Designer: Samuel E. Desjardins, Nicolas Fournier
Artist: Ariane Boies, Nicolas Fournier, Michael Legros, Jun Seong Park, Adrian Stone, Unreal Studio Works
Publisher: Orion Games
Year Published: 2022
No. of Players: 1-4
Playing Time: 30-90 min
Main mechanic / Theme: Programmed Movement, Simultaneous Action Selection, Take That / Sci-fi, Racing
This may be the future and these may be hovercars but, buddy, rubbin is still racin'!
Megapulse is an adrenaline-filled futuristic racing game inspired by titles like Wipeout, F-Zero and Mario Kart. It features hand-building, simultaneous action selection, and a modular track.
Each player starts the game with a hand of 7 action cards. Each round, players simultaneously choose 2 cards to play from their hand and reveal them. Players then take their turns, using their chosen cards as well as their accumulated speed to catch up with opponents, drift, use their nitro, launch bombs and missiles, and use their precious special ability. But watch out! Curves are dangerous, and might damage your vehicle! Upgrade cards can be acquired to enhance your options, but sometimes require you to remove another card from your hand. The first to finish the last lap of the race wins it all.
Megapulse includes clever catch-up mechanics, and multiple game modes like Derby, Neon God, and Spellflux Ball.
—description from the publisher
Gameplay and Mechanisms:
Plain and simple, Megapulse is a racing game. The gameplay centers on moving around the track and finishing ahead of your opponents. On every player turn, you will have the option to either repair - all of your damage but reduce your speed to zero - or race - moving the number of spaces indicated by your speed. Along with this, you will choose two of the cards from your hand during a simultaneous card selection phase to activate during your turn that grant a variety of effects or sometimes activate special abilities. These effects range from repair one damage, move your vehicle two lanes right or left and move one forward, change your position in the turn order to either first or last, increase your speed by one, among other things. On your turn, you can choose to activate the cards or use your race/repair ability, in any order; so part of the strategizing is to activate things in the most optimal order. Each player also chooses a racer that has wild special abilities that will really affect the way that you race that particular race and, when used optimally, can have a huge impact on your ability to win the race. This game brings to mind the classic exchange between Cole Trickle and his pit boss Harry from the 1990 film Days of Thunder:
Harry: Cole, you're wandering all over the track!
Cole Trickle: Yeah, well this son of a bitch just slammed into me.
Harry: No, no, he didn't slam you, he didn't bump you, he didn't nudge you... he *rubbed* you. And rubbin, son, is racin'.
Let me tell you, folks, in Megapulse, rubbin IS racin'! There is a drift mechanic in the game when you go through curves that moves you diagonally as you drive (unless you have your grips on) and WILL slam you into walls and other drivers. You might purposfully move into other drivers and rub them out of your way. Either way, damage will be done and there will be times that you will be happy to lose any accumulated speed in order to perform necessary repairs instead of being forced to do it when you have no damage left to take. Hovercars are also equipped with bombs and weapons for those who like to do their rubbin' in a more agressive manner. Another thing that makes the planning fun are the special areas on the track. Some spaces will boost you forward an additional space (and yes, on curves, drift still applies), some spaces will repair some of your damage if you can pass over them, other spaces will give you nitro for use in activating certain abilities.
Every time that you pass a checkpoint or the starting line, you gain an upgrade token which you can use to purchase a new card to your hand or an upgrade with passive abilities that slots into your hover car. This changes up what you can do quite a bit and if you plan carefully and the right cards are available you can build up powerful chains that really extend what all you can do on your turns.
Theme, Artwork and Illustration, Graphic Design and Layout
The artwork of Megapulse is what initially drew me in when I saw the call for playtesters. The vibrant colors and patterns really tie in well with the science fiction theme, and the layout of the the colors, along the track pieces, really convey a sense of movement and speed. The game itself contains a large variety of different track pieces and a booklet of track layouts that seems to have a lot of variety and, of course, you can always design your own track layout. I've only played the digital version on Tabletop Simulator, but the player pieces each have a different look and color to set them apart from one another. I can't speak to the quality of the components or how everything will work in a physical setting, but so far everything looks great and I think that it will have a great presence on the table.
Inclusivity and Accessibility:
Tabletop United believes that diversity is a source of fun and happiness. Nurturing and celebrating our personal differences can lead to amazing gaming (and life) experiences.Therefore, TTU is putting renewed emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility to each of our reviews. This inclusivity and accessibility section will critique those issues and strengths of the subject in the review based upon the unique background of the reviewer. Each reviewer views the world through their own particular lens and has a wide and varied experience from which they will write and review from.
Having played this game with an individual who is colorblind, I experienced first hand that some of the colors on the track blend together or closely resemble one another. However, the different track areas have icons to indicate what that space does and the colorblind player learned the iconography fairly quickly. Cards also contain icons as well as text descriptions to let players know what they will do. I feel like the basic starter cards have a fairly low learning curve for people to learn by looking at the icons, but the cards that are available for purchase may be a little more difficult for those who do not read well to understand as they do not come up with the same frequency and a player may purchase completely different cards in every game.
From what I have seen of the game (which is quite a bit) there is nothing to indicate race, gender or any other identifying characteristics of any player pieces in the game (the purple vehicle is a bike of some sort with a rider and all that I can tell you is that the rider is humanoid). So, while this game doesn't drip with inclusion, it certainly should not alienate anyone of any identity.
I'm hard pressed to find something in this game that DOESN'T work for me. The racing is tense and fast-paced, the special abilities are just the right side of gonzo. In two games, I've seen a player with zero speed go more than a complete lap around the course and come up one space short of winning. In that same race, I used my tow cable effectively throughout to let my opponents drag my battered carcass around the course only to get just enough repaired to be able to slingshot my way to that one pont victory in the final turn. Even when my card selections were subverted by other players actions, I never really felt like I had a wasted turn and there was always something that I could do to somewhat change my fate - unless there was an unavoidable string of bombs laid directly in my path - but sometimes you gotta bite the bullet a take a hit.
Overall, this is a great sci-fi racing game. The learning curve is fairly low with a lot of complexity for more experienced players to tap into, such as building synergetic combos. People who like games such as Formula D or DownForce will find this to be a refreshing change in a familiar genre. I will say that those who don't enjoy programming or random chaos brought about by others going before you may find this one a bit much. Also, there is a LOT of take that but if you go in with an open attitude to it and dish out as much as you take it's all in good fun. At the beginning, things can seem fairly text heavy, but once you understand what your cards do, turns move fairly quickly from one round to the next. It's always a bit tense and slightly hilarious when something gets changed up and your plan for the turn gets turned into total chaos because you're no longer where you intended to be at the start of your turn or obstacles that weren't present before suddenly appear in your path. Fast, exiting and fun; I highly recommend this one!!
Stefan Yates is a professional in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Kansas State University. Finding ways to work gaming into work, he serves on the university’s Alternate Reality Game Committee and is a co-Faculty Advisor for the Board Game Club. He is also a PhD student whose field of research is Gamification in Student Programming. He enjoys playing (and mostly losing) almost any type of game and likes to work in multiple game sessions per week whenever possible. An avid solo gamer with an additional interest in tabletop miniatures games, the stay-at-home orders of the pandemic were not particularly concerning as there was always painting to do and terrain to build. Stefan is also a book and movie collector and a huge football fan (go CHIEFS!).