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I'm a sucker for race games -- especially those that embrace an original movement system. Those of you with sufficient grey/white hairs might possibly remember an old car racing game (I think it was German but it could have been Italian) called Simulator. But maybe you won't; hardly any found their way into Britain. What is more, it wasn't exactly an enticing looking product, so would hardly have grabbed your attention. But what it lacked in eye-appeal was made up for by its superb movement system. So much so that I made for myself a far better looking (and considerably more interesting) version. In fact, since this is a magazine for game enthusiasts, it is worth stepping slightly outside this review for a moment and describing this movement system for you if I can. I will describe my own version (which uses the same system, of course) simply because I don't have the original to refer to.
The track comprises a number of squares (holes in the original) and in my version was drawn up on several separate sections that fitted together to form a variable course (the original being a straight-forward oval). When it is a car's turn to move it must first visualise a precise repeat of its previous move (achieved by placing a forward marker to replicate its last move, such as "3 forward", or "3 forward and 1 to the right", etc.). The player's car may then be placed on that new position or the speed and direction may be modified by placing the car on one of the eight squares touching the marker. And, of course, the car has to plan sufficiently ahead in order to get round the corners and into the chicanes. In my version I added single-use breaking and acceleration discs for each player.
I tell you all of this, firstly to introduce you to an interesting race system that might be new to you, but because the very first game I saw when I entered the 2001 Essen Games Fair was a very similar game, called Tacara -- with the track looking almost identical to my own (except for one excellent feature that it possessed and which I'll come to later).
The movement system of Tacara, whilst in its end result being much the same as Simulator (I wonder if the inventor knew the older game), is operated somewhat differently and, in a way, more easily. (And here is a case where a picture would be worth a thousand words!) In the centre of the board is a 13 x 13 grid divided by a central cross into four sections of 6 x 6*. So you have, in effect, four separate grids. If I've already lost you, visualise the cross in the centre (a bit like the English flag), write a '0' in the very central square, then numbers 1-6 running away from the centre N,S,E and W. At the start of the game each player's marker is placed on the zero, signifying that the car is stationary. When it is their turn to move players can move their marker two squares on the grid. This can be two in a straight line or can be one square to the right/left and one square up/down, thereby ending up on a different set of co-ordinates. So, on your first turn you are likely to move it 2 squares to the right, which would bring you to the co-ordinates 0/2 allowing your car to move 2 squares forward towards the right in a straight line. On your next move you could once more move it two spaces to the right -- thereby moving your car 4 spaces forward -- or maybe you would move your marker one space forward and one space down. Instead of being on the co-ordinates 0/4 your marker has now come to rest on 1/3. This allows a car movement of 3 spaces forward and 1 towards the bottom of the board (veering towards the right in other words). And so you go on. The farther you move away from the zero the faster your car is travelling. Because the track is circular you will have to move through all four of the quadrants on the grid and due to the need to slow down at the corners your marker on the grid will be returning nearer to the centre each time you change direction. So your trajectory of the grid will somewhat resemble a four-leaf clover.
Logically enough, the inventor has included a set of discs for each player that can be used to modify speed at an opportune time and more can be acquired during play. If you crash for some reason you remain there until such time as your marker returns to the zero spot on the grid. This is a very clever rule because it means that the faster you were going when you came to grief the longer it takes you to recover.
Still with the game mechanics there is one feature of the movement system that is not quite so logical. In any real race all of the competitors have to be regarded as moving. So the car directly in front of you will not be there when you come to traverse the same spot. This simultaneous activity is usually simulated in a sequential race system by having the cars in front move first (the horse race [page scan/se=1032/sf=category/fi=stockin.asc/ml=20]Win, Place and Show being the only exception I can bring to mind at the moment). But that is not so in Tacara. The cars move in a random manner (although you are made aware of what will be the turn order for the upcoming turn). The inventor said that this method prevented the cars at the front of the starting grid having an unfair advantage in what is not a long race.
I did mention that the design of the game incorporated one splendid feature that was missing from my own effort. It is one I touched on in a recent issue of Counter. The game itself is for from 3 to 10 players. Since the track is supposed to present the players with a challenge, it is clear that anything designed for ten cars is going to be a doddle when only three troop round it. But this has been overcome by colour-coding the track, with different coloured sections only coming into play according to the number of players, thus making the course wider or narrower as needed. Whilst a multicoloured track might not appeal to the purist armchair racing driver, because it is a game we are speaking of this is extremely logical and is a feature that for me could have greatly benefited other race games, especially (as I mentioned before) [page scan/se=1033/sf=category/fi=stockin.asc/ml=20]Speed Circuit.
So, how did it play? Firstly I should say that there were five of us and we all enjoyed it. We found the system generally worked well. A problem with this type of game is that players can easily allow their fingers to do the driving as they work out many moves ahead. So we applied the inventor's suggestion of limiting a player's move to 30 seconds, which caused the requisite amount of driving chaos and improved things enormously -- well, for most of us!
But we did find certain problems. One was interpreting the rules regarding the use of the so-called 'turbo chips' that allow you to extend your move by 1,2 or 3 spaces. What we did not know was whether these chips could be used to move your car in a totally different direction or merely to extend an existing move. But checking with the inventor determined that these chips allow for a move totally independent of the move dictated by the grid. So not only can you change direction but you can also start your turn by moving backwards (breaking, in effect) thereby avoiding a possible crash. This is worth noting if you buy this game.
But what caused far more confusion is the layout of the grid that determines your movement. In our game, we had endless crashes, not necessarily because the driver was going too fast and couldn't adjust his direction properly but because he was totally confused by the co-ordinates. This is because for some reason best known to himself the inventor, instead of printing the numbers along the arms of the central cross (thereby making it easy to find out your co-ordinates in the customary manner), he has printed them along the diagonals. We were so confused by this that I have already applied transfer numbers to the N-S, E-W cross. (And I should add that the inventor has graciously accepted that the existing numbering can cause initial confusion -- but a few unexpected crashes are a great tutor!)
As for the benefits of the random turn order, until we are more experienced I am not really in a position to say what real impact this has on the game. In most race games a player is not allowed to move through the horse/car in front. So boxing-in is a major tactic. But in Tacara the only limitation is that you are not allowed to stop on the same square as another car. Anyway, I guess this rule could always be tweaked if you feel so inclined. Once round the course lasts about an hour. We think this too short but you can adjust the length to one and a half or twice round to suit yourselves. We haven't tried the shorter races, which are probably not worth bothering with.
There are English rules and should you decide to buy a copy of the game you can have either plastic or wooden cars (the wooden ones are replica 'beetles'). I suggest you go for the plastic. This is because the track is printed in rectangles, and these rectangles do not change orientation as you go round the corners. Because the wooden cars completely fill these rectangles they really need to travel part of the course crab-wise, which is hardly ideal for a simulated race! On the other hand the plastic cars are smaller so can be turned through 90 degrees and still more or less fit.
Although privately produced by its inventor Peter Eggert, Tacara has all of the quality one comes to expect from German games. What is more, its 285 x 285 mm box houses the largest board that has ever entered my collection, measuring 570 x 825 mm. The whole thing comprises an incredible nine-fold segments -- pretty well the limit of the board cutter's art, I would imagine.
I don't think it is sold in the UK and I don't think it is widely available in Germany. As I said, this was the first game I saw when I entered the halls at Essen so I put off its purchase till later in the day but then annoyingly forgot! But I sent the inventor 20 in notes and the game arrived a few days later.
The inventor's website is www.eggertspiele.de.
(*Although I say that the central grid is 13 x 13 this is what it logically should be. It has one line of squares missing at the top, resulting in the top two quadrants being only 6 x 5. We didn't find that it upset the game as we never wanted to go as fast as 6 spaces on the side sections. But this, coupled with the problem of the cars having to fit the rectangular spaces, could have come about as a result of the inventor having to modify the layout in order to fit the board/box limitations when it came to production. If so, it probably annoyed him much more than it did us!)