#840 – Rally Run

2 – 4 players.
Play time: 15 – 20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Rally Run was provided by HABA.

Alright! I just happened to get Rally Run played enough times for a review, so here we are. No idea when this is going to drop, but that’s most reviews, these days. They just kind of happen. Sometimes the games just end up in the review queue. HABA has been traditionally great about letting me try a bunch of stuff, so, always more where this came from! Let’s see what’s going on.

In Rally Run, players are off to the races! In order to finish the track, you’ve got to go, make a pit stop, and come back. The thing is, where you finish might be different than where you start, and everyone’s trying to turn the roads to their advantage, sometimes literally! You’ll have to keep your wits about you and your memory sharp if you want to remember what routes your opponents took and take them yourself. Or you can always mess with the landscape to mix things up! Will you be the first to cross the finish line?

Contents

Setup

Not a ton! Place the pit stop tile in the center:

Each player chooses a start / finish tile:

After they do, shuffle the corresponding trophy tokens and place them face-down on the pit stop tile. Then, shuffle the road tiles face-down, and place them in a 5×5 grid with the pit stop tile in the center:

Players should place their start / finish tiles adjacent to one of the corners of the grid (no two players can place adjacent to the same corner), and choose a car to place on the tiles:

You should be ready to start!

Gameplay

On your turn, you can either Move onto a tile or Swap two tiles. Let’s see what each involves.

Move Onto a Tile

You may move your car from your current tile onto any adjacent tile, provided the road is pointing in that direction (these aren’t off-road cars). When you do, flip your new tile face-up and orient it however you’d like so that at least one road on your new tile is connected to a road on your old tile. This means if your new tile is a dead end, you’re stuck, and you’ll have to go back to your previous tile on your next turn. One exception, however: if your first tile is a dead-end, you may re-orient it on your next turn and move onto another tile. If there’s already a car on an adjacent, connected tile, you may move there (but you do not flip any other tiles face-up, and this counts as your movement action).

Once you’ve exited a tile, if no additional cars are on that tile, flip it face-down.

When you make it to the center “pit stop” tile, you must immediately take and reveal one of the face-down trophy tokens. The color of that token indicates the color of the start-finish space that you must return to in order to win.

Swap Two Tiles

For this one, you may select any two non-occupied (face-down) tiles on the board and swap them. The only exception is that you cannot swap either of the two tiles the previous player swapped (if they swapped tiles).

End of Game

As soon as a player reaches the start / finish line of the color they were assigned, they win! If they somehow went to the wrong one, well, they don’t win.

Player Count Differences

So, the big difference with more players is that suddenly, more routes begin to pop up and it becomes impossible to fully memorize the board state. With more players, you’re going to see more risky moves and more dead ends pop up. Unfortunately, you’re also going to see more stalemating. See, if player A swaps tiles 24 and 13, player B can’t swap 24 or 13, under the rules. However, player C can, so it becomes difficult to block another player fully from just continually shifting in dead-end tiles. This seems like a bit of an oversight, but at two, the problem doesn’t come up because once you’ve shifted on your turn, your opponent can’t block you. They can throw a roadblock in your way on a later turn, but then you should hopefully be able to deal with it … later. Besides, they gotta focus on them at some point. I’d still say that I prefer the game with more players because it’s a bit more dynamic, but I’d love to house-rule something to figure out how to avoid stalemates.

Strategy

  • Try to remember when you’ve seen T-shaped / four-way paths; those are going to be pretty critical. These are the tiles to keep your eye on. For folks who are trying to keep their intentions hidden, there are always ways to be subtle. Perhaps, when you flip them over, you rotate the HABA logo the same way every time? Whatever works to try and help you remember (you won’t remember). Ideally, keep your eye on one of them so that you always know where it is.
  • Keep an eye on your opponents’ pathways to the center; odds are, you’re going to need to follow one back. It’s all but impossible to remember the complete pathways that your opponents take to the center (especially since, statistically, at least one of you are going to run into at least one dead end and need to rethink your path). You should at least try to get a lay of the land, though, and keep track of if they’re running into roadblocks or weird path errors that you’ll need to account for.
  • If you think your opponent is about to win, you need to block them. If they win, you lose, so try to place roadblocks in front of them or paths that don’t necessarily go in the direction they want. Keep in mind that L-shaped tiles are fun ways to direct them elsewhere if they’d like to go straight, and a well-placed straight tile can direct them into a roadblock or the edge of the grid, neither of which is helpful.
  • You can kick the can down to another player and make them prevent your mutual opponent from winning, but if they don’t notice then you just threw the game. This is kind of whatever the opposite of kingmaking is, since you’re conspiring to dogpile the player in the lead, but the fulcrum of this plan is whether or not you tell your opponent what you’re doing. I tend to subscribe to a “don’t tell other players what to do on their turn” rule for a variety of reasons, so this can mean that if A doesn’t notice B is about to win, that’s game over. And that’s on me for not blocking B myself. If you want something done right and all that. But this can also be a useful tactic to make a positive move on your turn and stick A with having to block B. Then you waste A’s turn and keep B from winning while you inch closer to the finish line. Ideal, really.
  • If you’re stuck and you don’t think you can advance, try grabbing a random tile and swapping it. In a lot of games that I’ve played of Rally Run, for some reason, players are less likely to mess with a tile if you grab a random one than if you grab a “known good tile”, so sometimes you might be able to luck out and get something that actually helps you advance without other players messing with it.
  • Critically, you cannot interact with tiles that the previous player swapped on their turn. This can help you box out an opponent or make it difficult for an opponent to get around a roadblock you’ve set up. You can occasionally swap good tiles so that the tile in front of you cannot be swapped by an opponent, which is good, or you can swap a bad tile in front of your opponent so that they can’t move forward. Either way, those tiles can’t be moved by the next player, so leverage that rule for offense or defense. Your call!
  • A little bit of cooperation can make your life easier (or at least make it more difficult for players to swap tiles on you). One nice thing is that having multiple cars on the same tile means that that tile can’t be swapped while there’s a car on it. So if a few players end up on the same tile, you may be able to cooperate to keep that tile in place while you move from it (maybe even to and from the pit stop!).

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Cute theme. It’s a quick and colorful racing game, and the art helps sell that. I mean, checkered flags? In a racing game? What will they think of next? Anyways, we have fun. I like the color scheme overall, and I’m just generally a fan of racing games.
  • Very portable. This is one of the smaller HABA titles, by a longshot. It actually ended up at my last game night because it was just already in the bag that I was bringing and I forgot it was there, so that was cool. I haven’t really been going to many game nights lately, but we’re working on it.
  • The memory aspects of this are pretty entertaining. I like having to try and keep track of what tiles I’ve switched and what the best possible pathway back is. I occasionally enjoy the odd memory game, and a bit of a racing element keeps it interesting.
  • I appreciate that they added a variant for kids that’s just building the longest path. It’s a cute, nice thing where kids can just build paths and race cars without any rules. It’s a good understanding of their core audience (and probably slightly younger than the core game audience).
  • I think the smartest thing this game does is forcing you to randomly choose which exit you’re going to get. I think the designers smartly made it pretty difficult for players to memorize entire segments of the path, since they have to (likely) double back on an opponent’s. Since nobody knows what direction they’re going to end up going, they either need to memorize everything or they’re going to have to prioritize.

Mehs

  • The one problem with randomly choosing an exit is that you can potentially get your own, which isn’t as interesting. You do already know that way pretty well. More players means more potential paths, so the odds of getting your same path back are a bit lower. I do kind of wish that you just had to pull from the other not-you paths, but rules are rules.
  • This is just the kind of thing that aggravates me, but I wish all of the tile backs were symmetrical. This is a thing I occasionally complain about. It makes the game look more cohesive? Does that matter? No. Would I like it? Yes.

Cons

  • Getting caught between a few dead ends and having to consistently back up and turn around is annoying at best. It’s just a waste of time. The whole point of swapping dead ends is just to slow players down so that you can win instead, but the actual act of trying to move through the dead ends is boring, since it’s essentially getting your turn skipped.
  • It’s very possible to stalemate this game. The thing I’ve noticed is that if Players A / B / C are all playing, players can just spend their turns blocking the player to their right and nobody can make forward progress. In a two-player game, you can’t swap tiles that were swapped on the previous turn, and that’s still true, but with more players there are now gaps between turns that weren’t there previously. It’s not … a particularly interesting outcome, so your goal is just kind of to hope that players don’t … realize? I can’t really recommend that course of action, structurally

Overall: 5.75 / 10

Overall, I think Rally Run is fine. I think a lot about the words I use to describe games, and I often come back around to the idea of “kids’ games” versus “family games”. I think the latter I often use to describe games that are goofy, silly, fun to pick up, and offer some strategy for most folks who are playing board games. The former, for me, signifies games that are great to introduce to younger gamers, but often fall off in appeal as players gain additional experience with board gaming. There’s some tension around categorization like this, as nobody ever fully agrees on what belongs in what category, and there’s always some chance that you can come off as dismissive by assigning games to a category that others have predisposed biases for or against. It’s just … part of the job, I guess. That said, Rally Run, for me, is fundamentally a “kids’ game”. It’s a very cute concept, but I think that with experienced players (especially more than two) that the game tends to stalemate pretty aggressively. There’s a randomness to the game that’s goofy and appealing, but it occasionally reaches points where randomness remains in an area that I would like to start exploring strategy. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can frustrate players who aren’t as here for random memory games. If you’re not a big fan of random memory games, I struggle to think of why you’d pick this up, but that’s how it goes, sometimes. This was a lot of lead in, but what does Rally Run do well? Lots! It’s quick, which I really appreciate, and it’s a cute theme. This is a great game to start teaching up-and-coming board gamers about memory and path-building, as well. I also think that having players start at one spot and potentially end at another is solid! It makes memorizing the full path difficult, since you have no idea which way you’ll have to leave, and I like that. I think that’s where it lands best. If you’re looking to teach new gamers some of these mechanics and you want to enjoy the experience as well, or you’re just looking for a short game for younger players, you might have a good time with Rally Run!


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