Retro Review – Mille Bornes

Today, I’m taking a look at the classic Parker Brothers car(d) racing game, Mille Bornes as part of a new series I’m doing on retro games. Reviews in this series will focus less on component quality and more on gameplay and how the game stands up against the test of time.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Mille Bornes is one of the first games I remember learning how to play, and it was a constant throughout my childhood. When I met my husband, my sisters and I taught him how to play, and he too, fell in love with the game. As an adult, I discovered the actual scoring rules to the game and realized we had never played with those rules. It didn’t affect gameplay too much, but adding in the official scoring has actually elevated the game for me, even if it is a bit wonky as you will read in a bit.

Mille Bornes is pretty simple in essence. Players, either alone or in teams, play Mileage Cards (either 25, 50, 75, 100 or 200) and race to be the first to get to 1000 miles. Players must reach 1000 miles exactly, and can not go over. As well, no player or team may play more than two 200 mile cards.

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Players can hinder their opponents as well by playing a Hazard Card on them. These are all automobile related hazards, including a stop light, running out of gas, having a flat tire, or getting into an accident. There is also a speed limit which does not stop the player or players from putting down mileage, but restricts this ability to only play 25 or 50 miles cards.

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Hazards need to be repaired or eliminated in order to play mileage again (or play mileage over 50). The corresponding Remedy Cards can be played on top of the hazard and a player can then place mileage again. However, after playing a Gasoline, Spare Tire, or Repairs card, a player must also play a Roll (a green light) before being able to place mileage. End of Limit cards do not have this restriction.

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Hazards can also be eliminated by playing a Safety Card. Safety Cards allow a player or team to become immune to a specific type of hazard. There are only four of these cards in the game: Right-of-Way (eliminates the need for a Go or an End of Limit card), Driving Ace (immunity from Accident cards), Extra Tank (immunity from Out of Gas cards) and Puncture-Proof (immunity from Flat Tire cards). These are best saved to be played when the corresponding hazard is played as this is a play called a “coup-fourré” (French for foul play) and the hazard is immediately discarded. No Roll is required to continue playing. Each “coup-fourré” is worth extra points at end of round scoring.

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So to begin, each player is dealt a hand of six cards. If playing on teams, these cards will be played in front of one player for each team. If playing alone, each player has their own tableau. Players, on their turn, first draw a card and either play a card on their tableau, play a Hazard card on an opponent, play a Safety card, or if they can not do one of these actions, they must discard a card. Players must have a Roll card to start off with before they can put down Mileage cards. If the draw pile is empty, all discarded cards are then shuffled and remade into a discard pile.

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A round ends once a player or team reaches 1000 miles. Each player or team is then scored based on the following:

  • 1 point per mile travelled
  • 400 points for completing a trip of 1000 miles
  • 100 points per Safety card played
  • 300 additional points if all 4 Safety cards are played by the same player or team
  • 300 additional points per “coup-fourré”
  • 300 points for a Delayed Action win (If the draw pile is depleted during the game)
  • 300 points for a Safe Trip (Completing a trip without playing a 200 Mileage card)
  • 500 points for a Shut-Out (Completing a trip before your opponent(s) have played any Mileage cards)

The game is over once a player or team reaches or exceeds 5000 points. In my experience, this usually takes about 3 rounds of play. The player or team with the most points wins.

As much as I love this game, there are definitely some flaws. For one, the game describes itself as playing two, three, four or six players. In my experience, three players is not optimal as the cards get really tight and it’s almost too much. Two or four players is ideal, and if playing four, play in teams of two.

As well, the rule of playing a Roll card after a Hazard has been remedied can definitely lengthen the game play and does so painfully, leading to much discarding and frustration at not being able to play any of the Mileage in your hand. This also leads to another issue with the game in that the Right-of-Way Safety card is definitely overpowered and is easily the most sought after of cards while playing. Right-of-Way eliminates the need for Roll cards after Hazards are remedied as well as provides immunity to Stop cards and Speed Limit cards.

The scoring does add a bit of strategy to the game in that players do have to try to optimize what they are playing, especially when it comes to the bonus points for Safe Trips or Safeties, and I do much prefer playing with scoring. However, I find the bonus for completing your trip unnecessarily large. The scoring heavily favours the player or team who have completed their trip this way and leads to an obvious winner by the end of the game. I much prefer it when end of game scoring is less obvious and more varied in its approach.

Those flaws aside, the game has stuck with me through all these years and I do consider it one of my favourite games of all time. The game is a mass market game and is pretty representative of its time but I think that while there are definitely better card games out there now that eliminate some of these flaws, Mille Bornes is still worth a look. Unfortunately while the game seems to be out of print, it can often be found from thrift stores or other second hand sources for relatively inexpensive prices.

Until next time, remember to play fair and have fun!

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