Tête à tête VI: Pocket Sports Cycling Tour

A few weeks ago my review copy of Pocket Sports Cycling Tour arrived in the mail.  It is one of many in the series of Pocket Sports in which Hamish Sterling tries to capture the thrill of sports as varied as Soccer, Baseball and many more.
Hailing from a country that produced some of the world’s greatest cycling champions (the name Eddy Merckx has become synonymous to the sport, to name just one of the Belgian legends), I was keen to try out the cycling game in the Pocket Sports series, especially as the game boast that it will capture the excitement of the 3 great cycling tours, the Spanish Vuelta, the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.  A bold statement if you ask me, especially as the game comes in a small box, and is made up of nothing more than a few cards, a couple of custom dice and some wooden tokens.
So, does the game live up to its expectations or is it merely a valiant attempt at capturing one of the world’s most exciting sportsgames?  Read on and find out!

The components
The game comes in a cardboard box, with a plastic “window” revealing the customer dice, wooden markers and cards that make up the game.
The dice are top quality, with all text perfectly readable in a clear font.  The cards depicting a cyclist are nicely done and printed on good quality paper.  The instruction manual is well written, although some items could have been clarified more with some examples, some of which Hamish already clarified over at the BGG game page.
The wooden markers round up the component part, although I would have liked to have more components so that these could be used to cover used skill checks on the rider’s cards.


The game starts by having a random start player roll the red “cyclist” dice.  This dice roll will determine what your rider will do.  Depending on the value rolled, the player will roll a second dice, the action or tactic dice, that corresponds to the red dice action.  For instance, a roll of “sprint” on the red die will tell you to roll the yellow die, which corresponds to the “sprint” action.  The roll of the second die will tell you how strong your move or attack will be, as the value of the second die will correspond to a numeric value.  Now the next player will roll the white die (which depicts the chasing peleton) twice and his or her goal will be to have a combined value that is at least as high as your roll.  If that’s the case, nothing happens.  If the total is less, your rider’s attack was successful and you advance a place (by moving your marker up on place on the leaderboard.  The goal is of course to end as high as possible in the tour, so getting to that number 1 position will be every player’s goal.
Play now continues with the next player and so on until every player has rolled his dice in the given stage of the tour.  The notion of “stages” is important and each stage, which is listed under the respective tour you’re playing, indicates how the A/B/C value on the white die needs to be interpreted (i.e. is it a value of 6, a reroll or zero).  This variable value of the white dice gives the game a nice dynamic, reflecting also the different types and difficulties that appear in the real stages of say, a Tour de France in which it’s not that easy to just “ride away” from the peleton when your rider is driving up a steep hill.
When all players have completed their stage, play moves on to the next stage, with a new interpretation given to the value of the white die.
If you’re unlucky, you’re action dice will show a face value with just text like “boxed in”.  This means you’re attack was immediately blocked, and your turn is over. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll roll a “back marker” value of 5 or 6, which means that there’s another “non-player character” performing an attack and you’re now playing as the peleton and have to match the value with the white dice.  If unsuccessful, you lose place.
As in any cycling race, sometimes something unforeseen can happen.  In the game, this happens when you’re red dice shows “bike check”.  In that case, you roll the black dice and move you’re marker on your cyclist card up or down one position depending on whether it was a fatigue or damage +1 or -1 value.  In the event of a “crash” or “alert”, you’ll have to consult the tour sheet and see what the challenge exactly is.  This is called a skill check and a single roll of the white dice will determine if you were successful or not.  The latter would cause you’re rider to drop back 2 places or reduce his/her values on the fatigue and damage section on the card.  Fortunately, you get another turn when a “bike check” occurs.
The notion of a “skill check” is also something that adds an additional twist to the game.  Every rider will have a “skill check”, with one of the riders even having two.  You can use this skill check on your turn against one of your opponents, who must match or better the value with a single roll of the white dice.  Being unsuccessful means your opponent drops 2 places.  These skill checks are key in the game and careful timing of when you use them could mean an important step to victory.
Next to these skill checks, each rider also has several one-shot abilities (like a value increase of your action dice).  You can use these once per game, and again, careful usage of these abilities can mean the difference during a difficult skill check or when the last stage is in sight and you want to really push your rider up on the leaderboard.  As mentioned above in the components section, having a few extra markers to mark/hide the abilities that you’ve already used during the game would have been nice.
The game ends as soon as the last player has completed the last stage of the tour, but you can opt to play the long game and continue on the next two tours.

Final thoughts
Pocket Sports Cycling Tour captures the excitement of the grand cycling tours in a fun and compact way.  It’s a Tour de France that fits in your pocket.
The luck of the dice can be “managed” by using your riders abilities and being able to confront another player with a skill check and see him or her fall back two places on the leader board just when they thought victory was in sight is big fun.  It plays in 15-20 minutes, making it an ideal filler at game nights or when you want a quick game without the hassle of unpacking and preparing some intricate gameboard.
You can come up with your own tours or why not setup a series of “classics” in which the riders have to compete (like a Paris – Roubaix where you can replace the stages with sections of the race, like the infamous cobblestones in the Forest of Arenberg, where you can specify that a bike check result of a crash makes you drop 4 places).  You can even think up new riders and give them new abilities.  Perhaps some new rider cards might already be thought up by Hamish (hint hint )
Pocket Sports Cycling Tour is a very enjoyable dice game, and it gets a big thumbs up from someone living in the country where pro-cycling is part of our cultural heritage!  Ride on like a “Flandrien”!

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