Thursday, November 20, 2014

Game Central Station: Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix

Here's another piece of Game Central Station history - for those not in the know, GCS was my long-time pre-blog gaming website. Since Daytona 500 is about to show up in my top 100 (spoiler alert!), I decided to put this up on the blog.

Starting with Niki Lauda's Formel 1, continuing with Top Race, and preceded here in America by Daytona 500, Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix is simply the latest in a series of card-based race games. D/C Grand Prix is that rarest of gems, an excellent 3 player game, and a lot of fun as well. The tips offered here help 'goose' the game a bit.

The Auction Problem

Using Daytona 500 to fix it!

One of the difficulties of Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix is that the smallest bill available in the game is also the smallest payoff. So, if you buy the last car for $10,000, the worst you can do is break even.

My thought? Use the payoff chart from Daytona 500 make the auction more interesting... higher bids make more sense and you have a much bigger stake in working the auctions (rather than just taking the cheapest cars that match your cards.)
  • 1st place - $300,000
  • 2nd place - $200,000
  • 3rd place - $150,000
  • 4th place - $100,000
  • 5th place - $80,000
  • 6th place - $50,000
Viva Las Vegas

Betting (a la Top Race)

One way to spice up Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix is by borrowing the gambling mechanic from Top Race.

Three points are marked on the racetrack. When the first car crosses each of these marks, players may "bet" by secretly choosing a car. Players don't have to bet every time, and may bet on the same car more than once or choose different cars. You do not have to bet on a car you own. Bets are kept secret until the end of the race.

At the end of the race, bonuses and penalties are assessed based on the time of the bet and the order of the finish, using the following chart.

Location of Betting "Points"

On the Top Race board, the points come after the 12th, 23rd and 35th spaces, with 20 spaces between the 3rd betting point and the finish. Some proportional assignment of betting points on the D/C Grand Prix board would probably also work. I notice the Top Race betting points are before, and definitely not inside, narrowed sections of track.

End of the Race

When a player has got all of the cars they own past the finish line they still continue to play cards - after all they may well still have bets outstanding on other cars. Play continues until either all cars are past the finish line or all cards have been played.

What to Do With the Switch Cards

Probably the least loved part of the game design are the switch cards...

Variant Ideas

Here are some other options (besides using them as written in the Mayfair rules)...

  • reversal of fortune - physically switch the two cars on the board (seems a little over the top, if you ask me)
  • catching up - move the following car (on the card) even with or behind the lead car (on the card)... if there is a blockage, the car doing the catching up will halt behind the blockage.
  • breakdown - The foremost of the two cars is moved to the side of the track (off the track), it can no longer move (points on cards for this car are now wasted when played) until the other car on the card has reached or passed the broken down car's position. It then returns to the track where it came off, or to the side if that space is taken or behind if this is not possible.
  • power switch - color switch as written in the rules... but you are immediately allowed to play another card

The next set of suggestions - Spin Out, Mechanical Failure, Burst of Speed, Careful Passing, & Defensive Driving - are from ever-creative mind of Steffan O'Sullivan.

  • spin out - A switch card represents a spin out. In this case, one of the two cars is chosen to spin out - turn its counter backwards, off the track, adjacent to the space it was on when it spun out. Other cars may move through the space it was on when it spun out. When five points worth of movement have been burned off, turn the car around again and place it on the track, on the space it occupied before spinning out. (Keep track of how many spaces have been burned off by stacking cards with its numbers next to the car.) If the original space is occupied when the car is to return to movement, place it in the nearest open space behind that space. On its next card, it moves normally. If a card is played which brings it to more than five spaces worth of movement while it is spun out, it moves the difference immediately.
  • mechanical failure - A switch card represents a minor mechanical failure, which can cancel up to five points worth of movement of one of the cars whose color is pictured on the switch card. This is played out of turn, when another player plays a card. So if another player plays a Move 6 card, playing the appropriate switch card will cause that car to move only 1 space, though it is still the first car moved on the movement card. It may be used to cancel a move of less than 5, but the excess is lost. That is, if a switch card is used to cancel a Move 3, for example, there is no of two spaces to a future turn.
  • burst of speed - A switch card may be used to move both cars pictured on the switch card two spaces forward. The car in the lead moves first, then the other car. Both cars must be able to move two spaces or the card cannot be played for this purpose.
  • careful passing - A switch card may be played *with* a movement card. In this case, the two cars' turn orders are swapped, but not the movement values. It must be played with a card with both colors on it. Thus if you play the Red-Green switch card with a movement card which has Red moving 4 spaces and, later, Green moving 2 spaces, the Green car will move its 2 spaces at the time the Red car was supposed to move, and the Red car won't move until the Green car was due to move, but will attempt to move its full 4 spaces when it does move.
  • defensive driving - A switch card may be played as a defensive driving maneuver to prevent passing. It may only be played just after a car has passed one of the cars pictured on the card and finished its move one space ahead of the pictured car. Note that this may be played out of turn. It cannot be played this way if a car ends up two or more spaces ahead of the car in question. In this use of a switch card, the car which just passed the pictured car is moved back one space, to be as close to even with the pictured car as possible.

Switch Card Clarifications (for the rules as written)

The switch lasts until the person who played the switch plays his next card. A switch card can still be played when one of the cars has finished, but it does nothing at all.

Switch Misdeal

Anyone who gets dealt two or all three switch cards may declare a misdeal if desired. All cards are then thrown in, reshuffled, and redealt. Even though all players continue playing cards after their cars cross the finish line, it is too much of a disadvantage to have two, possibly three of cards with no movement on them. (This house rule is written for the original rules... not the variant uses of the switch cards mentioned above.)

Other Stuff

Tighter Movement Deck

Remove the three 5 movement white cards and the switch cards from the deck. This drastically reduces the effect that can happen in a game with a large number of players if one player gets dealt all three 5 movement white cards. (It often doesn't matter so much which car they take so they just get the one which is the cheapest.) It also has the advantage of making it just a bit tougher to get across the line.

Down with the King(maker)

When playing the original rules, players who have already finished have an inordinate amount of influence on the finish of the race. In order to combat this "kingmaking" tendency, players whose last car has crossed the finish line must turn the remainder of their cards face and shuffle them. When it is their turn, they draw randomly from the pile in front of them to "blow" other players' cars across the line. If there is a white number with multiple valid choices, the car that is farther behind gets to use the white number. (Again, this variant is useful only with the original rules. With the betting rules, players should be able to play cards down to the end of the game.)


Whenever a car moves and a second car is directly behind it, move the second car forward one space. If there is a whole row of cars and the front one moves forward then all those directly behind it will move forward one space. This rule is borrowed from Daytona 500.

This helps make it less of an advantage to get ahead of the pack, and adds some interesting twists to the game play.

Open Auction

In order to keep players from sitting on their cash & waiting for a cheap car, eliminate car ownership limits. (This variant is for 2 & 3 player games.)

Thinking Seriously about the System

A Great Conversation

What follows is a not-quite-verbatim conversation from, which gives you some very good information about the Formel Eins series of games, including the "grandfather", an abstract game called Tempo.

Tim Shippert:

The Daytona 500 box and rules say that the game is only for 2-4 players. How does it work for 5 or 6, like Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix claims to handle? I think the suggested number of players is odd for both games, because D500 should work with more players fairly easily, while DCGP becomes very unwieldy with more than four. Three is probably the best number for DCGP, because the chicanes become a lot easier to manage, and even if you do get jammed up you'll have another turn to try and right things pretty soon.

Steven Pedlow:

Any difference in number of players among Niki Lauda, Daytona 500, Top Race, Detroit/Cleveland is mostly due to how much the game company wants to get away with. They can all have six cars, and can therefore handle 2-6 players, but my experience shows that they work best with 3-4. If you play with 5 or 6, you seem to lack control of how well your cars do.. you are completely dependent on other players moving your car. 2 player games work fine, but it does seem to lack the multiplayer aspect. So it sounds like Daytona 500 agrees that it isn't as good with 5 or 6, and reports 2-4 as the "best" number of players, while Detroit/Cleveland reports only that it can be played by 2-6 players.

My experience with Top Race is limited, so it might be true that the betting element better allows 5 or 6 players to enjoy this version rather than the others. Anyone have any comment on this?

Bob Scherer-Hoock:

I've never tried any of them with fewer than 4 players. I still find the games enjoyable with up to 6, but you're right about the control. I think the key there is to save what you can control for the finish, or also in the case of the road course for the chicanes, but indeed you are limited by lack of cards. I don't think the betting in Top Race addresses any of the control issues at all. In fact, more than 4 players and the resulting fewer cards in hand makes the betting more of a wild guess.

By the way, I finally got around to translating the Tempo rules (the forerunner of all these games) this past weekend. I think I played the game once years ago with someone describing their understanding of the rules, but I'd long since forgotten them. Turns out a betting component was key to the original game system, so much so that the blurb on the box describes it as a betting game rather than a racing game. In this version the track is merely a large "U" and the pawns (no car theme) have their own identical (save for the color) tracks. The pawns never switch lanes, so there is no blocking in the game. The betting is in the form of six cards, one for each color pawn, that are given to each player. Each player looks at their race cards (which are quite a different mix than the race car versions) and decides which of the six pawn cards to select as their bets for first, second, and third place. The cards are placed face down as secret bets. Then the players get points at the end of the race for all three colors they've selected depending on their finish, plus bonus points for finishing any of them in the correct order in which they were bet. In a sense then, each player owns three "cars" in each race (without bidding for them) and several players can end up owning the same car. (And in the unlikely event that two players happen to put out three cards in the same order at the outset, then they can't do anything but tie at the end.) There's a variant suggested in which all the bet cards are turned face up at the start of the race.

Mark Jackson (the Conductor):

In my ever-so-humble opinion, D/C Grand Prix works best with 3 players (if playing "strategically") and 6 players (if playing "with chaos")... while Daytona 500 works well with 3 or 4 players.

Your "mileage" may vary. :-)

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