I’m pretty hesitant about Kickstarter games – I don’t like to commit to buying something unless I can check it out first, or can rely on a trusted reputation. Well, Matt Leacock (Pandemic, Roll Through the Ages, Forbidden Island & Desert) certainly has a reputation that gamers can trust, so I went in for his newest game, Chariot Race, without hesitation. The game shipped out about two weeks after the Kickstarter was fully funded, so I got it to to the table as quickly as possible and we played with the max player count of six.
Shane used to (probably still does) have this game Circus Maximus, which was a more robust take on the chariot racing theme containing heavier mechanics and a play time that was about six to eight times longer than Chariot Race. The premise is, of course, to speed your chariot around the colosseum, avoiding almost certain death or severe injury at the hands of your fellow gladiators, or by hitting opponents or turns at high speed. Much in the same vein as Leacock’s Roll Through the Ages, this is accomplished by rolling dice and re-rolling or augmenting the role via abilities. Your speed, damage track, and special ability points are tracked by a personal player board, which has variable player powers for more advanced racers. After you learn how it all works, the game could easily play in 20 to 30 minutes, as the ruleset is fairly light.
It’s not a perfect game, however. The mechanics and strategy are not terribly dense, as they’re left largely to the luck of the dice, and your position on the track. Luckily, the movement range isn’t controlled by dice, so you rarely fall behind the pack unless your chariot is severely damaged. Leacock has put forth careful attention to making sure that the game is simple and quick enough that the flaws don’t hang you up too much – that is to say, the game is way more fun than it is flawed, so I count that as a win. My other warning is that the rules are not always explained clearly. We did have to do a lot of rereading during the first game, and we are still left with questions about certain resolution orders or circumstances, but nothing a house-rule compromise didn’t fix.
All in all, a decent game that is light and thematically delightful.