Grand Prix Games Overview

There can be no doubt that motor racing, and Formula One in particular, is one of the most popular subjects for both game design and among players. I once saw Alan Moon's and Ernst Knauth's lists of racing games and they ran to several pages, so you can imagine how many games there must be out there. For this reason, and to keep the topic within common knowledge, I have restricted the overview to Formula One games (or very close relations such as IndyCar) and have narrowed the field to those games that have at least some merit. The hundreds of games that involve rolling a dice to move are therefore dispensed with unless they have a clever tweak. The idea of this piece, apart from allowing me and others to woffle on again about a subject we enjoy, is to provide a quick assessment of where F1 gaming is at present, to look at some of the sacred cows to see if they are valid, and see if we might be able to move the genre forward through new designs and approaches. Throughout the piece I will try and convey the games' strengths and weaknesses using an (as yet unpublished) ideal game/simulation as a reference point and you can then read Mr Vasey's following piece to get the brain ticking for next time's ideas. At the time of writing I have no idea what shape Mike and Stuart's pieces will have, being wild and wacky sorts of chaps, so please forgive the structure.

MC - Mike Clifford
SD - Stuart Dagger
MS - Me

Overview (MC)

As Woody Allen once said, motor racing games present the typical paradox in our hobby. They are slow, but represent speed. It is glamour represented by paper, and I'm innocent of all charges. Well, of course you are Woodster, and you are also correct in your assumptions regarding race games. No amount of die-rolls or card play can effectively simulate the 200+ mph F1 car. Nonetheless, they feature strongly on 'Desert Island' lists and continue to have box office appeal for manufacturers. It is my brief to find out why.

Initially, abbreviating the history of motor racing games - first produced just after the First World War, and remaining in a conventional six-sided die/evenly spaced track format for almost 50 years - the first significant change was marked by Waddington's introduction of Formula One. Goodbye die, hello clever little dashboard play-aid. Formula One represented speed by a simple, yet innovative, motion system. Each space moved represented 20mph, and in order to fully represent the variables of the sport, penalties were introduced for late breaking, petrol consumption, etc. Formula One remained fundamentally unchanged for almost 25 years before being dumped by Waddington's and replaced with the short-lived Grand Prix.

Grand Prix featured a haphazard track layout and the return of dice in a flavourless concoction which was laborious to play. The game deservedly disappeared without trace after a couple of years.

Although Formula One had gone the way of the Conservative Party Manifesto, the system lived on in Avalon Hill's Speed Circuit (originally one of the M range of sports games), a plagiaristic clone of almost litigious proportions, but which at least had the good grace to introduce a design your own F1 car element, and thereby an early role-play feature to a well-trusted mechanism. Speed Circuit is still the favourite of the Con crowds, and the variety of tracks available make the game eminently replayable.

Apart from Speed Circuit, the 70s provided three further entries into the F1 game category, two of which were from the land of Wolfgang von Trips.

Ravensburger's Grand Prix had a neat movement system (diceless again), each player could move his three cars 6,5 and 4 spaces. This resulted in close competition and a re-creation which certainly had F1 'atmosphere'. However, the anonymous machines and circuit a significant failing in most games of the genre did not replicate either the power or style of their inherent design.

The other German concoction was the revered Formel 1 (later Niki Lauda's Formel Eins and then Daytona 500), whereby the cars were propelled by a unique card system giving, usually, wholesale movement in any one player turn. The selection of cars was achieved by auction and the winner was determined by financial assets. In other words, running two cars (bought prudently) would likely guarantee the rosette. In its most recent version (Milton Bradley's Daytona 500), the card choices were edited and the lauded 'catch-up' cards deleted. Although now out-of-print, 500 is still available but likely to attract 'collector' status in the next couple of years.

Britain's prime offering during this era of Hunt, Lauda, Scheckter, Villeneuve and Peterson was Actiongable's Gear Shift, a half-decent effort from a company which swiftly vanished without trace. Based at the Brands Hatch circuit in Kent, Gear Shift employed an effective track layout upon which numbers from 1 to 5 were printed, determining the movement for the following turn. Clever, eh?. Unfortunately, like all the previous titles, Gear Shift is now a just a footnote in the history of the sport.

The underrated Austrian company Piatnik were responsible for the next significant offering, Pole Position, which was a good game, but a little abstract. [MS: I would suggest crap and heavily abstract!]. The interchangeable track was a unique feature, but the presentation cartoonish? may have stalled the aficionado. Movement was achieved by the ever-popular pack of cards. Whither yon die?

On the statistical side, Lambourne Games were responsible for Grand Prix ReRun and later The World of Motor Racing, an excellent device with which to replay the great F1 seasons of the past and present. The driver and car ratings are spot on, and the game remains one of Terry Goodchild's premier offerings. If a little unimaginative graphically, TWoMR is a system unlikely to be improved upon.

As most of you will already know, Siggo and I had a smidgen of success with Grand Prix Manager, (which I feel able to mention without embarrassment), an amalgam of race and finance which looked the business once the player had finished the DIY stuff.

And just when you thought you could get along without them, along come the bloody French and Formel De. Not content with foisting Alain Prost upon us, our friends from across the Channel have justifiably earned plaudits for their superb design. Formule De combines every facet of F1 racing in an elementary modus operandi. Well, couldn't any of you lout out there come up with a 20-sided die and a gearbox chart? Ludodelire did, and the simplicity of the game play coupled with superb artwork and a multitude of tracks to race on has resulted in the fashionable item of the day.

As a summary of the above, the following chart will present my (and Mike's) subjective view on Formula One games:

Title Manufacturer Originality Presentation Authenticity Game Play Grade
Formula 1 Waddingtons 10 (9) 8 (6) 8 (6) 9 (7) 9 (7)
Grand Prix Waddingtons 4 (3) 6 (5) 4 (2) 4 (5) 4 (4)
Speed Circuit AH 4 (4) 8 (7) 8 (6) 8 (6) 8 (7)
Formel Eins ASS 9 (9) 8 (7) 8 (2) 9 (8) 9 (8)
Grand Prix Ravensburger 9 (9) 8 (8) 8 (6) 8 (9) 8 (7)
Gear Shift Actiongable 7 (7) 7 (6) 8 (5) 7 (6) 7 (6)
GP Re-Run Lambourne 8 (8) 5 (4) 10 (8) 7 (2)* 8 (7)
TWoMR Lambourne 9 (6) 7 (6) 10 (9) 9 (3)* 9 (8)
GP Manager Lionel 7 (7) 7 (7) 8 (7) 7 (7) 8 (7)
Pole Position Piatnik 7 (10) 8 (6) 4 (1) 7 (1) 6 (1)
Formule De Ludodelire 9 (8) 10 (9) 9 (7) 10 (9) 10 (9)
Formula One Microprose (7) (8) (9) (9) (9)
IndyCar Papyrus (6) (8) (9) (9) (9)

* Replay games, so excused on low decision count.

Speed Circuit (Avalon Hill) (SD)

OK, says Mike, you are old enough to have been alive when Speed Circuit was the only game in town, and so you can do this one. Does it simulate the real thing or is it purely a game? What are its strengths and weaknesses? What tracks are available? And what is the feel for the sport compared to Formule De? (He also mentioned some other game at that point, but I have forgotten what it was. Age again. Either that or malice.) The first question is easy. Neither Speed Circuit nor Formule De simulate the real thing, and we should be grateful that they don't try. A twenty six competitor, seventy lap procession, where only three or four cars have any chance of winning, and where the main excitement comes when someone takes two seconds too long to change their tyres, is not something I want to spend the evening simulating. For a simulation to be possible the original activity must have strategies and tactics that can be recreated in game terms. Motor racing does not. There is no strategy and precious few tactics. The skill lies with the engineers and with the bravery and reflexes of the drivers. None of this can be translated into cardboard [MS: A tad controversial there Stuart! Actually, I disagree with most of these statements (is this mainly down to liking the sport and getting overly excited during pitstops?) but the challenge will be to try and present Stuart (and others with similar views see letter column) with a workable, and interesting, game].

The most that can be said for either game in terms of how well they reflect reality is that they try to provide you with game mechanics that you can pretend reflect the real thing, even though you know that it is only pretending. Both succeed, and which you prefer depends on whether you like to imagine motor racing as being about taking calculated risks or whether you think of it in terms of overtaking manoeuvres. Formule De goes for the first; Speed Circuit for the second. Interestingly, both achieve their aim by exploiting the same piece of artificiality, which is that board games are played in turns: both are about how well you manage your turns relative to the corners. To see just how bogus this is, reflect on the fact that while Murray Walker has said many strange things in his time, he has never yet said that Hill has to spend three turns in this corner, or that he needs to get one square further forward this turn if he is to be able to accelerate without penalty next. In Grand Prix racing movement is continuous; in these games it is central to the whole structure that it is not.

I enjoy both games, without being good at either. I am also in no doubt as to which is the more skilful: Speed Circuit. Provided you play using the original 3M rules, and ignore the optional rule that Avalon Hill introduced because at the time they took the game over they couldn't conceive of a game where you didn't roll a die and consult a table, Speed Circuit is luck free. I would also contend that Speed Circuit's view of motor racing is closer to reality than Formule De's. In Grand Prix racing one of the key features is that it is difficult to overtake a car which is nearly equal to your own in performance, and such tactics as drivers use in a race centre on how to do this. The main ones are (1) being more aggressive in traffic than your rival, (2) stealing the racing line as you go into a corner by delaying braking and (3) keeping very close to the car in front as you go through the corner and then using the tow that you get as the two cars straighten up to pull out and pass. The overtaking tactics in Speed Circuit are equivalent to these. There are no equivalents in Formule De: in that game you just hope that the dice are kind. [MS: I agree on Formule De here but definitely didn't get this overtaking feel from Speed Circuit exactly why I asked a veteran player to comment].

Tracks for Speed Circuit? Avalon Hill have produced several sets of extra tracks, some of which appeared in All Star Replay. I have only seen a few of them, and so do not know how good they are. Those I have seen are narrower than the ones that come with the game. This probably makes them better if you have only four players, but makes for too much frustration for the back markers if you have more. There are also a lot of amateur produced tracks. These are easy enough to do: you just get hold of a map of the circuit and invest in an A2 drawing pad. The game is played postally, and somewhere in the postal hobby there is, or was, a guy who had built up an archive of these. The address I have for him is several years old, and so I don't know if he is still operating, but it would be easy enough for me to find out should any of you wish me to try. I also have a small collection of the things myself - some I did, and some he sent me. Again, you are welcome to contact me if you are interested. Stuart Dagger, 27 Cameron Way, Bridge of Don, Aberdeen, AB23 8QD, Scotland

Formel Eins (ASS) (MS)

Alongside Formule De, this is probably the most gamey system under review. In terms of simulating F1, it fails completely (it might as well be wheelbarrow racing I can't recall when a F1 driver last braked in a corner to stop himself and everyone behind him), but as a pure race game it stands as one of the best systems available. The little plastic 312Ts are nice as well. The basic idea, and feel free to refer back to the review of Daytona 500 in Sumo Retro, is that you are dealt a hand of movement cards which show you how far you can move each of the six cars, including wildcards that can move your choice of colour. On this basis you bid to control one or two cars in the race in the hope of winning prize money. Play is 'simply' laying the cards in sequence, jockeying for position, avoiding blockers, conserving movement and hopefully winning. Excellent fun, but no simulation. The game existed in a previous life as Tempo (a sort of abstract racey type thing), was released in two or three editions as an F1 game and was later resurrected as Daytona (in my view the best rendition) by MB. It is soon to be reprinted in some form or another by Avalon Hill or Mayfair, possibly as an Indy 500 scenario, depending on which rumour you believe. On which subject, having just watched the '94 Indy highlights, I have to say this strikes me as the most overrated sporting event in the world (but at least Mansell got annoyed again).

Grand Prix Re-Run and The World of Motor Racing (Lambourne) (MS) Two sharp little replay games here, high on simulation content but decision making, interaction and gameplay are virtually non- existant. This is not a criticism, and we have been through the justifications before now in Sumo. What you get are two games that reproduce a F1 race in detail, with all the cars, realistic mechanisms and outcomes. I would favour (marginally) TWoMR over GPRR if only because it is the more recent game and encompasses Terry Goodchild's latest ideas, all of which work extremely well. It also includes the amazingly sexy 1965 season. My complaints are the usual ones they lack atmosphere and colour (though you can make up your own tracks and cars) and it takes a long time to play each race three hours for me, rather less for experts. The best there is on the replay front. TWoMR was also released on computer for the PC which speeds up the actual moving and calculations no end, but actually manages to kill any remaining flavour at the same time, being text based. The Spectrum version may be better, but I ain't seen it.

Grand Prix Manager (Lionel Games) (MS) Modesty goes out the window here as, for those who don't know, this is my joint design with MC and still available (I think) from him at the Maberley Road address. Despite roughly equal doses of outrageous praise and heartfelt contempt from purchasers (around 100 at last count), I still like the system but concede, after extensive discussion, that the game should perhaps have motorcyclists instead of motorcars if it claims to be a simulation in detail as well as a realistic result generator. I grant you that there is too much overtaking and thus lead changes but the trade off is an exciting game, with flavour, that is often close. That said, there are some good ideas in there such as charging, slipstreaming, back markers, all 26 cars, pitstops, differentiated car performance and victory conditions and the (love it or hate it) blind fate retirement rule. With hindsight and detachment, it is actually more of a replay game than I'd imagined at the time (surprising given that its roots are in Ravensburger's Grand Prix) and is probably rather closer to the Lambourne games in feel than, say, Formule De. I would also say that there is more decision making and colour than TWoMR (and it plays much quicker), but almost certainly less accuracy. A variant, as yet unfinished, proposed by Charles Vasey ditches the randomising cards and has the cars moving from the front with some variety of overtaking mechanism. This works nicely with the drawback that you need to remember which car of each team has already moved the higher number. It needs some work, but could be used as the basis for a lot of detail.

Formule De (Ludodelire) (MS)

This one is an oddity. By far my favourite of all the games listed, it is the one with perhaps the weakest underlying system. At its roots, this is a roll the dice game with Waddingtons style decisions (on gear selection) layered on top. Despite that, the system works superbly as a race game and I have played in excess of twenty races now, so it must have something going for it. The game is full of flavour, no doubt due to the excellent boards and the feel the track designs convey of actually being there. In no other game I've played (short of computers) does Monaco feel, rather than look, any different to Hockenheim. Ludodelire have at least cracked this part of the puzzle. The little cars help as well, particularly the new metal sets painted up in full race liveries. The only failing is that, compared to the real thing, it doesn't really stack up. There is the common problem of constant overtaking (an element that makes for an exciting game in my view), no car differentiation (apart from the 'Build your own' rules) and, not so importantly, only ten cars. There are numerous variants doing the rounds (including this issue's magnum opus I have yet to try this) that allow you to tailor the game more to your tastes, but I like it almost as bought. Expensive, but well worth it.

To Be Advised (Domark) (MS) This is the game announced at the Olympia Toyfair and which seems to offer a completely new slant on F1 racing. The broad picture (as details are yet to emerge) is that you start by building a team from engine, chassis and driver upwards. I have no idea what this will be like as the April launch date has long since passed with no news from Domark, who of course normally concentrate on computer games. I do have some hope however as rumours indicate that Ian Livingstone is now involved with the company in some form. We await developments on this one.

To Be Advised (Lambourne) (MS)

Terry obviously likes to cut things fine, as on the morning that this little lot was going to get printed out, he sent a Replay Report announcing a probable new campaign game, in the vein of Sport of Kings, that will simulate an entire season of F1 with engines, chassis, drivers (and presumably sponsorship), culminating in a quick race mechanism with 'race tactics'. Yeahhh! Okay, so Domark might be out first, but I am not going to lose sleep over two designs on this subject. Again, we await developments.

F1 Grand Prix (Microprose) and IndyCar (Papyrus) (MS)

I include these two computer games (PC only, I believe) simply because of all the systems outlined here, they are the best at conveying many features of the subject matter. In the same way that no board game can come close to simulating air combat, the cardboard heroes listed above can only offer a hint of what goes on in a F1 race. I am not saying either F1GP or IndyCar are 100% real, but they definitely come a lot closer than your average boardgame. They are fast, exciting and it is bloody hard to overtake, for starters. You also get three dimensional tracks, driver names and correct car liveries. Played two player, or even on your own, they are about the best you can get at the moment.

On to the Design Project: Formula One or back to Downsizing In Game Design.

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