Long Distance Double, a recent release from Lambourne Games, was mysteriously announced in the form of its initials earlier this year by that mischievous Terry Goodchild. It immediately prompted speculation on what exactly 'LDD' might be. A new drug? Large Diameter Darts? Long Dark Days, the fishing simulation? We didn't know, but what was important was that another Lambourne game was coming in October. It turned out to be a surprise for most.
LDD is a game about 5,000m and 10,000m running. It thus immediately begs comparison with the classic Metric Mile from the same company, but this is a slightly different beast though one that grabs you in much the same way as its illustrious predecessor.
Like Metric Mile, there are a large number of athletes included, each with his own card. Runners range from the most recent performers back to the early Olympians, taking in the likes of Dave Bedford, Big Bren, Viren, Ron Clarke, Moorcroft, Nuurmi and that talented Mr Zatopek. I don't think there are many big names missing and the fan of the long races will not be disappointed with the range of cards provided. The only oddity is that they are all men, so no McColgan, Weitz or Melinte cards; an expansion set perhaps Terry? Also included, which will be useful for Metric Milers, is a professionally printed numbered track made from plastic, rather like a small version of the one supplied in World of Motor Racing. That, some charts and stand up counters, complete the package which sells for around £15.
The two race lengths use slightly different systems but the general gist is that the race gets underway using charts to establish the relative 'starting' positions on lap 2 for 5k races, lap 11 for 10k. After this, all runners will have a position on the track and will have burned up stamina depending on the pace set so far. This can mean one or more runners out in front or off the back, with the rest tending to average in the main group. From here on in, the players 'run' their athletes in much the same way as Metric Mile, though using a different system.
Each runner's card has lap numbers listed alongside a lap rating - A,B,C, D or X. A is the best possible lap rating, B next and so on down the list. The letters are geared to the runner's ability to change pace and preserve stamina on that lap. Essentially, during the race each runner will be running at his own fixed speed, moving him forward a number of spaces each lap. That speed can be maintained with no dice roll or loss of stamina but if you want to temporarily inject pace (the classic one or two lap burst) or speed up permanently, the runner must roll against the letter pertaining to the lap in question. On an A roll, chances are that the injection will come cheaply on the applicable chart. On a D, the cost is likely to hit the stamina reserves and may even backfire.
The kicker is that on a lap rated X, the runner must test, which probably will cost him stamina to simply stay in contention or keep up with the pace. These X laps seem to represent the infamous bad patches experienced by runners in such physically draining events. The upshot is that each runner's speed changes throughout the race, hopefully in response to race conditions, while trying to maintain stamina and work out the 'pacing' accordingly. Just as in the earlier game, stamina can disappear too quickly and the runner struggles at the back, or it can be in reserve at the end of the race which you have hopefully won. A typical game with about a dozen runners will take about 90 minutes, but like Metric Mile, this goes very quickly and is time well spent.
As in Metric Mile, each runner has been carefully tailored to emulate his real life performance. Terry claims that learning how best to run each athlete will take some time, time I probably won't be able to assign to LDD, but I know what he means. The profile of each runner is based on the stamina and lap ratings; that is, the number of bad laps and the number and location of the good letters. Someone like Viren has a lot of As and Bs towards the end of the race so becomes a fast finisher while others like Yifter the Shifter have a much flatter profile. The result, once again like Metric Mile, is an uncanny resemblance to the style and running abilities of the athletes portrayed. One classic race had my Finnish team (featuring the return of Suomi Siggins, manager) towards the back, despondent of ever catching up and hoping their fast finishes would stand firm. In the end, they did, and the finish was really close, Viren going from near last to second. Atmosphere? It's oozing out. I still don't know how Terry does it, I'm just glad he does.
Ironically though, where I think LDD fails slightly is in this overall feel. 90% is there, but a nagging tenth doesn't work and is quite hard to pinpoint. My opinion is that the pre-determined stamina/lap system is at fault. The result is an artificial sensation missing from Metric Mile - in that game you know your stamina is going to drop away but you are never certain when it might happen. In LDD, you can check your card and say, right, laps 10, 12, 15 and 22 are where I'm going to have bad patches - surely knowledge unavailable to the long distance runner? I acknowledge that those 'bad' patches may, with luck, turn out to be a minor hindrance, but you still have the foresight. This doesn't gel for me but in the overall picture this false quality is almost lost and races do work rather well. Design for effect, but I feel it could have been a little smoother.
Small criticisms are that in one race I played, Vladimir Kuts was entering the last lap in third place and promptly gave up there and then due to poor fitness or similar. From what I have read about Kuts or distance runners in general, this seems a bit unlikely. The other oddity is the sprint rule which seems to be tacked on and is unusually indecisive - I concede this is often the way it is in the longer races, but it takes some getting used to and feels a bit of a waste of time. Gone are the killer kicks of Cram, replaced by a little straining burst from the likes of Puttemans. In the games we've played, I think only one position has changed hands in the final sprint. I think it is anti-climactical more than anything, but still feels rather redundant.
Despite these small gripes, LDD is a game to rank with the best of Terry's replay designs. As a game, I feel it is slightly weaker than Metric Mile for the above reasons but as a simulation, you would be hard put to better it. The feel and imagery of the races is incredibly good and once again Terry has effectively 'done' another sport. With the production values of Lambourne Games gradually creeping upwards and with the useful numbered track included, this is another worthwhile game from the Lambourne stable and I can safely recommend a swift purchase.
On to the review of MAI 68 or back to the review of Droids.
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