The first challenge in Challenges for Game Designers, “The Path,” asks you to design a game for 2-4 players progressing on a path from point A to point B with the first player to reach point B winning. Earlier in the chapter, Mario Kart had been used as an example of a game with the “race to the end” core dynamic and that’s the idea that stuck with me when I started thinking about this challenge.

Once I decided on the Mario Kart theme, a few things felt mandatory for the theme. First, the players would be driving around a race track trying to be the first to cross the finish line. Second, there would need to be items like shells, banana peels, stars, and mushrooms that either give a player a boost or allow him or her to slow down another player. Third, I wanted to give players a choice of driving recklessly fast and risking crashes or driving at safer speeds.

With those basic ideas in place, I decided to prototype a board game. The board is a race track divided into spaces with a finish line marked between two spaces on the track. In addition, some spaces were marked as item blocks (blue squares with a question mark) and others as hazardous (yellow triangles with numbers).

On each turn, you can choose to either drive fast or drive safe. If you drive safe, you move 1d6 spaces along the track. If you drive fast, you move 2d6 but risk crashing when you move through hazardous spaces. In any die you rolled for movement this turn is equal to or less than the number in the hazard triangle of a space you are moving through, then you wipe out and stop your move in that space.

When a player ends their move on an item block space, they get to draw an item card. The item cards have the various power ups that can be used during the race. You can only be holding one card at a time. The power ups have the following effects when played:

  • Green Shell: A racer 5 or fewer spaces ahead of you loses a turn
  • Red Shell: A racer any number of spaces ahead of you loses a turn
  • Banana: A racer 5 or fewer spaces behind you loses a turn
  • Mushroom: If you are driving fast, you move an extra 1d6 spaces
  • Star: Cancels out a shell or banana card

In a normal game, the first player to cross the finish line wins the race. Since the track is a loop though, it would be easy to play multi-lap races.

What I’m happy with after playing:

  • Item cards: These were a fun addition to the game.
  • Fast or safe: My wife and I both thought about the choice between fast and safe and had a couple of wipeouts during the race when trying to go fast around the curves.

What I’d change in the next iteration:

  • Race track: I’d want to try out a different track design with a few more level 2+ hazardous spaces. Ideally, the course would be customizable or the game would come with a few track choices.
  • Kart selection: In the video game, there is a mix of heavier and light characters to pick from with heavier karts having better handling but lighter karts being faster. I think it’d be fun to work that into the game.

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4 thoughts on “Challenge 2-1: Mario Kart

  1. I wonder if you could make the board out of tiles that could be rearrange to make several tracks. Also, have you thought of including the Rainbow Road in there? Maybe a rule variant where if your playing on rainbow road and wipe out you loose a turn.

    Looks great!

    1. I think tiles would work pretty well to make the track customizable. You could do square tiles and just make sure the track enters and leaves through the center of a side to let them link together easily.

      Your rainbow road idea would be a nice add on to make more severe hazard squares. Maybe add a little drop-off warning sign on the space along with the hazard triangle.

      The hardest part of doing these challenges is going to be stopping work on each one after just a couple hours. I keep having ideas for tweaks and refinements, but if I don’t limit the time I spend per challenge, I’ll never make it through the book.

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