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The pioneers of the railway organize an unusual race. Each participant steers three different locomotives, with which he can go different distances, depending upon which stage it is. With the boilerman cards, cleverness, and bluffing everyone tries to bring their locomotives to the goal first and win. This version of Crazy Race is a remake of a game by the same name from Spiele aus Timbuktu.
One of my favorite parts of attending the Gathering of Friends is the fact that you can get a good gaming experience at almost any time of the day. I usually need to leave in the morning at the end of the week, so typically I'll stay up until my flight on the night before as long as there are others around to play. This past April the wee hours on my final day allowed to me learn, courtesy of Mik Svellov, one of the best new games I had played all week. Not being certain if I was just too tired for a fair evaluation, I ordered Crazy Race immediately and since its arrival have played it at least a dozen times. My initial impression may have been a bit overoptimistic, but it is in fact a wonderful auction-bluffing-racing game that easily represents the best gaming value of the year (priced at only about $3.00!).
Each of four players is racing three creatures -- one winged, one crawling, and one running -- from a start line in an abandoned-looking warehouse board, up five spaces to a pole, then back to the original line. Scoring is simple: six scoring markers labeled one through six are placed at each end of the course. The first creature to touch a pole takes the six, the next the five, and so on. Similarly, the first to cross the original line on the return takes that six, followed by the five, and so on. These are victory points, but beware: the player with the creature who is furthest behind at the race's end must surrender their highest point chit, while the player with the creature in second to last place must surrender their lowest marker.
The creatures move by means of points gained through the bidding on square movement cards. Each side of a movement card shows a type of creature and a number; a running creature with +2 means that you could move your running creature two spaces forward. Each card has four such combinations, and some show only a number, allowing you to allocate that number of points to any of your creatures.
How you get these points is where the main strategy comes into play. Each player has a set of bidding cards, with two ones, two twos, two threes, one four, and one six. For each round, a movement card is revealed and players go through three rounds of bidding, using their bidding cards by placing them by the side of the movement card they are interested in. The bidding is secret (face down cards), so if I place my first card on the "winged creature +3" side you know I want that movement but can't tell if I've used a one, six, or something in between. The bidding lasts exactly three rounds, and each round you either place a bidding card next to a side of the movement card or pass. You can bid on multiple sides but of course within the three bids per round constraint. Once the three rounds have finished, the sides are revealed in an order predetermined on the movement card. The high bidder uses the movement points, and then the next side of the card is revealed. Ties are broken in favor of the player who bid first, making your initial play each round slightly more important. One special side of some movement cards shows simply a question mark. The winner of this movement gets a number of points equal to the number of bidding cards placed next to it. So, bidding for this may result in giving someone else more movement.
Within this structure, Michael Schacht has added two terrific features. First is how the creatures move: they move forward but can jump other creatures in their way, so by proper bidding you can position yourself for some very efficient moves. Each set of creatures moves in their own lane, so you have some control over how to set up your creatures to maximize the limited movement points.
The second, and also best and nastiest, feature is the card management. Bidding cards used are put into a discard pile, and you are allowed to draw this pile back into your hand exactly once in the game. This can be at any time, and typically you will try to use all of your cards before drawing the deck back. With only a maximum of 16 bidding cards but seven movement cards, you must pass on at least five bidding rounds by choice or be forced to sit out the last five. Card counting is also necessary and easy, since you really only have to remember if the other players still have their four and six cards or if they have already been used.
Crazy Race plays in 30 minutes and packs a lot of decision making into a small package. The races are typically quite tight, and the penalties for ignoring one of your creatures are too severe to ignore. If you don't maximize the movements through proper positioning and jumping, you will have far too few points to get all of your creatures into scoring positions. Similarly, betting wrong and losing a key auction after spending your higher bidding cards can be fatal. Strategic bluffing and use of the "one" cards also helps, as does a good evaluation of who is likely to compete with you for the side of card you want.
Crazy Race is sold by Schacht's own "Spiele Aus Timbuktu" label, the same way he sold Tafelrunde and Contra, two other very solid games. It is a game kit, really, since the board, bidding cards, scoring counters, creature tiles, and movement cards must be cut from printed sheets. This undoubtedly keeps the cost down and is not a problem, since the colors and graphics are very well done and the card stock is solid. Taking a tip from Mik, I mounted my creature and scoring tiles on thick stock for durability and simple ease of picking them up. The Spiele Aus Timbuktu games are sold exclusively through Adam Spielt, and at their miniscule prices they offer outstanding value.