Reviewed by John Harrington
It's duvet stuffing time, again. Duvet stuffing, you may recall, is my pet term for any solitary activity which takes an inordinate amount of time and effort for bugger-all in return except for the enjoyment experienced by the duvet stuffer. Train spotters are archetypal duvet stuffers, as are sport replay gamers of the sort who not only replay the entire 1983 Shinto season but who also keep rigorous stats on the fouls committed by each player. This review concerns a new addition to the sport replay catalogue that will see enough duvets stuffed to keep the Chinese army warm at night.
The Tour is the first game from the ludicrously named Lionel Games, and is based on the Tour de France. Lionel Games (why not Reginald Games, or Rupert Games?) is but a small operation unable to finance a 'proper' boxed game, so there is a Blue Peter element to the game components, which have to be cut out and pasted on to cardboard, but this only takes 25 minutes at tops, even for someone as legendarily inept at these sort of things as I, and once done the result is some perfectly serviceable and indeed colourful cyclist counters, representing the current leading lights of the cycling world. These counters are placed on a board which should also be mounted. The rest of the game's components consist of charts and record sheets, as is standard fare in the Lambourne Games tradition.
The board is not, as you might expect, a racetrack but rather a race display, consisting of boxes arranged in a six by six grid. The grid is arranged into three circuits: the middle four squares (grid references 3-3, 3-4, 4-3 & 4-4) form one track, the 12 squares surrounding the middle track form track two, whilst the squares on the outside of the grid form track 3. At the beginning of each stage the cyclist counters are arranged randomly on the grid. Two dice are thrown to get a grid reference (e.g. 6-4) and a check is made to see if a cyclist counter occupies this square. There are 28 counters spread over 36 squares, so the chances of hitting on a counter are good. If a counter is present in the square then a check is made to see if this cyclist has made a breakaway. The check is made by rolling two dice and referring to a chart. If the break away attempt is unsuccessful then the dice are rolled again to produce another breakaway attempt. Each subsequent attempt has an improved chance of succeeding and the cyclist who instigated the breakaway wins the stage. If, however, no cyclist has made the break after six attempts there is a blanket finish and much bed wetting takes place among the duvet stuffing fraternity.
Once the winner of the stage has been decided the next step is to determine the runners-up. This is achieved by a rather neat mechanism which works as follows: any riders vertically or horizontally adjacent to the winner's counter finish in the second group, starting with the counter directly above the winner's counter and moving clockwise. Any riders on the same display track (tracks 1, 2 or 3) finish in the third group, with their race order also being determined in a clockwise fashion but starting from the winner's counter itself. It should be noted that there is a "peloton" counter, and if this turns up in either of the results determination sequences it means the rest of the field have crossed the line and no more named finishers are determined. Otherwise the riff-raff finish at the back of the field behind the key riders. Having determined the stage winner and the runners-up, the next step is to work out how many minutes and seconds each group finished behind the winner. This is done by rolling dice and referring to a chart. Riders who finish in the same group all clock the same time, which makes me wonder why the rules bother to specify a method for identifying who finished ahead of whom, but doubtless this is either a feature of critical importance to hardened duvet stuffers or alternatively it features as some form of tie break in the cycling world. Once the time-keeping aspect of the stage is dealt with the records of the tour so far are updated and the game proceeds on to the next stage, and so on until all 22 stages have been completed.
It will be seen that this is not a race game, but rather a results generator, and the interest comes not so much from the ebb and flow of each stage but rather from the fates and fortunes suffered by the big names over the course of the tour. Can LeMond make good an eight minute deficit with only six stages to go? Will Delgado hang on to the lead he has held for three stages in succession, or will the three mountain stages do for him? These are the sort of questions one is meant to be asking as each stage ticks by but if you do not know much or indeed anything about the personalities involved then the chances are that the question you will most often be asking is "When will this bloody game ever finish?". Individual and Team time trials, flat and mountain stages are incorporated and do provide a bit of variety, as do the inclusion of special cyclist counters which introduce the possibilities of accidents or blow-ups by the race leaders. The variety offered by the time trials is a bit of liability as this entails nothing more than a dice rolling orgy for each individual cyclist, with dice roll values being added to each cyclist's stated Time Trial rating. The trials do, however, provide one of the few occasions when a more talented cyclist has a better chance of doing well than a less talented one - the results of the other stages are largely a matter of luck.
The game system's relatively infrequent incorporation of the ability ratings of each cyclist was one of the things that puzzled me, as I would have thought that this was an essential feature of a sport replay game. The Tour fails to educate the player in the strengths, weaknesses and traits of individual cyclists despite the fact that such information is provided on Rider and Team Rating charts. Contrast this to a not dissimilar game, Grand Prix Re-Run from Lambourne Games, where frequent checks of the reliability ratings of the cars and the skill ratings of the drivers are called for. Grand Prix Re-Run works on a similarly long-term basis as The Tour, with the drama unfolding race by race over the course of the season but it has two elements which The Tour lacks: first, each race features fluctuations in fortunes of the drivers and second, there is a small amount of decision making to be done on the part of the player. With The Tour it is more of a case of BANG! - this is the result of this stage, on to the next. There is no scope, for instance, for the player to decide that the second placed cyclist in The Tour would, with one stage to go, make a do or die effort from the front.
At this point I must confess that I gave up on The Tour after seven of the twenty two stages. Chances are that it could have roused itself for a gripping finale, but I was not prepared to slog through the intervening ten or so stages to reach that finale. The main reasons why I gave up on it were the lack of dramatic events within each stage plus the amount of record keeping needed to rearrange the leaderboard after each stage. However, I should also point out that I have a very limited knowledge of cycling and I am not much of a duvet stuffer (or rather I am, but I stuff a different sort of duvet). For the fan of cycling, to whom the names of the competitors mean more than just a challenge to pronounce them, this game would have more appeal. It does, after all, work reasonably well as a results generator and there are no obvious bugs in the game system or the rules, which is more than can be said for many a more expensive game from professional games manufacturers.
In summary, then, I would have to consign this one to the ghetto of sport replay aficionados with the added proviso that, in my opinion, even replay fetishists would probably find little to get excited about unless they have an interest in cycling, but at £4.95 you can't go far wrong. I remain impressed by the production standards of the game and the clarity of the rules and consequently look forward to the next product from Lionel Games (if there is one) in the hope that it will feature a bit more cut & thrust and be based on a subject I know something about. Rumour has it there is a Formula One game in the pipeline and as I have recently become one of the world's premier grand prix duvet stuffers perhaps Lionel Games will give me a chance to write a more encouraging review of their next product.
On to the Designer Responds or back to the review of The Tour.
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