After a hilarious 4-player Formula D session filled with collisions, reckless driving and driving movie jokes, a light bulb went off in my head. I said out loud, “Couldn’t we make a Mario Kart version of Formula D?” The answer from the group was, “Yes.” Though we packed up the game after that and moved on with our lives, I’ve been thinking through the logistics of creating a Mario Kart variant ever since.
The brilliance of Formula D is that it’s built to scale. You can play it with beginner rules for a light and causal experience. Or, if you want the most authentic board game driving simulator, you can put advanced rules into effect. Out of the box, there are already systems in place for tracking wear and tear on specific car parts, gear shifting, weather conditions and more. Heck, even the special street racing characters already have Mario Kart inspired abilities. It would take some work, but if you really wanted to put the time and effort into making a Mario Kart variant happen, I’m certain it can be done.
With this post, I’ll make some suggestions as to how that could be possible. Please note that these are just ideas off the top of my head and that I haven’t tested any of these out. I’m certain that someone with more board game expertise has asked themselves this question before and will likely get farther with it than I ever will even without this post as a guide. So let’s take a shot at converting this into Mario Kart!
When thinking about converting Formula D into Mario Kart, the Wear Point system is the elephant in the room. In the board game, things like collisions, overshooting corners, slamming on the brakes and skipping gears while down-shifting are punished through a loss of Wear Points. If you lose too many points, your car is considered wrecked and eliminated from the race. In Mario Kart, there is no catastrophic scenario where your kart will get obliterated to the point where it can’t race anymore. However, removing Wear Points altogether would allow players to fly through corners at maximum speed with no consequence. How do we work around this?
I think the solution lies somewhere in the Mario Kart universe. In that game, the consequence for every bad outcome is a loss of speed, whether you hit a wall, fall off the track or get hit with a weapon. If we go with this line of thinking, we could impose some sort of speed penalty based on the corner violation they make. Overshooting could be penalized by counting violators as if they drove off the track or hit a wall. I think this would work as long as it’s balanced in a way where both overshooting and slamming on the brakes deal out similar consequences.
If we are to go with this train of thought, then I think that solves the problem. As a side effect of this, we can also scrap Wear Points and instead use speed and gear related penalties as a punishment for reckless driving. With that out of the way, we can start talking about the fun stuff!
Character Max Speed Versus Acceleration Rate Traits
There are three different character classes in Mario Kart: light, medium and heavy. Light characters, such as Princess Peach and Yoshi, can accelerate quickly but have the lowest top speed. Heavy characters like Bowser or Donkey Kong accelerate slowly but have a maximum top speed. With the 6 different gear dice, rules can be put in place where light players will always start in second gear but don’t have access to sixth. Medium characters could have access to all six gears but their maximum speed would get capped at 24 versus 30. For heavy characters, they could be forced to stay in second gear for two turns but they would be the only ones that could roll a 25 or beyond.
I think that the default tracks should do just fine. If anything, you’ll just have to add markers to represent item blocks or whatever other obstacles you want to add in there. However, if you wanted to go nuts and create an authentic Mario Kart track while using Formula D design principles in mind, that would be awesome!
This is the crux of the Mario Kart experience. It also leaves the door wide open to simulate the effects these power-ups in many different ways. I’ll take a shot at coming up with components for a system, though I don’t think I’ll cover every weapon that’s ever been in the series or currently exists in the latest version of the game.
Icons can be placed at specific points in the track for players to collect. The weather icons that come in the box could potentially serve this function rather than having to make bits yourself. If you want to simulate refresh rate on these blocks, you can set an arbitrary number of turns that the block is removed from the track after it’s been taken. When a player drives through a power-up space, players will roll the D20 to simulate what power-up they get.
In true Mario Kart fashion, the odds of getting specific items will vary depending on what position you’re in. For players in first, odds are you’ll get a green shell or banana peel. For players at the back of the pack, they’ll have a good shot at the blue shell. With the right balance, you can keep things fair for everyone regardless of what position they’re in. Once the power-up is determined, the player would get a card to note what they got. This card can be used as an action when they’re ready to use that weapon.
Using Specific Power-Ups
Power-ups can be played as actions before or after your roll. The only other time you can use a power-up outside of that is as a defense mechanism if someone has shot a weapon at you.
In the video game, a red shell will lock onto the next closest person in front of them, regardless of how far they are apart. When launched, there’s no way for the target to outmaneuver the shot. However, they could drop an item behind them to block it, such as a green shell or banana peel.
In our Formula D Mario Kart variant, a player would play the red shell card as an action. Once it’s played, the person in front of them regardless of distance will be hit. At this point, the target has the opportunity to discard a weapon like a green shell or banana peel to block the shot from hitting. If you want to get super particular, you can use the D20 to also roll to see if the red shell will still connect, even with the target holding out an item to determine if the red shell hits a side of the car that isn’t protected by the item. If the shell hits, the target tumbles forward one space and makes a complete stop. They will then have to gain momentum again from first gear.
If a red shell is shot backwards, it will behave the same as a green shell shot in the same manner.
A red shell can also be “held” behind your car. This frees up your one inventory slot, while the item is visually displayed behind your car with some sort of marker. If someone makes contact with that marker, it will hit them and cause them to tumbles forward one space and makes a complete stop. They will then have to gain momentum again from first gear.
In the video game, a green shell is shot directly forwards or backwards. It does not have any homing capabilities. As such, your accuracy with this shot is heavily dependent on how far you are in relation to your target. Also, you’ll have better accuracy shooting your shell forwards rather than backwards.
In our Formula D Mario Kart variant, a player attacked by the green shell would roll D20 to see if they get hit. The odds of them getting hit will depend based on how far they are from the shooter. If they do get hit, they could drop an item behind them to block it, such as a green shell or banana peel to block it.
A green shell can also be “held” behind your car. This frees up your one inventory slot, while the item is visually displayed behind your car with some sort of marker. If someone makes contact with that marker, it will hit them and cause them to tumbles forward one space and makes a complete stop. They will then have to gain momentum again from first gear.
If you want to get super crazy, you can even simulate the effect of green shells bouncing off of walls. When a shot is taken and missed, you can use the D20 to see if the shot went wide left or right. From there, you can simulate it’s trajectory by moving the green shell two spaces forward after each turn. If it hits a wall, you can have it reflect at the appropriate angle. It’s extra work, but thanks to the Formula D framework, simulating this is possible!
The star does not come out often, but you better be careful around someone that has collected it! In the game, players that activate it are given a temporary speed boost and temporary invincibility. They also will plow their way through any driver in their way.
In our Formula D Mario Kart variant, the effect of the star can last for 3-4 turns. When it is activated, they will get to move up 2-3 extra spaces from what their die says to represent the speed boost. This would work the same as the nitrous boost that Montoya Cadena has in the main game. If a player drives through another driver while the star is activated, they’ll be knocked aside a space and forced to a complete stop. They’ll have to leave that position from first gear, regardless of what gear they were in before they got hit. This sounds pretty powerful, but users with the stars are still beholden to the gear they’re in and the rules of the corners!
I may never make my Mario Kart dreams come true in Formula D, but I think it’s amazing how their game engine can scale to account for pretty much any sort of racing scenario you can imagine. Even if you don’t push your creativity to the limit, the game is still fantastic out of the box. If the base game wasn’t enough to convince you to grab this fantastic game, maybe the fantasy of playing a board game version of Mario Kart will push you over the edge.