It's time for the universe's most popular sporting event! The contestants have been picked from the most inept species in the galaxy, and the winner gets to have their species not wiped out. This is the premise of The Great Space Race, an insanely fun racing game from the good folks at Kenzer & Company.

The board consists of an oval track of six-sided hexes, with a bright blue border on the inside and outside forming an imprnetrable barrier to the ships. Each player gets a small plastic ship on the board, and the first player to complete three laps wins.
There's a lot more to each ship, though (as the picture here demonstrates). Each player's ship card has: dials for shield strength (1 to 10 points), hull points (1 to six points) and speed (starting at 1, up to 5); two Bays to keep equipment; spaces for command counters (which let you draw more cards, avoid an impact, turn one facing, or rearrange your cards) and mines; each ship's unique ability; and, most important, five slots for actions.

The faster a player goes, the more cards they draw and the more cards they can play. (A player's speed equals the number of slots they fill each turn.) All players play cards face down, and they are revealed in order each turn. Most cards are movement cards, showing how a player's ship moves (sometimes with optional turning or direction) and whether or not they can drop a mine; players can also place Maintenance cards, letting them draw an Equipment card and use it.
Speed has its price: crashing! The faster you go, the more likely you are to hit something: mines, planetoids, other players. Especially other players: With relatively few weapons, you'll do most damage to other players by ramming them -- and that makes them drop speed and lose cards, plus go off their course! If you miss, though, you'll be in front of them, giving them the chance to ram you.
Then there are events. Resolved before movement, events tend to be bad -- and major events tend to be very bad. Players may lose their equipment or have their speed reduced to 1. A giant amoeba or acid cloud may wander looking for ships to attack. And the dreaded Black Hole requires a substantial amount of maneuvering to pass by.
I've played racing games with no combat and racing games that have almost nothing but combat, and The Great Space Race combines the best of both these worlds. It's great to smash into another ship, or drop a mine directly in their path, but you're far more likely to win by going the fastest than through combat. (In the last game I played, no player lost their ship.) Much like Roborally, The Great Space Race has players planing their movement at the start of their turn -- and sometimes paying for it when unforseen obstacles appear. (Most players use their command counters to turn, avoiding walls or other onstacles.) Maintenance cards are a gamble, as they can give you something very useful or quite useless -- but you'll be sititng still for a turn while installing it.
The Great Space Race has what I'd call a medium level of difficulty, and each game takes 2-3 hours to play. It's very worth it: This is a balanced game with a near-perfect blend of strategy and luck. It's cutthroat, it's fun, and win or lose, you'll have a great time! Though your species may not think so if you lose...
Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

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