Long before we had the Rubik's Cube, children routinely played with magic square sliding puzzles where you'd slide tiles usually within a 4 x 4 grid. These puzzle games have largely faded into history, tho' you do still occasionally find them turning up in upmarket Christmas crackers. With Tiny Turbo Cars, however, the design team of Hjalmar Hach, Alessandro Manuini, Jonathan Panada, Laura Severino and Giulia Tamagni have given them a new lease of life as part of the core mechanic of the game.
Tiny Turbo Cars is a racing game reminiscent of the Micro Machines video games of old that were themselves inspired by Micro Machines miniature toy cars. In the video games, which went through countless iterations throughout the 1990s and into the 21st Century, players usually had a top-down view of the cars as they raced through various domestic scenes manoeuvering around the everyday household objects in their path. Horrible Guild's Tiny Turbo Cars transposes this to a board game race between 2-4 players. The players all choose a car to race, each of which has a special ability that it can deploy - the game comes with eight different cars and special abilities so you won't be starved of choice. The board is modular and is made up of four out of the five double-sided playing boards - so again there's variety built into the box.
There are no dice or card draws to drive your cars: you control their movement by programming it using the sliding puzzle tiles. It's the eight tiles in the middle two rows that will count, so each round begins with players sliding the tiles to set up the positions that will give their car the most progress. Icons on the tiles give forward motion, sideways moves, jumps, and even allow your car to fire a virtual missile on opponents in your path. The programming isn't against the clock but you are in a competitive race with other players as turn order is determined by the order in which players finish their programming.
Your energy is the equivalent of health: you start with three batteries but you flip one when you take any damage; for example, by crashing into an obstacle or another player's car, or if you are hit by another player's missile. Recharging a battery is one of your programming options, and if you ever have all your batteries flipped to their exhausted side then you have to forfeit your next three actions to flip them all back before you're allowed any other actions, regardless of what you've programmed.
This all makes for an exciting game and one of the most enjoyable and accessible programming games we've encountered. It's also thematically strong - feeling somewhat like a cross between Micro Machines and Wacky Races. The art by Edu Valls gives the game a boost but special mention has to go to the decision to dress the sliding puzzles as game controllers.
We've enjoyed Tiny Turbo Cars most with the full complement of four players, not least because the player interaction increases with the number of players. There's a catch up mechanism to help the player in last place, and it's in that trailing position that you're likely to get the biggest bang out of the missile command...
Armchair strategists will get a big kick out of Tiny Turbo Cars because it's a race game with no external luck factor. Nevertheless, it's at its most enjoyable as a fun family 'take that' race game: another contender for those Christmas Day festivities.