Detroit-Cleveland : Grand Prix

Designed by Wolfgang Kramer, published by Mayfair Games, 1996
This article copyright 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated November 28, 1998 - added Switch Card Variants

Detroit-Cleveland : Grand Prix pretends to be a racing game, but isn't really. There are no crashes, for example, or skidding out, or even slowing down, necessarily, through corners. The movement of the cars doesn't really come close to simulating an actual race. However, it is a very good game of . . . something or other. Traffic control? Resource management?

The box says it's for 2-6 people, but I really only like it with three or four players. It's based on earlier games by Kramer, notably Nikki Lauder's Formel 1, but has its own flavor. I can't compare it to the other games it is similar to, as this is the only one in the series I've seen.

The board has a race course in Detroit on one side, and Cleveland on the other. They're very different courses, and call for different tactics. (The game is very tactical, rewarding good play and penalizing mistakes.) There are six plastic race cars, each a different color, and a number of cards. There is also a large amount of play money, of which each player starts with $200,000. The object of the game is to have the most money after three races.

The large deck of cards shows which cards move how many. It might have only one car on it - say, the green car - and a number 5. This means that when this card is played, the green car moves five spaces, and no other car moves at all. Other cards might have the black car moving 6, the red 5, the orange 4, the blue 3, the green 2, and the yellow 1. These move in the order listed, from high to low, even if you don't want the black car to move because it belongs to your opponent!

To start the game, you deal out most of the cards as evenly as possible to all the players. You look your hand over, seeing which colors of cars you have the most of - those are the ones you want to bid on, and hope they come up early in the auction. You then shuffle the six cards which represent the different cars, and turn over the first one. At this point, the dealer decides whether or not he wants to bid on this car, and if so, bids a minimum of $10,000. Going around the table, other players, after checking their hands, decide if they want the car, and either bid or pass. Once you've passed, you can't jump back in, so decide wisely. When everyone passes but one player, he takes the car card and the "10" movement card of that color, and places the car of that color in the pole position. The next car card is turned over, and bidding on that one commences, and so on. Any car not bid on starts in the 6th position (or 5th and 6th, if two cars are not bid on, but I've never seen that).

Once all the cars have been bought, the race begins with the pole car player playing a card. At Detroit, this is usually the "10" movement card in our games, while at Cleveland it tends to be the "5". This is because a move of five for the pole car puts it in the inside lane of the first curve. Any car which wants to pass it must either play a card which moves the pole car again, out of the way, or take the longer outside lane, which costs them an extra two spaces.

And this is the essence of the tactics in the game: move your car into narrow spots and inside lanes. If you're blocking the rest of the line, you'll force the other players to play your color, moving your car for you. Since the courses have about 55 spaces, you'll usually need some help getting your car around the track: you might only have 40 spaces or so worth of movement points for your car!

Of course, your opponents will be trying to play their high cards of your color when your car is blocked. If you're right behind another car in a single-lane part of the track, and a "6" movement card for your color comes up, you don't move at all. Bummer!

So the race continues, each player playing one card in turn, moving all the cars on the card played. When the first car crosses the finish line, put it in the winner's circle. The next car goes in the second place slot, etc. All six places will pay you some money - from $200,000 for first place down to $10,000 for 6th place - but if a car doesn't finish, it gets no money. The winner is the player with the most money after three races. We usually play one race on one side of the board, flip it for race two, then flip it back for the third race. You have to rebid for cars every race - just because you owned the red car in the first race doesn't mean you'll get it in later races.

There are also three "switch" cards, which frankly don't work as well as one would hope. They sometimes come in handy, but tend to serve as dead weight, to be honest. If you play the red-green switch, for example, any red card played moves the green car for one round of play, and vice versa. If you happen to own two cars, both of which are on the same switch card, this can be very beneficial. You can use both "10" movement cards for one car that way! (There is only one "10" movement card for each car, and you get it when you buy the car.)

The game is very good with three or four players, and I recommend it if you game with those numbers regularly. With more than that, you don't have enough cards to judge well which cars to bid on - it becomes more a matter of luck. With two players, it lacks a bit, as many "2-6" player games do.

Three-Lap Race Variant

I wrote this variant after playing a few times. I don't really think it's a better game, just different. It's for three players only, at this stage - I may think of rules to expand it to other numbers later. (Actually, you could play it with two players: one player gets black-yellow-orange. I don't think the game is very good for two players, though, but this variant wouldn't be any worse than the real rules for two.)

No money is used in this game - leave it in the box.

This variant has only one race, but that's a three-lap race. Since you don't have enough cards to go three laps, you'll have to draw more during the game.

Split the cars into three sets: black-yellow, orange-blue, red-green. Put the appropriate "10" cards with each set, and the appropriate switch card. The black car starts in the pole position, the red car is 2nd, the blue 3rd, the orange 4th, the green 5th, the yellow 6th.

Deal out the remaining cards evenly to all players. The dealer starts by simply saying which pair of cars he wants: black-yellow, red-green, or blue-orange. The next player then claims a pair, and the last player takes what's left over. The last player (and only the last player) can call for a partial redeal if desired: each player discards five cards, they are shuffled, and then redealt, five to each player.

The game begins as normal, and play proceeds by the rules until each player has only four cards left. At that point, if anyone wishes to discard any cards, they may. You may discard your whole hand, if desired. The used and discarded cards are shuffled, discards are filled back up to four cards first, then the rest are dealt out to all players. Repeat this process when all players are down to four cards again. That's the last deal, however, and cars have to finish the race with the hands they have at that point.

As cars complete the third lap, place them in the appropriate finishing area. Instead of money, simply say that every $1,000 is a point. So first place gets 200 points, second 150 points, etc. High score wins. In case of tie, the tied player with the car that finished earlier wins.

New Uses for Switch Cards

Some folk consider Switch Cards in Detroit Cleveland Grand Prix to be lame. Here are some possible uses for Switch cards. One of these may totally replace the existing rules, or perhaps the player can take his choice of whether to use any one of these or the existing rules. Decide which before the game begins!

  1. A switch card is simply a "5" card for either (not both) color listed on the card.
  2. A switch card represents a spin out. In this case, one of the two cars is chosen to spin out - turn its counter backwards, off the track, adjacent to the space it was on when it spun out. Other cars may move through the space it was on when it spun out. When five points worth of movement have been burned off, turn the car around again and place it on the track, on the space it occupied before spinning out. (Keep track of how many spaces have been burned off by stacking cards with its numbers next to the car.) If the original space is occupied when the car is to return to movement, place it in the nearest open space behind that space. On its next card, it moves normally. If a card is played which brings it to more than five spaces worth of movement while it is spun out, it moves the difference immediately.
  3. A switch card represents a minor mechanical failure, which can cancel up to five points worth of movement of one of the cars whose color is pictured on the switch card. This is played out of turn, when another player plays a card. So if another player plays a Move 6 card, playing the appropriate switch card will cause that car to move only 1 space, though it is still the first car moved on the movement card. It may be used to cancel a move of less than 5, but the excess is lost. That is, if a switch card is used to cancel a Move 3, for example, there is no carrying forward of an extra loss of two spaces to a future turn.
  4. A switch card may be used to move both cars pictured on the switch card two spaces forward. The car in the lead moves first, then the other car. Both cars must be able to move two spaces or the card cannot be played for this purpose.
  5. A switch card may be played with a movement card. In this case, the two cars' turn orders are swapped, but not the movement values. It must be played with a card with both colors on it. Thus if you play the Red-Green switch card with a movement card which has Red moving 4 spaces and, later, Green moving 2 spaces, the Green car will move its 2 spaces at the time the Red car was supposed to move, and the Red car won't move until the Green car was due to move, but will attempt to move its full 4 spaces when it does move.
  6. A switch card may be played as a defensive driving maneuver to prevent passing. It may only be played just after a car has passed one of the cars pictured on the card and finished its move one space ahead of the pictured car. Note that this may be played out of turn. It cannot be played this way if a car ends up two or more spaces ahead of the car in question. In this use of a switch card, the car which just passed the pictured car is moved back one space, to be as close to even with the pictured car as possible.

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