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Average Rating: 5 in 1 review
There is usually a lot of controversy on the internet about the Spiel des Jahres winners. People usually harangue the judges decisions, and talk about the myriads of games that should have won, rather than the one that did. I often agree, and cant understand why my favorite games dont win each year! J However, I have made a point to collect all the Spiel des Jahres, because I have yet to play one that I havent enjoyed. I never heard of Um Reifenbreite (Jumbo, 1992 Bob Botenbal), but when I was at a game auction in Korea the other day, I picked it up simply because it was the 1992 winner. The board looked impressive, and a game about racing bicycles sounded fun.
And after playing, I see why this game won the award. Um Reifenbriete is one of the best racing games I have played, and was a lot of fun! Im a big Formula De fan, but Um Reifenbreite had several things going for it that I enjoyed much more most of all, a huge heap of fun, and a quick playing time. Random events and lucky die rolls abound in the game, but strategy and smart playing (even a bit of cheating!) will win the player the game, and most people (especially casual gamers) find this quite enjoyable.
To start the game, each player takes their four bicycle racers and places them on the starting positions on the track. (Each rider from the same team must be in a different lane). The board can represent several different tracks, so there is some variety for each race. Each player gets a stack of energy cards for their team. These cards either have the number 5 or 6 on them, and the number of one of the racers on that players team. (although four of the cards have no racers number on them but are wild) A deck of chance cards is shuffled and placed near the table. The race is ready to begin, and players must decide if they want to play the basic, advanced, or professional game although frankly I found even the professional game rather simple, and our group started out with many of the rules from it.
The rider who is the farthest in front goes first each round (if tied, the rider on the farthest right goes first). To move, a player rolls a pair of dice, and moves their biker the amount of spaces rolled. Bicyclists can move forward, diagonally forward, and may move fewer spaces than they roll. Players may also use their energy cards instead of rolling playing one card in the place of one of the dice rolled. (Obviously, only energy cards for that rider or wild energy cards can be used). Riders behind the racer moving can immediately draft, and follow into the space behind where the bicyclist just went. They can only do this, however, if they move the same amount of spaces as the bicyclists (sometimes impossible), only if they end up in the same lane, or if the lead rider announced that they were going to breakaway (which can only be done if the rider uses an energy card).
Every time a player rolls a 7, they have the joy of getting a chance card, which can do anything from giving the player an extra energy card, to allowing them to move extra spaces, to causing them to fall (and sometimes those around them). As the riders cross the finish line, their finishing position is checked off on a score sheet, and they score points for their team depending on their placing. The team with the most points is the winner!
Advanced rules add different types of terrain to the mix. Asphalt, the normal road, does nothing, while cobblestones allow only one energy card to be played when a rider starts on them. Both uphill spaces and cobblestone spaces have a number on them, which is subtracted from the number rolled when the rider starts on that space. Many energy cards also have a mountain symbol on them, which means they may not be used on uphill spaces. Downhill spaces also have a number on them, but this number is added to the players roll. Terrain affects drafting, also, as players cannot draft if they are on a different terrain than the racer in front of them.
Professional rules add even more bicycling goodness to the game. Different courses, sprint points, cheating, yellow jerseys, and switching lead rules add more realism and/or more fun to the race. Players can also run several races together to simulate a longer race (Tour de France).
Some comments on the game:
1.) Components: At the auction, when they showed the board, I immediately put up a bid, as I was enamored with its large size and the fact that several different tracks could be played on it. The humorous artwork (which reminds me quite a bit of one of my favorite comics Herman) is all over the board, the rules, and the box. Speaking of the box, its a large, colorful, sturdy one that has a good plastic insert to hold all the pieces (I didnt need plastic bags). The bicycle pieces are cardboard cutouts of riders in plastic stands and they really look good on the board. They are large enough to move around easily, but are small enough to not clutter up the board too much. The chance cards, photo cards (used in cheating) and energy cards are all simple, small, and of good quality. Good components, especially for todays component-crazy gaming public.
2.) Rules: The rules were in German, but I was able to get a translation of them at boardgamegeek which was excellent with illustrations and examples. Drafting is the most complicated thing in the game, but the rules give many examples on it, so that it is very easy to explain. When teaching the game, I can easily set up some situations on the board, and show them to the players, so that they know how to handle drafting, breakaways, etc. The rules make the game seem a bit complicated, but its really rather simple, and the detailed rules are really just overkill, explaining everything so well, we found a FAQ unnecessary.
3.) Racing Games: For us, comparisons to other race games was inevitable. I mentioned before that Im an aficionado of Formula De, and was wondering how this game would hold up to it. I found Um Reifenbriete a completely different game, for several reasons:
- The chance cards: While these might drive people crazy with their randomness, we found them a bit of fun. I had a biker way in the lead, but he fell over, knocking over the second place rider, and they both fell way behind. That may frustrate a lot of people, but we took in stride, and had a blast with it.
- Having four racers is fun: Even if your one racer is doing horribly, falling down and behind, hopefully you will have one of your racers doing better. Also, its very satisfying when you can set it up so that your racers draft your own racers. If you can get two or more of your own racers in a row, things are looking up!
- The energy cards: Its a struggle, knowing when to play them. Should you play them in the beginning, to get an early lead and breakaway from everyone else? Or should you save them til the end, where you can come out of nowhere and win? Or should you spread them throughout the race?
4.) Theme and Fun Factor: Ive never been in a bicycle race, and rarely watch them, but the other players assured me that the game really did feel like a bicycle race. I didnt know anything about that, but it certainly didnt feel like your normal racing game but it was a bushel load of fun! We had a blast playing, even the players who rolled 2s, those who fell over, or those who had the winners constantly draft them for good positions..
5.) Drafting: This is probably one of the most interesting things about the game. When should you draft, and when shouldnt you? Eventually you want to try to swing around the guy in front of you, but why not ride their coattails for a while? I found this aspect of the game fascinating, and am looking forward to trying out different strategies in the next game I play.
6.) Time and Players: Unfortunately, only up to four players can play the game. I guess one could split the teams between two people, allowing up to eight people to play, however but I havent yet tried that. The time of the game varies on the size of the track, but it seems to fluctuate from an hour to as long as you want (multiple laps, many tracks, etc.) We were very satisfied with one track, and an hours worth of time playing.
Um Reifenbreite is not easily available from stores, but if you find a chance to get it off of eBay, or from a store, I highly urge you to pick it up. Its an extremely fun racing game, with unique mechanisms, and I can easily see why it won the Spiel des Jahres in 1992. What surprises me is that Ive never really heard of the game before, as there isnt much buzz about it on the internet. I find this a shame, really, as its an excellent, entertaining game that is meaty, but also has a good bit of luck. If in the mood for a racing game, this is one of the first that Ill recommend. Now if youll excuse me, I need to go bellow at the chap who just caused a mass fall of most of the riders!