Chariot Race Review - Ben Hur: A Mini Adventure

There aren't many racing games out there that I would consider must-owns. Currently the only two in my collection are Snow Tails and Automobiles. I'll defend Snow Tails as my favourite - it's so simple to teach, the new edition looks great on the table, it's modular, it's a laugh and it can have its fair share of close finishes. Automobiles is a bit more heavy, but its unique way of incorporating bag building into a racing game keeps it on my shelf.

Matt Leacock is no stranger to the industry especially when it comes to making light games accessible to many. Pandemic, Forbidden Island/Desert, Thunderbirds and many more, these all have a common demoniator of being light enough to fit the gateway games category. Most racing games I know tend to be quite heavy and full of rules (yes I know Jamaica exists but that feels more like a take-that shoot-em-up every time I play it). If this can work as a light-hearted race game without too many compromises, it could fill a nice gap in the market.




Designer: Matt Leacock
Publisher: Pegasus Spiele
Age: 8+
Players: 2-6
Time: 30-75 minutes
RRP: £21.99


From Board Game Geek:

Masses of people awaiting a spectacle… scorching afternoon heat… sweaty equine bodies nervously yanking their harnesses. There it is, the starting signal!
Dashing ahead with your chariot, slowly at first, but quickly gaining speed… circling the spina in the center of the arena to complete the first lap. The next corner comes closer. Glancing back, one of the chariots is already far behind, and just ahead another chariot's speed is too high for the corner, sending the vehicle crashing into the wall and out of the race. Only a single chariot blocks your path to victory, so it's time to get uncivilized. Steadily you balance the javelin in your hand, waiting for the other charioteer to come into view…or should you just overtake him and throw caltrops in his path?
In Chariot Race, players participate as charioteers in a great race in ancient Rome. Use the dice to complete two laps on the dusty arena's circuit and be the first to steer your chariot over the finish line. On a player's turn, if they have gained enough Favors of Fortuna, they can repair their chariot. Depending on the chariot's speed on the previous turn and its current condition, the initial speed is determined, which defines how many of the five dice will be rolled during the turn. Each face of the six-sided dice allows a different action: Gain new Favors, increase or decrease speed, change lanes, or attack opponents (either directly by hurling javelins or indirectly by dropping caltrops in their path). if the first roll is not satisfactory, the player may call on Fortuna to influence the dice, as long they have her favor. Once the result is set, the player moves their chariot forward according to the final speed they achieved and may then take actions against their rivals.
However, breakneck racing and ramming are not without risk. If two chariots collide, they both take damage, and cornering at a wild gallop is not recommended. The further the safe speed is exceeded, the more damage is caused to the vehicle – which might fall apart in the middle of the arena if the driver is too careless, resulting in their elimination from the race.

Ancient Components


I don't know if it's meant to be thematic with the setting here or maybe I'm just spoilt by some games lately, but I wasn't very impressed with the components overall. A small fold out board, some little standees, a bunch of grey cubes (enough with the cubes!) and some flimsy cardboard tracker sheets are the bulk of what you get here.

The dice are a decent size and it's easy enough to tell them apart, but they're pretty basic in design and look, a bit like what you might see from something like Roll For The Ages. But what I really can't stand are the black sliders you get for the tracker sheets. You have to keep track of three separate things on your "board", which you will be adjusting constantly as you move, spend fate and take damage. They're very fiddly with arrows so large they practically eat up multiple rows. Add the issue that the player boards are quite flimsy - I wonder just how long they're going to survive the test of time and player handling.

However that all said, the RRP of Chariot Race is only £21.99. That's incredibly cheap for a racing game and it's clear that was the original intention of the publisher - to make it affordable. I still think more could have been achieved, but it deserves a positive mention.


Mini-Yahtzee


It's refreshing to have a racing game utilise dice again rather than cards and essentially it's like you would do with King of Tokyo, but one less re-roll and some potential dice manipulation. There's not a great deal of strategy to be had, you essentially are choosing between healing, speeding up or attacking other players and the choices are pretty easy to decide upon at any given time, but it's not auto-pilot (no pun intended). Therefore it's suitable to be a gateway game, but with the caveat that player elimination is commonplace, which puts me off a little as I'm hesitant to teach new players that concept too early.

As Chariot Race is quite a short game, the luck factor does play a slightly larger part here. You're only likely to have about 7-12 turns on average in each game and therefore a couple of bad rolls could have a large impact. You've got fate points as a last resort, but these will quickly run out as you're rarely in a position where you can simply sit back and harvest fate points from dice (at least if you want to stand a chance of winning anyway).


Might As Well Jump Off And Fight Hand To Hand!


Even though the main goal is to finish first, Chariot Race feels more like Chariot Brawl. There is a lot of attacking and ramming in this game, especially if you play on the advanced board. So it doesn't feel like much of a race as commonly several players will be out of the match entirely if they're actually trying to get ahead. And even though it's a relatively short game, if you've got a lot of players, it can drag and I feel it's too long for some poor soul to wait if they get eliminated early. It is possible to wrap this up in 30 minutes with 2-3 players who know what they're doing, which is very impressive.

The basic board is just a standard loop with some speed limits on corners. Nothing special, but it works for a first game. Players tend to survive the whole match, but commonly there's been a runaway leader issue if someone gets ahead in the early game. The advanced board is filled with obstacles that instantly take you out of the race. This seems overly harsh and could result in some early eliminations unless you solely reserve your fate points for changing die faces to turns when required. It is however the more enjoyable of the two by far, because the ramming and fighting is what generates the most laughs.

In terms of balance, I recommend not using the variant chariots. The differences aren't that varied, but it's clear that having more durability far outweighs a higher maximum fate track or a huge top speed which is impractical to maintain. Also be wary if you have players who try to be "funny" by setting up a truce when at the front. If the front chariots are not directly attacking each other, they will just speed on ahead to victory with ease. This is a player issue more than a game issue, but just be warned, I've seen it happen and it completely breaks the game when done.



Verdict


Chariot Race will fit the bill for anyone looking for a compact, easy to learn racing game. There aren't many of these on the market and this one flows very smoothly during gameplay wthout any over-complicated rules to govern speed, turning or attacking. It is however very cut-throat and the possibility of player elimination might rub some people the wrong way especially if it happens early in the game with a high player count, which does drag the game out.

The biggest issues are component quality and a runaway leader issue. The pieces are very basic and those sliders will quickly become incredibly frustrating when you're having to adjust them all constantly.

That being said, it's easy to get to the table, it's very cheap and also very compact for a racing game. That in itself fills a gap in the market and even though it's never going to measure up to Snow Tails or Automobiles for me, it has enough merits to work well with the right group.



BROKEN RATING - 6 Busted Chariot Wheels



YOU WILL LIKE CHARIOT RACE IF:


You want a short racing game that doesn't get bogged down in confusing mechanics.


You enjoy rolling custom dice manipulation.


You want to get in the faces of your opponents.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE CHARIOT RACE IF:


You find the components really subpar, especially those annoying sliders.


The runaway leader issue becomes a regular occurrence.


The player elimination would ruin the game for other players.

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