Go Speed Racer! – An interview with Rallyman designer Jean-Christoph Bouvier

I blame Mark from Boardgames in Blighty! He recently mentioned a new racing game that did things a little differently and blew him away. You can check out his review of Rallyman right here, but in true Little Metal Dog style I wanted to find out the story behind the game. I got in touch with Jean-Christophe Bouvier, the game’s designer, to talk about his first steps into the world of designing…

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So, Jean-Christophe, is Rallyman your first game design? How did you come up with the idea?

Yes it is, my first and the only one so far! But I think I am a bad designer because I actually started to design Rallyman back in 2001. There have been a lot of tests, lots of prototypes, discussions with editors… and the final edition arrived only at the end of 2009 ! I am not a gamer but I am a racing car fan. I knew of Formula Dé, because it’s my favourite theme, and that game inspired me to create a game about rally driving. To create a game as good as Formula Dé but for rallying became my aim. I also wanted to make a little money with this game to buy a new rally car of my own because I wrecked my first in a crash! Anyway, when I lost my job two years ago, I had just one idea on my mind: to publish Rallyman!

So it’s truly a passion of yours! Rally driving is an incredibly exciting sport – do you think you’ve managed to capture the thrills of rallying in your game? How have you done this?

I tried to put in as many of the elements of rallying as I could. Some gamers will love drifting (or skidding!) into the corners, but in reality if you skid too much it’s bad for your time. Jumps and short cuts are important as well. I liked to see the fear on the faces of the players before they went over a very fast bump or dived into a short cut, and the enjoyment after they were successful. It was also important for me to have a lot of different roads so I invented a track system which has thousands of possibilities (and more with snow or mixed roads). The biggest thing though is the timing system – time differences can be down to the second and this is very exciting, I think. At the end of each stage when you are waiting for the other drivers to finish it can get nerve wracking! Sometimes you can win or lose over the matter of a few seconds! I’ve seen players crying, another one jumped for joy!

Some Rallyman fans take great care in modding their games to an incredible degree...

So how does the game work then? The sport is all about you and your car going from point to point in the quickest time possible, so does Rallyman approach this?

It was important in this game to give each player their time at the end of each stage. It needed to be in minutes and seconds but without the need for a real stopwatch. The movement system is simple: you roll your dice one at a time and for each pip, you advance one space. There are five dice for each of the gears and two for gas to continue moving without changing your gear. Each die is only playable once each turn but you can stop whenever you please. You then take a card corresponding to the last gear engaged and the higher your speed, the lower your time (from 10 to 50 seconds). Of course the gears you can use depend on the track, especially when there are corners and bumps to deal with.

Rolling the dice determines your speed but it may show a “!” symbol which could put you in danger. If three “!” are displayed, you risk your car spinning off the road, resulting in loss of time (a full minute instead of the allotted time on your card). You could also damage your vehicle depending on the type of landscape you roll into. You can also try to scrape a few extra seconds by throwing your dice together instead of one by one, but this is riskier – you’re more likely to spin!

Does everyone go at the same time?

No, like in a real rally you don’t start together. The first turn is only for the first player, then two go on the second, three on the third and so on. It’s still a race though, you can overtake your opponents, but only on straights, not corners. It’s a rally simulation: you must get the best time without crashing into anyone, but you can put the pressure on other players by using time attack (by rolling all your dice at once).

Interesting! You’ve mentioned that Rallyman has been well received – do you have any plans for new games? Is there a game you dream of developing?

The next game will actually be an expansion for Rallyman in a few months: Dirt! There will be new tracks and rules for the new terrain. It will be more difficult to get good times, but testers have enjoyed it. I also hope to create other rules for driving on sand tracks in the desert for a new expansion or even a completely new game. I have a lot of ideas to simulate that and I have to test out all the possibilities. My dream is to create a game about “24 heures du Mans” [a 24-hour duration race that takes place annually in France]. There have been games based on that event in the past but I have never played them. The important factors would be managing your tyres, brakes and fuel – the fastest player wouldn’t necessarily be the winner, like this year with Peugeot and Audi. I think it would be a management game. If someone is interested in working on it with me we could share our experiences! It’s very interesting to try to translate the feelings inspired by sports in games rules, I love it!

We’ll be watching out for that then! Can I ask what the games scene is like in France? There’s always talk of how popular board games are in Germany, but how does France compare? Are there game shops on every street?

It’s difficult for me to speak about that, because this is still very new to me! I was not a gamer and I hadn’t even been into a game shop before last year! In France there are some game shops, but it’s not as big a hobby as it is in other countries. In France I have heard that there are perhaps 400 game shops. I don’t know how it is in our German neighbours: I have heard it’s fantastic but I think it’s difficult to sell Rallyman there. Perhaps there are too many games there and it’s difficult to let them know that Rallyman exists! I know some German players love it but shops are slow to order – not very hot at the moment!

How can you not love this?!

One final question: as you’re relatively new to the whole world of board games, what do you really like and dislike about gaming?

I like meeting people and seeing the enthusiasm of gamers when I see them at conventions: look what they do with my game! I also like that this is an international hobby – there are some Rallyman fan in Australia, it’s fantastic! My game leaves my home and goes around the whole world, I can’t believe it! And to do interviews with anyone is incredible – it’s a very open world where you can speak easily to professionals, be they authors, publishers, whatever. I also love the community websites: they are indispensable for spreading the word that Rallyman exists! For a little publisher, free advertising always helps!

What I dislike: consumerism! Too many games are released, almost every day! It’s very difficult for a game to have a long life expectancy. Also, the level of hype around some games is bad – often people talk and promote games which do not even exist. It is annoying for the producers of existing games: it feels like it’s a race for novelty, not for quality. Finally, when games promise a great adventure, with fantastic pictures but you must remember – you can’t judge a book by its cover! When you play it, you may not get quite what is promised…

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So that’s it – you can get more information on the game from the official Rallyman site. I’ll be posting a review of the game as soon as I can get my hands on a copy, so stay tuned!

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2 responses to “Go Speed Racer! – An interview with Rallyman designer Jean-Christoph Bouvier

  1. Pingback: Quick Chits (3/10/2011): Adlungland & Rallyman | The Noble Gamer

  2. Pingback: Quick Chits (3/10/2011): Adlungland & Rallyman « The Noble Gamer

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