While the mid 1990s to the early 2000s is generally considered the start of the board game renaissance, board game designers started to experiment with new gameplay mechanics in the late 1970s and 1980s. Some of the games from this era actually had some really interesting ideas. For one reason or another most of these games never sold well as the games were mostly before their time. Few of the games were ever reprinted and were mostly lost to time. While most of these games never caught on, I am always interested in trying out games from this era as some of the games had some good ideas which could have lead to a successful game if things went differently. One of these games is Doubletrack which was released back in 1981 by Milton Bradley and was never reprinted. For a roll and move game from this era Doubletrack actually had some really interesting ideas. Doubletrack was a game that was before its time adding some interesting mechanics to your typical roll and move game that somehow manages to add even more luck to the genre.
How to Play Doubletrack
- Place the gameboard in the middle of the table.
- Players choose a color. They take the two pawns, the gate pass and the screen of that color. The player sits next to the space of their color that says “Take the ____ Gate Pass” and places their large pawn on that space. The player places their small pawn on the start space in the middle of the gameboard.
- Each player takes their colored gate and slides it into the gameboard between the space that their large pawn is on and the shortcut path of their color.
- Each player is given the following chips: 5 red ($5), 5 blue ($10), and 2 yellow ($25). The players put their chips behind their screens so the other players can’t see them.
- Shuffle the cards and deal three to each player. Each player can look at their cards and then places them facedown on the table. The rest of the cards form the draw pile.
- Choose the starting player however you prefer.
Playing the Game
A player begins their turn by looking at where their large pawn is located. This is important because if the player is near one of the gates the player has to decide whether they want to use the gate. If a player uses the gate they will travel along the corresponding shortcut route (the inner track). If the player does not have the gate pass or doesn’t get permission to use it they will have to use the outer path.
If a player owns the gate pass for a gate they must use the shortcut path. If the player wants to get permission to use another player’s gate pass they can negotiate with the player that controls it. The player can let you use the path for free, charge you to use the path, or refuse to let you use the path. If there is an agreement to use the gate pass the player has to use the shortcut path if possible. If a player gets permission to use a gate pass and doesn’t reach the gate on their current turn, the permission is revoked for their next turn. The player will have to once again negotiate to use the gate pass on their next turn if they still want to use the shortcut. To indicate that someone has the right to use a shortcut, insert the corresponding gate pass into the gate which will lift up the gate.
After a player has settled the gate pass issue the player will roll both dice and move their playing piece the corresponding number of spaces clockwise around the board. If a player lands on a space occupied by another large pawn, they will move their pawn to the next unoccupied space. The space that the player lands on will indicate what action the player will take.
Number Spaces: The player will move their smaller pawn forward the number of spaces that is printed on the space that was landed on. If you land on the 1-5 space, you can choose to move forward 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 spaces. When moving if a small pawn lands on the same space as another small pawn, they will move their pawn to the next unoccupied space (does not allow you to move to the other side of a shortcut). If a player’s small pawn lands on a purple space, their pawn will stay on that space until the next turn their small pawn can move. If the player gets to move their pawn forward the next time they move their pawn, they will use one movement point to move to the other side of the shortcut.
Play A Card: When a player lands on this space they will choose one of their three cards to play for its effect. The card is shown to the other players and the corresponding action is taken. The card that was played is placed on the bottom of the draw pile. The player who played the card will add the top card from the draw pile to their hand.
Sell A Card: When a player lands on this space they will choose one of their three cards to sell to one of the other players. They can choose which card they want to sell and they don’t have to reveal what it is to the other players. The other players then choose how much they would like to bid and place the corresponding chips into their closed hand (red-$5, blue-$10, yellow-$25). If a player has money they have to bid at least $5 in the auction. After everyone has chosen what they are going to bid, everyone reveals their bids.
The player who bid the highest will get to play the card for its effect.
The player who landed on the space will collect all of the money bid by all of the players, even the players who lost the auction. If two or more players tie for the highest bid, the player who landed on the space will get to take all of the money bid and will play the card for themself.
The played card will be added to the bottom of the draw pile and the player who landed on the space will draw a card from the top of the draw pile.
Sell A Pass: The player who lands on the space will have to sell one of their pass cards (if they still have one). If a player has more than one pass they can choose which one to sell. All of the players other than the player who landed on the space will bid for the gate pass. The bidding process is the same as it was for cards. All of the bids (even losing bids) will go to the player who landed on the space. If there is a tie for the highest bid the player who landed on the space gets to keep everything that was bid and gets to keep the gate pass.
Sell the Lead!: When a player lands on this space all of the players (including the player who landed on the space) bid for their small pawn to be moved one space in front of the small pawn that is in the lead. The bidding process is the same as that for a card. Whoever bids the highest will get to move their small pawn one space in front of the player in the lead. If the player making the winning bid was already in first, the player gains no spaces. If there was a tie for the highest bid, the player who landed on the space will get to take the lead and will get all of the money bid. Otherwise all of the money bid will go to the player who is furthest back on the track (after the player is moved to the front).
Take the _______ Color Gate Pass: The player who lands on the space will take the corresponding gate pass from the player who currently owns it.
Take $25 From An Opponent: The player who lands on the space can take $25 from the opponent of their choice. If the player doesn’t have all $25, they will give the player all of the money they have.
Number Cards: The player will move their small pawn forward the number of spaces printed on the card.
Trade Places With Any Player: The player who plays this card can swap the position of their small pawn with the position of one of the other players.
Take the Lead: The player who plays the card places their small pawn one space in front of the player that is furthest along the track. If the player who played the card is currently in first, the card does nothing.
Back 10: The player who plays the card moves their small pawn back ten spaces.
Oh No! Go Farthest Back: The player who plays this card will move their pawn back one space behind the player who is furthest back on the track. If the player is already in last, the card does nothing.
Steal A Gate Pass: The player who plays the card can take the gate pass card of their choice from one of the other players.
This Is A Worthless Card: This card does nothing when it is played.
End of Game
The game ends when one of the players’ small pawns reach the home space. The player does not need to reach the home space by exact count. The player who controls the small pawn that reached home wins the game.
My Thoughts on Doubletrack
In a lot of ways Doubletrack deserves some credit for being ahead of its time. A lot of the games from the 1970s and early 1980s were pretty generic roll and move games. In general those games are pretty boring as the outcome basically comes down to who rolls best. When I first saw Doubletrack it looked like every other roll and move game but there is quite a bit more to the game than first appearances might indicate. Doubletrack actually adds several unique mechanics to the roll and move genre that I have never really seen before. Some of these mechanics are better than others but you can’t deny that the designer deserves credit for trying something new.
Lets start with the most prominent new mechanic, the gates. I think the gates are an interesting addition to the roll and move genre as they add some strategy and negotiation to a genre that rarely has either. Basically having control over gates in Doubletrack gives you power over the other players. The shortcut spaces are generally some of the best spaces on the board as they usually allow you to move your small pawn forward quite a few more spaces than the spaces on the outer track. You can only access the shortcuts though if you control the corresponding pass or can get permission to use the pass. This adds some interesting decisions to the game as you have to decide whether you want to use the shortcut while also determining whether you will reach it on your next turn.
The more interesting thing about the gates is that it adds a negotiation mechanic to a roll and move game. Players can let you use their gate for free or deny you access entirely. In most cases though you will have to negotiate with the other players in order to use their gates. The negotiation mechanics are pretty straight forward as you can only offer chips or promises to allow the player to use your gates for free on future turns. The negotiation mechanics may not drastically change the game but they give the players an opportunity to try to out-negotiate the other players and it adds some player interaction to a genre that generally doesn’t have a lot. At the beginning of the game each player will only control one gate but that can change over time where one player could control several gates. This player will have a lot of power in the game as they likely will get to move more spaces while also controlling what shortcuts the other players can use. While you want to get a good deal from players wanting to use your gates, you can’t be too greedy or players might refuse to let you use their gates when you need to later in the game.
In addition to the gates Doubletrack adds several mechanics that add occasional auctions to the game. Throughout the game players can bid for cards, gate passes and even the lead. While I hate the idea of being able to bid for the lead (more on this later), I actually think the bidding mechanic is interesting. Bidding for a gate or the lead is generally pretty straightforward as you know what you are getting. Players need to decide how much they think it is worth to own another gate or take the lead. If they want the gate or the lead they need to make sure they bid enough to win without bidding too much. Things become quite a bit more interesting when bidding on cards.
What is interesting about card auctions is that the player putting the card up for auction doesn’t have to reveal what the card is. Most of the cards in the deck are positive cards but there are some negative cards as well. When bidding on a card outside of being able to read the player who put the card up for sale, you have no idea whether the card is going to be good or bad. If the card is good you want to win it but if the player put up a bad card you don’t want to win it as you will have to pay a decent amount for it and may end up losing spaces as well.
The problem with the bidding mechanic and Doubletrack in general is that the game takes it too far. There are two problems with the bidding mechanic. The first is that if there is a tie for the high bid, the player who put the card up for sale will get to play the card and keep the money that was bid. I am guessing this was put into the game to make players think twice before putting up bad cards for sale but it doesn’t make a lot of sense that if two or more players bid the same the player gets all of the money and still gets the card as well. There are quite a few more tie bids than you would expect so this is not a rare occurrence.
The other problem with the bidding mechanic is that the game forces all of the players to bid in every auction as long as they have money. A player might not even want whatever is up for sale and yet they will still have to bid at least $5. I am guessing this rule was put in place in order to force players to bid in the auctions so the player who lands on the selling spaces could get something from their turn. Being forced to bid in each auction wouldn’t have been that bad except that the auctioneer gets the money you bid even if you don’t win. In the cases where you didn’t want what was being sold, you are basically forced to give money to another player and you receive nothing in return.
The biggest problem with Doubletrack though is the fact that the game is obsessed with players moving from first to last or vice versa. Doubletrack has both spaces and cards that allow players to immediately move to first or last place. I have always hated these type of mechanics as they make the rest of the game feel kind of pointless. What is the point of slowly gaining spaces throughout the game if you can immediately move into first place due to a card or space. A player could be winning for the entire game and then with the play of one card a player who has been last for the entire game can move into first place. This is such a big problem for Doubletrack that the game I played ended in the only suitable way it could have. One player was one space away from winning the game and then one of the players landed on the space that let players bid for the lead. As this would win the game for all but one player, everyone obviously bid everything they had left. A player literally ended up buying their victory. I have always hated these type of mechanics and they basically ruin all of the goodwill that Doubletrack created with its unique mechanics.
The luck doesn’t end with just the situations where players move to first and last place. The shortcut spaces in the game are ridiculous as well. I don’t have a problem with a lot of the shortcuts as they mostly only save you 5-10 spaces. The shortcuts add some strategy to the game as you want to try to land on the shortcut spaces. Towards the end of the gameboard the shortcuts go way too far though. There is one shortcut on the gameboard that lets you skip 69 spaces. I want to know why anyone thought a shortcut that lets you skip almost half of the gameboard was a good idea? In our game one player was able to go from last, by a large margin, to first just because they were lucky enough to land on the overpowered shortcut space.
What is truly strange about Doubletrack is that it succeeds in eliminating some of the luck you typically find in roll and move games but at the same time decides to add luck back into the game for no real reason. At the end of the day I actually think Doubletrack has more luck than your typical roll and move game. You still have to rely on rolling well but you also have the ability to immediately go from last to first and vice versa. While a good strategy may occasionally win you a game, most games are going to come down to whichever player is luckiest.
In addition to the reliance on luck I think Doubletrack also takes too long. I would say that most games of Doubletrack will probably take 45 minutes to an hour to finish. This is not overly long but for a game like Doubletrack it makes the game drag on for too long. At first the game was kind of fun as it was unlike any other games that I have played. The novelty of the game wears out after a while though and the game becomes kind of boring. If the game was around 30 minutes long it would have been better but by the end of the game you are just wishing it would end already.
On the component front I would say that Doubletrack is pretty typical of a 1980s Milton Bradley game. The gameboard and cards in particular are really bland. The chips look like what you would find in hundreds of other games. The one component that is kind of interesting though are the gates. The gates serve next to no gameplay purpose and are mostly cosmetic, but they add charm to the game. There is something satisfying about inserting the gate pass and seeing the gate open to let a player onto the shortcut. In general the components do their job but are nothing special.
Should You Buy Doubletrack?
When I look back at Doubletrack I think the game deserves a lot of credit but at the same time also deserves criticism. I honestly believe that Doubletrack was a game that was before its time as the designer created some mechanics that you don’t really see in other roll and move games. The addition of the gates adds some strategy and some negotiating mechanics which brings something new to the genre. Adding the bidding mechanics to the game also adds something to the game other than having players rely on the roll of the dice. These mechanics actually eliminate some of the luck generally found in the genre but for some reason the game decides to add other mechanics that add the luck right back in. I hate when games have mechanics that automatically send people to first or last place and this can occur quite often in Doubletrack. You could be leading for the whole game and then lose just because one player got lucky at the right time. This might be somewhat forgivable except that the game lasts longer than it probably should have. It is a shame that Doubletrack wasted its potential because I think it could have been a good roll and move game if it didn’t add so much luck. If you are willing to come up with extensive house rules to get rid of the luck mechanics I think you could fix Doubletrack to the point where it could be a pretty good game. As it stands though Doubletrack is a game that had potential that it never lived up to.
If you hate roll and move games or the concept doesn’t really interest you, I can’t see you getting much out of Doubletrack. If you find the concept to be interesting and don’t mind coming up with some house rules, you might have some fun with the game. I would only recommend picking up Doubletrack if you can find it for cheap though.