Review: Powerboats

Posted by James (admin) on September 21st, 2010

Formula De (now Formula D) is a superb racing game that really brings formula one car racing to life with lots of tricky decisions about whether to risk speed or not, blocking, and speed.  So, Powerboats had a tough challenge to live up to.

The game board consists of 6 double-sided board sections which show hex grids with hexes either full of water or land.  The board sections interlock and fit within a frame that holds them in place.  The board sections can be rotated and flipped to create a massive variety – one side of the boards is easier than the other as the ratio of water to land is different.

The course of the race is laid out using a start/finish line and 3 marker buoys which are placed on various letters printed on the boards; however, you can place them anywhere you want too to make what you feel is the best course.  As you’d expect, the first player to get their boat round each of the buoys (in order and in the correct direction) and cross the finish line wins.

On their turn, a player rolls some 3-sided dice (yep, 3-sided) to see how far they will move and this involves a clever game mechanic.  First, the player can either add 1 dice to those in front of them, remove 1 dice, or just keep the same number of dice.  Then, they can roll any of the dice they now have in front of them, or keep the result already showing (apart from a newly added dice which must be rolled).  This gives the player the chance to manipulate the result to some extent as they can pick or choose from their old results whilst being able to alter some of them too.  This also adds some great on-theme behaviour as it means a player has limits as to how much they can speed up and, even more importantly, slow down.

Once a player knows how many spaces they will move they can turn the facing of their boat by 60 degrees left or right and then must move their full move in a straight line.  A player can not choose to crash if they have a non-crash option, and if they will crash they must take the smallest crash.  If a player crashes into land, theytake damage equal to the number of movement points they can not complete.  A player is out of the race if they take more than 4 points of damage.

Overall, Powerboats is a superb racing game.  It may not have as much depth as Formula De but it feels different enough to be it’s own game.  It’s very fast to play and simple to explain.  It can take a few turns for new players to understand they rotate up to 60 degrees only and then move in a straight line (and can’t weave); however, it’s easy and feels natural very quickly, plus it adds the limits that create the gameplay choices.

The dice mechanic/manipulation works really well and you’re always looking for a way to try and select specific dice and add/remove them so you can get the result which will line you up with the perfect gap between the islands.  Also, there’s always the temptation to push your luck to go fast hoping you’ll be able to slow down fast enough, or won’t need to change course to avoid a collision.

As you can’t collide with other boats, there aren’t as many options to block other players; however, it’s still possible because boats can’t share the same space (players must end their turn 1 space early if they would finish on another boat’s space – the only time you’re allowed to not use your full movement).  So, there is some player interaction, plus just seeing where others are in the race encourages you to take risks too.  Being forced to take the least damaging route is a very important (and I think clever) rule because this stops people purposefully bumping into islands to slow down, plus it means players often have to go off in totally the wrong direction when they’ve pushed their luck too far (which is highly entertaining for everyone else).

The rules say you should race 3 times on different courses and total points scored for each race, but we only ever play 1 race as a light game.  One day, we’ll have a Powerboats championship or we’ll total-up results between sessions like we did for our 20-race Formula De championship over 18 months.

Powerboats is a fun and light game with more player control than you’d imagine for a dice rolling game.  Like most racing games, I think it plays better with more players as this creates more chaos and obstacles.  It may not have as much detail as Formula De but that’s part of its success, making it a great game in its own right, lots of fun, and a great game for new gamers.


[Played with 3, 4 and 5 players]

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