The Herald Bulletin

February 20, 2012

Stock car racing gets championship treatment

Plaay Games offers sterling Red, White & Blue Racin'

By Rick Teverbaugh

— Let’s get this out of the way right at the drop of the green flag – auto racing is one of the most difficult of all sports to simulate.

There is something going on all over the track at almost every juncture of the race and often there is important action in the pits at the same time. To simulate that in a game system that players would actually enjoy is very much like doing an audio play-by-play of a three-ring circus.

To do an adequate job, it takes an exceptional design and there have been some such as Formula De, Speed Circuit, Rallyman, Stock Car Championship Racing Card Game and Fast Lane Racing. But to succeed in the simulation the way Red, White & Blue Racin’ (RWBR) has takes absolutely brilliance and that’s what Keith Avallone and PLAAY Games has presented in this tabletop experience.

To call this a game would be to minimize the experience completely. RWBR is a completely immersive simulation of stock car racing that manages to encapsulate the entirety of a week of stock car racing while still keeping the game play under an hour.

What is at the heart of making the game work are the driver cards, the ratings and the challenge system.

Each driver gets a car with a graphics depiction of the car and the number. Under that is the driver name and the year the card depicts (more on that later). Then the driver has gas pedal and brake ratings. The higher the gas pedal rating, the more likely that driver is to win a challenge. The higher the brake rating the more likely that driver will prevent someone from pulling off a challenge against them.

Then each driver is rated in several different qualities like Reflex, Control, Star, Smart, Skill, etc. There are three different levels. A driver might not have that quality at all or he or she might have a starred version of the quality, which indicates a heightened version.

Finally the driver gets one of three trophy rankings (or none at all), which are used in qualifying, a pit crew ranking (used to make repairs), a fast pit rating and an Escape rating, which will help them avoid accidents.

The first part of the brilliant design is blending all of those variables into a system that is quite easy to learn and implement without being cumbersome or difficult to remember.

The second part of the brilliance is how those ratings are used to move drivers around through all parts of the pack without rolling for each of the cars each turn, a mechanic that has crippled many past racing games. The key is the challenge system. Each turn there is a good chance that a section of the field will be able to challenge and improve position.

The field is broken into four sections: the Bottom group, the Middle group, the Top group and the race Leader. In each challenge, a driver with the particular quality rolled that turn, will get a chance to swap spots with someone in the next group up. The Bottom tries to get into the Middle, the Middle into the Top and the Top into the race lead. Three different six-sided dice resolve the challenges using the Gas Pedal and Brake ratings. As drivers try to move up, that advancement becomes more difficult. The hardest thing to do is for a Top group driver to take over from the Leader. Sometimes duels will take place between two drivers and the result of that is sometimes feuding drivers or fuming drivers that can impact the remainder of the race.

In my experience with the game, I played with the 2011 driver set. The realism was uncanny. In general, the best drivers had the most success. The drivers with the best chance to win were the ones who started toward the front. But in the eight full races I ran with the game, the overall winner came from the following starting spots: 6, 13, 5, 17, 36, 27, 34 and 7. The fewest lead changes I had was five the most was 16. Considering that each turn represents 10 miles, those are more than just respectable numbers.

Pit stops occur one within each 10 turns and can result a big shifts everywhere except in the Bottom group. Sometimes the best way to get past a really strong driver in the lead is with a quick pit stop. It is a way that track position becomes realistically important in RWBR.

Qualifying has often been a problem with racing games in the past. Not so with RWBR. The system in place takes 10 to 15 minutes and it sets up the field and often a few storylines that may unfold during the running of the race. It will identify some drivers as having the TV quality, which means they have things happen to them during the speed week leading up to the race that could make them better or worse in qualifying and/or on race day.

There is so much more to this game that what I have covered thus far. During my tests I had seen: I have seen cars beset with vibrations, cut tires, a bad clutch, paper on the grill, tire rubs, pit violations and handling problems. I’ve had single-car accidents as well as “the big one.”

Certain tracks will impact the character of the race, making accidents more or less frequent than average or making certain driver qualities more or less important.

The game can be found at www.plaay.com. The game sells for $35 including postage and includes all the game parts as well as enough driver cards and tracks to implement the full racing experience. There are also three separate sets of cards, the 2011 pro season ($16), the stars of the 80s set ($12) and a fictional set of drivers called Stock Car Racing America ($12). Gamers can tailor their drivers to suit their tastes.

My opinion: This isn’t something I state lightly. But Red, White & Blue Racing is the best tabletop sports simulation I’ve ever played and I’ve been playing them for over 40 years. The combination of detail, simplicity of execution, ease of play and immersion makes it hard to even find a single fault. My lone minor complaint is that the two metallic-colored dice included in the game are often difficult to read in less than perfect light. White dots on those dark colored dice would have been a better choice than black.

The game is for both the die-hard racing fan and the casual follower. I can’t think of a way to give it a more heartfelt recommendation.