Review: NASCAR Champions
Publisher: Milton Bradley
Year: 1998
Tagline: The thrilling race game of fast cars and big money.

Cover shows two racers next to a race car

how we met

I found NASCAR Champions on a thrifting visit where a NASCAR fan vomited their collection onto the entire store. I saw NASCAR clothing, I saw NASCAR puzzles, I saw NASCAR dishes. And there were several NASCAR games. I did not currently own any racing games, so I picked up NASCAR Champions and held on for dear life. Bill tried to talk me out of it. It was adorable.

how it plays

The object of NASCAR Champions is to make the most money after two laps of races. Then you win!

First you need to choose a car. The rules will tell you that you must always play with 5 cars and no two of them should be the same color. The game comes with two black and two blue cars, so one from each needs to be set aside.

FUN FACT: Someone on BGG asked the simple question in the forums, why 7 cars? You can only play with 5 and each must be a different color, so why 7? I think that’s a good question. User Jeremiah Lee answered it very well pointing out that the game is as much, perhaps more, for NASCAR fans than board gamers. The more cars, the more drivers, the more interest, the more purchases. Well said, Jeremiah!

Cars are placed randomly in their starting positions by shuffling the relevant DRIVER cards and drawing them one by one. First draw gets pole position (that means first)! Second gets the next spot, and so on. Now you are ready to play!

Cars in a line ready to start the race
Here we are lined up and ready to rumble

The player in pole position goes first, and play continues counterclockwise.

When it’s your turn, roll all five of the dice. Then you choose 3 of them that you want to play. But here’s the trick: these dice must be played in order from lowest to highest.

The dice rolls will mostly consist of colors with a number on them. These represent the color car that you would move, and the number of spaces you would move it.

Five dice showing various colors with various numbers and one checkered die
The CHECKERED FLAG sides of dice always appear greenish, like the 1 in this example, but they are not green. Don’t fall for it!

The dice also have one side with a checkered flag. These will allow you to draw a CHECKERED FLAG card if you use them. The only importance of the number on these dice is the order in which you will draw the card. Many cards in the CHECKERED FLAG deck are to your advantage.

These examples allow you to move a number of cars a number of spaces or turn certain cars backwards
A sampling of CHECKERED FLAG cards

If you are incredibly unhappy with your roll you can use your SHIFT GEARS card to re-roll all 5 dice. This card can be used once per lap, and its usage is shown by flipping the card upside down.

After you choose your 3 dice and put them in lowest to highest order, you follow the directions of each. It is possible for a car to be blocked and not move, so you can use that to your advantage when choosing which dice to play. Just remember they get played in order.

If a car is facing backward because of a spin or crash (some cards cause these awful things) then you can use a matching color die of any number to turn it the right way. You do not get to move it with the same die, though, just face it forward.

As soon as the first car passes the red line on the track, each player gets a SPONSOR card. This is an interesting shift in play, because you may suddenly be quietly rooting for an enemy vehicle to finish so you can collect the money. These SPONSOR cards are kept secret and last for the entire lap.

SPONSOR cards generally give you an extra 200k if that car places in top 3
I wouldn’t say SPONSOR cards are real varied, but they do cause interesting shifts

As expected, the first car that passes the finish line gets first place, and so on. This includes any dummy cars playing too. At the end of the first lap, hand out money for finishing places as well as any successfully completed SPONSOR cards. Then move your marker chip to the spot on the outer track to represent your current score.

Chips showing the car color and number
You track your score on the board using these chips

The second lap is only slightly different. The last place car gets pole position and so on, until the car that came in first starts out in the last position. SHIFT GEARS cards get turned up again, ready to save your butt one more time. SPONSOR cards are all returned and shuffled. The entire CHECKERED FLAG deck is also shuffled and reset.

Follow the rest of the instructions for the first lap until you have all completed the second lap. The player with the most money in total after both laps is the NASCAR Champion and the winner!

how it went

As mentioned at the outset, I did not currently own any racing games when I found NASCAR Champions. No racing games at all.

Now, sure, I know there are probably better racing games out there. The BGG comments point out a few with more strategic depth. But most of the comments are also fairly forgiving, that NASCAR Champions is not a bad one. This is high praise for an Idle Remorse game on BGG. In fact, very few people even claim ownership of the games reviewed here.

The cars on their winning spaces
Here we are lined up for our spoils

Anyway, having little to compare, I can’t really comment on this game vs other racing games. I will tell you this, though: I was super happy to find NASCAR Champions complete and in fantastic shape for only $2.99.

We chose our cars with little regard to the racers because we aren’t really knowledgeable on NASCAR. So we chose fairly randomly, like with most pawns.

DRIVER cards show the name and face of the drivers, and that is all
The DRIVER cards for you to look at. They don’t do much else

We did a terrible job of remembering to use our SHIFT GEARS cards. Or else we did not want to relinquish all of the dice. But it seemed even in a bad roll, it never occurred to us that we had a fix for just this thing. To the extent that I do not think a single one of us used that card during either lap. So place that card in a prominent place in front of you, lest you also forget.

I appreciated a lot of things about NASCAR Champions, even knowing little to nothing about actual NASCAR racing. Please forgive me, or better yet comment and correct me, if I go wildly off the rails as a NASCAR ignoramus.

I appreciated how you were not entirely in control of your car, and how both the environment and other players can cause your success or failure. This seems like it is at least striving to be realistic and on theme.

The board is a giant race track in a large oval
It is difficult to tell but the red line mentioned previously as causing SPONSOR cards to happen is in the upper right of the track

I loved how choosing 3 out of 5 dice, and then playing them in order, forces you to plan out your move. While some people may complain that this game lacks strategy, you can’t be super lazy and play. You have to show up for your turn.

I enjoyed the SPONSOR cards, and how they cause this undercurrent to your play. How suddenly you might want an enemy car to win or at least place, because then you make bank. But you still have to be cool about it.

I think you could easily tweak this game for movement programming and enjoy how the cars do not move, or slam into each other, or whatever else. Some simple house rules around all players rolling at once and programming movement might be very fun, if less thematic. I can see taking turns rolling and having each player choose a die to use, then continuing to move in order.

Keri was ahead in our game most of the time, but we had our fair share of ups and downs with SPONSOR cards, CHECKERED FLAG cards and just the roll of the dice. But ultimately Keri won NASCAR Champions!

play or pass

Play. You roll a bunch of dice. Then you choose a subset of those dice to play in ascending numerical order to cause small, plastic cars to move around a race track. Insert cards to cause random havoc. Rinse and repeat for lap two. It’s simple, but fairly fun.

Much of the criticism of NASCAR Champions is that there are more strategic and nuanced racing games. Sure. But as I mention in my review, NASCAR Champions requires you to show up for your turn. It is simple and easy to play, while still sometimes causing something close to movement programming as well as luck of the draw, and other fun things.