PitchCar

PitchCar is a puck-flicking, car-racing game of skill and cunning for people as young as six and as old as can still walk around a table. It can get as tense as the Indy 500 without ever getting too serious to laugh about. It can be played as a race against everybody or a race between teams, as a polite game of luck and skill or a cutthroat game of strategic blocking and violent crashing. And there are at least as many ways to build it as there are to play.

The building part is wonderfully easy, though it just as easily can become a studied, exacting, and creative exploration. The tracks fit together with ease, like large jig-saw pieces. Grooves on the sides of the tracks easily accommodate flexible plastic rails. The basic set consists of 16 pieces of track: ten curving and six straight, 16 “safety barriers” – lengths of plastic railing, and eight cars (wooden pucks), each of a different color. There is also a sticker sheet used to decorate the pucks and create the start/finish line. This is enough for you to create ten different “circuits,” each a serious twelve-feet long. The “cars” are propelled by any appropriate finger-flick – though some may prefer a finger push or slide.

With a little imagination, and the select incorporation of pieces of cardboard, Popsicle sticks and other household miscellany, many different kinds of tracks can be build. And, if you can find any loose checker pieces or bottle caps, you can significantly expand the fleet. If you need a little more than your collective imagination has to offer, we’d strongly recommend that you consider the additional purchase of, say, PitchCar Extension 1.

Designed by Jean du Poël, PitchCar is what people call an “heirloom game” – a term frequently used to describe a game, the purchase of which approaches a serious investment, and the promise of which is generation-spanning. It is easy enough to build and play to prove of interest to most first-graders, yet it can just as easily be made complex and challenging enough to be taken quite seriously by the mature gamer.

The designer also suggests two variations. One, called “The Pursuit,” is played by two players or two teams of players. One team starts ahead, the other tries to catch up. Another variant, “The Trash Variation,” players can try to knock each others’ cars off the track (in the standard game, you would lose a turn). These two variations hint at another dimension of the game that can be readily explored, namely, the rules. What if we played in teams of two, one player always trying to position their puck to block other players? What if we played in two different teams, started at the starting line, but each team driving in the opposite direction? How about if we each had two moves per turn? What would happen, wondered a few of our Tasters, if we had fashioned special sticks for puck propulsion. Could we become yet even more skilled, our control even that much more precise, the distance covered in a single turn even that much greater?

At a games party, PitchCar offers a welcome balance to the more serious and sedentary strategic entertainments. At the dining room table, it provides a rewarding after dinner, after homework opportunity for the whole family to relax and celebrate each other. Competitive without meaning anything important about anyone. Cooperation without becoming tedious. An invitation to experimentation and creativity. An opportunity for genuine, good-natured fun. Fun of just the right, as it were, pitch. Major FUN, that is.

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