When we talk racing games, we’re usually thinking video games, but I’m going to challenge you to think a little differently: imagine a racing board game. A tangible game you can play at the dinner table. Something you could bring out at parties and actually, y’know, talk to people. That’s what you get with La Corsa.
La Corsa is Italian for “the race,” and it carries with it the very distinct retro flair you’d find on old racing posters from the 1960s. It’s a fast-paced game that came out several years ago and has continued to be one hell of a good time, with ever-evolving rules, or “sporting regulations,” to keep it up to date. It’s kind of a collector’s item, and you can feel good about playing it.
I saw it pop up on Instagram as a targeted ad (the algorithm is working, folks) and talked myself out of it before deciding a whole 14 minutes later that I needed this game. So I bought the base kit, brought my family and friends together, and told them I needed their help. I need you to play a game with me.
The rules to La Corsa are pretty simple—especially if you’re familiar with how racing works—but the deceptively slim rulebook will probably not be your friend. At least not at the start. Once we got the hang of things, my family agreed that it was like a slightly more complicated form of War. But your first two rounds will probably be pretty damn rough.
There are a few different components to the game. There are six cars, one die, a fold-out wooden track, and a massive deck of cards. You can buy additional cars online, including retro-liveried cars and stickers to customize them. There are car image cars (helpful for keeping track of who is racing what car), rule cards, and a 72-card playing deck that consists of six suits that run from 1-12 with an added Redline card that adds two to whatever card you play. The first three cards of a suit are extend cards, which you can only play when there’s an empty space in front of you. The third card is a drafting extend card, which you can only play when you’re still behind a card. The leader, obviously, can’t draft.
Once you’ve selected your cars and shuffled your deck (you only use one suit per car playing, so if there are only three players, you only use three suits), you deal 13 cards out to every car. Then, you qualify, which you do by playing a card. The highest-value card qualifies on pole, the second-highest card in second, and so on. If two players put down the same card, you can roll the die to break the tie. My husband pointed out that the high-value system is counterintuitive to qualifying in the sense that the lower the value of your starting position, the higher up on the grid you qualify—but in this case, it follows most card games like War.
This is where the strategy starts. If you have a hand of ones and twos, you’ll probably want to qualify at the front, where you can then play those cards to build a gap between yourself and the rest of the cars. If you have a hand with a lot of higher-value cards but very few ones, twos, or threes, you could get away with qualifying at the back and working your way up the grid. Or, if you’re my husband, you’ll get an entire hand of fives and ones, qualify at the back, and stay there for the entire game.
So, you play your card. Everyone lines up. And then the race begins.
It starts at the back. The last player on the grid challenges the player in front for position, which you do via a War-like strategy. If the player doing the challenging has a higher card, that player passes the player in front. If the player doing the challenging has a lower or equal card to the competition, no one moves. Now we move on to the next round.
Let’s say the last-place starter beat the car it challenged and moved forward. Now that player gets to challenge the next car in line. If the former last-place starter wins that hand by placing a higher-value card, they get to move forward. But after you pass two cars, your turn is over. In that case, the next car in line challenges the car in front of it.
You work your way up the grid in that fashion until you hit the driver in the lead. The lead driver has limited options: if that driver has a one or a two, they can play that card and move forward. If the lead driver doesn’t, then the lap is over, and you return to the last car on the grid and start the whole thing over again.
The rulebook was a little unclear about how to end a race, so we ended ours when one driver ran out of cards. We’d finish the lap at that point, and then we’d award points to the drivers based on where they were placed on the board using the vintage F1 points system. You jot those down on your Championship Table, then start the next race by qualifying again. The driver with the most points at the end of seven races wins.
We had a very rough start getting this game going because the rulebook is very minimal and doesn’t hold your hand through every scenario. We weren’t sure how a drafting extend card worked, and whether or not the redline card could be used outside of qualifying was a topic of much debate.
Because you have to use a redline card on top of another card, and because some folks could use three cards in a turn (passing two cards, then extending), some folks would run out of cards sooner than others—but we weren’t sure if we were supposed to end the lap, or if we should continue with that driver dropping further back on the grid with each subsequent turn. And at the same time, when a leading driver didn’t have any more extend cards, we weren’t sure if they should just skip a turn, or if they were supposed to discard a card, or what.
Basically, we just ended up getting to a point where we’d spend 10 minutes looking through the rulebook and watching official gameplay videos and then would decide, fuck it, we’ll just all agree on what we want to happen in this specific scenario, and we’ll move on.
So, whether or not we were playing entirely correctly is up for debate. I will hear the argument that we did a lot ‘wrong.’ But that is the objective magic of board games, so I didn’t dwell too much on it.
Once we really got into the swing of things, though, we had a great time. The gameplay felt a lot like retro F1 races: you’d either have someone who won by a mile, or you’d have a last-lap battle for the lead, or everyone would get spaced out and no one would have any more extend cards so we’d have to call it quits. My husband mired away at the back of the grid all season and then pulled out two wins in the last two races, which pushed him into third in the championship. My sister’s consistent top-three finishes nabbed her a second-place overall. I capitalized on the confusing beginning of the season, then proceeded to finish dead last at every other race.
This is a great game for racing fans, but I do think you’d be hard pressed to explain it to people who have zero interest in cars. My gameplay group consisted of three race fans and two people who just don’t care. There were a lot of concepts that clicked easily for those of us who knew racing (like the draft extend card; it took us a while to get there, but we then had a hard time making it make sense for everyone else).
Not that I think you’re really going to find an entire group of racing newbies playing this game, since it is marketed toward race fans. But you might want to think twice before busting it out at a game night that consists predominantly of non-race fans.
If you are a race fan, though, you’ll love it. The game is well-crafted and carries a gorgeous aesthetic to it that makes it a serious joy. It’s fast-paced (once you get the hang of things) and includes different rule set suggestions if you want to, say, add in pit stops or slipstreaming—and there are always additions being posted on the website, too. You can race two cars at once if you want, and you can race with a friend as a team. I won’t say the options are endless, but they’re pretty damn close.