I am an unabashedly huge fanboy of everything Pandasaurus Games puts their name on. I love all the Dinosaur Island games, with Dinosaur Island Rawr ‘n Write being my favorite roll-and-write game of 2021. Wildstyle was one of the ten best games I played in 2022. Wild Space still hits the table and is one of my favorite light games of the last five years. Sea Salt & Paper is being distributed by Pandasaurus in the US and has maybe the best card art of the games I have reviewed for Meeple Mountain (my copy came from Bombyx at SPIEL last year).
Our team has enjoyed most of the Pandasaurus Games products we’ve gotten to cover, too. District Noir is apparently one of the best games of the year. Aurum isn’t far behind, and After Us also comes highly recommended. The Mind is a light filler classic, and The Loop went over well too.
As much fun as I’ve had with all these games, the consistent theme of Pandasaurus has always been quality production. The artwork has been spectacular, with maybe the loudest (in terms of color) boxes on my shelves; Pandasaurus typically makes covers that are the opposite of the beige, boring Eurofare I see in other games from time to time. Great rulebooks, diverse character choices, solid inserts, incredible components.
Solid production paired with games I would categorize as plain ol’ fun…that’s Pandasaurus Games.
Everything I just described is the opposite of what I see Pandasaurus’ Roller Coaster Rush, the new roller coaster building / auction game designed by Scott Almes of Tiny Epic fame. Given this pedigree, I am frankly shocked that Roller Coaster Rush made it to market because it is pretty poor. Worse, it doesn’t feel like it’s done yet!
An Auction Game? For PARTS of a Roller Coaster Track?
Roller Coaster Rush puts players in the role of amusement park businesspeople, trying to sell their new roller coaster to investors by showing off what the coaster can do after a series of test runs. Roller Coaster Rush reimplements many of the elements of a game called Coaster Park, released in 2017.
In Roller Coaster Rush, these test track runs are conducted with a marble released down a chute. With a set of starting coaster pieces—track that includes high, medium, and low humps, half-circle and L-shaped turn pieces—players have to construct an initial coaster using plastic pieces based on blueprint cards, then auction parts of their own or other player track pieces to eventually construct a set that scores the most points.
When the team at Pandasaurus handed me a review copy of Roller Coaster Rush at Gen Con 2023, I was surprised at how light the large box was in my hands. I was expecting some heft. I assumed this was a roller coaster building game, and the pieces didn’t feel heavy enough. (At 2.5 pounds, it’s almost too light to believe given the size of this box.)
Fast forward to my review plays. When I opened the box, cheap, all-white plastic pieces greeted me in packaging that struggled to keep all the stacked ramps in place. Assembling the pieces is not hard, but it leads to a fully-constructed roller coaster that looks bad.
The ramps should be a fun challenge, but the ramps don’t work well. Our family owns Roller Coaster Challenge (ThinkFun), and that is a far superior roller coaster product featuring a marble and track construction.
In both of my games, I went with a flat track because the coasters (marbles) don’t consistently go over the hump pieces. But in real life, would investors ever fund a roller coaster with no loops, no big rise in the middle, no thrills???
And, the marbles…when I saw that the game featured marbles as the test coaster, I just assumed the marbles would be made of glass. I have two kids, so it probably doesn’t surprise you that I have more marbles in the house than I can shake a stick at.
The marbles in Roller Coaster Rush are plastic. Worse, they are not uniform. My daughter made the discovery first:
“Daddy, you have to use the blue marble! That one goes faster than the rest!”
Over the course of a couple plays, then extensive toy time (Roller Coaster Rush has already become a toy for the kids, losing its status as a board game after its second play), all of us have learned that my daughter was right—one of the “marbles” is just plain smoother than the others, leading everyone to play as the blue player.
I just…I can’t even…This, from the company that produced the best dice in board game history. If you have played any of the Dinosaur Island games, you know what I’m talking about, and this is not debatable. I can’t believe that Pandasaurus has their name on Roller Coaster Rush because it feels like such a fail!!!
Roller Coaster Rush is one of the year’s biggest surprises, in a bad way.
If we are playing the numbers, I guess that every publisher has to lay an egg from time to time, but Pandasaurus has avoided that up to this point. Even the games that I thought were average, like the Machi Koro games, weren’t a fit for me, but they were clearly a fit for others and I can acknowledge that there’s a good design hidden in there somewhere.
But when I logged my plays of Roller Coaster Rush on BGG, I was greeted by a shockingly-low rating. It appears that others are seeing what I found during my plays. (And if you thought that score was low, check out the ratings for the game it is based on. I’m struggling to understand how we got here.)
Roller Coaster Rush feels like it is at least two iterations away from being a game. Even as a toy, it isn’t up to snuff. But as a game, with auctions that don’t land and severe limitations on how coasters are tested (my kids also wondered why it was so rare to have chances to play with the marble going down the track, since that is clearly the reason to play this game), Roller Coaster Rush doesn’t compare to the high quality I’ve seen across the Pandasaurus product line.
Roller Coaster Rush is a game to avoid. Stick with other Pandasaurus releases mentioned earlier instead!