Cars and cards

Sometimes it’s smart just to recognize you’ve got a good thing going. Hothead Games has done that by expanding its Big Win series of sports games to all the major stick-and-ball sports. But just when it appeared there were no more ways to expand the brand, along comes Big Win Racing. It’s the tried and true formula of light sports sim plus collectible card elements applied to stock car racing, and it adds up to something pretty good.

Your climb to the top of this particular racing world starts out in humble fashion. A pack of starter cards gives your team a foundation, though it’s not one you want to rely on for very long. Where the other Big Win titles revolve around building the best possible team of athletes, you obviously only have the driver and the car here (and some people don’t consider drivers athletes, but that’s a subject for another forum).

Big Win Racing

Big Win Racing handles this dilemma smartly by taking both the pit crew and the parts that make up your race car into account. So while you want the best driver you can get, you also need steering, transmission, an engine and tires for your ride, along with six crew members (two tire carriers, two tire changers, a jackman and a gas man) to service it in the pits.

All of the components for your team can be found in bronze, silver, gold and platinum tiers in packs of virtual cards. They also have several attributes that can be boosted by other cards, and there’s an extra dimension to the car parts, as they can give the whole team an additional bonus if they’re all made by the same manufacturer. Basic card packs can be purchased with coins earned on the track, and better ones can be had with premium currency called Big Bucks.

The races can be a little repetitive as they’re all contested for eight laps with eight cars, and on the same layout – a tri-oval reminiscent of Daytona International Speedway. One of the interesting things about real life NASCAR is the fact that drivers tackle a number of different layouts, and it would have been nice to see that here. But watching the races unfold can still be fun as the cars jockey for position, and just about everything that happens in the real thing can happen in the game: drafting, bumping, parts failures, spinouts and wrecks that collect multiple cars. All cars come to the pits once per race, so you can even make up ground there if you’ve got a talented crew.

Big Win Racing

Big Impact cards also play a key role in determining who wins. Three of these can be played per race, with effects ranging from ensuring you can’t be spun out to aiding your chances at starting on the pole. Not using any cards is a good way to finish mid-pack no matter how good your car is, which is why I refer to the game as a light sim. You can affect the way your driver races his opponents by adjusting his or her aggression level, basically giving the thumbs up to bumping your way to the front (and hey, rubbing is racing!) or dialing it back and using the draft instead. Combining those instructions with the right Big Impact cards can be very effective.

Multiple game modes lend their own variety too. Championship mode has you take on four progressively difficult fields of challengers in seasons of eight or more races, and there are achievements that can help you earn more regular and premium currency. Quick Race gets you in an instant race against random drivers, while Friends Mode can connect you with Facebook buddies for a private race.

Trophy Mode allows you to put up or shut up by wagering premium currency to help form the prize pool for a single season for racing. And Events get tens of thousands of players to try to get the most points possible over a given number of races, with the top players on the leaderboard earning some hefty rewards. During my review, the holiday event was for an eye-popping 200 races.

That’s a rather long commitment, but it’s possible without breaking the bank because the game is particularly generous about giving you ways to earn free coins and Big Bucks. If you’re willing to watch some ads for other mobile games and possibly sign up for an offer or two, you can nab extra silver and gold packs pretty easily. I usually loathe Tapjoy, but I’m willing to overlook it here because it does give players some extra free options to compete.

All of this is packaged in the typical Hothead Games visual style. Of course, a lot of the other stuff is common to the other games as well, but Big Win Racing is presumably catering to players who prefer stock cars to footballs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not sure what’s left, unless Big Win Lacrosse is in the works (hmm…), but this is one formula that’s working well.