent and is reproduced on the back of the cards.

The starting hand is seven cards, the play of which is unrestricted. However, the more you play the fewer you pick up. The most important cards are the move/road cards. These may be used to pass other cars or alternatively may be placed down as road sections but only by the lead car. They are numbered between 1 and 4 which represents either the number of cars you may pass or the amount of time which must be spent on that particular road section (it is also the fuel cost used on exiting that section). Attack/defence cards normally allow you to overtake whilst machine gunning, ramming, sideswiping or hubcap blading your opponent, although any passing cards invite a violent response. Cards such as the assault rifle or tyre spikes may only be played when stopped, as may other useful ones including siphon gas, theft and sabotage.

At the bottom of each card is a random number generator divided into 11 sections: the first for damage checks; sections 2-10 for the number of players and the final one for event checks. Sections 4, 5 and 6 also double for repair, attack effect and mechanical problem respectively. For example, a machine gun attack would involve turning a card to generate (under section 5) a number between 1 and 5. This result corresponds to an effect on the attack card- in this case 1 (no effect); 2,3 (target takes damage check); 4,5 (takes one damage). Taking damage may incur further damage checks which can rapidly escalate. Some of the unpleasant things that can befall your car as a result are: damage: each of which reduces your hand capacity by one; mechanical problem: ranging from flat tyre to broken headlights; running out of fuel and getting lost.

Some of the move cards double as rest stops which allow you to refuel and repair damage and personal rest stops can also be created by moving into side roads. Emergency stops can be made at any time in attempt to repair damage/mechanical problems. Stopping also has the advantage that you may be able to change your hand completely.

One of the most difficult manoeuvres in the game is exiting road sections. This requires playing any movement card and the result (which must be positive) is modified by the amount of time spent on the section, the number of trailers (cars behind this section), landmark cards (which each add 1) and a random value related to the number of players.

Each round a random event occurs (of which there are 26) and can vary from change in road width to oil spills, bad weather and even blond hitchhikers. The third time the pack is shuffled, night falls, during which attacks are less effective and fewer cards may be picked up.

In the optional rules there are 26 upgrades of varying cost with which you may ignore one or more rules in the game. A nuclear fuel cell, for instance, requires no fuel stops but a fuel leak would cause one damage per turn until repaired.

The rules are initially quite intricate and although the cards and control panel help information wise, there remains a clear learning curve which at first increases the printed estimate of 30 minutes per player. With familiarity however the game speeds up considerably. Generally it is difficult to pull ahead of the pack which is a deliberate play balance mechanism and usually it is relatively easy to keep within sight of the leaders but still hard work catching them. Certainly it is of little or no disadvantage to start relatively late in the field especially if there are numerous players.

The main decisions in the game are related to when to stop (refuel, replenish hand, repair, or just seed tyre spikes for your friend behind); when to attempt an exit (balance between time on road, proximity of other cards, number of trailers and potential for wasting precious move cards); when to play certain cards (especially shortcut- allows you to pass cars without reprisal but requires a damage check first; no doze pills- allow you to take 3 extra cards immediately and box canyon- sends the leader into a side road and usually makes him hell-bent on revenge!); when to hold/discard certain cards (road map voids getting lost and the box canyon but is otherwise useless; smoke screens can protect you against an attack but fill up your hand; spare tyres, spare parts and tool kits are useful for rapid repair- can you afford to be without them?); when to take the lead (this can be critical especially in the later stages of the game).

The game is fun especially when unpleasant things happen to your opponents but can be incredibly frustrating at times. You may be stopped for several turns because no move card appears or you may be shot at whilst passing and end up in front but stationary with a flat tyre in a ditch.

I would say there is rather more luck than skill in the game (except when I'm winning of course) as you are very dependent on access to move cards and inevitably there is a considerable degree of randomness. I don't think the number of players is a critical factor and, although Don Greenwood appears to recommend four or more, I have found any combination of 2-7 entertaining (I have not yet tried 8+). With higher numbers there is also scope for two players per car which is another of the optional rules.

Overall I would say that Roadkill is quite well presented and, although tricky to begin with, does succeed in bringing some of the concepts pioneered in Up Front to a wider audience and multi-player format using a reasonably familiar theme. Potential drawbacks include its lack of durability, relative expense (the mounted mapboard is only used in the beginner's version which is almost as involved as the full game), its length and luck dependency. However I have already played the game eight times, still look forward to the next session and would recommend it to you.

Card Analysis

Here, as a bonus, is a brief analysis of the cards in terms of numbers, events, associations and so on. My thanks to Dave Spencer who weaved his usual magic in devising an appropriate database.

The rules do stipulate the number of cards of each type (although I have 4 siphon gas and 1 camouflage, rather than 3 and 2) and total move cards comes to 36 (but not much help when you don't have one!). There are certain consistencies. Each landmark card has an event which corresponds to the picture on the card. All swerve cards have roadkill as an event and all sabotage and tool kits a mechanical problem. The commonest events are Narrow and Wide Roads (12 each) and Roadkill (12). However if all types of Roadkill are included the number rises to 21. Ice Patch and Oil Spill together make up 13 and Head/Tail Winds 10. Only 5 cards have bad weather as an event (Heavy Rain 3, Fog 1, Snow 1). 55 cards specify events directed at the lead section or lead car. Of these, I'm afraid only 3 are blond hitchhikers.

With reference to damage checks (note- 6, 7 and 8 = no effect): 50% are 7 or 8 (may be relevant if there is a -1 to the damage check), 65% are 6, 7 or 8. In the following table, the highest and lowest frequency is given for the relevant numbers under each section between 2 and 10:

Road SectionHighestLowest
32 (44)1 & 3 (42)
44 (34)2 (32)
51 (28)5 (23)
62 (23)6 (20)
72 (20)7 (17)
84 (18)6 (14)
92,4&5 (15)7 (13)
101&6 (14)10 (11)

You may note that the only group where the highest number has the top score is 4 which also doubles as the Repair column. Equally, the Attack column (5) has the highest score for 1 which normally corresponds to no effect. The most common Mechanical Problem (6) is 2-Fuel Leak. I hope this may be of some help in your violent and vindictive motoring!

Steve Owen

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