Rules
First game hints
Autoscooter Autoscooter-Kritiken German text about Autoscooter
Info international




This review was written for the "Counter" games magazin and was printed in issue 8 (February 2000). It is published here by friendly permission of "Counter". For information about "Counter" please contact Stuart Dagger (SWDagger@aol.com).


Autoscooter

Bambus Spieleverlag

2-8 Players, 45-60 minutes, DM 125 (+ p&p)

designed by
Günter Cornett

reviewed by
Lutz Pietschker

Germans love to use vocabulary that sounds English or American and the fact that the words may be unknown to native English speakers doesn't usually stop us. My dictionary tells me that the fairground attraction we call "Autoscooter" in Germany may be a case in point; dodgems or bumper cars are what the game is about. Going to the fairground, then? I know Günter as a games designer who takes seriously the task of matching game mechanics and topic, so I was very interested to see how he handled this one.

My first contact with the game were the rules, since I earned my copy by translating them to something resembling English. I was favourably impressed by browsing through the Acrobat file Günter sent me. (He being a web page designer by profession, and me by passion, this seems the natural way to communicate these days, despite the fact that we live just a 15-minute drive apart and come face to face every month or so.) They are well-written, with few but good graphics thrown in, and amount to no more than 5 A4 pages, including examples and a few "optionals".

The real surprise, however, came when I received the actual game. Talk about heft factor! The big, flat grey cardboard box with its pasted-on labels and cover illustration does not look too spectacular, but it is filled with luxurious material indeed (and no air worth mentioning). Most of the space is taken up by the board, a massive beechwood affair, 37 cm square, 2 cm thick, and nicely finished. It resembles a kitchen carving board except for the hex grid (7 rows of 5/6 hexes with milled grooves for hex sides). The 8 bumper-car-shaped dodgems are made of painted wood, equipped with a nail for the current collector pole, and they match the hexes with their 4.5 by 2.5 cm size. Wooden beads, with a hole to fit on the current collector poles, are used to note the cars' current speed. A supply of coloured wooden victory point tokens, a set of player aid charts (coloured like the cars to help players to remember which car is theirs) and a pad of log sheets completes the material.

While all this would certainly look good just sitting on the living-room table, how does it play? Well, as on the fairground, the fun is to steer your car in a way to bump as many other cars as possible while dodging other drivers' attentions. As this is also the way you score victory points in the game you get a satisfying feeling of being on-topic.

To start, the speed marker beads are placed in an accessible spot, and all 8 cars are placed in the marked starting hexes. Players choose a car and get the matching player aid card, 10 victory point markers, and a log sheet. If there are less than 5 players each may take two or three cars and at least six cars should be active in a game to create a "target-enriched environment". Unused cars remain on the board as obstacles. The game is played in 11 turns, each going through the phases of secretly plotting movement on a log sheet, revealing the orders and establishing order of movement, and finally executing the moves and adjusting the speed marker beads. Victory points are scored for hitting other cars and are gained immediately in each car's movement phase.

The log sheet shows 8 columns, one for each car, with a space to enter the driver's name. Unused cars are crossed out to avoid confusion and you may also want to highlight or frame your own car(s). Below the names there are 11 rows of numbered checkboxes. The numbers run from 1 to 88, meandering from the upper left corner down to the lower left, giving each box a unique value which is used to determine the movement sequence. The boxes are used to note the intended movement of the car.

Movement is secretly and simultaneously plotted before the moves are executed, one movement order per turn. The possible moves are 1 hex plus optional turns of up to 120 degrees, 2 hexes with less sharp turns, or 3 hexes straight. This makes a total of 15 possible moves, which have been assigned letters A to O. The player aid chart shows all possible moves and their letter codes. The only limitation in choosing your move is that you may not increase or decrease the car's speed by more than 1 per turn and you may not stop voluntarily (the game's subtitle translates to "who brakes will lose"). To plot a move, just write the appropriate letter into one checkbox of your car's column. If you want to move early in the turn choose a row with a low movement number, if you want to let the dust settle before you move, choose a high one. Each number, of course, is only used once.
This is more complicated to explain than to do, or so I thought, but to my surprise I found that some players had difficulty figuring out their possible, let alone their advantageous, moves in the first couple of games. Maybe my experience with games like "Wooden Ships & Iron Men" helped, maybe it is difficult for some people to imagine a 2-hex-move without actually simulating it, I can't say. But then, some people never manage to drive a real car straight for even a few metres. However, with players new to the game I recommend a few turns of "driving practice".

When moves have been plotted, players read out their choices aloud, one by one, and the others should note them on their own log sheets to maintain a record of used numbers and thus of the other players' options in subsequent turns. Then, the moves are executed in order of the numbers on the checkboxes, lowest number first. Since going first gives you more control about your move, it is often good to move early, and in order to do that some hoarding of low numbers is advisable. Control about your move means control over whom to bump, and the effects of doing so are usually twofold: victory points are gained or lost depending on the relative speed and direction, and speed and directions of the cars involved may change. A sideways ram is best since it scores the total of both speeds, to be paid in victory point tokens by the victim to the ramming player, and the cars do not lose speed. Also, the rammed car is turned by 60 degrees which may, if it has yet to execute its move, mean that it ends up somewhere very different from where its driver intended. In a head-on bump the faster car (not necessarily the one that just moved) gains the difference in speed as victory points and both cars stop dead. Rear impacts score your own speed and may (if you use an optional rule) jolt the victim one hex forward, and cars may also "croquet" the impulse of a hit to adjacent cars. For hits against inactive cars or the barrier a penalty equal to your speed must be paid to the bank, which at least gives you the consolation that no other player benefits directly, though it also leaves you stopped, a sitting duck for the next turn. The consequences of all possible incident cases are printed on the back of the player aid chart for reference.

All this is quite straightforward: try to hit others sideways, avoid being hit, and try not to get into tight spots that leave you at the other drivers' mercy. There is no sense in going for players who have no more victory point tokens left since you can't win anything from them. Instead, "hit the leader" may be taken literally in this game. It is often wise not to shoot headlong to the middle of the board for there you will either end up in a heap of cars or be alone, surrounded by the others who will pummel you next turn. On the other side it does not pay to plan more than one turn ahead and this makes for fast decisions and play.

I must confess that my first thought on seeing the material was "How can Günter afford that expense?" and my second (when I heard the price), "How many people will be prepared to pay that?". However, I was wrong on both accounts. The wooden board allows one to adapt production to demand more easily than a printed one would; also, the first production run was rather small and most of the games already sold or otherwise accounted for. And I know that Günter is thinking about an "economy" version which would be, in my opinion, a very good thing (tell him!). For the material you get, Autoscooter is not over-priced; whether it is worth the money as a game is for each person to decide. Anyway, I find it hard to blame a small publisher who has often been criticised for "amateurish" or "unappealing" production when he takes the risky step to produce a game in full splendour.

I like the game a lot: it has simple rules that link up logically and if you can persuade players to decide on their moves without undue delay, it recreates some of the hilarity I associate with the topic. Other players' opinions have varied from "Günter's best game yet" to "a totally random affair". I cannot agree with either: while other of his games, like Nanuuk! or Kahuna, certainly have more depth, this one plays fast and is no more random than other multi-player games; our results certainly indicated that there is a skill factor involved. If you play with few players, each having 2 or 3 cars at his disposal, you can even plan fiendish trapping manoeuvres with your "fleet". The game received quite positive comments in the family circle; a group of more consim-wise gamers was even more impressed, perhaps because they found it easier to plan moves in a "hex" landscape.

Not taking the price into account, I give the game 8 out of 10.

Lutz Pietschker <icke@flyhi.de>


This review was written for the "Counter" games magazin and was printed in issue 8 (February 2000). It is published here by friendly permission of "Counter". For information about "Counter" please contact Stuart Dagger (SWDagger@aol.com).



 


Rules
First game hints
Autoscooter Reviews German text about Autoscooter




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