Full disclosure: A review copy of Sonic the Hedgehog: Crash Course was provided by IDW Games.
Alright, time for a Sonic game. I’ve been really stoked about games featuring our favorite hedgehog ever since that nightmare movie trailer premiered with Sonic and his Human Teeth. I’m honestly a bit disappointed that they’re changing the design; I thought it was nightmarish but I was 100% into it as an Unintentional Horror Film. Oh well; at least we still have the internet. Anyways, IDW has pushed a few Sonic games out recently, one of which is this one — Sonic the Hedgehog: Crash Course. The other, Dice Rush, I’ll hopefully take a look at in a few months.
In Sonic the Hedgehog: Crash Course, Sonic and his friends / deadly nemesis are racing to collect Flicky Birds (not to be confused with any flappier birds) before the level they’re running on ends. Dodge traps, jump over your opponents, and go fast if you want to make it to the end in one piece. Will you be able to outrun the competition?
Make some piles of tokens, like Flicky Birds:
Now, take the Track Tiles and remove the two Starting Tiles:
They have the Star on them. Place them such that the two stars touch, and the Buzz Bomber is on the rightmost side. Give each player a Character Mini:
The minis look truly amazing. Also give them a Character Board:
Place them off the edge of the board. Make two equal piles of the other Track Tiles, and set the shortcut tiles nearby:
Once you’ve done that, you should be ready to start!
A game of Crash Course is played over a series of turns until one player collects enough Flicky Birds to win. Once they make it off the edge of a track, they end the level and they win! You’re going to have to go fast if you want to make it there, though. Let’s dig into how to do that.
On your turn, you have 3 Actions that you may take, of the following:
- Fix Damage
- Draw Items
You may only do these actions in this order (once you draw items, you cannot move anymore). Let’s talk about each action in turn.
This one isn’t terribly complex. If you take damage, you must fix all of it before you can move. You may take a maximum of 2 Damage (any additional damage is ignored). If you take Damage on your turn, you immediately stop moving and end your turn.
This one isn’t much more complicated. You may move forward one space per move action, either directly in front of yourself, or diagonally forward left or right). On turns, you can move into a space if it moves you closer to the end.
If you move into a character, bump them forward one space. If they hit an obstacle, they take damage; if they hit another character, they bump that character forward; if they hit an item, they interact with it as normal.
If you move off the edge of the stage (or push a character off the edge of the stage), the player whose character moved off the edge gains a Flicky Bird and then you may place a new tile by drawing from one of the stacks and rotating it however you want. Once you deplete both stacks, instead pull the last tile and move it to the front, again rotating it. If there’s a character on that tile, you immediately win. So that’s fun.
If you move towards the middle of the stage, there may be an arrow pointing off the edge; that space is eligible to form a shortcut! If you can connect Shortcut Tiles to another space that’s ahead of the current one, you may move into that newly-created Shortcut to move to the connected tile for only one Move Action. This allows you to avoid weirdnesses like the tiles curving into themselves, as well; you simply jump over the tile that you’ve already run through.
You may also draw items. If you’re in first place, draw 1 item. If you’re in last place, draw 3 items and keep one. If you’re neither of those two things, draw two items and keep one. Note that you may hold two items at a time, so if you want a new item and you already have two, you must discard one (or use it) prior to drawing a new item. There are a number of different items:
- Motobug: This happens immediately, but it hits all players ahead of you in the same lane for 1 damage. It also goes over any obstacles.
- Bomb: This one can be played on a single tile of your choice. It discards all items on the track tile and damages all characters on the tile. Rough!
- Bumper: This item is used instantly, also, and it bounces a character backwards two spaces (skipping the space between). If you land on another item this way, you activate it.
- Spring: When you use the Spring, it’s placed on the board permanently (unless a bomb is played). When you move onto a Spring, jump over any ground-based obstacles in play until you hit an empty space or a Buzz Bomber (the flying enemy). This includes other players, other Springs, Boosters, whatever. If you hit this as part of a Booster effect, it cancels the Booster effect.
- Booster: Moving onto this moves you forward another two spaces for free, following normal rules. If you hit this as part of hitting another booster, it cancels the previous booster’s effect before applying its own.
- Crabmeat: When used, place it in an empty space. If someone lands on this space, they take 1 Damage. It can be removed via Motobug or a Bomb.
- Ring: When you draw this, keep it. It can be used to gain an Extra Life once you have four, which can negate one damage or spin the most recent track tile placed. If you get damaged while holding rings, place them all on any empty space on the Track Tile behind you for other players to get. It’s annoying, but what can you do? It’s thematic.
The game ends when a player runs off the Track Tile while holding the correct number of Flicky Birds:
- 2 players: 10 or more Flicky Birds
- 3 players: 7 or more Flicky Birds
- 4 players: 5 or more Flicky Birds
That player immediately wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference at higher player counts is the increased interaction. Any game with Eggman in it is going to turn into a griefing fest because of the nature of his ability, which can be a bit frustrating, so I normally play it at three or two. If you are playing at two, you can also play a Sidekick Variant where you control two characters sharing a Flicky Bird stash and alternate who you play as on your turn. First to get 7 Birds and cross the finish line wins!
In general, though, I’d probably say this is best at two or three, but with more characters I’d probably change that; I just don’t like how much take-that Eggman adds to every game.
- I mean, if you can stomach it, griefing the player in the lead is always a good move. Sometimes you’re just going to have to dump on them. Throw stuff in the way, make it hard for them to place items, just block them by any means necessary if you want to prevent them from crossing the finish line. You can’t take back any of the Flicky Birds they’ve already collected, but you can slow them down and try to cut ahead for the victory.
- Falling behind isn’t bad, if you can set up shortcuts. These are especially good if you’re Knuckles, since he explicitly gains a lot of points from shortcuts. Even so, they’re a very quick way to get back into the game even if you get stuck behind for a bit.
- If you’re in the lead, make it hard for players farther back to set shortcuts. Use turns and create distance between tiles that can’t be covered with just the three shortcuts, or remember that there are no shortcut entrances on the starting tiles. However you do, just try to block shortcuts so that players stuck in the back will stay there.
- Use your ability. They’re there for a reason. The more you use them, the more free Flicky Birds you get, so that will push you closer to winning. If you manage to win without using your ability, that’s wasteful but still vaguely impressive? I’m not here to judge.
- If you’re in last, drawing items is a great way to get rings and get what you need. You get to pull three items and keep one every time you draw! If any of them are rings, you just get those for free and you can still keep one item. It’s a super good proposition, as far as catch-up mechanisms go. It allows you to be much more responsive.
- Slowing players down with damage is a solid way to catch up. Since they have to spend a third of their turn healing damage before they can do anything, you can usually slow them down pretty aggressively with even one damage. Two, and you’ve almost stopped them dead.
- Use Springs wisely. Placing things between the Spring and its destination is actually a really solid play, since that will just extend the length of your jump. Watch out for that one flying enemy, though, that’ll mess you up every time. Again, this goes double for Tails.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The minis are incredible. They’re super nice! I’m secretly hoping this gets an expansion so we can see a few more of the minis. Would love to see Metal Sonic, Shadow, Silver, Amy, or Chaos. The nice thing is that there’s a pretty wide array of abilities and characters (and locations) to choose from, so hopefully we’ll see more minis in the future.
- The character powers are all nice touches. They feel true to the characters and incentivize different playstyles, which I appreciate.
- Very easily expanded. As I said earlier, you could imagine additional sets that include tiles for Scrap Brain Zone, Stardust Speedway, Angel Island; there’s a lot of potential for these sets, which I’m really into. Plus, it would give you the option to either mix-and-match or make entirely new sets. Personally, I’d love one themed around City Escape from Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, but I think I’m not gonna hold my breath on that one.
- I pretty much always enjoy a racing game. It’s a really fun genre! Dale of Merchants is a great racing deckbuilder (as is The Quest for El Dorado); Spring Rally is a wonderful racing trick-taking game; I think I just like a lot of racing games, mechanically.
- I appreciate the strategy around using springs. You can set things down and bounce over them to get even farther in one turn, which is a super interesting play. I generally like the items that help you move farther; I’m not as sold on the items that damage other players.
- The theme comes out in the gameplay, which I appreciate. It’s got side-scrolling (with the tiles moving), all the classic items, and you finish the level by running off the edge of the stage (there’s just no giant sign to run past). It feels like a pretty faithful adaptation of the Sonic franchise to a board game, and given what we’ve already seen of the upcoming movie, that’s definitely worth pointing out as a good thing.
- I wish there were a better way to draw item tokens. Even a small bag would have gone a long way.
- A fair bit of minutiae to keep in your brain. There are some small subtleties, like how the Spring interacts with certain items, when and how to use shortcuts, placing blocks versus using items, how many items you draw on your turn based on your position, how many blocks ahead different items move you; they’re all fairly straightforward, but it’s easy to mix up one effect for another since they all have slightly different effects (or worse, to forget one entirely, like how you drop rings when you get hit).
- You’ll probably have to shift this one on your table periodically. That’s just the nature of real-space games, unfortunately. Since it kinda side-scrolls forward, you may have to pivot or shift tiles to make sure it stays on the table. This may cause you some problems, but it isn’t too bad in practice, I’ve found.
- It would be nice if Eggman had an alternate ability that wasn’t just “how much can you grief your opponents”. It definitely slows the game down when he’s in play, which isn’t my favorite feature.
- If your players go that way, the last bit can be a slog just due to all the griefing. People are going to try and attack the leader(s) right up until they cross the finish line, and that can be … annoying. Generally, they can knock you down to one move per turn, which can slow you down pretty aggressively. If everyone is doing that to everyone else, then the game is going to slow towards a crawl. Thankfully, you can’t fully stop someone on their turn; you always get at least one move, so there will be some progression. It just may not be a lot, and if the griefing starts early then it’s most likely going to run for a pretty significant portion of the game.
- Seven tiles seems like kind of … not a lot? The game loops around a solid amount, but it’s odd given how big the box is that there aren’t more tiles that come with it. It also can make the game feel a bit samey, after a while, since you see the same tiles (even if they have new items on them) decently frequently.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Sonic the Hedgehog: Crash Course! I wouldn’t say it blew me away, but, it is a pretty thematically consistent experience, and it reminds me favorably of the games of Sonic I used to play that I remember. It’s all about controlling your momentum, moving quickly, and never slowing down. I think the place where this gets weird, for me, is that so much of the game is focused on slowing everyone else down, to the point that it can turn into a slapfight if players aren’t careful about not being huge jerks to each other. Some players like that sort of thing, so who am I to judge, but it’s not my personal cup of tea, so I generally stay away from it. That doesn’t bode particularly well for this game, but I’d be interested to see what would happen if they made an expansion for it, especially since there are so many characters and so much opportunity. I’ve already seen some fan powers floating around on BGG, so I’m hoping a few of them crystallize into an actual expansion. Either way, I enjoyed what I saw of Sonic the Hedgehog: Crash Course, so if you’re a huge Sonic fan, a racing game aficionado, or you just love take-that in games, maybe you will too!