The basic idea in Breaking Away is that in a road race you have to use your energy efficiently and that means knowing when to conserve your energy by sitting in the pack and when to strike out so as to give yourself a chance of the points and the prizes. Each cyclist has three, or in some cases four, movement cards and on his turn plays one of them and moves the corresponding distance. At the end of the round, when each cyclist has moved, all are given a replacement card, the value of which depends on their new position in the race. The rule which governs the value of the replacement cards is at the heart of the system and dictates the tactics. A breakaway leader is dealt with by a special rule, but for the others the card received is worth 3 plus the number of riders ahead of them in the same section of the pack, with the count starting again whenever there is a break in the line. So, for example, if square 24 were empty, square 23 occupied by Albert, square 22 by Boris and Charles and square 21 by David, then Albert would receive a card worth 3, Boris and Charles a 4 and David a 6. If Eric were next on square 20, he would get a 7, but if he were on 19, with 20 unoccupied, he would only get a 3, because the gap restarts the count. So that is how to build up the value of your hand -- hang around the back, but avoid being caught by mini breaks.
Three things complicate matters: the first is, of course, that the others are trying to do the same; the second is that you are limited in your choices by the cards you hold, making forward planning a necessity; and the third is that at the one third and two thirds distance there are bonus sprints. The first eight riders in each of these pick up points and these, together with the double points on offer at the finish, are what determines victory: the team with the most points at the end of the race wins.
John designed the game about five years ago and for the last four a postal version of it has been running successfully for a steadily growing clientele. Encouraged by this, John has decided to make the game available in the face-to-face form that he originally envisaged and this is the result. It is a do-it-yourself publishing effort and so you mustn't expect the boxed, multi-colour, fancy graphics number that you would get from the professional companies. However, this is more than just a game kit and the production standard is higher than you would get from Rostherne or Lambourne. Supplied in the large mini-grip bag are 24 large, thick, double-sided counters which you slot into stands, much as you do with Demarrage, a track printed on thick card, stationery and a clearly written & well laid out rule book.
Any snags? Yes, the board. At 6241cm it is not small, but for pieces this size it is still not really big enough. John says that if the players are careful they can manage; Mike says that everything is so cramped that enjoyment of the game is impaired. Both are correct, with Mike being more so. The other thing that the board needs, apart from to be bigger, is numbers for the spaces: without them you have so much counting to do that irritation sets in. So what I shall be doing is making my own board -- four, maybe five, stretches of track each consisting of ten spaces, 4cm per space. These are small enough to fit into the bag and as the game progresses you just recycle them. The sprint lines will be put back to the 40/41 and 80/81 positions that they occupy in the postal game so that these can easily be included on the boards. And while I am at it, I shall also make a supplementary board consisting of four columns labelled 1 to 4 and numbered 1 to 20. These, together with some coloured markers, can be used to record everybody's current card holdings. You would still use the pads for your own numbers, but this would give you an easy to see record of other people's without the need for masses of bookkeeping. The other change I shall make is to the rules, where for turn one I shall adopt the postal procedure. With this everyone would write down their orders for each cyclist and there is a rule (for this turn only) which states that ``if there are four or more cyclists on the same square, then the square in front of them is treated as an empty square for the purposes of replacement card values''. This will get rid of any advantages or disadvantages associated with going first and will also deal with the problem of everyone starting with a movement of 1. The change is only needed for turn one.
To buy a copy of the game write to John at 30 Poynter Road, Bush Hill Park, Enfield, Middlesex, EN1 1DL, England. The prices (including postage and packing) are UK, £14; other European countries, £16; outside Europe, £24.