The False Illusion of 'Racing Games' says Lowell Kempf

Thinking about Lines of Action reminded me of Ramses, another game where movement is determined by the number of pieces. And, thinking about Ramses made think of China Moon, another game where you move your opponents pieces. And thinking about China Moon has not only made me think about the game itself but the origins of the game. China Moon was one of the first Bruno Faidutti's designs and it was designed to be a race game where there wasn't any luck, only skill. He has cited Hare and Tortoise as a major influence and inspiration. 

I have to admit that I have never played Hare and Tortoise, which I do consider a gap in my gaming life. It won the first Spiele de Jahres and it is still considered groundbreaking for how it handled creating a race game that didn't involve rolling dice or any other random mechanic. I have come close to buying Hare and Tortoise a couple times over the years. But, I never ended up pulling the trigger and, at this point, I would have to play it a few times before I would get it. But this did get me thinking about how racing, as a genre, often feels like the poor cousin in the board gaming hobby.

It's obviously a false feeling since there are tons of beloved and successful racing games out there. Formula D, Snow Tails, Thunder Alley, Winner's Circle, et cetera, et cetera. And it's a theme that is super easy to engage non-gamers. However, while racing is clearly a successful and beloved genre, it still doesn't seem to get the love other genres. I have regularly heard people introduce Formula D or Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix as a different, fun race game.

Frankly, I blame The Royal Game of Goose, which also wrecked the reputation of Roll and Move as a mechanic. Even if you haven't seen the Royal Game of Goose, you know what I'm talking about. A single track where each player has one pawn and roll a die to see how far they move, along with special spaces that give bonuses or penalties. What has become the generic game for the back of cereal boxes or children's place mats. A game with absolutely no choices.

I do have to note that the Royal Game of Goose started out as a gambling game for adults. Which does explain why it is so random. After all, the Nevada Board of Gaming doesn't allow games of skill to be used in casinos. Poker got grandfathered in and it's openly admitted it would never make it as a new game. But it does kind of amaze me what an impact the Royal Game of Goose has had on the perception of both racing games and roll-and-move. Both Ludo and in particular Backgammon are far older and better games that offer real choices and interaction.

But people don't think of them as the fundamental representation of those genres. I guess this is an example about perception doesn't really have anything to do with reality. I don't think I've met anyone who actually dislikes racing games or genuinely pooh-poohs them. It's like there is a false majority of there. And I know that I am going to keep on playing racing games and good role-and-move games. Games like China Moon or Winner's Circle or That's Life are all good games to teach people who don't play a lot of games but are still fun and rewarding for those of us who do.

(originally posted at www.gnomepondering.com and reproduced here with the permission of the author).

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