It’s Cuh-razy Kuh-rats

Header doesn't even show a single cart; good job, Dan.

Occasionally, I’ll stumble across a game that’s so perfectly chaotic, so adept at creating memorable moments through my own fumbling ineptitude, that I have no desire to ever become good at it. Becoming good at that rare unicorn of a game would be to destroy precisely what I love about it. Such a game abhors an expert.

This time, Crazy Karts is that game.

I know I'm supposed to feel like this is all reminiscent of Mario Kart, but I mostly think of the Donkey Kong minecarts.

Blasting towards the finish line.

From minute one, Portal Games’ Crazy Karts pitches itself as a comedy of errors. Even the basic premise is patently absurd: it’s a go-cart race between fantasy characters, but rather than controlling a single cart per racer, everyone is split into pairs, sharing control of a vehicle with a friend. And here’s the real rub: you don’t know what your partner is going to do.

One of you is in charge of things like braking and steering, while the other handles acceleration and shooting. Telling your cart what you want it to do is the easy part, with cards of different values laid out across your control panel to determine how much juice you’re pouring into any given action. It’s the coordination with another independent-thinking human being that’s tough. This means, at any given moment, that your buddy might be pumping the brakes while you lean on the gas, or you’ll be trying to repair the car while it crunches into the wall, or your best friend will be operating under the assumption that you’re steering the cart out of the way of an angry troll while you’re more interested in charging up some extra abilities. The result is madness, bottled and compressed and used to fire the pistons of a combustion engine.

Infuriating? Yes, in a good way. Unpredictable? Also yes, to the point that it’s less about winning and more about just trying to keep your cart from bursting into flames because you happened to run over some rubble at high speed. A metaphor for marriage? Sure, maybe, though if you feel that way it just might be time to check out partners counseling.

It’s also funny to look at, the track built of big chunky hexes that point every direction but forward, forcing you to adopt a carousel horse’s route to the finish line. There are power-ups to nab, obstacles that will inevitably drag you to a halt, walls to ram your friends into, and useful upgrades like a tricycle horn to pick up in between races. It’s so colorful, in fact, that the closest point of comparison is Portal Games’ own Rattle, Battle, Grab the Loot. Like that title, each round is a series of phases carried out in staccato; where that one drove me a little bananas, however, Crazy Karts is as much fun fun fun as it is go go go.

Another win: I didn't show the player boards, speedometer, or energy gauge. BOOM.

Qualifying round complete; on to the final race!

Even so, I’m not particularly interested in pulling it out more than on the rare occasion when we’ve got a group of eight people together who are just looking for some breezy laughs, for the simple fact that I’d rather not get too proficient at it.

Here’s why. In our first attempt at Crazy Karts, I was paired with my buddy Joe. We were the fancy-pants elves, which suited us just fine. We happened to win the qualifying race at the same time as another team, largely because we rammed them ahead of us over the finish line. Whoops.

Anyway, the main event was upon us, and we felt the call of destiny on the wind, like cottonwood fluff in spring. We drove like demons, flew like raptors (the bird kind), sailed like sailboats. At long last, we were the only ones with a clear shot at finishing, while everyone else was trapped behind a bunch of obstacles just a short distance behind us. Just two spaces forward and we would win.

Unfortunately, Joe hadn’t quite understood why the previous race had ended. Sure, he comprehended the concept, but he failed to realize that it was necessary to do more than brush up against the finish line with the grace of a dry leaf settling atop a pond, leaving the barest ripple to mark its arrival. No, like most races, we needed to blast over the line. Just two power diverted to the accelerator and we’d be there.

Joe put in one. Not two. One. The rest of his cards he’d dumped into shooting, because he thought it would be funny if we shot a parting arrow at our competitors as we left them breathing our crop-dusted exhaust. The result was that we puttered up to the finish line… and stopped. Behind us, the other cars quickly overtook our position and our most-hated enemy won the race.

But here’s the thing: I don’t begrudge that loss. It was perfect. Everyone at that table was on their feet, jumping up and down, shouting, giving each other poorly-aimed high-fives. We even had to ask them to please shut their cake holes because we didn’t want the baby to think we were playing Jumanji again.

Time for everyone to calculate turn order, speed, and how to use their powerups to slam their friends into the wall!

Pileup!

That’s when Crazy Karts is at its best: when you’re royally messing up. Why anybody would put much stock in winning a game like this, I have no idea. Practice makes perfect, and this is a game that loses some of its edge once everyone has mastered the rules. Better to accidentally spin around in circles, drive into the same section of wall twice (thanks again, Joe!), shoot misses at the team in first place, and generally flub your way across the track. That’s when Crazy Karts comes alive.

And that’s why, even though I won’t be playing it all that often, I’ll be hanging onto Crazy Karts.

Posted on July 7, 2016, in Board Game and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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