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Jumbo Grand Prix

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Publisher: Jumbo
Designer: Reiner Knizia
Players: 2-5

Doug Adams writes:

Reiner Knizia is one of my favourite games designers. His games are deceptively simple but usually have a hidden layer or two of depth. Jumbo Grand Prix is another one of those games, and it's a good one.

Don't be fooled by the title, this is not an Axis & Allies sized box. In fact it is a small card game, published by Jumbo. I assume the name Grand Prix has already been used somewhere else, and Jumbo has been added to the title.

What do we get in the box? Not much, just 76 rather ordinary looking playing cards and a rules booklet. The theme here, as you may have guessed, is car racing in a Grand Prix world. The cards are split into championship points cards (20 of these, numbered 1 to 20), and 56 car cards.

The car cards need some further explanation. These cards are divided into four equal suits of different colours - drivers (blue), tyres (orange), engine (green) and body (red). Each suit contains values 1 to 7 twice, with the only difference is one set of driver cards has a champion's wreath printed on them.

Game play is very simple, and fast. You are trying to obtain the highest total of championship points possible, which means claiming the championship cards. Each round, a number of championship cards equal to the number of players are turned up - these are the points awarded for the next race. Players are trying to build the best car possible before the next race is run.

How do you build a car? Well, every grand prix team knows you need an engine, body, tyres and a driver, of course! At the start of the game each player is dealt four car cards. On their turn, a player must discard one card onto a face up stack (one stack for each car card type) then draw two cards. The cards may come from the face down deck, or off any face up stack apart from the stack discarded to at the start of the turn. Knizia gets mean here, as if you want to draw a card off a face up stack and one of the deck, the stack must be the first draw. A minor point, but it does have an impact on play.

After four rounds of discarding one and drawing two cards, the players will each have eight cards. This is the signal to run the current race. Players have to select four of the cards in their hand simultaneously and present them. This is the car they have decided to run in the race. To be a valid car, there must be one of each car card type present - if a valid car cannot (or will not) be presented, no championship points will be awarded to that player.

Valid cars are then evaluated to see who 'wins' the race. Here come the Knizia quirks!

  • The value of a car is just the sum of the card values - engine, body, tyres and driver, but...
  • Players may get a 'good car set-up' where the engine, body and tyres are all the same value, say 2,2,2 - in this case, those cards are worth 7 points each for a total of 21 plus the driver value! But...
  • If all four cards have the same value, then the driver is worth 7 points as well, or a maximum of 28 points!

The highest total wins the race and takes the highest points card, and so on until every runner in the race has taken their respective cards. In the case of ties, the highest driver will break the tie - and if the two drivers have the same value, then the driver with the wreath will take the points.

For subsequent races, the players begin a new round of draw 1, discard 2 with the four cards they didn't present as a car. Here is where the tactics pay off, you may not want to present a great car in a race if say the point spread on offer is small. If you are holding three '2' car cards, keep them for when a big race is turned up.

The game ends when the last points cards are awarded - the points cards held are totalled and the highest wins the game.

For such a simple game, there are still tough decisions to be made, and plans can change from draw to draw. The fact that you must discard BEFORE you draw is a real annoyance as every card is vital as you get into the game and you may have to break a potentially good set-up.

This is a light, filler game - taking no more than 20 or 30 minutes of fast game play. It reminds me a bit of For Sale, by Steffan Dorra, in depth and game length. Fast, fun, quick, subtle - again Reiner Knizia gets it right. Recommended.

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