The game: Astro Drive by Max Wikström and Mikko Punakallio. The game was published by Lautapelit.fi in 2018, sixth game in their small box series. My copy is on loan from the local library.
Elevator pitch: A sci-fi racing game based on old arcade games.
What’s in the box? The race track is made of oversize cards which have a 5 by 7 grid: the track is five spaces wide and at least six cards long. There are simple wooden tokens for space ships and smaller movement cards. The components are simple and functional.
What do you do in the game? The goal is to get across the goal line first. Each turn, players choose one of their three cards. Cards are chosen simultaneously, revealed and resolved in initiative order (number in the card).
Each card has forward speed, which governs your movement forward and is mandatory to use. There are also control points, which allow sideways movement. Using these is optional.
The track is of course filled with obstacles. Hit a planet and you’re gone, immediately eliminated from the game. Asteroids are fatal, unless you burn an energy cube. Space radiation makes you faster, space fog slows you down. When you enter a row with a black hole, you move one step towards the hole. If you hit the hole, you’re gone. Wormholes let you teleport a bit.
Other players are also obstacles: you can pass through an opponent, but can’t move sideways to the same space, which can sometimes be rather unpleasant.
There are three race track cards visible in the beginning. Once somebody hits the fifth row of the last card, new card is drawn and placed so that the track continues. The deck is eight cards and the goal line is within the last three cards.
Lucky or skillful? The game is deterministic: there’s no output randomness involved. There’s random draw of cards, but you get three to choose from, and of course the moves of the other players can mess up your plans occasionally. The game isn’t as random as one could expect.
Abstract or thematic? The arcade scifi racing theme is thin, but convincing enough. The arcade games are abstract to begin with. The artwork supports the theme fairly well.
Solitaire or interactive? A race with no direct interaction, but the players can occasionally get in each other’s way.
Players: 2–4, more action with more players.
Who can play? The publisher age recommendation is 8+, which seems accurate. The game is easy enough for school-age kids to play without adult supervision, if the kids are familiar with the game.
What’s to like: The game is simple, easy to play and the random tracks mean the game isn’t the same every time.
What’s not to like: If you don’t get into the excitement of the racing, the game feels indifferent. Just choose a card, play a card, which isn’t all that exciting.
My verdict: Astro Drive is a simple game, but failed to grasp me. I do realize the some of the things I find lacking in this game some other people find lacking in Flamme Rouge – but I love that game, and find Astro Drive a bit meaningless.
Your mileage may vary, especially if you like short, simple fillers. I don’t expect Astro Drive to be anyone’s favourite game, but as a harmless 15-minute filler, it’s not bad – just harmless.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, Astro Drive gets Indifferent from me.