In racing there’s a combination of raw competition and unfettered velocity that aligns perfectly with the emotional components of gaming. What is racing but an extended victory point track which competitors plummet along in peril of collision? It’s the most visceral counting of points we can fathom.
Yet this formula rarely transcends average.
There’s a baseline level of success something like Thunder Alley, Formula De, and Daytona 500 reach. I’m fond of all of those games for different reasons, but none of them really carve out a cavity in my heart. The only racing design that’s managed to achieve a status of special is Flamme Rouge, which is a difficult game to discuss when comparing to these other motorsport titles.
But here I am, performing my best impression of Yoda, to tell you that “there is another.”
Rallyman GT is a re-imagining of the classic Rallyman. While that previous design focused on rallycross time trials, the GT take is a closed circuit multiplayer affair. It’s pure speed, wheel to wheel, thundering around corners and looking for the smallest opening to explode past your competition.
The magic here is the dice system. It’s best to think of it as one step beyond Formula De, as it sacrifices an ounce of simplicity for a gallon of depth. This is still direct and intuitive enough to play with a family, but it offers an opportunity to harness strategy which overtakes the element of luck.
So let’s try to explain this without leaving you utterly confused. That’s a challenge when painting a picture with words, as the system is quirky and unique.
First of all there’s a die for each of the six gears your car can shift through. Each die shows the gear number on four faces and hazard symbols on the remaining two. To move a space along the track, you take one of these dice and roll them. The die you choose must be the gear you are currently in, or one gear higher or lower.
So if you begin your turn in fourth gear you may progress one space using the ‘3’, ‘4’, or ‘5’ die. Then you can keep moving, using an additional die in each space. So you start in 4th, move one space by shifting down to 3rd, then move another space by dropping even lower to 2nd. You could go down to one and slide yet another space if you want to drive like a grandma.
The catch is that you can only use each die once. So you can’t use the ‘4’ die to move forward, then the ‘3’ die, then back to the ‘4’ since you already used it earlier this turn.
I feel ya, realistically this makes no sense. But it’s a restriction that bolts the simple “one space, one die” concept to a strategic engine that forces worthwhile contemplation.
Yet more nuance: you can downshift more than one die by including red brake dice. So if you start in 4th you can move forward one space by using the ‘2’ die and a red brake die. There is inherent risk here that escalates the harder you brake and the farther you move in a turn.
This manifests through the rolling of the dice. You can choose to be careful and move one space at a time, rolling each die as you propel forward and stopping just before you lose control. A spinout – and possible damage – is triggered if you roll three caution symbols during a single turn.
I can see that Ricky Bobby glint in your eye and the touch of crazy; you want to push it and take on more risk for a little more benefit, yeah?
Instead of rolling a single die at a time you can pre-plan your entire turn and roll a fistful of those six-sided suckers. As long as you don’t roll three or more total hazards you’re swell, shake and bake my friend. But if you do, then you suffer a loss of control and will miss a turn or two righting your vehicle. This is terrible and can actually cause a nearly instant loss in a very short race.
The benefit to this more risky maneuver – called a “Flat Out” – is that you earn focus tokens for taking this risk. These chits are spent later to lock in dice and auto succeed when rolling individually. This does form a weird curve to play where you perform more risky maneuvers early on and then make lengthier plays with reduced risk, by spending tokens, late in the race. Unfortunately this does present as a bit backwards and it’s one of the largest structural flaws in the game as it can tamper unceremoniously with the ideal arc.
In practice, what you will do is plan your whole move at the beginning of your turn regardless of how you will roll. This internal cognitive exercise manifests externally as you lay the dice out on the track and think through your options. You need to carefully manage your gears as there are several points of consideration.
First, you can only take corners at a certain speed. This means you must decelerate as you hit turns, possibly hard. There are preferred pathways through the sharpest corners as well, giving you a push to get there first and possibly block following traffic.
The second aspect is that you cannot pass a car unless you are in at least the same gear. So if a car is up ahead on the track in 5th, you can’t even move alongside them horizontally unless you are in 5th or 6th yourself. This results in an even greater strategic component as you can effectively block cars in lower gear by pushing your metallic beast to its limits and taking larger risks.
In a recent four player race I saw the leader end in a safe spot near the end of the first lap. However, he made a crucial mistake of stopping his movement in 1st using each of the lower gear dice to move a bit further. In the next turn a player really squeezed every ounce of performance out of their machine and made it one space past him, ending their own turn in 4th. This means the previous leader doesn’t get to go as they were up next, unable to accelerate enough to reach 4th gear with only a single space between them.
This is rough and mean as hell. It’s like rubbing dirt, salt, broken glass, and urine in the dude’s wound (can you even rub urine?). It’s also entirely fallout from player interaction and is a situation engineered by the participants themselves. At a zoomed in level it can appear awkward having a ‘skip a turn’ mechanism in a racing game. You may ask questions like “So, what’s my driver doing if they’re not actually moving for this entire turn? The car’s not stationary, right?”
The right way to view this abstraction is from a macro level. Rallyman GT compresses a race that could be up to an entire day (see ‘Les Mans’), to a 60-90 minute feat of cardboard. It works well enough in play that these moments achieve a level of intensity and brinksmanship that far outweighs any momentary hiccups in dynamism. They’re also entirely preventable, so don’t drive like a drunk pangolin.
A final quality of this dice system to manage is initiative. I hinted at this in my earlier example, but cars move each turn from highest to lowest gear. This is not a technical point but a real consideration you must make as you approach a pack of cars blocking your way. You will want to time your tempo correctly to move after a pack which is forming a barricade, otherwise you could lose a turn and be chompin’ on a brick.
Managing your turn-to-turn dice usage is full of considerations due this intricate yet easy to express system. It also offers the game’s biggest challenges. For one, a player could reasonably spend a good five minutes really puzzling out their turn. There is a legitimate opportunity here to arrest momentum, which can be disastrous to this genre of game. Don’t be that dunder, think ahead and be ready for the dice.
There’s also this really odd side effect that you can move farther in a turn by downshifting aggressively. Huh? Yeah, huh.
Say you begin your turn in 6th. If you stay at this top gear you can move forward by using the following dice combination: ‘6’, coast, coast. Coast dice allow you to maintain your current gear and there’s only two of them, so use them wisely.
You could alternatively move an extra space by downshifting to 5th to move forward a space, then moving in 6th followed by the two coast dice. Remember, one space is one die so this is a four space move as opposed to the previous three space move.
Weird. But it gets weirder.
The most optimal move for distance is to downshift even further. Drop from 6th to 2nd using the maximum three brake dice, then you can move forward using 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and the two coast dice. That’s seven total spaces. Now, this is ‘hella risky’ – that’s the official quantified degree of risk – but it’s incentivized if you need to make up ground.
Rallyman GT knows this makes no sense but the game really refrains from layering on complexity or extra rules, in this case to its detriment. It attempts to solve the problem by offering track layouts with many curves, forcing deceleration. This does curb the most egregious uses of the downshifting for distance, but it’s not something that is altogether snuffed out.
This disturbs me philosophically, but in actuality it’s something that synthesizes with the strategy well enough, and is seen infrequently enough, that the nagging issues of realism fade quite readily. Some have moved to house rule it by providing extra distance at top gear, but I’ve felt no such urge. In terms of side effects, this is akin to a headache or runny nose as opposed to bleeding from your rectum or losing all sexual desire.
The final issue I want to touch on is the lack of a catchup mechanism. This isn’t toddler bastards riding around in Little Tikes – this is playing for keeps. If you spinout or make a fatal mistake and fall behind, you’re going to have a rough go gaining ground. It will require risk and certainly some luck. If the leader never makes a mistake and doesn’t roll poorly, they will likely win. This is accurate from a simulation perspective, but it can be aggravating if you have a serious crash halfway through a race. No one wants to go through the motions for 45 minutes and Rallyman GT will occasionally force that upon you.
So this sucker has some real warts. We can’t minimize these issues or sweep them into the closet.
Yet I still love this game. Absolutely I do.
This is because of that flawed yet dynamic movement system. By plotting moves with dice mapped to gears, the game nearly perfectly expresses its fiction through its mechanisms. I get a very clear picture of how my vehicle is taking that corner or burning around the Viper who’s maintained pole position for 9/10ths of the race. Rallyman GT is a strong orator, a storyteller who conveys the feeling of the race moment to moment with all the highs and lows of a dramatic play.
Pace can suffer, but moving through those dice a gear at a time really feels as though you are accelerating and whipping through a crisp wind with flared nostrils.
How a game feels and what the mechanics convey is the single most important aspect of the hobby. Rallyman has it where it counts as it feels like nothing that came before it and manages to get so many things right despite getting a few major things wrong.
The many ways in which you can manipulate your movement path provides for such a great long-term payout. There’s a real skill curvature here that is exceptional for the weight of the game. Better players will consistently win, despite the ingrained element of luck.
I haven’t even spoken about the solo mode. This is a completely different style of competition as you’re tracking your ending gear each turn on a notepad – or with the free companion app. The higher the gear you end in the less time is used, which is key as this is a time trial which mimics the original Rallyman style of play.
As a robust game system, this succeeds as a solitaire experience. Unlike many games which challenge you to beat your best time, racing’s DNA is made up entirely of this concept. It doesn’t feel slapped on or an afterthought, rather it feels a distinct style of game that the system was designed around initially. What’s more surprising is that the competitive mode works so damn well.
Things are really ratcheted up when you extend this lonely style of play to the popular online leagues. There, you are presented with new tracks to puzzle over each month and submit your personal scores to be ranked alongside a large number of racers. It adds a rich quality to the time trial method and can be very rewarding.
I’ve engaged Rallyman GT in both solitaire and multiplayer modes. I find the thrills of competitive head to head jousting the most dynamic and fulfilling, but I’ve not shied away from running multiple circuits all by my lonesome.
This thing brings the heat at all player counts. It offers a central system that captures some of the most atmospheric elements of motorsport, and it does so with such little effort that it’s difficult to fathom. The fender may be dented and it’s missing some paint, but it’s compelling in a way few racing designs ever accomplish. Vroom, vroom, ramblers.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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