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Reviews - Road Kill Rally
 
by Andy Vetromile


Road Kill RallyRoad Kill Rally (2010)
Published by Z-Man Games
Designed by Daniel George
Graphics and illustration by Karim Chakroun, Chris Quilliams, Edward Artinian, and Daisuke Shimizu
Contents: 20 Road Tiles, 68 Accessory Cards, 92 Rally Cards, 12 Skill Cards, 57 Shoot tokens, 3 Place tokens, 18 Wipe-out tokens, 40 Pedestrian miniatures, 6 Player Cars, 6 Player Tokens, 6 Dice, 6 Player Dashboards, 1 Rulebook
Playing time: 60-120 minutes
$60

Take the Paul Bartel/Roger Corman movie classic Death Race 2000, file off the serial numbers, and add dice. The result is Road Kill Rally, a brutal near-future racing game for two to six players in which damage not done by careening about the roads at high speeds comes from your opponents' lethal weapons fire. And if pedestrians get in the way, well... they're worth some tasty points.

The object of the game is to amass the most points by the end of the race.

Me Go Vroom-Vroom
Players get a car, Accessories to kit it out, and a hand of Rally cards (more on these in a moment). Everyone takes off from the starting line on a game board built from randomly selected tiles, headed for a finish line somewhere near the bottom of the deck. No one sees the next section until someone reaches the end of the current one, so the fastest racer is in front but others can plan their speed better – important if the burning barricade segment blocks the road ahead. Speed goes up and down in increments of 20 mph, which just translates to one space of movement each. Travel is straightforward – advance a space and shift left or right if you'd like.

Road Kill Rally - road tileStraightaways aren't dangerous, but bends in the road are rated by color. Compare the color of the turn to the car's speed on the "dashboard" (the "character sheet" that tracks that vehicle's activity) and, if there's a number shown, roll that many dice. The special dice show blanks, splatters, and double splatters, with the number of splatters being the damage done. Any die that shows a double splatter is open-ended; the two symbols are added to the total and that die is rolled again. Every Rally Card a player chooses to discard before the roll eliminates one of these dice. If any are left to roll, the result is how many Rally Cards are then discarded – each driver must decide whether to play it safe now or chance it and pay the piper afterward. If he hasn't enough cards to cover the damage, the car wipes out, reducing his speed and tearing an Accessory Card off. He also gets a wipe out counter that marks his misfortune.

Various road tiles have different rules. Some have benefits, others have hazards to overcome, and a few offer opportunities, but players won't be content to let the streets do their dirty work for them. Accessories represent weapons and other goodies attached to the car. These may be flamethrowers, missiles, or guns; better drivers; or even candy to lure pedestrian children to their doom. They have a range, effect, and damage rating, and are "powered" by discarding Rally Cards as ammo. The combat process is like a crash check, except the attacker gets to keep any cards he forces his opponent to discard through damage. He also gets a shoot token for a successful attack. Running over pedestrians is handled much the same way except they're not usually armed. Usually. And of course one cannot discount the possibility of simply ramming into each other on a blocked and overcrowded raceway.

When the finish line appears, the race and the game are both almost over. The first, second, and third players to cross it receive (diminishing) rewards. Then everyone adds up their shoot tokens, pedestrian kills, and winning placement points, while subtracting any wipe out markers. The highest score wins.

Tools of the Trade
Road Kill Rally - partsCool components make this a visual and tactile pleasure. The cars feel a little slight, but they fit the spaces perfectly. Even better are the pedestrian pieces – while the adults pretty much just stand there, the little old ladies carry their own walkers, and the kid markers look like they're ready to chase a soccer ball across a busy street. (Apropos of nothing, the review copy did come with a single adult figure whose base had not properly formed during molding, but the 40 miniatures should be more than the game requires anyway.) The road sections are good and thick, though the rules text printed on each has to be a bit small lest it overshadow the rest of the graphic design. The artwork ranges from painted portraits to anime to comic-bookish. The dashboards easily contain everything a driver needs and more. Not only is there space enough for his pedestrian kills and the wipe out tokens he's saddled with, a turn and phase order and other useful in-game references are printed in the corners. All told, the bad news is limited to the speed indicator tokens (they have only a hint of color to match them to their owners' dashboards, but since they're otherwise identical...) and the rules (they succinctly answer a lot of questions, but they can't speak to every possibility). All this and a pile of cards for $60 blows the doors off.

The Winner's Circle (aka Conclusions)
There's more fun elements included with the game I haven't even hinted at yet. The Rally Cards serve as ammo and damage, but each one also sports an effect. Some offer other ways to rip at the enemy, such as an orbital laser or a sniper in the crowd who's willing to help you regain the lead. A few protect the user by dismissing damage done or rerolling dice results. Still others improve your odds to hit, or permit the driver a pitstop. Pitstops let you switch out Accessories (or replace what was lost) as your position in the race changes. Additionally, every driver gets a skill card that makes some part of the contest easier for him, like reducing the dice in a crash check. True, this means there's plenty going on, but the rhythm of the game makes recalling it all easy; the rules are "one size fits all"; and the cards themselves are as informative as the rulebook. The game can take the two hours the box suggests, but players can control their schedule with fewer road tiles.

Road Kill Rally isn't a heavily strategic game. Attacks take their toll (on both parties), but one racer won't determine the outcome through clever actions or delaying tactics. Tiles like Shortcut and Road Accident block or advance movement unpredictably, ensuring that the finale is ever in doubt, no one's position is safe, and even the hindmost are still in the running. Pure wargamers will find this infuriating, but those whose egos come with a toggle switch will see the whimsical fun, something that's necessary in a game that unapologetically employs pedestrians as targets. (Seriously, there's no sentimentality about it at all, so if the kids in the group need their expectations managed, buyer (read: mom and dad) beware.) For the rest, Road Kill Rally passes the test and the competition for the win.

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