Two Minds About Family Simulator

Fabily. Fabileh. Fabilagh.

Anyone who knows Dan or Brock knows one absolute truth: we are a couple of gearheads. Grease grubbers. Real socket jockeys, always under the hood or behind the wheel. So imagine our unbridled joy when we discovered a Fast & Furious board game, designed by the prolific and enigmatic Prospero Hall and published by Funko Games.

It’s a great little toy box, there’s no denying that. But does it rev our engines or grind our gears? In our latest (or maybe our l8est?) Two Minds About, we’re discussing Fast & Furious: Highway Heist. So hit the NOS and let’s do this!

Is it fast? Is it furious? Yes. It is fast. It is furious.

Observe the highway. Observe the heist.

Dan: Right away, I think what impresses me most about Highway Heist is that it captures so much about what makes the film franchise successful. High stakes. Cars. Silly stunts. Family. A flagrant disregard for the laws of physics.

Brock: Car sorcery. Muscle tees.

Dan: I think I might be in love. Reserved love, anyway.

Here’s why. Each of the game’s three scenarios has its own deck of stunts. This probably wasn’t necessary. There could have been one generic deck of stunts that are always a little bit useful. Knock a wreck into the enemy space to deal a point of damage. That sort of thing. Instead, the stunts are tailored to each problem the crew faces. So you wind up with these very scenario-specific stunts, like using a wreck as a ramp for your car to take to the skies, clip a helicopter mid-flight, and then land on this unnervingly straight highway without having inflicted so much as a scratch on your American-made muscle car. And the stunt might be that you have a friend family member riding on the hood of your car, and they shoot into the helicopter at the exact moment your car rams it in mid-air. The things you’re doing are egregious, both within the game’s fiction and as events somebody thought about and designed for that one situation in that one scenario where you might pull it off. That egregiousness is the core of the whole thing, and it’s more bombastic than any space marine walking simulator I’ve ever played.

But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself. Want to introduce the basics, Brock?

Brock: Getting ahead of one’s self is pretty much standard for a couple of speed machines like us, Dan. Ease up on the gas and I’ll take the wheel for a moment.

Fast & Furious: Highway Heist is a cooperative game, presented as three different scenarios based on the colossal film franchise. Each scenario has its own quirks and goals, and unique ways to go about accomplishing them, from throwing bricks at a helicopter, to throwing trucks at a tank, to throwing trucks at a helicopter. What’s consistent between the scenarios is that you’ll drive cool cars, use special abilities, and wreck an endless string of Sport Utility Vehicles along the way.

It works a lot like cooperative games you’ve likely played before: a player takes their actions, then the bad guys run amok in some kind of randomly determined way. Only instead of curing diseases or axing goblins, you’re driving rad cars and upturning Chevy Tahoes. The bad guys have a variety of ways to cause trouble, and these ways are also unique to each scenario, and range from tank fire to rooftop fistfights.

Dan: It’s as smooth as we’ve come to expect from the design collective at Prospero Hall, too. I like that turns are very concrete. You take a few actions, like driving your car, pushing around other cars, ramming cars with your car, jumping from one car to another, giving a speech about family… and some require a roll, but the odds are largely forgiving. I think failure is the errant chord that gives each action sequence its texture, rather than being commonplace.

Which is a good thing, because I wasn’t expecting a Fast & Furious game to focus so much on things like “careful positioning” and “preempting your enemies.” When your character can leap four tiles forward in defiance of physics and air resistance, there’s a point where you almost expect an errant belch to win the scenario. Highway Heist doesn’t do that. More than once, I’ve found myself debating the best course of action with my friends family members at the table.

r²

Stunts provide breaks from the ridiculousness by being even more ridiculous.

Brock: I don’t want to immediately reveal that I, too, am in love with this gorgeous little playground. First I’d like to gripe just a bit about my first impressions of the game.

When I was learning this, before I ever set it up, I got the feeling that it was going to be a bunch of unrelated rules, each with their own agenda and edge case, and that it wouldn’t feel like a cohesive game. Reading the rulebook, or watching a how-to-play video, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on actions you can only take if your car is “Manned.” This means you are behind the wheel, driving the car. You can’t take the Drive action, for example, or Ram an Enemy SUV, unless your vehicle is Manned. It’s really hammered home, to the point where I thought I’d always be bumping against this rule, reminding other players, constantly pausing the fun to check everyone’s Manned status.

But, like a classic F&F twist, I was completely delighted to find that it was so much more fun than my expectations. The rule has never come up in any of my plays, because — completely on theme — these actions are like Family. The Manned rule needs to exist, I understand, because this is board games, but it’s a bit like reading the rulebook for basketball and finding a line that says “A player may not throw the ball unless they are holding the ball.” It’s true, certainly, but the framing of the game is so strong that the rule is hardly needed.

So that’s my gripe about learning the rules, that’s ultimately more a gripe about my own preconceived notions. What gripes do you have, Dan, and in the end does it turn out they’re more indicative of your own personal failings?

Dan: The pesky one is that the third scenario is extra. I went in expecting to hit the NOS, and instead it was Cuban NOS.

What I mean is that it hitches the difficulty to a rocket ship about to enter low orbit. I don’t mind difficulty, but the first two scenarios present tough but manageable challenges only for the third to smack you with an immortal villain sports car, an immortal villain helicopter, and a fragile hacker you need to keep passing off between vehicles. It jumped from baseline to eleven with nothing in between.

In a sense, this highlights my larger gripe, that the scenarios tend to feel long because they’re repetitive. The game breaks up the monotony of smashing that tank with another SUV wreckage mostly through its drip-feed of increasingly unhinged stunts. And for the most part, it works! But one of the big challenges with any cooperative game is that it’s easy to settle into a plateau. In a competitive game, the actions of our opponents set the tempo and provide surprises, so we’re always adjusting. That’s much harder to do in a cooperative game, because the surprises and adjustments of tempo have to arise entirely from the game system.

I’ll give an example. In one play, we were cheerfully smashing the rotors off that immortal villain helicopter. This is an inherently repetitive task, because you need to smash a bad guy’s SUV, make sure it’s in the right place, and then use it as a ramp to soar into the air and deal a point of damage to the helicopter. Complicating this process is the pesky detail that the helicopter is always moving around.

Fair enough, right? Well, what happens if you keep rolling dice that don’t provide new SUVs? That’s what happened to us. For two full rounds, we’d wiped out so many SUVs that there weren’t any around for us to use as ramps. It was like the helicopter pilot finally got wise to our antics and decided to stop calling for reinforcements. We were left twiddling our thumbs for a stretch of gameplay. Fast & Furious isn’t a license that should ever be eliciting yawns.

Any rebuttals, Brocktober? I hope it’s okay that I used your racing name.

The wind can blow the truck closed again. Which is certainly an interpretation of the possible.

This is a legitimate heist.

Brock: It’s perfectly fine, Danuary.

I think in the way of a rebuttal, I will say that those lulls are mostly rare. There are enough methods of getting new baddies on the board that it doesn’t come up very often.

Dan: I suppose it depends on how good you are at clearing them away. Yes, that was a burn. But burns between friends family are the shredded rubber on the highway of… I forgot what I was talking about.

Brock: It can certainly be painful when there’s a dearth of targets, and this speaks to a lovely piece of design that sets Highway Heist apart from similar tactical movers. The goal isn’t to clear the board, and in fact defeated enemies don’t leave the board, but become much more versatile and useful in their death. It’s one of my favorite ways the game twists the genre, and it pairs exceptionally well with one of my other favorite parts: the Stunt cards.

The Stunt cards serve three important purposes, and like the F&F films themselves, each one is more exciting and explosive than the last.

Maybe the least sexy purpose is that of doomsday clock. If the last card makes its way off the board, you lose. It works, but it won’t blow your socks off. The next purpose is providing more ways to interact with the game. They provide spatial puzzles and specific ways to better accomplish your goals, giving each scenario its own flavor. And lastly, they act like kind of a complexity relief valve. They’re a place for special rules to be doled out a few at a time, rather than cluttering the rulebook or player reference cards.

I expected to have a bit of fun with Fast & Furious; Highway Heist. I didn’t expect it to be this much of a delight; to teach, to talk about, and to play.

And don’t even get me started on how they sculpted the car and the semi to be the right proportions so that you can drive your car underneath the trailer! It’s a little detail, maybe not of much consequence, but it speaks to the overall care that was taken to capture the toy factor of the movies within the cardboard translation. I was practically giddy when I discovered both that it was physically possible, and also that there’s a rule for it in the setup instructions.

Something bananas is about to happen. For the ninth time this play.

Technically this isn’t a heist, but I’m ramming a helicopter with a car, so it gets a pass.

Dan: Here’s the important question, Brock: do you pick up the cars when you move them, or slide them Tokyo Drift-style across the board? Do you actually slide the car beneath the truck trailer?

Brock: Verisimilitude is the watchword here, Dan, so of course I slide them. I also flip the SUVs onto the tank and make the appropriate explosion noises. It’s what family would do.

Any final thoughts, Dan Seoul-Oh?

Dan: Main thing, I trust Prospero Hall to excavate the right experience from any given property. It’s so easy to see how Highway Heist could have been something other than it is, and how that thing could have missed the mark. Instead, it embraces the silliness of the Fast & Furious Cinematic Universe, a quarter mile at a time.

 

(If what I’m doing at Space-Biff! is valuable to you in some way, please consider dropping by my Patreon campaign or Ko-fi.)

A complimentary copy was provided.

Posted on July 27, 2021, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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