Real-time games do not occupy a large part of the market like some other genres of board games. Many genres have had large surges and tapered off before the next big thing hit. Only recently it seemed every other game being released was a social deduction game. We’ve had waves of party games, dexterity games, war games, and more. Yet Real-time games have never had the big booms like the above-mentioned genres. However, every year we get a few real-time games hitting the market with varying levels of success. There are a few I would even say are classics and worth having in your collection. This year Geoff Engelstein with Stronghold Games released Pit Crew, a 2-9 player racing game done in real-time that plays in about 15minutes. In a largely understated field, Engelstein has provided a game that stands out in a league of its own.
Car racing as a theme is not my usual style of game. I know many people that argue for the genius of Formula D, but the theme keeps me from wanting to play it. Fortunately, it did not prove a distraction with Pit Crew. This may be in part because of the speed of the game. In 15 minutes I was not really looking to go deep into a game where the theme could influence my connection with gameplay.
Racing games offer two main win conditions that primarily dictate gameplay. The first win condition is to meet or exceed a specific goal to win. Snakes and Ladders is a game that fits this description. The second win condition is the first to meet a designated game state wins. Dominion and Settlers of Catan are both good examples of games that require a game state. Geoff integrates different styles of racing into this one game. You begin by racing to complete a given task, but then how you complete the task will determine how your car performs in a race. In this way, Engelstein has placed a racing game within a racing game like some sort of game design inception. This is not only clever, but it is actually fun.
Just like in a real race environment the pit crew is all about precision and speed. There are only three cars in the game. The game plays up to nine players because it actively encourages the use of teams. Once you get over 2 players in the game you start working with others as part of the pit crew for your car. When getting a car ready to go out onto the tracks you must draw a number of cards to play, the number of cards you draw will be based on the number of people in your pit crew. As you play cards you may draw back up to that starting number anytime. If you cannot use any cards you may simply discard cards into a discard pile, but know that your team will score a penalty for every two cards in your pile. Your car has 3 areas to take care of, the tires, the fuel, and the engine. Each tire has a starting number and you must place a number that is either one higher or lower than that number. You can place any number you want, and leave cards out, but for each wrong number or missing card will incur a penalty. To fuel the car simply match as exactly as you can the number on the back of the car. With the engine you will need to provide a matching number pair, e.g. two “3’s” or two “5’s”. Once you finish a section put the cap card on and no more cards can be placed on that pile. Once all cap cards are on a car you may start moving it on a track.
This is the first race element where the goal is to work towards a game state and provides access to the second type of racing where is it the person who can move their car the furthest around the track. These two elements move so easily from one to the other it feels well integrated and a natural part of the action. To progress your car around the track roll a die rapidly and move the car one space for every "6" result you get on the die. once the last person is ready everybody stops and formal racing occurs.
To race check each pile of cards and see if the pit crews have completed it successfully. Do any area perfectly and have all the cards in the same colour you will gain a turbo boost. A turbo boost allows the car to move 2 spaces. Should you incur a penalty point it will cause all other cars to move along the track 1 space per penalty point. Accrue 8 penalty points in any one round and your car explodes and you are eliminated. After all penalties and turbo boosts have been allocated everyone drafts a Monkey Wrench Card based on their track position and the next round begins.
This game works so well as a real-time game. The actions you perform provide ample puzzle to solve, but when placed under pressure the cognitive load is increased and you feel the weight of each decision. One of the risks of doing real-time games is that the pressure element can often leave people feeling exhausted and unwilling to replay the game. This is a common problem I have found with Escape: Curse of the Forbidden Temple. On the occasions I could get people to play the game with me I seldom got past a second game as players began to suffer fatigue from the rigorous pressure. Pit Crew gets around this by providing quick bursts of action. There are three rounds and each round begins with action, but then provides you a chance to breath while you work out the results of the race.
Real-time games require a great deal of trust as no one can play their turn while watching everyone else in the game. What this often leads to is mistakes being missed or regrettably, people will alter results just to progress themselves in the game. Here that sort of decision making is almost encouraged as a strategy. There is little room to cover up mistakes or fudge results as all work is checked by all teams. Mistakes carry a penalty and you could work to avoid it or allow errors to your advantage and make mistakes to jump ahead a little and get a chance at rolling the die to move the car. While the dice rolling part of the game is not the core feature for car movement it should not be understated. Despite the restriction of movement only occurring on a result of "6", that movement can make a big difference. And if your opponent is struggling this movement can be punishing.
I feel this is a great use of real-time to add excitement and risk to a game. It balances risk and rewards well by ensuring risk is in your control and can be part of a meaningful strategy. It has the right amount of pressure while providing good rest moments to allow you to catch your breath. Pit Crew is simply a game I know I will keep on my selves. It hits the mark for me and I know it will serve as a great filler game for game nights. If this theme and these game mechanics are the sort of thing that appeals to you I can recommend giving it a try. Pit Crew is yet another instalment by a great designer and only adds to the growing list of fantastic games published by Stronghold Games.