Feeling the draft.

by David Short
published by Alderac Entertainment Group

Automobiles is the third in AEG's “trilogy” of transportation games and in some ways, combines the two (see below).  It’s a clever twist on the basic deck-building mechanic, but instead of cards, you’re buying and collecting cubes that can help you “shift” up a gear and advance more quickly, but also colorful cubes, each of which can trigger an action that you will use to help race your little car around the track.  Going faster isn’t free, though - all that extra speed adds to “wear” on your car, represented by brown cubes which will gunk up your next turn (for “Trains” fans, these are analogous to the Waste cards that you pick up as you develop). Each game is different because the specific actions that are linked to each color will vary depending on which cards are drawn during set-up.

How we came to play this game:
We got “Trains” as part of the 2014 AEG Black Box and really liked that (of course immediately rushing out to buy the expansion board, as we’re so prone to do).  Soon after that, Susan’s colleague (and Gutsy co-developer, Barry Joseph) was given a few copies of “Planes” at the NYC Toy Fair and gave one to us.  Well, we loved that game, too. So, as soon as Automobiles was announced, we pre-ordered it.

This reminds us of:
Susan: In a few ways, it has elements of both “Trains” and “Planes.”  It’s a “deck-building” kind of game like “Trains,” but with the little cubes that are the mancala-based core of “Planes.” But, really, it’s a pretty unique game. 

Mike: Imagine if a classic old school “around the track” car racing board game like “Race-A-Way” used a deck building mechanic like "Dominion" to get you around the track, except that the “deck” you’re crafting isn’t card based, it’s “count and capture”! That’s what’s happening here. A beautiful amalgam of tried and true game styles seamlessly sewn together. As Susan points out “Trains” and “Planes” were steps along the way leading up to “Automobiles” so if you’ve played either of those, some aspects will seem familiar, but somehow David Short manages to create a fresh experience with his alchemy!  

Game art:
Susan:  The art here is pretty basic.  Like “Planes” and “Trains”, “Automobiles” has a double-sided board, which adds to the replayability. The cards are well-designed, though, and I like the balance of gray-scale for the gears and colorful cubes for the “extras.”

Mike: Hmmm… I’m not in the same room as Susan right now, but I’m reading the above as tepid on this subject. I disagree! The art is THE BOMB in this game! Seriously! I love it! I love the tracks; I especially love the cars. There is something about the art of this game the brings me back to being a little kid and racing matchbox cars around a track you’d drawn on construction paper that you absconded with from the school supply closet! There is a simplicity to the art that sparks the imagination and puts me right in the middle of a loud live raceway!

Susan: Maybe that’s it.  Never played car racing games as a little girl and never been to a live raceway.

Way better than my construction paper creations!

Smell the fumes! Hear the engines roar!

Best part:
Susan: Like David Short’s other games, it’ very well-balanced and at least for me, has a nice blend of strategy and fun.  This one goes pretty quick so easy to play a couple of rounds.

Mike: What makes this is title stand out for me is how different the gameplay is each time. There are 5 action cards  (Garage, Engine, Handling, Performance, and Pit) that serve as purchasable abilities and essentially dictate what each player can do throughout the race. There are 4 of each type, so if you randomly select each of the five abilities, your plan for success can vary wildly from the last time you played. It makes the game so satisfyingly replayable. You’re never left with the feeling that you need to exploit a particular playstyle to win because the playstyle is impossible to set. This is especially significant when you play most of the games in your life against a particular opponent! One who tends to size you up and find your weakness and then regularly prey on that weakness. You guys know what I mean? Do you guys play with someone like that? Someone who does that all the time??? Especially in Ascension??? Making you look like a big dumb jerk EVERY TIME?!?!?!?
Well, that doesn’t happen here.

Susan: I can’t help it that I’m good at Ascension, Mike.
Yeah. This. Like, far too often!

Worst part:
Susan:  We live in fear every time we play this that we’re going to hit the tray of cubes and send them all flying.  This paranoia was especially acute when we took “Automobiles” down to Uncommons one night.

Mike: It's slightly frustrating that a game that has been otherwise so lovingly crafted, is unwieldy with regard to how the gear box cards and cubes and the ability cards and cubes sit in the gameplay space. The size of the cards does not line up well with the containers that hold the cubes. It just makes that whole area look messy, and it’s not always easy to read the relevant information on the cards because the containers might block them. I'm sure if I wasn’t a lazy wanker I could come up with a reasonable fix for this, but I am, so I haven’t and frankly I shouldn’t HAVE to!
Sure, it looks pretty neat here, but trust me, it's kind of a pain in the ass!

Mistakes we made:
Susan:  Not sure that we made any significant mistakes with this one, but it’s important to pay attention to how moves can be made and when and how you can draft.  We definitely encourage players to follow the game’s advice and use the cubes to mark your planned moves before advancing your car (but then must note that it can then be easy to scoop up a car when you do this - and I know once we had to restart because we couldn’t remember where the car was!)

Mike: No major screw-ups that I can remember, though on more than one occasion we have been unclear on the “drafting” rule. Is it considered drafting if you’re behind a player on the same track section as opposed to being in the space BEHIND them? I think so, but I’m not always sure!
Drafting not the issue here!

Play again?
Susan:  Absolutely.  Think that this one will long be one of our favorites that we will pull off the shelf regularly.

Mike: This is a forever title for us. I can feel it. It’s unquestionably fun to play and it’s a new adventure each time out!

Draw cubes from your bag,
Hoping to shift up a gear.
Pass on outside. Vroom.

Times played:  
Susan: ??  We’ve lost track I think - but if I had to guess I’d say about 10.
Mike: That’s probably about right

Game record - 
Susan: Also lost track of this, but I think we’re about even.
Mike: THAT’S probably WRONG! I’m reasonably confident that I have the edge on this one. Pretty solidly I might add! We did actually play this once or twice with other players and on at least one of those occasions the outsider won. But I’m pretty sure that if there have been ten games between us, the record is 

Mike- 7
Susan- 3

Susan: Well, I’m still better at Ascension
The eagle-eyed among you have recognized that Automobiles is the game in our official ID pic! I can't fathom why Susan is smiling, though. She is almost assuredly losing!

Click play on the vid below to learn how to play, then go buy it.