Kraftwagen V6 Edition – The Racing Line – Big Boss Battle (B3)
In Kraftwagen, every gamer was an auto company tycoon during the heyday of the early 20th century. Players will earn victory points by building attractive bodies, adding powerful engines, and investing in race day technology. Which strategy will prove to be the most effective, however? Only time will tell.
Kraftwagen is a smart game based on the cockade of revered designer Matthias Kramer and original publisher ADC Blackfire Entertainment. As a testament to its quality, the game was recently chosen for wider publication by Stronghold Games, which has a reputation for researching the best indie games and bringing them to the big stage.
In truth, the support of Stronghold Games should be enough to indicate that Kraftwagen is a quality title, such is their record with similar games (Terraform Mars, Red flame and A thief’s fortune.) But if you had any doubts, let me explain why Kraftwagen is a brilliant game and perhaps one of the best examples of a genre you might not have known existed.
So what exactly is a cockade-based game? Simply put, cockade games allow players to take action by following any circular path. In Kraftwagen, this path includes a number of different action tiles that start (at the start of the game) with less powerful single action tiles and end with tiles that allow you to perform two or even three actions.
The idea here is that if a player jumps forward to take a more powerful tile, then he will have to wait for his opponents to catch up to him (often by taking multiple actions in the process.) This is because most cockade games (including this 1) use a system where the player furthest from the cockade will always be the next player, even if he was the most recent to act.
I will also stop here for a moment to mention the only difference between the base version of Kraftwagen and the Edition V6, which is simply that the Edition V6 comes with a handful of additional roundel tiles. While I won’t dwell on these any further in this review, expansion tiles are overall a bit more powerful than those in the base game, increasing the speed at which players develop and resulting in a game of higher score.
As for the actions the cockade allows, each relates to a different area of the board – there are quite a few. The Hire Workers symbol allows the player to take one (or sometimes more) workers from their canteen, which is important for some other actions. The Grand Prix action allows the player to move his racing car forward by a number of spaces equal to the value of his engine.
There are several other actions, including Research, which involves drawing one of the two face-up Research cards and taking the indicated benefit and two construction actions. Players can choose the Engine or Body actions to build the part of the level that corresponds to their current research level. Perhaps more importantly, players can take the Buyer action to introduce a new buyer to the automotive market.
When this action is taken, the player will choose one of four types of buyers to market. Each buyer has a different preference: price, engine, body or service. If all four active buyers have already been placed, then, instead, a marker next to the buyers is moved down, signaling that play is one step closer to one of the three rating events.
There are several ways to score points in Kraftwagen, including many awards for things like being the first to build an engine of a certain level or complete a certain number of laps on the Grand Prix circuit. The main one, however, is the buyer’s market. Success on the Grand Prix circuit serves to increase the prestige of your brand, but it’s nowhere near as important as selling cars to the general public.
It is both a thematic representation of the automotive market in the 1920s and 1930s, as well as a mechanical reality in Kraftwagen. What really brings the game to life are the different needs of buyers – some like speed, while others like looks. Some want exceptional after-sales service or a low price. The key to winning is both getting these people to market and making sure your cars meet their needs.
As previously stated, players can advance their research or even hire famous mechanics and inventors (like Ferdinand Porsche), who add to their brand’s ability. When a player has built an engine and a body, he can bring his car to the market and set a price for it. At this point, they will have to assign a certain number of workers to their after-sales service, which not only binds them but also guarantees satisfied customers.
An interesting part of each scoring round in Kraftwagen is to see how the buyer’s market is built and how cars are added to it. Some players will prioritize cars first, later adding buyers who are suitable for those cars. Otherwise, they’ll select buyers who they hope will be suitable for cars they haven’t built yet. Either approach carries the risk that other players will go out with a faster, better looking, or less expensive car.
For me, Kraftwagen represents the pinnacle of smart and elegant game design. The cockade system is interesting and unusual, bringing its own challenges and decisions. Kraftwagen really comes to life on the set, especially as players begin to understand the real parallels between factors like Grand Prix performance and how it affects buyer behavior. More importantly, while the decisions are often big and important, the mechanics are simple to teach and play.
If there is a downside to Kraftwagen, it may be the components and perhaps, to a lesser extent, the frame. As a car fan I feel more drawn to modern cars than historic cars, however I appreciate that this is a very personal aspect and it will not affect everyone.
Most important, Kraftwagen has a clean, understated look that works great technically, but maybe a bit boring compared to some other games. That said, function should always trump form and I’m not criticizing the build quality (which is superb) in any way, just some visual aspects such as colors and design features.
Despite this minor criticism (and maybe because of it), I really think Kraftwagen is one of the more low-key games I’ve played this year. It’s simple, smart, well paced and pleasantly stimulating. The fact that it uses older cars means that it has wide appeal and can impress players of all ages and more or less any level of experience, although it is by no means case of a light game. All in all, a definitive keeper for me.
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