Hitchhiking Madness: A Review of Carmarace

Carmarace

Everyone on your block just won the chance to get a one-of-a-kind collectible at a faraway convention. The problem is, only the first person to arrive will get it, and none of you have a car. It's up to you to make your way to the convention in any cars, trains, or planes you can stow away in. This is the story behind Carmarace, the first game published by Board to Death Games.

Gameplay

Carmarace features a large board with several routes to get you to your destination (the convention). You can travel along roads, train tracks, or the sky in various vehicles. Players start by placing their pawns on the parking lot. The object of the game is to be the first to reach the convention on the opposite corner of the board, which requires some planning, a lot of good karma for yourself, and a lot of bad karma for your opponents.

Carmarace Board

Four decks of cards are used in the game: Transportation, Road Karma, Plane Karma, and Train Karma. On a turn, the player can choose to draw from any of the decks he chooses, up to his hand limit (which varies based on the number of players in the game). He can then play a Transportation card along with one Karma card, if desired. Transporation cards are either cars, trains, or planes — generally, each vehicle type can only travel on its respective track, though some road vehicles can also enter and exit train tracks.

After a player places his Transportation card (and optionally a Karma card), players take turns in clockwise order adding additional Karma cards to that player's Transportation card. Karma can be good or bad, either adding to or subtracting from the speed of the vehicle. Each Transportation card indicates the maximum number of Karma cards that can be added to it. Some Karma cards are played on top of others. Once all players have passed (meaning they can't or don't want to add any more Karma), the player adds up the total speed value from the Transportation and Karma cards and moves his pawn that number of spaces. He then ends his turn by choosing to discard up to two cards and replacing them with cards from any deck.

A player can only enter train tracks or the sky if he starts his turn adjacent to one and uses the appropriate transportation. The Karma cards vary in their effects, some of which require a dice roll to resolve. Players can choose to play with Character cards that offer a special ability to each player, such as rerolling certain dice or modifying speed.

The first player to enter the convention wins the game.

Carmarace Cards

Review

Carmarace is a racing game that gives every player something to do on every turn. This is, in fact, its biggest strength. The fact that all players can add karma (good or bad) to their own or their opponents' karma cards provides some unpredictability as well as a heavy "take that" factor to the game. The artwork (other than the ugly hand-drawn fonts) is also quite nice and the board is big and colorful.

However, in general the game feels a bit slow. Movement along the board is constantly hindered by bad karma from the other players, which either slows you down or stops your movement altogether. What's more, the fastest mode of transportation (the plane) is incredibly difficult to come by, since there are only 4 planes in the whole transportation deck and you have to be next to an airport to use it. Even having the chance to fly comes down completely to the luck of the draw, as does much of the game.

The game is easy enough to learn at its core, though we felt that several clarifications are needed in the rules. For instance, there was confusion about exactly where to enter and exit a station, whether forward movement is required or if it's OK to move backward, and whether forks in the train tracks require a roll of the dice for which direction to go (similar to roads). The rules also don't explicitly state that karma needs to match the transportation type, except in the context of special abilities. We made this assumption, of course, but a rule as important as this should be clearly stated. (See the update below for clarifications from the publisher).

Thematically, the idea of racing in different types of vehicles and encountering many different types of events (good or bad karma) makes sense. However, racing in often life or death situations for the chance to pick up a limited edition collectible at a convention didn't seem all that compelling to us. I believe the game could be improved with a simple theme change — maybe criminals escaping to the border? I'm sure there are several more compelling options.

Final Thoughts

Carmarace has some merits for players who really get into "take that" games (which I am certainly not opposed to), but to us the gameplay seemed a bit dull and slow — more like work than play. However, the board and card artwork are pretty nice to look at, which is always a plus.

Pros:  All players are involved on each turn, the artwork is nice

Cons: The game feels slow, the theme is not very compelling, the rules could be improved

UPDATE 7/23/2014: The publisher has provided the following clarifications, which will be added to the FAQ on their website: You can't move backwards (unless someone played a U-Turn on you). You don't need to roll when on the train, but you must follow the tracks. Finally, the Karma cards do say what type of karma on the top left corner of the card, so you know on what vehicle to play it on.

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.

Hey Guys!

Thanks for the awesome review and time you put into it. I appreciate it very much.I am going to take this opportunity to clear up some rules for you and add them to our FAQ on our site.

The Deck should have 4 planes, not three, let me know if you only got three. You can't move backwards (unless someone played a U-Turn on you). You don't need to roll when on the train, but you must follow the tracks. And finally, the Karma cards do say what type of karma on the top left corner of the card, so you know on what vehicle to play it on. Hope these help you understand the game more. 

We are working on STAGE 2 which will add More cards to speed up gameplay, new Driver cards, and a new Weapon Deck. it will also have a customizable board to make every game, a new experience!

Thanks again and keep up the good work!