The Bestest Best Racing Game Of 2014: Qvadriga

In what other racing game might your three horsepower engine collapse from over-zealous whipping? Qvadriga is a historical chariot simulator that spins stories of bloody rivalries and daring comebacks alongside its quickly spinning wheels, and that’s why we love it.

Adam: Of course our favourite racing game of the year is turn-based. Of COURSE it is.

When I wrote about Qvadriga’s tactical brilliance earlier this year, plenty of people showed up to give me a history lesson. They weren’t correcting any of several possible inept statements about the history of the sport, they were informing me of the long history of both turn-based racing games and, specifically, chariot racing games.

Qvadriga has certainly drawn inspiration from the world of boardgames. The rules and inputs are simple, the images are immediately legible, and the campaign that frames the action seems simple enough to track on paper and card. Over time, the unexpected complexities of that campaign have convinced me that the game is not only one of 2014’s best, but one of the finest sports management games ever made. And you don’t even have to like an actual proper sport to get the most out of it!

It’s a brutal game. The activity that it translates into turn-based top-down tracktical jostling often led to fatalities, both equine and human. Your charioteers will die and they will kill, sometimes by the lashing of a whip and sometimes by the thundering, bone-crunching wheels of a chariot.
Occasionally they are dragged behind their own vehicles, face-down in the dirt and dust, until all the flesh is torn from their bones.

Qvadriga is a violent game and even though its graphics take a distant view of the action, presenting it as a beautifully clean affair that emphasises the brilliance of the track-top UI, I wince whenever a pained whinny escapes my horses. The decisions within a race are fraught with peril and tension, capturing the glory of triumph and the anguish of defeat. Even the speed at which movements play out when choices have been made seems perfectly timed in retrospect – I thought it too slow at first – allowing the eye to scan every lane, and each possibility to hang suspended in the air for a moment.

If the races weren’t depicted so elegantly, the campaign would scarcely matter, but with the action in the arena as a foundation, Qvadriga builds upwards. What seems like a simple ranking and unlock system actually includes a dynamic series of in-race objectives. The thing is, the game doesn’t necessarily direct you as to what your objectives are – you’ll have to figure that out for yourself.

After a few races, it becomes clear that the path to ultimate victory doesn’t involve trying to come in first place every time. Occasionally, it’ll be better to send in a shabby team with the objective of taking out a specific opponent who is dominating rankings. Kill them and everyone has a clearer route to the top.

Sometimes a race will be too hazardous to risk everything in so the smart manager will send a solid, tough crew – slower, but with a good chance of coming through unscathed. Occasionally, a race will seem like a must-win affair but mid-way through, something unexpected will happen and everything will change.

Even though the variety of arenas is understandably limited, the range of possibilities and the number of variables is enormous. An injury can disrupt short-term planning – a death can disrupt everything.

As a sports management sim, Qvadriga is at the opposite end of the spectrum to Football Manager. It favours simplicity in its stats and the options permitted, but makes every single action meaningful. From the lash of a whip to the purchase of fresh horses, everything has a strong and immediate effect, and while the simulation of the world is comparatively simple, it is a place in which I’m glad to live and die.

Graham: I like your rubber-and-petrol racing games well enough, but as I slide off at a corner and find myself at the back of the pack, a mental finger flicks across to the restart button. Maybe I’ll press it and start the race afresh with a new opportunity not to screw up, or maybe I’ll decide to play the course out and get the extra practice. But the thought is always there: should I just wipe the slate clean?

That thought never crosses my mind when I play Qvadriga. Instead every bleeding rider, fallen horse or wayward chariot only stokes my desire to push on and keep playing. That’s in part because its turn-based tactics mean that failure is granular – you are never simply behind with no way to catch up, but instead always in a limping fight for survival. It’s also in part because Qvadriga is the FTL of racing games – your drivers and your horses can die, and you can name the former after your friends.

That means that it’s a great game for creating anecdotes. That time Alec whipped his horses to death and was left slowly trundling into last place. That time John’s chariot was rammed to pieces, but he gripped the reigns and let his horses drag his searing body over the finish line. That time a similarly chariot-less Adam made a break for the outer wall, to escape and live and race another day, only to find himself trampled under the stomping hooves of a trailing competitor.

The real, still-living Adam is right: this is a sports management you don’t need to like sports in order to enjoy. But I love it because it’s a turn-based strategy game you need only five minutes to learn how to play, and another fifteen in order to have had a valuable little anecdote to remember. You won’t ever want to wipe the slate clean again.

Want to read more about Qvadriga? Here’s Adam’s Qvadriga review and Tim’s after action report.

Back to the complete bestest best PC games of 2014.

From this site

33 Comments

  1. Humppakummitus says:

    I like the idea, and the setting, but I’ve got a problem with um, the treatment of the digital horses. I’ve been like this since playing Horse Master.

    • haircute says:

      ^lol @ feels for digi-horses

      • Serenegoose says:

        ^lol @ needing to belittle someone over the internet.

        • chargen says:

          Just seems like a helpful reality check.

          Also ^lol @ needing to chaperon the internet.

    • Premium User Badge

      distantlurker says:

      “Perhaps we can interest you in some horse armour?” – Bethesda

  2. El Mariachi says:

    Is Horace retired along with the Advent calendar? Say it ain’t so!

    • Cockie says:

      Horace’s magnificent and infinite features are gracing the article right below this one?

      • JB says:

        Plus he’s noshing on the cup in the header image on this article (or at least, he is now!).

        He is, after all, endless.

  3. elderman says:

    Well, that’s pretty cool: the first RPS Bestest Best game of 2014 is a game I’ve never heard of. Looks great, too.

    I was puzzled by the Racing Game category. I couldn’t recall any particularly awesome racing games from this year. This one is a find, though. Pity it’s only out for Windows.

    • soulblur says:

      (It is also on iPad, if you’re more invested in that ecosystem).

  4. Moth Bones says:

    Good game, this. I found that a team would slowly, painfully fall to pieces once it lost its two best charioteers. Washed up in Carthage. It’s a harsh sport.

  5. daver4470 says:

    NOT READY

    An accurate description of me playing this game. Love it, though. Glad RPS brought it to my attention….

  6. Joshua Northey says:

    This is a tremendous game. I really enjoyed it, though I never quite “finished” a campaign. Also as a person who generally prefers turn based games I found the real-time game more exciting here.

    Would whip again!

  7. derbefrier says:

    The best racer of the year is obciously Forza Horizons 2 but this looks like a close second.

    • Fumarole says:

      Looks like Forza got whipped in this race.

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      My personal favorite would be The Game of Stock Car EXQUISITE but that was actually a free update. to a game released last year, so… hmm.

    • Perjoss says:

      I played some Forza Horizon 2, its a very pretty game but I had a real problem with the layout of the roads, the bends and turns are just strange, its like the whole game world is constructed from sections of race tracks and doesnt feel like a convincing environment at all. 90% of the map is made up of long sweeping wide bends, its like the devs dont trust people to use their brakes.

    • Wowbagger says:

      The best racing game this year and every year before that, is Gran Turismo 2 and I will brook no argument about it.

  8. ResonanceCascade says:

    Had it been released on PC, the Halo: Master Chief Collection surely would be given a Lifetime Achievement Award, since it will take a lifetime to get all the achievements.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Relevant

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        Wrong tab. So very, very sorry.

        Someday RPS will cease booting me back out to the main page when I log in, and such embarrassing social blunders will be a thing of the past.

  9. Gothnak says:

    Great game, now can the creator do a version of Car Wars the board game, so i don’t need to decipher the rules anymore?

  10. racccoon says:

    lol this looks hysterical.

  11. malkav11 says:

    I still really need to buy this. Argh. So many games, so little time.

  12. kdz says:

    Thank you for those short articles, RPS. They’re sure going to help me survive the last three weeks of school before Christmas and keep my sanity while doing it!

    Also, after Qvadriga got the title of Best Racing, I wonder what surprises await?

  13. JB says:

    My goodness, “tracktical” is such a lovely and accurate way to describe the action in Qvadriga. Horace bless you, Mr Adam.

  14. Chris says:

    Outstanding game!

    If only they would add multiplayer.

  15. Wowbagger says:

    How the hell do you pronounce Qvadriga any way? Silent q or q-vad-ri-ga or qvad-rig-a or swarfega?

  16. cptgone says:

    the new format is a big improvement – although i’ll miss the tearing open of orifices in search for loot, and the implicit references to the god of death and suffering that advent calendars offer.

  17. plugmonkey says:

    Completely hooked. I just converted a first podium finish into a first win by flipping my cart coming out of the final turn, and then overhauling the leader on the line by virtue of the surprise sudden improvement in power-to-weight ratio.

    It was an epic hero-to-zero-to-hero reversal. Crazy mothercrusher even did a victory lap.