The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

In Defense of Rallyman (an open letter)

On a gaming mailing list, there was an “Open Letter” about Rallyman.  I started to respond on the mailing list, but figured I’d rather just post it here. I don’t feel comfortable quoting the exact letter (since it was a private list), but the basic gist is: “The winner is the player who rolls the fewest warnings.”

My Defense of Rallyman

  1. Theme matters. Even if you think this is just Can’t Stop with a horrible “You lose” crap out mechanic, it’s got an actual theme. That also means people are willing to house rule to fix issues. Frankly, if you take more than a few seconds to roll the dice, you are playing it wrong. I don’t care what the rules say. (The “As you have all the time in the world to find a perfect play” is a strawman, and “I refute it thus” by asking T__ T____ to kick you).
  2. The ability to play a ‘named course’ means you can have a Record time. Solo-ing a race is interesting.
  3. The game deals with managing risks, not lines.
    • You assume a player’s ability to make a perfect move. A player can find the perfect “Line” (a series of rolls/gear-shifts where you cannot improve if you knew you never were going to roll a warning). But a perfect move isn’t just the line, it’s risk vs reward (time attack versus regular turn) and what the current position says about that. If you go first and the theoretical perfect line is 1-2-3-gas-4-5. Do you time attack? The odds of crashing are significant. If you don’t, then (as you point out) the player(s) behind you can time attack to improve by six seconds. If you crash, they’ll play it safe. (Even then, the 2nd player may still risk because the third player is behind them).
    • The choices are iterated. You react to what happens. If someone makes a good roll you need to take more risks to win. If someone crashes you need to take less risks. It really matters how many people are behind you.
    • The perfect move in many situations is beyond human calculation (in that nobody could prove that Line X — Time Attack is better than Line X — Single Rolling stop when at risk versus Line Not Quite As Good As X that seriously cuts down crash risk but is only ~5 seconds slower). Taking the most aggressive move doesn’t win, and taking the safest route doesn’t win. And this discounts how much risk you should accept in a multi-stage rally, or a single rally with 4 players instead of 2.
    • [Sidebar — Would the game be better if the crash penalty were not so horrific? I’d say probably. In fact, I may house rule that spare tires only cost 15 seconds or so, and just say “You didn’t lose the tires” but “you bumped your alignment and have to adjust.” I’d also consider increasing the cost of playing it safe, since I think the current costs are low enough so it’s almost always right to pay the few seconds.]
  4. Figuring out the perfect lines (at any speed) is not necessarily easy, and I’ve seen good gamers take inferior lines. Especially if you get a tricky combination of corners. And sometimes you have to quickly figure out the risk of stopping and adjusting your line, versus rolling.
  5. A stage takes ~15-30 minutes (3 players, depending on length), so you can tailor the game to time available.
  6. If you have multiple sets, you can do a multi-game rally (say, 3 people running the same course on 3 sets) and now you really don’t know the exact speed to beat. We’ll probably do this sometime.
Rallyman has a lot of luck. It’s a dice game. But its much harder to calculate than (say) Formula De, where the exact move is painfully obvious, with lots of simple turns. That’s what draws me to the game.
As for crashing, If you barely miss a corner in FD in high gear, you are just as effectively out of the (2-hour), but you have much more control in Rallyman. (Really, in FD, the only question is when to risk just under/overshooting a corner).  Rallyman’s “1 Space per die” shifts the risk from the board to the dice, and it’s no surprise that people focused on the board find it easy.  Rolling with warnings is much more interesting than rolling and succeeding or failing.

Rallyman isn’t abstract, it’s a bear-baiting. Saying the way to win is to not get mauled just begs the question — How do you tease the bear?


Written by taogaming

June 25, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Ramblings

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13 Responses

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  1. The comparisons to FD are part of what convinced me to buy it. It had been on my watch list since Essen, but I’ve been burned on car-racing games before, and for just the reasons you indicate above: too much counting spaces, then calculation to make a die-roll decision. I’d hoped eg’s Pitstop from 2001 would be the answer, but its improvement weren’t enough. Hopefully Rallyman will be the car racing game I’ve wanted.

    Mark Johnson

    June 26, 2011 at 12:06 am

    • Well, there is a bit of counting in Rallyman, but since the farthest you can move is 7 spaces, it’s faster. In general there are maybe 1-2 really obvious turns (blasting down the straightaway into a corner you can take at high speed. Just accelerate!). I don’t dislike FD, but after 15-20 races I was burned out enough so that I traded away my set (a mistake, in hindsight, since I could have sold it for quite a bit more, but I was about to move).

      I could easily burn out on Rallyman, to be sure. But it’s also a game I play with my son. (He was horrified when he saw my post … “Are you trading it away?”). I’m probably not going to rate it a 9 or 10, but it’s an 8. A very good game, the epitome of racing games (that I’ve found). I can see an argument for powerboats, but it didn’t capture my attention.


      June 26, 2011 at 11:18 am

      • Snow Tails FTW.

        Larry Levy

        June 26, 2011 at 11:23 am

  2. Rallyman rocks. Love the theme, variable course setup, and the risk management. But I agree with Mr. Levy: Snow Tails FTW.

    Erik Arneson

    June 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm

  3. It’s interesting that Snow Tails keeps popping up. I enjoyed my 1st couple plays but I’ve found it calculating and somewhat slow. Because of the tediousness the game tends to plod along and not feel like a race.

    I’m eager to give Rallyman a go.

    Jasen Robillard

    June 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm

  4. I love racing games… I think that Snow Tails is a great game, but can’t find the right crowd to play it with. In my opinion, a race game must play quickly… you can’t have each person spending minutes on their turn. Powerboats fits this nicely, and has a good balance of control/random and awards those with a little practice in navigating the waters. Snow Tails really rewards those who plan well and think ahead with what they have in their hand, but can slow to a crawl with over-analytical players. In addition, I have the complaint that some of those moves in corners are so unintuitive that it screws up beginning players regularly — what is “forward and to the left” when the square to the left has a line a millimeter ahead of the current square? It makes “forward and to the left” feel like “to the left”…

    Rallyman is great in a different way. It’s not about choosing lines – but there is an element similar to that in plotting out your gear choices. Go look at the driving school thread on BGG and try your hand at getting close to the record times – it takes a good bit of practice to get the hang of how to take corners and when to take shortcuts to decrease your time. You could play the game without the “roll all the die” seconds bonus and still have a good race game, simply relying on choosing the optimal path and using the push-your-luck mechanic when that second caution has come up… but adding in the “roll them all” element adds lots of different ways to attack a timed course and put pressure on other drivers. There’s a little bit of a learning curve (not to play, but to play well) as you learn that distance per turn is NOT speed… it’s all about the gear card you draw. There’s so much that the game gets right, both in gameplay and in matching gameplay to the theme.

    Slow players have driven me to consider buying something like the cube timer, or making one of my own…

    Sean Tompkins

    June 27, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    • I am by no means a fast player, but anyone who takes more than 15-20 seconds on their turns in Snow Tails should be fed to the huskies.

      Larry Levy

      June 27, 2011 at 9:32 pm

  5. Rallyman has really grown on me. Our first few games, it wasn’t grabbing me. But now (playing with all the advanced rules helps) there really are a lot of interesting decisions to make. Figuring out the corners is difficult. Rolling all the dice or one-by-one is great. Snow stages are tough. Et cetera.

    Our group must be slow, because a decent-length stage usually takes us 45-60 minutes with 3-4 players. I’d guess 15 minutes per player.

    Snow Tails never did grow on me that much. I think it’s a much less exciting game, and I sold my copy. It has a really cool moving mechanic, but it’s just exciting. I don’t know how else to say it; it’s more calculating and less visceral than Rallyman. The catch-the-leader rules in Snow Tails seem great but basically don’t work because you can almost never use the big bonus spaces. So the winner is generally decided halfway through the race or so.


    June 27, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    • I also don’t get the Snow Tails love. In theory its a great mechanism, but in the abstract you have to plan your next few moves (like Rallyman, etc) but you are at the mercy of the cards, and not getting cut off. Plus, people tend to want to play it with 5, and racing games are almost invariably fixed fun. (I’m not quite to the point where I won’t play Rallyman with 4, but I prefer 3 or even 2).

      “Feeding people to the Huskies” applies to any racing game.


      June 27, 2011 at 10:05 pm

      • I should say that I dislike most racing games. So maybe Snow Tails is the racing game for people who hate racing games. I think the central mechanic is wonderfully clever and elegant and the courses are evilly designed. It’s probably better with 4 than 5, but you don’t want to lower the player count too much, as dealing with the congestion is half the fun.

        “Exciting” (which sounds like a euphemism for “luck-filled”) race games are fine for an occasional late night session. But I usually prefer something more cerebral (Hare and Tortoise is another favorite). Much of the fun comes from seeing people struggle with the nasty curves and obstacles. But overall, this is probably another indicator that racing games just aren’t my cup of tea.

        As for dealing with the cards, it’s a probability management game, which is another reason why I like it. It’s definitely my favorite Fragor design, although the next one could be really good too.

        Larry Levy

        June 28, 2011 at 12:06 am

  6. I enjoyed Snow Tails – it’s certainly solid.

    Fabulous read, Brian. I certainly would be careful about who I’d play this with, as slow players would be at risk of a tyre lever in their crankshaft. The thing I adore about Rallyman is just how much it sucks me in. The blend of theme and mechanisms is marvellous.


    June 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm

  7. Ooh, Powerboats, another I enjoy (with enough players). I like my racing games to race along, and neither FD nor Snow Tails do that for me (although I’m won over by the theme & production of Snow Tails to play it anyway).

    Mark Johnson

    June 28, 2011 at 8:14 am

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