This is the one hundred eighteenth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
Our next random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality is speeding around the corner and into the final straight. It’s Final Lap, by Nicolas “Gulix” Ronvel, and its tagline in the bundle reads:
Experience the conclusion of a racing year on the Circuit during the last race…
Honestly, an entire year of racing sounds a bit excessive to me.
Final Lap is a tabletop role-playing game, but it’s an unusual one. Its rules are based on For the Queen by Alex Roberts (which is not included in the bundle, nor is it even on itch.io at all), making it one of many “Descended From the Queen” games. I’d never heard of For the Queen, however, so I opened the PDF expecting to find a rulebook explaining the game. Instead, I found a few scant words telling me to print the following pages, cut out the cards, sort them by type, and then draw the “Instruction” cards in order to start playing. It didn’t even tell me how many players are required, something I was keen to learn because minimum player counts have prevented me from actually playing most of the tabletop role-playing games that have come up in this series so far. Bemused, I proceeded to print and cut out all the cards to try playing. [EDIT: I forgot to mention that Final Lap was a submission to NO DICE: A Diceless Tabletop RPG Jam which ran in October 2019, tasking designers with building tabletop role-playing games that do not use dice.]
I quickly learned that Final Lap is designed for several players at least. It’s a collaborative storytelling game, using cards as prompts, in which players take on the roles of drivers in a series of high-speed races known as the Tour (I know the tagline says “Circuit” instead; maybe this is just a quirk of the translation from the original French). The game takes place during the final race of this year’s Tour, but players will be prompted to fill in backstory about their drivers and the Tour as the game proceeds. Given the cover art and all the talk of driving, I assumed the game would be about car races, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there’s a whole deck of highly varied settings to choose from. Many do involve cars, but there’s a big difference between an illegal street race, a demolition derby, or a post-apocalyptic Mad Max inspired off-road race. Then there are plenty of settings without motorized cars: ancient Roman chariot racing, perhaps, or children racing soapbox cars downhill during their summer vacation. Groups are free to choose their setting, but I drew randomly and got “The Deadly Nebula”, a sci-fi setting in which drivers pilot anti-gravity vehicles over the strange landscapes found at the edges of the Galactic Empire. Cool.
The players are all rivals of the Champion, a non-player character whose core characteristics are determined by a randomly drawn Champion card. Play proceeds by drawing from the shuffled Question deck in turn, and responding to the prompts. Many cards ask players to establish prior relationships between their character and other players’ characters, to flesh out the story of the Tour and the final race itself. Like For the Queen, Final Lap officially incorporates John Stavropoulos’ X-card, here rebranded as a Red Flag card, to ensure that the game doesn’t tackle any topics that make players feel uncomfortable. Some prompts reference relationships or events that might be triggering, and when these are drawn, any player can simply tap the Red Flag card in the center of the table and the Question card will be removed from the game, no questions asked (heh). It’s good to see this concept as an actual part of the game, instead of just a suggestion as it is in many other games. Players continue to draw and respond to Question cards until the Checkered Flag is drawn (which can be intentionally placed anywhere from halfway to near the end, based on the desired game length). This leads to a few more card draws to determine who won the final race, and how each player feels about the end of their Tour this year.
I wasn’t able to construct much of a narrative by myself, unfortunately, and the prompts are brief enough that they won’t help players uncomfortable with improvising a story on the spot. I like how simple it is to set up a game of Final Lap — just learn it as you go! — but it still may not be a great choice for a group that’s never tried a storytelling game before. If everyone is struggling to come up with details and plot points, the whole thing could fall flat. For those who like dreaming up stories, however, I could see this being a fun time. The cuts between describing the actual race and describing past events feel really natural, reminiscent of a common structure used in film or television. And I like how much space there is for more than pure competition. Some drivers may be friends rather than rivals, and may be satisfied even if they don’t win the race. Indeed, it’s likely that none of the players will win, and the Champion will take the trophy instead. The huge variety of settings means it should be nicely replayable, too. If any of that sounds interesting, give Final Lap a look. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $3, and includes both French and English versions.
That’s 118 down, and only 1623 to go!