Reviewed by Dave Farquhar
Formule De is a motor racing game designed by the French company Ludolelire. A race is run over two laps, with ten cars competing. Thus it is for up to ten players, taking two to three hours with the maximum, but as little as one hour with three or four players taking two cars each on a one lap race.
It comes in a long box, similar to the traditional Waddingtons format, which opens to reveal a beautiful board depicting the Monaco circuit, complete with seagulls. The board shows an aerial view of the Monaco circuit and its surroundings, with clear and very detailed graphics. Also within are ten coloured plastic cars (two each of five colours, differentiated by a stick-on spoiler stripe), ten coloured wooden pawns, ten control panels (also colour coded), and a twenty sided die.
My set contained only French rules, and although I now have English translations, all the tables are still in French. This has not caused any particular problem, although the first English rules translation I acquired contained some errors. I have sent Mike an English copy of the control panel, which hopefully he will make available through the rules bank for anyone who is interested.
Each car needs one of the control panels on which appear ratings for brakes, engine, bodywork, fuel consumption and tyres. These will be used up during the race, with only tyres being replaceable during a pit stop. The major portion of the panel is taken up by areas showing the six selectable gears. Each gear column shows the number of spaces moved related to a die roll. All cars begin the race in first gear in which, for example, a roll of 1-10 will move the car one space, 11-20 two spaces. Conversely, in sixth gear, the results range from twenty one to thirty spaces. On subsequent turns the driver may change up or down a gear with no penalty, or drop down further by using up various attributes of the car which are recorded as the usual 'hit points'.
The race track is split into three lanes, showing the starting grid, finishing line and pit lane, the whole being divided into spaces. In addition, each bend is marked with a yellow flag containing a number, and the 'racing line' is indicated by an arrow. The flag markers indicate the number of times a car should end its turn in a bend, before exiting. Cars that do not comply with the markers suffer penalties ranging from tyre wear to crashing, depending on the amount by which the driver overshoots the bend. Brakes may be used to reduce the spaces moved, but are used up accordingly. Thus, each driver has to look at the approaching hazards, and gauge the best gear to be in, modifying the resultant 'speed' by use of brakes, tyres, and slipstreaming.
Although therefore more luck dependant than say Speed Circuit (as not played by Mike Siggins), the movement system has a good feel to it. I suspect that the lack of written moves would also appeal to Mr S. As a result, the basic system is very smooth; change gear, roll a die and move. Limitations on lane changes, and the necessity to follow the racing line around bends, together with the extremely detailed depiction of the circuit lead to a fairly 'realistic' race though one that can change rapidly with a few extreme die rolls.
Additional circuits are available, although at over £15 for the board alone they are not cheap. I have the French Grand Prix circuit at Magny Cours, and probably prefer racing on this to Monaco. The former circuit is bigger and much faster, while the latter is winding, with few opportunities to get up into the high gears. On either track, I have found that races tend to have a leader on the first lap, who tends to build up an apparently unassailable lead, only to be caught quickly on the second. This second lap also tends to be a lot faster, as cars are already in a high gear, rather than starting in first.
There is an interesting game mechanism to reflect engine wear. Whenever a player in fifth or sixth gear rolls 19 or 20, every player in those gears checks for engine damage. Too much of this, and you are out of the race. This has little effect on the slow Monaco circuit, but can be a real killer on the faster track. A second rule, that I am not so keen on, involves rolling a die each time a car finishes its move adjacent to another. Each car involved rolls D20, and on a 1 takes a body hit. This feels more like stock car racing to me, and can lead to a lot of die rolling. I find this clutters up the game, and am considering either ignoring the rule, or applying it in bends only, where contact is more likely to occur.
With ten cars in a 'three stop' bend, it can be difficult to keep track of the number of times each has stopped. I have experimented with the using a marker on the control panel, which is moved each time the car stops in the bend, and then reset as it leaves. This can avoid a lot of the 'oh no you haven't, oh yes I have' type of discussion.
Use of the pits adds to the flavour and tactics of the game. I do, however, find it a little odd that a car can enter the pits with a good chance of leaving on the same turn, sometimes going further than they could have reached by staying on the circuit.
Apart from the collision die rolling, I think that another drawback for me may be the similarity of the cars. They are identical in all but colour. The optional 'build your own' rule allowing points to be allocated over the different attributes may resolve this, although I have not tried this yet. It also appears that starting at the back of the grid can be a big drawback.
I find it difficult to know exactly how I feel about this game. I want to like it, enjoying race games, and being a fan of good graphics. The little plastic cars, gear changing, the need to conserve attributes and the movement system are good, but I have not usually found the races that exciting. Overall, the game has a lot going for it, and I am pleased to have bought it. I would like to see a few rules tweaks appear though, and to know others' opinions on rules to leave out, or new ideas to try.
MS: I would go along with most of the above, only adding that we find it much more appealing and accordingly Formule De is a game that has been played a lot recently, making my 10+ list already. I would go as far as to say all our races have been close (due mainly to the averaging effect of a lot of die rolls) but we do only play the one lap option. I can understand two laps being less impressive on the excitement front - we found about an hour was as much as we could stand of the system in one go. For me, it works well (as a game like Formula One - a simulation it is not) and the groans after a bad die roll and the suicidal cornering make it all worthwhile. We don't play the demolition derby rules as this slows down the game unecessarily and we also prefer the Magny Cours circuit that is relatively fast and lets you take a few more risks. Recommended, despite the price of around £30-35. PS Dave rang me to say three things: firstly, he had dropped the body damage roll and was now enjoying the game more. Secondly, he told me that Dan Steel at Esdevium had checked the unclear corner rule with the designers and it turns out that, as we thought, you may make as many lane changes within a corner as you like (complying with the arrows) and the two lane changes restriction applies to straights only. Thirdly, he was so impressed he recorded a sample game, which follows. And now, over to Murray 'Brian' Walker for live coverage of The 1992 French Grand Prix...
On to a sample game or back to the review of Advanced Civilization.
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