Closed Circuit: Thunder Alley, Grand Prix, and New Tracks

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Well, I am a dyed-in-the-wool wargamer, but I have to admit, with Thunder Alley, Jeff and Carla have hooked me (and my whole family!). I’ve now played a dozen or so games, with a mix of wargamers and eurogamers and never-before gamers, and all of them have been really fun. We have a group of twenty-somethings at our church now who aren’t big gamers but who ask us almost every time we see them “When can we come over again to play Thunder Alley?” So that’s been really cool, to have a game with GMT on the box that we can teach our non-gamer friends and have a great time with a group of 4-7. 

This is Jeff’s first article for InsideGMT, although many of you are familiar with him as the designer of Manoeuvre and as a very active online poster and promoter of games. If you’d like to hear more from Jeff, please check out his online presence, in the following venues:

Thunder Alley Facebook Page

Grand Prix Facebook Page

Jeff’s Twitter Feed

Enjoy the article! – Gene

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thunder-alley-2-640x349Auto racing and GMT (known as a wargame company) are somewhat strange bedfellows, although to be fair sometimes the carnage invoked by a race can look pretty devastating. Races are also made up of hundreds of fights for position over the course of four or five hundred miles by numerous cars. They are quick and vicious skirmishes where a winner and a loser are clearly defined.

The design of Thunder Alley started many years ago and looked very different than it does today, except in one regard, the tracks. From the very beginning we selected four representative tracks that players could use to simulate a season of racing if they desired. There was the super speedway, the short track, the triangle track and a road course. All of these were modeled on existing known commodities that people were familiar with. We also assumed that the knowledge went further than the hardcore fan. There were shapes left out but we were pretty comfortable with our four tracks being all anyone would need.

We were wrong.

C&CNapoleonicsbn1(RBM)Not only has Thunder Alley been a success beyond Carla’s & my dreams, but the demand for more took us wholly by surprise. A new game, Grand Prix, was moved to the top of my summer to-do list. I have integrated the lessons learned from Thunder Alley into the unique flavor of formula one racing and created a very similar and yet wholly unique experience. Then there was the idea for a map (track) pack. (You’ll be able to order this pack soon, as we are adding it to our P500 list late next week. – GB)

Of course my first thought regarding new tracks was the Brickyard because of its classic shape and its place in American racing history. But I also had other things in mind now, such as Grand Prix. I wanted all the tracks from each game to be not only compatible, but fun for each game. That cemented Indy in my mind since it also encompassed an interior road course for Grand Prix. Other choices included the unique shape of Phoenix and it’s built in road course, and Sonoma. I also wanted to make another stressful short track and I based the last track on the Martinsville Paperclip. That was four tracks but I also realized that the small size of the Martinsville track left me with a unique possibility, a fifth track sharing a board with that one. Carla & I felt confident that we had all of the shapes pretty well locked down but there was something missing from the catalogue, dirt. Stock car racing has its roots on the short dirt ovals, so the Paperclip shares its board with an old-school dirt track that only took a minor rule twist to make extremely interesting.

The Grand Prix tracks were a different matter entirely. I wanted to stay away from the circuits that are featured on today’s Formula one circuit to allow myself flexibility in the lane distribution and not be so tied to the real world. So I based all of the tracks on courses that had been out of service for at least 30 years. The courses are tighter than the Thunder Alley tracks and perfect for play in Grand Prix.

An early outline of one of the Grand Prix tracks

An early outline of one of the Grand Prix tracks

The tracks include Circuito da (1960), Circuito del Jarama (1982), Nivelles-Baulers (1974) and the Prince George Circuit (1965). These tracks provided me opportunities to play with the lane-change mechanisms and to have a variety of styles for people that did not own Thunder Alley. So there is a large track with a long 3-wide stretch, a consistent track that is almost always 2 wide, and two tracks that continuously cycle between 1 and 2 lanes for difficult passing.

Another of the four tracks in Grand Prix

Another of the four tracks in Grand Prix

Who knows, if Grand Prix sails off the shelves, there might come a time for more tracks for it as well. For now, the entire system will boast 13 unique tracks with 15 different courses. Nine of which will be perfectly suited to stock car racing and nine of which will make fantastic open wheel tracks. The other four will be challenges for each game. The Grand Prix tracks will vex stock car races and the ovals will turn the F1 cars into open wheel Indy cars and pose unique challenges. All a know is that I will be running two 15 week seasons just as soon as I can.

Something you might not know

There is a basis for the number of spaces on each track. They are loosely based on the number of seconds required to get around the track. So if you are four spaces behind a car, you are roughly 4 seconds back. This is not absolute and sometimes making the shape fit the cars required dropping a space here or there, but the concept still holds true and will continue into Grand Prix.

Coming Soon: Racing Inspiration

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5 thoughts on “Closed Circuit: Thunder Alley, Grand Prix, and New Tracks

  1. Nice article, Jeff! I have not yet played Thunder Alley but I did pre-order Grand Prix based on the positive buzz and because I find Grand Prix car racing more interesting than stock car racing. So good luck and I hope it makes 500 in the near future.
    It’s also nice to see that a different breed of game can be so successful. I do have one such design myself “in the works” that I will eventually spring on Gene and company, so it’s encouraging to see that such a different type of game can garner so much positive attention from the GMT customer base.
    Best of luck!
    Hermann

  2. Great read! Thank you very much – I think I really should get Thunder Alley, but I think I’ve to wait for the (promised?) reprint later this year/early next year, unfortunatly! :-/

  3. The new tracks are bigger. Are they going to fit into the same eight-fold form factor of the current tracks, or are you going to make a change?

    This sucker’s going to be 20 pounds by the time you’re done.

    S.

  4. The new tracks will be the same as the Thunder Alley Tracks. Try to keep in mind that you are looking at my prototype version and not the finished GMT product.