Turbo Drift – a real space racing game done in just 18 cards

Before the holidays came and ate up my entire life, I was given a copy of one of the three newest Button Shy Games productions – Turbo Drift by Rob Cramer. For a long time I’ve been admiring Button Shy’s devotion to the very small game space – it’s an interesting design challenge to make good games that fit into 18 cards or less and a little plastic wallet. I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised a number of times and Turbo Drift is, while a very different kind of game for Button Shy, no exception. Turbo drift is on Kickstarter right now!

How to play

Turbo Drift is a racing game for 2-4 players, taking about 20 minutes for ages 8+. In the game, players will place a series of Barrier cards onto the play space, decide where the racers will be starting from, place their Car cards there and then determine where the Finish Line card will be. The Car cards have a plain and a B side – make sure they’re on their plain side. Now, take the Path cards (there are six of them and they’re double sided), shuffle them up and lay them out in a 3 card by 2 card grid. You’ll end up with something that looks like this (but probably neater).

That Stoplight card you see at the top right is the First Player card – whoever is designated as the first player should have that in their clutches. Clutches. I’ll give that a moment to sink in. The game progresses over a series of rounds until a player’s Car card touches or overlaps the Finish Line card, when the game ends and that player has Champaign poured all over them.

Each round goes like this:

  • The first player places the Burning Rubber card behind their Car card to move forward, or in front of their Car Card to move backwards.
  • Now just go ahead and pick your Car card right up.
  • Choose your Path cards – by either selecting a vertical row of 2 cards, a horizontal row of 3 cards or any 1 card. (If you’re crazy like a fox, you can take ALL of the cards in a Nitro action once per game as well).
  • Now, connect your Path cards in any order you like to the Burning Rubber card to see where your Car will be moving.
  • Flip your Car card over (so if the B side wasn’t showing before, it is now) and place it at the end of your Path cards, like so:

In the above example, the White Car has nearly won the race, while successfully not crashing into anything like that Barrier card below it or the Black Car card.

If, when placing your Path cards you do encounter a Barrier or Car, you crash! This means you remove that path card, place your car back on the playing surface and you’re done with your turn this round. It’s possible to not move anywhere if that was your first (or only) Path card.

If you manage to run across one of those Turbo Boost icons on a Barrier card without actually touching the Barrier (your Car can overlap a Barrier card as long as the actual barrier isn’t obscured by your Car Card) then you get to Turbo Boost! That means you get to take the Burning Rubber card and place it at the end of your full path – even if you’d be going through/jumping over another Barrier or another Car.

Now that you’ve moved, flip over the Path cards you’ve used and add them back into the grid. It’s the next player’s turn this round. If all the players have taking a turn this round without crossing the finish line, that round ends and the next round begins starting with the first player.

The advantages to taking 2 or 3 cards are obvious – you move further! Unless you’re like me and crash into a barrier on your first card. The advantage to taking just one card though is that you get to reassign the First Player card to whoever you wish – usually it’s yourself. This reassigning can happen several times over one round though depending on what tactics the other players are employing. There is also a certain strategy to making someone who’s about to crash go first to see if they can get out of their potential collision.

So that Nitro action? Once per game, you can scoop up all the cards. You cannot however choose what order you play them in. You start at the top and work your way down. You can stop at any time though (whether it’s one card, somewhere between one and six or all six).  Be careful though – if you crash into a barrier or another player, you go up in a giant ball of flame and that’s the game for you! We’ve had a 2 player game end rather quickly and abruptly this way and it was spectacular.

Real Space Racing

As in, it takes place a real, physical space, not on an x,y,z axis in a near vacuum. That’s a concept I’m finding in a few games and I’m really loving it – you basically take the space that’s available to you and utilize it as your game board. This can be your table, the floor, the air craft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) if you happen to have clearance and a lot of time on your hands. What this does is effectively turn an 18 card racing game into a game that fits into whatever space you have – it can be a big game if you want it to be. Another game that immediately comes to mind that utilizes this is X-Wing from FFG.

Why you should play

Turbo Drift manages to capture the essence of those funky old 8 or 16 bit, top down racing games for older computers that I still love. The cars are all equally matched, all equally hard to control, the course is ever changing to your own designs and it’s just plain fun. After the first few turns of your first game you’ll find that the game plays out very quickly. Our first game took us a good 40 minutes but after that we were down to the stated 20 or so minutes for a full 2 or 3 player game.

Turbo Drift manages to cram all of this into 18 cards and does a fantastic job at it. Players are really never bored even while watching someone else take their turn because you never know what will happen – crashes, driving off the table, getting <—–> that close to the finish line but juuuuust missing it. The game is actually pretty exciting for us and we’ve had a few moments where we’re all standing in anticipation of what may happen next. Can they pull of that last Turbo Drift to scoot across the finish line or will they end up facing the wrong direction and having to throw it into reverse?

There’s a bit of luck in that the grid of Path cards is constantly changing but you can still choose which among them you’ll take and if you’re careful enough or crazy enough, you just might win. I tried several strategies – the slow and steady wins the race strategy and the driving like a crazed, caffeine infused cheetah strategy. I’ve met with equal success with both although the crazed strategy is a bit more fun.

Button Shy recently posted a few suggested setups for various race courses on the Kickstarter page, which I’ve added below. You can set up the Barrier cards however you like though.

Here’s a 20 second gif of an entire race between Luca and myself if you’d like to see what a 20 minute game looks like.

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