Full disclosure: A review copy of Spring Rally was provided by Mandoo Games.
Keeping up a now-ongoing trend of reviewing games from outside-the-US publishers, we’ve got Spring Rally on the docket from Mandoo Games. They published Papering Duel, which I reviewed recently (or will review soon; it’s impossible to tell when I write these when I plan on publishing them), along with Fantasy Defense, which I also enjoyed (even if I’m terrible at it). Let’s see what they’ve got for us this time.
In Spring Rally, you’ve ditched your supercars and your sprawling race tracks for something a bit more … compact. Wind-up cars are all the rage, now, and you’re going to become the best wind-up car racer in the game! Compete against your fellow wind-up car enthusiasts, but make sure you don’t get too distracted, because if you overwind you’re going to waste all that energy! Will you be able to beat your opponents across the tiny finish line?
Not much to be done, here. Set out the board:
Choose a side to play on, and set the player cars on that side:
Give players their corresponding dials, with the outer ring placed over the center dial part. The dials (at least in my version) are a bit too large, so it may be worth putting the center dial on top and not pressing it in, all the way:
Either way, set them to 0.
Choose an appropriate number of cards for your player count:
- 3 players: All cards from 2 – 10
- 4 players: All cards from 2 – 13
- 5 players: All cards from 1 – 15
Then, shuffle the cards:
Set them aside, for now. Choose a player to start, and give them the start player token!
So, this is exciting; it’s a trick-taking racing game! Your wind-up cars move around the board depending on whether or not you win tricks. Wind too much, though, and you’re going to overwind your spring, which isn’t good! First player to complete two laps wins the game!
To explain trick-taking, it’s easiest to just detail a round. Every round, players get progressively more cards:
- Round 1: 5 cards
- Round 2: 7 cards
- Round 3: 9 cards
Don’t worry; someone will win by the end of Round 3. The player leading starts off by playing any card they want. This card has a color and a number. All players, every play, must play a card of the same color if they have one in their hand. If not, they may play any other card. Once all players have played a card, resolve the “trick”:
- Only one color was played: The highest value of that color wins the trick.
- Two colors were played: The highest value of the second color played wins the trick.
- Three colors were played: The highest value of the third color played wins the trick.
This is different from other trick-taking games, but don’t worry too much about that. Either way, if you lost the trick, wind your spring one turn clockwise. If you won the trick, you may move forward a number of spaces equal to the lowest card played in the trick. Before you do, you may also choose to release your spring. If you do, also move spaces equal to the number your dial is currently pointing at. You skip spaces occupied by other players without counting them.
Once you finish moving, if you’re on a downhill space (blue), slide to the first open non-blue space. If you’re up an uphill space (red), slide backwards until you hit the first open non-red space.
The player who won the trick starts the next one by playing any card; continue until all cards have been played.
At the end of a round, starting with the player in last place, players unwind their springs and move a number of spaces equal to the number their dials are currently pointing at (in turn order). Then, the player in the lead starts.
If you pass the finish line, flip your outer dial to the red side; this lets other players know you’re one lap away from winning! If you cross the finish line again, first, you win! Take the trophy and, I dunno, post a photo to social media or something. You’ve really earned it.
Player Count Differences
The major difference you’re going to notice is that there are more cards in play at higher player counts, so you have more variance in what players’ hands can look like as player counts increase. Additionally, with more cars on the road, players tend to travel farther as the result of winning a trick, so be careful with how you plan that one out. Beyond that, there’s not much else. I’ll say that I definitely enjoy it at three players, since the tricks are easy to resolve. If there are three colors in play, whoever played the last card wins; don’t even need to really check numbers (beyond finding the smallest one). I’d probably enjoy it at any player count, though.
- You really don’t want to overwind. That’s a huge missed opportunity (since that means you lost a LOT of tricks) and you only got 8 or 4 movement for it. Ideally, of course, you’d want to move 15 spaces, but it’s really hard to land that. I usually get 6 or 10 out of a good turn. I did once get 17 movement in one turn (10 + 10 + 7 played, unwound my spring at 10). That’s always satisfying.
- Try to run out of a suit as quickly as possible. You may not have a lot of options, naturally, but if you can, that gives you the ability to potentially win more tricks and unwind your spring. Just make sure you’re winning good tricks; you don’t want to only take 1s and 2s.
- If you’re already winning the trick, don’t play the lowest card. That’s just silly; play a card that’s at least the same value as the current low card, otherwise you’re just stopping yourself from moving as far as you could. I did that once and felt silly about it for the rest of the game.
- Watch the slopes. You want to make sure that you’re riding the downhill and avoiding the uphill whenever you can. The worst thing you can do is win, move 3, and then slide 3 backwards to the place you started. That happened to one of our players in our first game and, while it was hilarious, they seemed less amused with the situation.
- There are plenty of tricks not worth winning. If you lose tricks, you wind your dial, and you may be able to manipulate the ordering enough that you’ll go last. Going last is awesome, especially if the led color isn’t in your hand; it gives you a pretty solid edge. Keep an eye on these tricks and throw your low cards away; your opponents won’t appreciate it, but, you’re not here to make friends. You’re here to win races.
- This also means you might want to hold on to your low-value cards. It’s similar to The Bark Side in that middle-range cards are often the least useful; they’re not going to win many tricks, and they’re not low enough that you can play them and punish an opponent for winning a trick. Keeping a pocket 1 or 2 means you can really slow down a winner and prevent their momentum from taking them over the finish line.
- Count spaces. I won one game one space over the finish line. You need to know when it’s a good idea to unwind that dial, especially since the last-place person unwinds first. That means they can pull a Seabiscuit and come from behind for the win (I don’t know a ton about Seabiscuit and I regret making that reference in this review).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Oh hey, a double-sided board. That’s two boards for the price of one! The boards are subtly different, though; one has more downhill slides, the other has more uphill slides. I’d love to see some expansions that add in boards with more hazards / options for aggressive strategic play. Or multiple branching tracks! All of that could be fun; I’d be really into it.
- Very cute theme. You’re racing wind-up cars! I love it. The idea of the winding dials is also really cute, too.
- I love hybrid games. Trick-taking + racing = excellent. I love it when two game mechanics are combined into one. That’s part of why I enjoy the Dale of Merchants and Quest for El Dorado series so much; they’re both deckbuilding racing games. Trick-taking is kind of a like, core enough mechanic that I think you can slot it into a lot of games to shake things up. I really hope people start experimenting like this a lot more in the future; I’m really into it.
- Pretty short. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, which I also appreciate. I could see players clamoring for like, a less family-weight version of this that was a bit longer and offered more control over some of the random elements (you can get dealt an exceptionally bad hand), but even then it’s short enough that it doesn’t bother me if I lose; I just pick it up and ask, “should we go again?”. That’s pretty ideal for a game, in my opinion. We played three games of it over lunch, and everyone had a blast.
- Getting someone trapped at the bottom of a hill is pretty funny. It’s not funny for them, but, you know.
- Players usually mess up a few of the rules. Moving the lowest-value-card-played spaces trips some people up pretty much every time, but skipping an occupied space does, too. That’s not the worst thing; it should iron itself out after a few games, hopefully.
- It would be nice if uphill / downhill were more clearly marked. Some arrows pointing up and down would make it more clear which direction you were supposed to slide, rather than just relying on color.
- It can be tough to beat a player that’s too far ahead. Normally, that would be a con, but, our three plays each took us about 10 minutes, on average, so … it didn’t really matter, all that much. It’s ever-so-slightly frustrating, but again, if that happens, just play again.
- Yeah those springs don’t work at all. It probably would have worked better if the dials had been punched out of the outer rings, but since they’re not they’re just a smidge too big. I’m considering lightly filing them down, to be honest. It … is a major conceit of the game, and it’s a bit disappointing that it falls so flat. Thankfully, I like the rest of the game enough that it’s fine.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I really like Spring Rally! Like I said, trick-taking is a favorite mechanic of mine (Skull King still taking the cake among trick-taking games; it’s super fun), but combining it with racing is definitely an idea that I’d’ve looked at and said, “I don’t … think that works”. And it does! I’m pleased to be wrong. Now, don’t get me wrong; this is not a particularly heavy game. It’s very much a light, family game that also happens to be an excellent introduction to trick-taking (and you’ll probably learn it slightly incorrectly, given that the resolution is the exact opposite of most trick-taking games, but oh well). But that’s my wheelhouse (car pun intended), so, I’m super excited that I got to take a look at it. If you’re looking for a cute game that won’t get you too wound up (and won’t take a terribly long time to play), I’d definitely recommend taking Spring Rally for a spin! A few games of it have made me really hope that they make more content for the game. New maps, event cards, special cards, a new suit; there are a lot of ways to really take this to the next level, and I hope they consider it! I’m a really big fan of the game.