Even a year later, Downforce — or Doucheforce, as my group affectionately calls it — remains one of my favorite comedy games. Revolving around haphazard betting far more than actual racing, it sees its participants buying cars, placing wagers, and then doing everything in their power to come away rich(er). And if you’re playing right, you’ll place unexpected wagers, persuade everyone to hassle the lead car, and then gum up the roadways so that nobody else can pass. There’s a reason my driver is named Gandalf.
Danger Circuit adds more. Just more. And while that’s pretty much what I wanted from Downforce’s first expansion, nobody should hop into this particular car expecting a new engine.
Rather than throwing a dozen bits and bobs into its slender package, Danger Circuit focuses on two areas: tracks and powers. Let’s start with the flashier portion.
Unlike the base game’s tracks, which were barely distinct from one another, both of these offerings boast a gimmick. The weaker of the two is Crosstown Speedway. Here your cars are forced to loop back on themselves at two points near the start of the track, potentially clogging up the intersection. It’s a great idea in theory, though in practice it’s rare that anybody’s movement will be hindered. The intersections are generously wide, leading to lots of tight diagonals but not much outright blocking — unfortunate, given the possibility of cutting off a lead driver by squatting in the intersection for a turn or two.
As a result, Crosstown Speedway is a pleasant addition, but only rarely much more interesting than the original game’s tracks. Especially in its back half, which has some breakaway corridors that are narrow but faster — obvious temptations for a driver in the lead, but less so if you don’t want to get trapped.
Fortunately, Switchback Pass shakes up the formula with rough terrain. These rubble-strewn spaces are half as long as regular spots, and can’t even fit a car — but they don’t need to, since they’re only available for passing. This adds some real tension to every decision, forcing you to decide when to burn a fast card just to get ahead of somebody and when to break for the lead. There are plenty of clear stretches too, turning the entire race into a timing act.
More of a timing act, anyway. Dangerous terrain slows you down, but makes it impossible to totally block someone out. Best of all, this means it can even be a good thing to find yourself in second place on such a road. At least you aren’t wasting every inch of movement played by your rivals.
The downside is something that’s always plagued Downforce: suboptimal play. As some have pointed out, it’s common for everyone to wager on the driver to first blow past that initial betting line. It’s a rookie mistake, of course, especially since you’re only guaranteeing that the owner of the lead car will walk away the winner. Far better to engage in some table talk and hedge your bets elsewhere. But the temptation is there, especially when your car isn’t winning and you’d like to ensure you walk away with some cash.
Amid the shaky terrain of Switchback Pass, it’s harder than ever to strip a driver of their lead, which also makes it harder to bet on anyone other than the driver out front. This is a minor quibble for veterans who understand how to bully their wagers, but newcomers beware. Better to cut your teeth elsewhere.
And finally, Danger Circuit adds some new powers. They range from unremarkable (“experienced”) to dependable (“ambitious”). These are a nice touch, adding a new layer of consideration during the auction, though they aren’t much of a selling point in their own right. There’s only so many ways you can coax an extra space or two of movement out of Downforce’s simple formula.
Despite an underwhelming element or two, Danger Circuit expands Downforce admirably, especially with its new maps — though those who didn’t get along with the base game aren’t going to find anything revolutionary here. Under the hood, it’s the same game, as rude and as brash as ever. Then again, that’s precisely what I wanted from one of the few games that’s never failed to get me laughing.
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