Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Race hazard

The other week I was visiting friends in Edinburgh. A great time was had by all (I hope - I certainly had a whale of a time). Aside from the joys of seeing all-too-distant friends and moseying around a beautiful city, we had a little time to play on mountain bikes at Glentress. I've never been mountain biking before. I never realised what I was missing. Oh my word, it's so much fun. I'm reasonably sucky at it (hey, first time, remember), and spent the first day vacillating between terror and refusal to attempt stuff that really shouldn't have worried me at all, and stupidly tearing down trails faster than I was capable of handling because I knew no better. And then falling off. Given that they were carting Mr. Liability around all day with them, many many thanks are in order for the folks I was with - they encouraged, scraped me up, and tried to teach me enough to stop being such a danger to myself all in the best of spirits. As a result, despite the wealth of bruises I'm still sporting, I'm totally hooked and can't wait to go again. The second day we went, by the way, I got padded up to try to stop me from getting bruises on bruises. And managed not to fall off once. Ho hum. But another glorious day of epic fun for me.

...and between those two days, we get to the point I want to do writing about: Racing games. Edd, Ruth and I convened to introduce Ruth to the Way of Game (which she picked up and ran with startlingly quickly and well). In our session, we played two entirely different racing games: Pitch Car and Formula D. The former is sort of like racing subbuteo, or shove hapenny maybe (if that means anything to you). You have a wooden track, with little fences on the outside of the corners to help keep your cars on, and you flick your little wooden disc-shaped cars around the track. That's it. If it sounds simple, that's because it is - but that doesn't stop it from being brilliant fun. The main problem with it is the amount of time you have to spend crawling around under the table tracking down the car you just blasted into the stratosphere by mistake.

Formula D is a totally different kettle of fish; it's a dice-rolling based game with a nifty gear shifting mechanic (based on the gear your car is currently in you roll a different dice). It is, however far more complicated and drier than pitch car. Having said that, we almost killed ourselves laughing when Ruth took a hairpin bend at 300 miles an hour. While being shot at. Unsurprisingly, she didn't quite make it.

Pitch car would probably be fun no matter who you played it with - anyone who'd be happy to flick a wooden car around a racetrack is going to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy the game anyway - but I definitely got the feeling that Formula D relies, like so many games, on the personalities around the table. It could be dull, tedious play if everyone was going to carefully analyse every move to pick the statistically optimal gear each turn. Or, as it was for us, it could be a riot as you wing it round every corner slightly too fast hoping not to launch yourself into a building. I guess that's why I enjoy playing games so much: it's not just the game (though I do enjoy them for their own sake), it's also a prism to direct the attention of a group of friends together into a shared experience. And how is sitting around a table with good friends having a whale of a time ever not going to be a good way to spend a few hours?

Definitely looking forward to doing all that again. If only they didn't live so damn far away.

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