Ever wondered what pro cyclists get up to on Tour when they're not actually riding? No, nothing smuttier than massages - the hours they spend travelling in between stages on tour buses are actually pretty dull. No booze, no partying obviously, and away from their families, until now all the cycling celebs could do was dream of making it to the off-season. That was until two Bens decided to find a way to relieve the boredom of cycling pal Nathan Haas from team Cannondale-Garmin...
Ride Velo braved the wind and set out on Saturday night to the trendy cycling cafe, Look Mum No Hands in Old Street to meet two chaps launching their new game, Attack The Pack.
It was in the slightly unlikely setting of a snowboarding holiday that Ben Nickolls and Ben Broomfield starting considering how to devise a card game based on professional cycling. They realised that, apart from Cycling Stars, which is essentially a version of small boy's favourite, Top Trumps, there were no games for cyclists. "We're a bit nerdy," Ben B explains. Rather than leave their revelation there, the duo were inspired to create the first pro cycling game for adults - and Attack the Pack was born.
Two other friends from the cycling community helped create the game - Nathan Haas who is currently racing in the Tour Down Under, and artist, Adrienne Hawkes. Nathan likes to spend his downtime playing cards with team-mates. Ben B said: "We've sent a load of decks over to Australia to the cycling press and to riders who have nothing to do between races. Nathan said to us, 'you guys have got to get me this game as soon as possible!'"
Adrienne Hawkes, a Canadian illustrator now living in London, was the obvious choice to make the art-work for the cards. She and "the two Bens", as she dubbed them, had lots of mutual friends and were part of the same cycling community. Ride Velo was very impressed by her beautiful graphic prints which really capture the characteristics and landscapes of the grand tours. They're currently on display at Look Mum No Hands in Old Street.
One of the aspects of the game that we really liked came from the game's Kickstarter fundraising campaign. As you know, would-be investors are offered 'incentives' to pledge money - Attack the Pack offered the highest bidder the chance to be featured on one of the rider cards. Hence Alan, pictured below in real life and in pro cyclist graphic form, enjoyed his 15 minutes of celebrity at the party, after helping the creators raise their target of £10,000.
Plenty of other real people feature in the pack. Adrienne is herself, star rider Duke is actually Ben B (his middle name is Duke, he confessed). And Ben's parents are there too having stumped up a sizeable wad of cash for the fund. Mum is Feed Zone and Dad is 'Ringo' after Ringo Starr as he didn't want his real name to be used!
Given that Ben Broomfield is a photographer and games designer and Ben Nickolls is a software developer by trade, you would have imagined that the process of bringing a card game to the market would've been an easy one. "We started building the game during the Giro, went to Kickstarter for funding through the Tour, and hoped to launch after the Vuelta," said Ben B. "But the process has taken a year and a lot of our time, given that it's not our day job."
The fact that Ben N had moved to Bath did hinder progress, but they discovered an amazing pub in South Oxfordshire halfway between their two homes where they would sit in the beer garden and plan their next moves: "It had incredible views, it was a fun process."
After development came testing and this was done through an organisation called Playtest UK. Ben took the prototype down to the National Theatre where a group of professional games testers tried it out. "They gave constructive feedback," he said, "there were originally 90 cards and it took an hour and a half to play it. They told us to strip it down." So strip it down they did - to just 20 minutes and 60 cards (although to be honest reading the instructions took us longer than we care to admit!)
"We always meant this to be fun. If we make a profit that would be awesome, but the main aim is to enjoy it," said Ben B. Ben N envisages cyclists meeting in cafes during rides and bonding over a game of Attack the Pack and a rejuvenating espresso. They have even designed a waterproof case big enough to fit the deck and a phone, and small enough to slip into your jersey pocket with ease. "You don't need to be a cyclist to play it but cyclists will get more out of it."
The game for 2 - 4 players recreates a real-life peloton including riders with differing strengths and weaknesses. They travel along various terrain from cobbles to the mountains, encountering weather types, punctures, energy gels etc to help and hinder them along the way. The game gets interesting when players start to strategically work together - or against another player, in order to get to the finish line first.
So what did the punters say about Attack the Pack? "If you've got an interest in the mechanics of pro cycling this game represents that really well." Or if it all gets too intense, you can do like this table did and just use the cards to play Snap! Either way, a good time was had by all.
Attack the Pack £15 from the website or selected cycle retailers.