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Sonic Battle Racers Board Game Guest Review

Kickstarter has a rich history of popular board games. Titles such as Exploding Kittens, Rising Sun or Zombicide: Black Plague (all funded on KS) are often known even by persons who are not passionate about board games. At the beginning of March 2018 another project gathered enough supporters (and their $$$) to become real – Sonic the Hedgehog Battle Racers, by team S7 Games (formerly known as Shinobi 7). And from the very beginning, it had some promising looking features – aesthetically presentable figures of playable characters, the theme of “racing game” quite fitting to the main hero of the series, the random construction of the board – enough to make the project interesting for fans of board games and Sonic the Hedgehog universe. Now the time has come to verify promises and check the game in practice – let’s get busy!

Disclaimer – this review is written based on Kickstarter “Hyper Pledge” variant of the game, with all possible add-ons.

Presentation

I think that collectors will be happy with the outcome – the juiciest part of the accessories, figures, are generally quite well made. Four bigger models (Dr. Robotnik, Vector, Omega and Big the Cat) are making the best impression – shape, size and place of almost every element seem to be ideal and very faithful to the source material. Of course, the smaller models aren’t bad either but unfortunately, they’re not so impressive. Some of them have minor flaws – like unintentionally small or “dead” eyes. Probably the most noticeable of these is Amy’s figure – she looks like she’s wearing way too much make-up on her eyebrows and eyelashes, not to mention the caricatural pose, which can also make her figure a bit unstable. I admit that I was a bit surprised with the presence of Infinite, a relatively fresh character in the franchise. An important side note, elements of some characters are actually a bit sharp, so I definitely don’t recommend giving the figures to very young children.

Aside from playable characters, there are also figures of enemies well-known to Sonic fans,  Buzz-Bombers, Crabmeats, Motobugs and Buzzers. They’re not painted but look really nicely sculptured. The main problem is that it’s a bit difficult to use them on the board; tokens are far more functional. All remaining 3D models – rocks and rings are, well, ok. Nothing fancy, but they do their job although the painting of the rings is not so great – it looks like a mix of brown and yellow, so not exactly golden rings we would expect.

I’ve got a mixed feeling about the board elements. On the one hand, they’re eligible and aesthetically referring to various levels in Sonic games in a clear way – but the material they’re made of is not the best quality (it was in fact an aspect which wasn’t received too well by some Kickstarter backers when the developer announced that track will not be made from usual laminated material for the board surface. You definitely need some hard, even surface for this board to avoid issues during gameplay.

The cards – they’re generally ok. Readable, decent quality graphics and nothing I would be personally concerned about.

Please, keep in mind that described content is present in the Kickstarter hyper pledge variant – however, everything I’ve described can be obtained at retail… But it will certainly cost a bit. The base game (in retail costing officially 35$) contains four characters (Sonic, Amy, Tails and Knuckles), 10 board pieces (Green Hill Zone) and standard stuff for play (rings/badniks tokens, agility cards etc). No bosses, no figures of badniks and rings/rocks. To gather all playable
characters, you need to buy 4 boss expansions (bosses are also playable as normal characters) and 13 racer expansions. You won’t get Super Sonic this way though (he’s a KS exclusive).

Ergonomics and Preparation

Due to the fact that board will need some space (and a solid, even surface), I would definitely recommend using a table where players can sit from both sides. Probably the most tedious part is setting rings and badnik tokens on the board (due to the rules you need to do this also during gameplay when the second and third track are revealed). Truth be told, in my opinion, better would work building the entire level at the beginning of the game.

One good thing is that aside from the level all other elements are quite intuitive and don’t take up too much space. Every player needs a bit of space to have his character card (where he/she will mark the current character’s speed, as well as gathering collected rings and badniks and keeping current agility cards). Aside from that, you need space for a stock of agility cards (and four revealed at one moment), a bunch of tokens at hand… And that’s it. In my case, I was using the 3d ring models and badniks because it became quite a comfortable solution – putting rings on special stands and badnik figures while using the tokens on the board.

Rules and Complexity

Some very good news – rules are relatively easy to understand and also allow play with some degree of strategy, limiting a lot of randomness because players are not moving by throwing the dice, but by using agility cards. Every player has four “active” agility cards (hidden from the sight of other players) and after choosing, they compare their initiative number and then process the move on the board depending on current character speed, actions introduced on the chosen card and sometimes also determined by special skills or power of their character. It’s quite an interesting solution that at every “turn” the order of performing moves is made based on the chosen card. In effect the “iron” rule present in many board games (where the order of playing is decided at the beginning of the game) is more flexible here – and it works surprisingly well. Truth be told – not always performing the move as the first one is beneficial. Generally all aspects – move, interactions between players and with badniks/board elements are explained decently in basic terms. There are problems with some details though…

To be more specific, one problem with the attached manual is that it doesn’t always clearly explaining all aspects of the game. Member of the development team published a list of corrections and an FAQ on Boardgamegeek portal to explain those details, but unfortunately this clearly shows that while rules themselves don’t have a problem with an unnecessary amount of details, the instruction manual was delivered in a state which still requires polishing and testing.

Sonic Battle Racers is not something which I would recommend as a first board game… But it’s actually quite close. I’m not entirely happy with the fact that I needed to print some “addendum” to the manual, but I highly appreciate the good balance between limited complexity, a potential area of player’s freedom in terms of planning and executing moves, limiting randomness and being accessible.

Gameplay

The most important part of every board game. I’ve got to admit, that even playing only in 2 players is giving quite engaging and interesting impressions. Performing next moves is going quite smooth, attached “guide cards” are quite useful (my only complaint is that they don’t have miniature picture of attack pattern of badniks). It’s a bit of a shame though that available characters seems to be very uneven in terms of special skills and powers. Of course, I wasn’t expecting perfect balance between so many available characters, but if you were thinking that after getting the game (and potential add-on/s) in your hand you will definitely play with X character, checking special skills and powers may convince you to change your mind.  For example, Super Sonic has a really devastating special power (allowing a player to quickly get to the closest ring and kill all badniks on the way). On the other hand, Jet’s special power allows him to… not use full speed during jumping. I know that the ways they work are not comparable, but I guess that it’s not only my impression that some characters have special skills and powers with very limited usefulness. It’s a bit of a shame also that due to the rules you will probably observe mostly using special skills (which can be used whenever described conditions occur), since special powers can be used only with chosen agility cards.

If you like interaction between players, I would definitely recommend playing with at least three people. Usually, when playing with two you won’t have too much opportunity for interaction (since both players will be rather focused to take the most optimal path and collect good stuff, which is in most cases doable without interfering with another player).

In the beginning, I was concerned about the fact that the winning is connected strictly with collected rings and defeated badniks while any player arriving at the finish line is simply enough to end the game and count the results. Fortunately, in practice this mechanism works surprisingly well – partially due to the fact that moving swiftly is quite beneficial (but not always!), since it allows to get to the richest parts of the level and gather goods and beat badniks. Although you’re always risking in such cases to be bumped by other players staying behind you and losing some of your precious rings.

There was one element of gameplay about which I don’t feel too certain – the way you move according to agility cards. The basic rule is that every agility card has action (which you can perform or skip) and movement (which you’re obliged to perform). I like the fact that your character can move not only forward, but also up and down to move on a different track. However, moves other than forward are reserved only for actions (with very limited range), the movement must be done always forward. I feel that gameplay would have more variety without this limitation.

Even with those flaws, the game is very engaging and brings a lot of fun, no matter if playing with just two players. Aside from adding bosses to your gameplay, there is also the possibility to play the game alone. Which is basically playing with the active boss (who has predefined patterns of action). I appreciate the fact, that the developer has provided something to those players who can have problems gathering others to play, but playing alone with a “scripted” boss is not too exciting and interesting. So on the one hand – it’s good that it’s there, but it’s also nothing spectacular. I don’t want to complain too much about this since by definition board games are usually played by at least two players.

I must admit that the official average time of gameplay (30-60 minutes) is not especially well estimated. Even in the case of two players, a game is usually taking about 40-50 minutes. I don’t think that Sonic Battle Racers is an adequate game if you wish to have a quick game, both in terms of preparation and time of playing one session. Good thing is, that it’s entertaining enough to keep you interested till the very end.

Conclusion

I had a complaint here and there regarding some things, but the overall impression is definitely positive. It’s not my favourite board game I’ve ever played (this title still belongs to Neuroshima Hex, with honourable second place for Warhammer 40k: Conquest), but it’s definitely one of the games in my private “high tier”. There were plenty of potential traps (especially in terms of rules, where putting the dice in use as a major factor could easily turn the game into a luck
contest), but developers have avoided them quite well. The only problem for those interested can be the price tier and availability of the game. While base game (with four racers) has quite a reasonable official price, I’m not sure if there will be many players willing to pay additionally for every single character expansion (a bit more interesting are boss expansions, since they’re coming with additional content, like new board elements and boss cards). Based on my observation, I noticed that most stores who have this title in their selection at all, are limited to the base game only. In my opinion, even if you limit your purchase to the base game, you still have have a well made, in terms of rules and content, board game.

 

This review was written by forum user MartiusR.

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