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Friday 21 April 2023

Friday Filler: Chariot Race

Chariot Race
is a ‘Roll & Race’ board game. Now lots of board games are races, involving the rolling of dice to move. For example, Snakes & Ladders and Ludo are both children’s classics, both involving races, but Chariot Race is a modern board game and uses its dice rolls to create different effects and determine what a player can do from turn to turn, much like the earlier King of Tokyo. In the game, the players are charioteers, standing in their chariots, reins and whip in hand, javelins and caltrops to one side, ready to race, to the sound of the roaring crowd of the colosseum. To win, a player must be first across the line after completing two laps of the arena. Unfortunately, his rivals will not only do their best to outrace him, but they will also do their best to stop him—dropping caltrops into his path if he is behind, throwing javelins at him if close enough, and even ramming him! The result is a fantastic spectacle for the crowds and glory for the winner who can survive long enough to cross the finishing line. All this will be done according to the rolls of the dice—can a player slow his chariot down enough to get round a corner without risking damage or speed up to catch his competitors? Can he change lane to avoid an obstacle, a rival charioteer and his chariot, or caltrops thrown in his path? Can he attack a competitor? Can he gain the Favour of Fortuna and make repairs to his damaged chariot or alter the results of the other dice? Only the bravest of the brave and luckiest of the lucky charioteer will be able to find out in Chariot Race.

Published by Pegasus Spiele, the biggest draw for Chariot Race is the fact that it is designed by Matt Leacock, who is best known for designing Pandemic, the board game of the CDC attempting to find cures to diseases before they overwhelm the world. Where Pandemic is co-operative, Chariot Race is not. It competitive, combative even. Designed for two to six players aged eight and up, it can be played in fifteen to forty-five minutes, is easy to set up and play, and includes advanced options too.

The core components consist of a double-sided game board, six chariot pieces in different colours, six double-sided chariot boards which match the chariot pieces, twenty wooden caltrop markers, eighteen pointer clips, and five dice. There are also Dolphin tokens to indicate if a player is on his first or second lap. Everything is in full colour and easy to use in play. The game board depicts the oval of the colosseum with three tracks. On the one side, this is plain, but on the other, it is marked with heaps of stone which will damage any chariot which runs over them. The chariot boards are marked with three tracks—the Damage Track, the Speed Track, and the Fate Track. The Pointer Clips are used to track these numbers. The amount of Damage a player’s chariot has taken restricts its maximum speed and the amount of dice the player can on his turn. The five dice are marked with Horse (Normal movement), Double Horse (Sprint), Steer, Attack, and Favour of Fortuna symbols. In play, a player will use these to alter his chariot’s speed, change lane, attack his competitors, and alter his luck.

Initial order of the chariots is determined randomly and then the turn order works from the chariot in the lead backwards, that is, from front to back. A player’s turn consists of six phases—Repair, Adjust Initial Speed, Roll Dice, Obtain the Favour of Fortuna, Move, and Attack. The Repair and Attack phases are optional. In the Repair phase, a player can spend three Fate Points to repair his chariot by up to three points of damage. The Adjust Initial Speed requires the player to check that his chariot’s Initial Speed does not exceed its current Damage Value as more damage reduces its maximum speed. The player than rolls the dice, the number again determined by the chariot’s current Damage Value. Then the player rolls the dice. A player can reroll as many dice as he likes once, but can spend Fate points to reroll again or to adjust a single die face to any non-Fortuna side.

Once a player has rolled the dice and made any rerolls, he begins applying them to his chariot. To Obtain the Favour of Fortuna he records any Fortuna symbols rolled on the dice. He can have a maximum of six. Then he can Move and Attack. However, actual movement is equal to his chariot’s Speed, and what the Horse (Normal movement) and Double Horse (Sprint) symbols do, is adjust that Speed. Horse (Normal movement) symbol lets a player adjust his chariot’s Speed, up or down, by one, whereas the Double Horse (Sprint) symbol lets a player adjust his chariot’s Speed, up or down, by two, but at the cost of a point of damage. The obvious reason for adjusting his chariot’s Speed is to catch up with another chariot, whether to pass it or ram it, but he may also need to slow down. This is because he might want to avoid another chariot or because he has to career around a corner! Both ends of the arena are marked numbers—higher numbers on the outside, lower numbers on the inside. If a chariot has a Speed higher than this number when it crosses through it, the chariot suffers damage. The inside track is shorter, but tighter, and so their number is lower. The outside track is longer, and its number is higher. On the expert board, which has stone heaps, the player might slowing down to avoid hitting them.

The Steer symbol allows a chariot to change lanes. Lastly, the player can use the Attack symbol to inflict damage on his rivals. First, by dropping a Caltrop on the track which another chariot might ride over and take damage from, and second, by throwing a javelin at a rival chariot. Another means of inflicting damage is to ram a chariot, but this inflicts damage to both the ramming chariot and the rammed chariot. It is possible to destroy a chariot, whether through poor handling round corners, riding over caltrops, being rammed, or having javelins thrown at it. A destroyed chariot means the player is out of the game, it leaves wreckage which does the same damage as a caltrop.

Chariot Race includes rules for two- and three-player games, with teams of chariots rather than singles. This enables a player to keep playing if he loses a chariot. Besides the alternative board on the other side marked with stone heaps, the chariot boards each have a different chariot on the back. They add a degree of variety to the game and a bit more individualism to the game.

Physically, Chariot Race is underwhelming. The components, done in full colour, are on thin card. The chariots are cardboard standees rather than wooden or plastic pieces. The dice are decently done though. Consequently, the feel is of a game with a lower budget and less durability. The rule book though, is clearly written, easy to read, and includes examples of play that ease learning the rules.

Chariot Race is primarily luck driven, with little in the way of player choices or tactics. Does a player race ahead to get a good start or hold back and avoid the carnage upfront as players battle for the lead, only to push forward on a chariot that has taken less damage and can thus maintain a higher speed? Other than that, a player is really only trying to make the best use of his dice rolls from one turn to the next. The result though tends to be a chaotic free-for-all, a brawl on two wheels drawn by thundering hooves and steaming nostrils of the horses. So, in the way Chariot Race does make a good filler. It is light, easy to understand, and quick to play. However, a group wanting something more thoughtful, less combative, but of a similar length, might try Ave Caesar. For more detailed, simulationist version of chariot racing, the classic Circus Maximus would be a good choice.

Ultimately, Chariot Race feels just a little too light, a little too lacking in depth for repeated play, and not enough choices. The variant rules do not add enough to keep the players’ attention for more than a few games, and ultimately, Chariot Race is more going to be remembered for the designer than the design.

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