Race Cars & Cubes: Review of AEG’s Automobiles Board Game
I’m excited when I play a new board game that aims to approach automotive racing in a different way than the dice-rolling methods than have been done countless times before. Game designer David Short and publisher AEG found a clever way to revitalize tabletop motorsport racing: using the gameplay method of deck-building (in which each player buys and adds resources to their individual pools to increase their chances of drawing what they need) and using it on a bag of colored cubes.
In Automobiles, players grow their collection of cubes that allow them to move their vehicle, improve its handling, optimize their pit crew, and change gears. The game’s title may seem pretty simplistic, but that’s because it’s part of AEG’s Destination Fun trilogy of games, which includes Planes and Trains, too.
Here’s what we thought of the Automobiles board game!
Colored cubes and competing cars: a review of AEG’s Automobiles board game
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
Designer: David Short
Box Dimensions: 11.5 x 11.5 x 3.5 inches
# of Players: 2-5 racers
Ages: 14 and older
Category: Deck (cube) building track racing
Play Time: 50-75 minutes
How to Play
Gather two to four people for a game of Automobiles, and decide which track you’re going to race on: basic (Daytona Beach) or advanced (Monza). Each player chooses an available color and receives their pieces, including a car token, individual status board, and cloth bag with starting cubes. Lay out the market of available cubes and allow each player to purchase from the market before the game starts (utilizing a spending amount based on their starting position).
The game itself consists of turns in which a player uses the seven cubes available to them (drawn from their bag at the end of their previous turn) to either move their car on the track, employ their special abilities, or use them as money to buy more cubes. Players can move faster around the board by obtaining and using higher-gear cubes, but will suffer higher amounts of vehicle damage for doing so (represented by junk, purposeless cubes that get added to their bag to “clog” it up). Players can choose to take a pit stop as an alternative turn to remove wear from their vehicle, instead.
The player who crosses the finish line first (or furthest, in a tie) is the winner. A victory depends on building a collection of the most effective combination of cubes, drawing them at the right time from their bag, and keeping vehicle wear under control.
- 26 function cards
- 282 wooden function cubes
- 5 wooden car tokens
- 5 wooden lap marker tokens
- 5 cloth bags
- Double-sided track board
- Rule book
The box artwork on Automobiles is kinetic and colorful, one of the most visually appealing designs for a racing board game I’ve seen. Its vibrancy extends inside the box to the components, as the colorful cubes make Automobiles an uncommonly colorful motorsports game (which are typically drab-looking). The visual design makes it very appealing when convincing new players.
The majority of the cost of the game comes from the many colored cubes and the cloth drawstring bags, which make the game feel refined and high-end. Quality control on the cubes could’ve been better (there were a handful in the box that had chunks missing or were cut in half, and the game depends on the uniformity of the cubes), but overall the components match the price you’re paying. The shades of grey were hard to distinguish under low light, though, and they didn’t precisely patch the shades on the race track. The board is sturdy and all the cards are pretty thick.
I love the storage layout of the box, which includes plastic storage trays for the cubes. It removes any need for plastic baggies — the standard method of game piece storage — and makes boxing up the game a breeze.
Thoughts on Learning Experience
Automobiles is simple enough in concept and its instructions clear enough to read and learn right right before playing for the first time, not requiring much studying or intensive preparation to understand. The direction book is incredibly useful, sensibly organized and labeled, with plenty of examples, visual supplements, and italicized notes to outline crucial concepts. There’s even a single-page, general reference sheet on the back of the booklet.
The game was fairly easy to teach new players and thus allowed the majority of everyone’s brain power to be dedicated to mastering their strategy rather than comprehending the game’s rules.
Thoughts on Playing the Game
Automobiles is quite different from the other racing board games I’ve played, so it feels fresh among the numerous dice-rolling and card-playing motorsports board games on the market.
What we found most rewarding about Automobiles is that it appeals to race fans and non-gearheads alike. Its core gameplay of resource acquisition and management will interest most gamers, while the implementation and theme of that gameplay — as a motorsports race — will satisfy car racing enthusiasts. What Automobiles has above other “deck-builder” games is the dual function of cubes as intended ability and as currency, rather than solely either-or.
The way the game is built is quite intuitive, naturally encouraging players to refine their cube collections throughout the game — and giving them ample opportunities to do so. Your movement can grind to a halt, but that’s because of a player’s choices, not the game itself. Thus, you’re forced to cull and refine your cube collection to move the game along. Also contributing to the fast pace of the game is drawing cubes at the end of your turn rather than the beginning so you can plan your moves during other players’ turns instead of during your own.
There is some luck involved with the blind drawing of cubes from your bag, but successful strategy relies on probability, ratio management, remembering what’s still in the bag, and using your cubes smartly. It can be hard to catch up with the leading players if you’ve fallen behind, but luckily the game isn’t too long and the number of laps can be adjusted if you’re not confident doing a full-length race.
Personally, even on our first time playing, the standard oval track was too simple and is one we’ll never go back to. So, unfortunately, we’re stuck with one track we will rarely use and would have to invest in the recently released expansion for another.
Automobiles was one of the few racing games that I’ve played with people who actually requested to play it again. Its strategy is open enough that it challenges players to consider how they would do things differently next time. It would make a welcome addition to your board game collection.