Designer: Jurgen P. Grunau

Artist: Haralds Klavinius

Publisher: HABA

Another classic from Jurgen Grunau… but maybe for the younger kids (Photo credits: Jesus Perez@BGG)

HABA specializes in kid games and for the longest time, most of the games were designed for younger kids. I am referring mainly to the yellow box series of HABA games and not their recent forays into more mature content (Karuba, Iguazu, etc.). Now, that depends on the child of course. If they are new to the board game scene, then of course the HABA yellow box games can still be a good gateway for them. But for kids who are exposed to the gaming world early, I think by the time they hit 7, most of the HABA games, save a few feel a little on the easy side. We started really young with our kid and we devoured as many HABA games as we could find through buying, trading and selling games in the local community. It was a wonderful experience. Now that we have moved on from HABA, I still occasionally come across games that I wished I purchased early on, but missed out on. Monza falls into this category.

I did not realize that the designer for Monza was Jurgen Grunau of Gulo Gulo fame until I read the manual. That got me excited as we love Gulo Gulo. I also know that Monza is one of the more popular and well-known HABA properties. But I also know that Monza is more suitable for younger kids. Nonetheless we broke out the game and tried playing with the basic rules.

In the game, there are 6 race cars and players each choose a car to race around the track. The track is broken up into color-coded blocks assembled across 4 different lanes. There are 6 dice with different colored faces to match the colors of the blocks on the track. To no surprise, if you roll a dice with the same color as the block on the track, you can advance your car one spot. Since there are 6 dice, you can move up to 6 spots if you are lucky and all your colors match. So there is some planning for movement as you look ahead and plan which path you want to select to move the maximum distance.

There are certain spots on the track that you cannot use, resulting in bottlenecks on the track. This creates some amount of tension when players reach that location. Cars can pass each other on the track but if you end up occupying the same spot as another player at the end of the movement, you can displace the car and push it one block behind. That’s pretty much all the rules. You race once around the track and whoever crosses the finish line first, wins.

The game is a simple roll and move, which is what I expected. I was a little worried when I first saw the track, thinking it was way too short. In retrospect, it is the perfect length. The game would drag if it went on for too long. The decision tree is straightforward, with the choice coming from how to sequence die allocation for maximum movement. Player count probably matters and the game can only shine with more players, really. Even with 3 players, it was a humdrum experience. There also seems to be a first player advantage, but that is more of an initial impression. The race is also slightly anti-climatic in that if you have a decent lead mid-way, then you are likely to win the race barring a major collapse in your dice rolls.

I think the game can still be decent with a little extra effort. For slightly more advanced players, there are some additional home brewed rules on BoardGameGeek worth visiting. With any race game, it is easy to increase complexity by adding a few rules to the initial design. You can find them here. I don’t normally recommend doing that, but with Monza, it is perfect reasonable. To start with, since we have low player counts, I recommend trying out each player racing with more than one car and to split movement by assigning as many dice as you want for the different cars. You can then assign different victory points for crossing the finish line with 1st/2nd/3rd/4th/5th/6th place finisher earning 10/8/6/4/2/1 point. The original mention for this rule can be found on this link. We tried playing this with 2 cars per player in a 3 player game and it was an improvement. We also played with the rule that two dice of a similar color can be considered a wild. This helped speed things up and prevent any frustration for bad die rolls. There are other home made rules, but I do think that with the proper tweaks, the game can be slightly more challenging for older kids and parents.

I guess in the end, I think Monza with out-of-the-box rules is too simple for us now as a family game. With the additional rules, it might have some legs, but I am not sure about its longevity. The game is also evaluated with 2-3 players, something that is probably not optimal for a race game. If you have a bigger family, then this is something to take into account. To be fair, the game is probably good if not great for kids at younger ages or those new to the board game scene. It does promote some forward planning skills but the game will still boil down to dice rolls.

Initial impression: Not for us (with basic rules); Average (with additional rules)

Kids Corner

6 years and 7 months: The game just didn’t generate the excitement I was hoping for. It was really quite the opposite. I couldn’t help but notice the difference in enthusiasm after our back to back plays of Monza and Marvel version of Love Letter. The latter was much better received. Still, I am under no illusion that Monza was going to be a hit simply because I anticipated the game to be out of our age range. With the tweaks at 3 player count, it was better. I could see things ramping up with more rules, but I am not always in favor of adding complexity for the sake of it. There is a line in the sand and at some point, it is better to just play something else. At the moment, we haven’t tried out any home made rules beyond the ones I have described. I might, or I might not. It’s not yet clear. It all depends on whether Monza can fight through a stack of other games that my child is more enthusiastic about. Monza does promote some sort of forward planning in terms of die allocation to maximize movement, but I noticed that none of us bothered to plan too far ahead. In fact, we just grabbed the dice that seem to make sense and move our cars. My gut feeling is that we didn’t really bother because the game just wasn’t competitive enough.

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