Thunder Rolls Launch Day is Fast Approaching!
Today we have a very special guest joining us to share his own design notes out his latest game, Thunder Rolls. I have a special vested interest in this game as I’ve helped develop and I will be running the Kickstarter for it later this month! Exciting times for sure! So without further ado:
So what did you do during the lockdown of 2020?
By Richard Launius
If anyone asks me that question the answer will be that I designed 4 stock car racing games. I know what you are thinking, 4 stock car racing games! Yup – that’s right and if you think about it, it just makes sense; 3 is just not enough and 5, well 5 would be crazy – so it was 4.
Everyone that knows me knows that I love NASCAR racing. In fact some of you may have raced in (or watched) the Dice Tower 500 race game I run with large cars using my modified version of the McGartlin Motorsports Stock Car card game that I run each year at Dice Tower Con. Or maybe you have joined one of our annual Thunder Alley races at Origins, or just joined me for a late night race of my stock car modified version of Knizia’s Formula Motor Racing game. So, for several months last year while we could not attend conventions and gaming events I decided that I would design the quintessential stock car racing game and my definition of that includes quick action game turns (it is a race after all), strategic stock car maneuvers, and create a mix of strategy balanced with a certain level of risk/reward luck (after all the drivers cannot control all aspects of the race as there are several factors creating the excitement and challenges; car setup, changing track conditions, and of course the other drivers that can both help and hurt a driver as they strive for victory) and last, but not least, be a game that is highly playable for non-racing fans as well as the die-hard fan.
Design #1 – Victory Lane: So, my first design was a simple, fast paced card game that played in less than 20 minutes with mechanics focused around card play requiring players work with each other to draft forward in the racing line. Although a solid game it was too similar to Knizia’s Formula Motor Racing game to consider for publishing and was too limited in car maneuvering and uncontrolled luck too often resulting in losing a car to an unavoidable crash or blown engine.
Design #2 – Green White Checker: So I went back to the drawing board and explored a lot of the material that I had designed for the Thunder Alley Crew Chief expansion, focusing on adding changing track condition, team strategy, and stock car maneuvers through card play into a quick playing game – the result became a game entitled Green, White, Checker – what NASCAR calls overtime; a two lap race to the checker flag that I broke down into 6 turns; with 3 turns to the white flag which means the next flag be it yellow or checker would end the race. There was no track board, but tiles that rotated as a car moved off, forcing player with cars at the back to speed up or be caught too far behind and removing their car to the next lowest available scoring space. Green, White, Checker achieved most of my goals as the game started with a yellow flag in which players must make pit decisions about their cars; whether to stay on the track for position or to pit for bonus tokens to make their car better during the 2 lap sprint. Each turn players choose an action card to activate their car based on track condition, enabling maneuvers (like drafting, clean air, crossover move, working the pack), while the track conditions deck presented events each turn like fastest line, spinout, brush the wall, and even the big one. The game turns were fast and furious and the entire race could be run in 25 – 40 minutes. One of the main breakthroughs in this design was the development of non-player drivers and how they can perform in relation to the players; challenging and/or assisting based on their track position. Green, White Checker was a really successful design from my perspective and the one I had planned on publishing until I began to notice that race fans really understood and learned the game quickly, but novice players had more of a learning curve, so I knew I needed to do better to achieve my goal of the quintessential stock car racing game.
Design #3 – NASCAR Championship: By now the NASCAR season was in full swing and even though there were not fans at the track, like many of them I was watching the season unfold on TV and cheering for my driver, Chase Elliot (who went on to win the Championship). Watching a races I got the idea that a solitaire simulation game to recreate a NASCAR race, and season including their playoff system, would be cool. Now I already had a NASCAR simulation game entitled Red, White & Blue Racing and although I enjoyed it, it did not give me the track maneuvers and the feel of the various tracks that I was looking for, so for the next couple of months I designed a purely solitaire game (just for me) merging many of the tactics and maneuvers from Green White Checker to be triggered by a 3 dice roll. Using the tile format of the Green, White Checker and a unique track deck for each race the result was a huge success for somebody like me that loves NASCAR and enjoys solitaire play as I was able to turn races with 26 miniature cars on the tracks in a clean and easy way, even for cars down 1 or more laps. Track like Talladega and Bristol each felt unique and required different racing events and driver styles to compete, and the ratings of the drivers proved pretty accurate as I ran the season and then the playoffs (Martin Truex Jr. won the Championship with Chase Elliot finishing 2nd for any interested). While I really enjoy this game (and am currently running this season with updated driver stats) I have determined it to be a game that has an audience of 1 – me. So, yes you know what I was thinking, I needed to go back the drawing board to design the quintessential racing game. And I did.
Design #4 Thunder Rolls: I am not sure exactly where the idea for the mechanics came from. Maybe it was just my love of dice mechanics merging with my love of NASCAR, but I became curious about how the underused mechanic of dice for bidding (similar to Las Vegas) would work for players to gain racing maneuvers, thus Thunder Rolls was born.
From the very beginning of the Thunder Rolls design it was clear that the interaction between players along with the various stock car maneuvers and strategies was special. No great understanding of racing was required for players as the actions were displayed for all to see and were represented in clear and easy terms to understand. On top of that each dice roll presented the players with multiple options and decisions to make about what was best for short term movement and the ultimate goal of gaining Thunder (greater movement & maneuver) cards for the later phase of the game. Once I determined that the primary stock car maneuvers fit well onto 6 Action tiles; Pit stop, Rubbin’ Is Racing, Low Line. Crew Chief, High Line and Groove, the game pretty much designed itself. The idea was that a race would be run in Stages like NASCAR and each Stage would consist of a Rolling Phase, where players roll their 8 team dice, create number sets and place one set on the Action matching the number trying to gain the highest priority positions to gain the best Thunder (movement & maneuver) cards for the next phase. Then in the Thunder Phase players will program the cards they gained onto 1 – 4 positions above their team board and then resolve one card per round.
The player interaction of Thunder Rolls, both through the battling for priority positions on Action tiles and through maneuvers on the track created the type of quick action and decision making I was looking for in the game. Each player has a lot of control of the luck and can clearly see what options are available with each roll, but like real stock car drivers cannot control everything about their car and the track. For example, the player has the ability to reroll dice if their team card is active, flipping it to the pit side to do so. Then if they want to refresh this ability they need place dice on the Pit Action. Additionally, many strategies emerged through playtesting; short run speed which is the player’s focus on early movement by how dice are placed on Actions tiles with the goal to get a good lead and to run faster than all the other cars during that phase or balanced mix of both strategies. What developed was an interesting dynamic where players help (and sometimes hinder each other) by their decisions. Turns are fast, and the action interesting, so the game was tracking just as I wanted it to so far, but there had to be more. The game needed to have a full set of cars always active regardless of the number of players. Cars that could be used for drafting and abilities, but also cars that could challenge and present obstacles for the players, so reflecting on my Green, White, Checker design of non-player drivers I added NPDs (Non-Player Drivers) to the game. This addition (in my opinion and the opinion of the play testers) vaulted the game from really good to great! Now the track is always busy with activity, enabling players to maneuver with and against more cars – so regardless of the players there will always be 8 cars on the track to deal with. To make each driver interesting and to feel like a player, each NPD was given unique special abilities and driving traits along with the creation of an NPD Action deck that enables the players to quickly resolve each NPD’s turn. So, the design is almost where I want it to be so my focus moved to tracks and making each race significantly different. This was achieved through 2 things. First, I added a road course design to the back of the Oval track board so players would have to deal with shifting lanes. Second, and even more significant in my opinion, I added Race cards that identified the track to use and one or two special rules for just that track – making each game unique and interesting. So, short tracks became quick sprints with fewer penalties for trading paint while Superspeedways required players to work together to stay in the draft and avoid the “Big One Crash.” Each Race card provides special rules and may come with unique tokens to be added to the board. Race cards even have checker flag spaces to mark the winner enabling Track Champions to have a minor bonus of viewing 1 face down card per Action tile in the Rolling phase in future races.
Running a race with up to 8 drivers can be as quick as 30 minutes for a single Stage short track race, or 45 – 60 minutes for a 2-stage race. Coupling races together in the same gaming session is even more fun as the total points for all races crowns the winner. And for those that want to run a number of sessions tracking points to crown a Champion, there are rules for campaign (Championship) play and a chart to record seasonal victories and points.
Thunder Rolls will go live on KickStarter sometime within the next 6 weeks. The plan is to run a short 10 or 15 day campaign. The game is being published by Zeroic Games and Mr. B Games, and myself.
This process, and in particular this game, has been a labor of my love for stock car racing. The published game will have great art capturing each racing action, fantastic large race car miniatures, and a large double-sided board with an Oval Track on one side and a Road Course on the other. This game represents my purest vision of stock car racing with tons of player interaction, racing maneuvers, quick player turns and overall fast play (it is a race after all), with easy to learn rules and a multitude of strategies that change with the track conditions and the strategies of the other players and NPDs. For me, it is the quintessential stock car racing game.
If you enjoy racing games I hope you give Thunder Rolls consideration when it goes live. Thanks for your consideration – lets go racing!
Also available on BGG: