There are times when board games mimic other forms of entertainment like video games, movies, books and the like by allowing you to immerse yourself in a new character. It’s sort of like what you did with your imagination as a kid — you were a firefighter one minute, an astronaut the next. Formula D allows you to make believe that you’re a high-octane racer, and the results are surprisingly fun.
Formula D dates back to more than two decades ago, but the most recent version (produced by Asmodée) is probably the cleanest yet. It comes with a two-sided, large game board that essentially offers a pair of tracks — a regular course on the front, and a street racing course on the back.
Each racer starts with their own adorable little plastic car, and the goal is to get to the finish line first. Seems both intuitive and simple enough, right? Formula D is one of those games that’s exceedingly easy to pick up for new players because it just makes sense, but the devil (and the strategy) is in the details.
The course has a ton of small spaces. You advance your car through these spaces by rolling dice. The trick is that the dice you use is dependent on which gear you’ve shifted into — first gear allows you to move 2-4 spaces, but sixth gear moves up to a massive 20-30 spaces as you fly around the track.
What’s to stop you from shifting into the highest gear and blazing to the finish? The track’s turns, as pictured above. Each turn is marked with a number that represents the number of times your car must come to a stop within the red borders. If you blow through the turn by a certain number of spaces without stopping, your car explodes. So planning ahead is key.
Each racer gets a fun little gear box that allows you to actually shift when you’re changing gears, as well as markers for your stats. For example, your engine takes damage when you roll big in the higher gears. Your gearbox will take a hit if you have to shift more than the allotted one gear per turn. If any of your car’s pieces drop to zero, your car goes boom and you’re out of the race.
There are two ways to play Formula D. The easier mode makes it so that you have just one bigger pool of what is essentially HP on your car, and all types of damage come out of that one number. That helps keep the game simple for younger kids, but it also limits the amount of strategy you can use (there were several occasions when we played where racers would save all of their damage for the end and then fly through the final turn without exploding). The advanced mode features the stats seen above, and is the preferred choice for older folks or those who have already learned the basic game. It makes the experience much more thought-provoking and fun.
Formula D also has several track expansions available if you get tired of racing on the same two courses. Some of these are re-releases of other offerings from previous developers, and some are brand-new. These expansions are probably a little overpriced, but if you really enjoy the game, it’s worth it. You can even set up races with more than one lap (complete with rules for pit stops) or run an entire series of multiple races and give out points based on finish positions.
Formula D is just one of those games that feels right. The mechanics make sense, and it’s one of the better representations of a real-world activity that I’ve seen in board game form. My only recommendation is that if you have a smaller group of players (say, less than four), have each player use more than one car apiece. The game is more fun when you have at least a half dozen cars on the track trying to maneuver around each other and battle to the finish.