Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Homestead Analysis & 3-Wide Design Theory

On Sunday the 2014 NASCAR championship race was held at Homestead-Miami Speedway. As the race unfolded, the four drivers with championship hopes were all running in the top five positions. But the defining moment of the race was the caution period with 20 laps to go. When the yellow flag was displayed, Harvick was in 3rd, Hamlin was 4th, Newman 5th and Logano was in 6th place. The four pit crew chiefs then made some very interesting choices that ultimately decided the outcome of the race and the season championship.

The race leader, Jeff Gordon stayed out on the track, and in a gutsy call, Hamlin’s crew chief Darian Grubb also decided to not make a pit stop. This put Hamlin in second place with older tires. Kevin Harvick’s crew chief made the standard call for four fresh tires. Ryan Newman’s team opted to change only the two right side tires thus having a quicker pit stop than Harvick. Meanwhile disaster befell Joey Logano when his car slipped off of the jack in the pit stall. By the time his team struggled to get the car back up on the jack, 49 seconds had ticked away, and his championship hopes had also expired.

When the cars lined up for the restart with 15 laps to go, Gordon was 1st, followed by Hamlin in 2nd, both of them on older tires. Newman lined up 3rd with two fresh tires, and Harvick was in 12th with four fresh tires. The race was at this moment a question of whether Hamlin could hold off Newman for the remaining laps, and if there was enough time for Harvick to advance from 12th on his new tires. As it worked out, two more caution flags doomed Hamlin’s chances, and gave Harvick the opportunity to advance to the lead. Newman, with his two fresh tires, never had quite enough speed to seriously challenge Harvick for first place.

In my opinion, the pit strategy calls on the lap 20 caution were fascinating, and this is precisely what I have tried to capture in designing 3-Wide. Most racing boardgames focus on the tactical aspect of racing – gear selection, cornering, and overtaking. 3-Wide covers the tactical actions through card play, you can play cards for your drivers to allow them to make a pass, draft with the pack, bump and run under your rivals, and other tactics. But I wanted the design to also reflect the decisions that the crew chief makes. When do you pit? Do you want four tires? two tires? fuel only? Should I take the time to try to fix damage on the car, or do I just try to gut it out with an ill-handling race car? These are the strategic decisions that are every bit as important as the tactical maneuvers. Maybe even more important.

An big part of 3-Wide is the ‘racing’ phase. During the racing phase cars roll custom dice based on their current level of tire wear. Each tire can be black, green, yellow or red – black is a new tire, and red is extremely worn. So if a car has two black, one green and one yellow tire, the car will roll two black, one green and one yellow die. The results will determine how far the car is moved on the track, and whether or not the car is risking a blown tire incident. (There is also the possibility of choosing a slower die result and saving fuel.)
So in summary, this tire/racing mechanic determines how fast you go, and is a result of your pit stop choices. I thought that yesterdays NASCAR finale was a thrilling race, and I felt that it confirmed my design decisions in making 3-Wide.

And what about Joey Logano? He had some horrible luck when his car fell off the jack in the pits. In the design of 3-Wide I’ve chosen to avoid hitting players with this kind of random-bad-luck event. You can’t have a pit stop disaster like Logano did yesterday. And although you can find yourself caught up in an accident through no real fault of your own, all 3-Wide racing incidents are a result of someone, somewhere, pushing the limit of their car and their luck. I think this is the right choice for a racing game.

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