DEMARRAGE - Reviewed by Mike
During the late 1980's I saw many references in the game magazine SUMO to a "wonderful cycling game called Homas Tour, sadly out of print". The game acquired mythical status with secondhand copies fetching over 50 pounds, a lot of money then. We were encouraged by reports that the Dutch company Jumbo had obtained the rights and were going to republish the game. This duly arrived in 1991 with the dubious distinction of having 2 different titles, the German one being "UM REIFENBREITE" and the French title, reviewed here, being "DEMARRAGE".
Cycling enthusiasts and gamers expecting a production that reflected the hard world of professional cycling to be accompanied by the relevant images to support that view were probably disappointed in the approach made by Jumbo to 'dumb it down' to appeal to a family audience. What we have here are cartoon graphics showing hairy-armed cyclists in comic poses and the garish board is covered with similar representations of the supporters that turn out in their thousands to cheer the peleton on their way. I can only assume that Jumbo's marketing department had done its research on this. Nevertheless we bought the game blindly on the promise of the game that lied within and, in the main, we were not disappointed.
There are several excellent translations of the rules on the Internet so this review is meant to portray a flavour of the game to see if it will appeal to readers who have not seen the game. It can accomodate 2-4 players and each 'stage' of the race is variable, lasting between 20 minutes and 1 hour. Many suggestions of a complete race are provided in the rules and I would opt for a 3-stage game which involves using all the different types of terrain. With the decision time between moves and the necessary bookeeping involved that should last about 2 hours.
Components consist of the large board on which are depicted several different routes over the varying terrain of flat roads, cobblestones, stiff uphill climbs and murderous high-speed descents. Each of these types is identified by its own distinctive colour on the track.
Players each receive a set of 4 cardboard cyclists, each uniquely numbered, mounted on a plastic stand and the matching cards which depict their relative strengths. They also receive 4 joker cards which do not have a numbered rider shown on them as they can be used on any rider when played.
The package is completed by a set of 22 Chance Cards; 6 photo cards used to determine the outcome of any cheating that has gone on (see more about this later); 2 six-sided dice; scoring pads.
So now onto a brief description of play to try and give you the flavour. Once the players have decided upon the number of stages and the length of each stage the game can begin. The basic premise of the game is the points scoring mechanism, which allocates a certain defined number of points for each finishing position in a stage, plus additional bonus points for the first 3 cyclists passing through the various sprints along the way. The game is won by keeping your team together and finishing quite high up rather than sacrificing everything to one rider who may win the stage but the rest of the team finish well down the field.
To illustrate the last point let's suppose your riders finish in positions 1, 10, 13 and 16. Your winning rider has also gained 8 points in sprints but as the jokers were played on him to keep him in front the rest of the team fell behind the main peleton and struggled to finish. The team points would be 50 +8 for the sprint, 20, 14 and 8, a grand total of 100 points.
If your team had ridden as a group and kept relatively high they might have finished in positions 3,5,7 and 9, with the rider in 3rd place snatching a 5-point sprint bonus. This team will score 35 + 5 points bonus, 30, 26 and 22, making a grand total of 118 points !
MOVING For each rider you have a choice of 3 ways to determine his move. a) by throw of 2 dice. b) by use of 2 cards. c) by a combination of 1 dice and 1 card. Certain restrictions apply as to how many cards can be used and in which terrain so this is not as straightforward as one might think. Another consideration is that on certain types of terrain there are marked numbers and, if the rider starts his move on this type of space the number shown must be deducted from the movement this turn.
This means that sometimes the rider will not want to take all his full movement if that would mean ending it on a space containing a high number and he would have to reduce his next move, so players have to be careful how they use the movement. On certain sections, particularly on corners, there are thick black lines on the track and if other riders occupy those spaces the rider has to take the longer route round the outside.
The other point to be aware of is the sequence of moving. This is done in race order each turn so the leaders always go first. If on the same row the riders on the right are deemed to be ahead so when you complete a move it's often worth placing your rider on the right to take advantage of this rule.
There are 3 special cases to consider during the movement, the 'Following Rule', the 'Chance Cards' and 'Cheating'. Each of these is described below to make you aware of their effect, to aid your understanding of where they might be employed to your advantage.
Following Rule If you can get your team lined up behind one another and you move the first one with a high movement factor the second and subsequent riders can use that movement instead of creating their own. This could save valuable energy cards or joker cards for later on in the stage. However there are restrictions on its use, inasmuch as all the riders must be able to finish still lined up astern of the first rider for it to be allowed. Sometimes a corner gets in the way which does not permit this to be possible so it has to be chosen carefully.
Additionally, if riders from other teams are also directly astern of your riders they can also take the benefit of the slipstream and gain the same movement, subject to the same restrictions described before. If you do not wish to take advantage of this option you must state clearly "No Following" before you determine your move. Often in the excitement of making your move you forget to do this and an opponent takes full advantage of your lapse !
Chance Cards Whatever way you choose to determine movement if the result is 7 you have to take a chance card and act upon it. Some of these are good, either giving you increased movement or the ability to pick up an energy card that you had used previously. Sometimes they are bad, the worst one being the "Chutes Collectives", which causes you to fall off and bring down any other riders that are to your left or directly behind you. Riders to the right of the fallen riders also fall down ! This can cause mayhem as you can imagine and if it happens to the leading pack it can bring them back to the rest of the field.
(NB: There are certain sections of the gaming hobby who do not like these Chance cards and have devised their own alternative method of handling the movement of 7. If anyone is interested in obtaining one of these variants then please e-mail me.)
Cheating Instead of calculating movement in the normal way a rider can cheat in one of 2 ways. But he risks being disqualified if found out at the end of the stage and any points he has gained will be forfeited, so it's not without danger!. The first method is to hang onto the chase car that follows the race. This is simulated by the rider announcing this fact, rolling 1 die and adding 6 to the number thrown. The 6 Photo cards are shuffled and the cheating rider draws one card from the deck and the number drawn is noted against his rider number on the scoring pad. He can do this up to 4 times in a stage but he draws a card each time, thereby increasing his chances of being caught.
The second method of cheating is by moving 12 spaces without rolling. In this instance the rider must draw 2 cards from the Photo Deck which are noted as before.
After the stage has been scored the Race Organiser shuffles the 6 Photo cards and draws 2 cards. Any rider entered on the scoresheet against either of the numbers shown have been photographed cheating and are disqualified and their points gained are subtracted from the team total.
Scoring: As riders complete a Sprint or the end of each stage the Race Organiser(one of the players) enters their rider number in the appropriate columns on the scoresheet. When all riders have finished the points are awarded according to finishing positions, to which the sprint bonus points are added and the total for each rider is entered under the team line-up. The team total is calculated by summing the points for all riders(excluding those disqualified - see cheating above). Points gained are carried forward and the overall winner is the team that scores the most points after all the stages have been run.
The comprehensive rules describe many more facets of the game than I have mentioned here. It can be played on many levels from the simple family game which is just a race from one point to another using dice only, to the 'professional rules' where all cards have their influence and a longer multi-stage race is played. There is even a special formula to work out the best team using these rules !.
There is a lot to recommend in this game if you are prepared to invest the time in reading and understanding all the rules. It does not necessarily play well 'straight out of the box' and is best judged when played by a group that have gained some experience of it.