As soon as I saw Reality Shift on display at Origins 2023 I knew I had to check it out. It is a fantastic looking game with great table presence, enough so that it caught my eye from across a busy con floor.
I’ve got to thank Academy Games for letting me take a review copy of this game home so that I could find out if the gameplay is as stand out as the physical presence of the game.
They were even cool enough to send me home with Reality Shift Deluxe, which includes everything in Reality Shift and more.
Disclosure: Some links in this post will be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
Reality Shift is a new type of racing game
Reality Shift is a 2 to 4 player 3-dimensional racing game by Mat Hanson. Reality Shift Deluxe, which is the version of the game we brought home from Origins, includes rules for adding a fifth player. Both versions of the game feature artwork from Aldo Domínguez.
Reality Shift is a collaboration between Apollo Games and Academy Games. The playtime is listed as fifteen to sixty minutes, but I would go so far as to say fifteen to two hours or more. The playtime here is very dependent on luck, on how randomly players play, and on how silly you get with the board setup.
I would also say that the age on the box is off. It’s listed as appropriate for ages fourteen plus but there is no reason younger players can’t enjoy this game (my own thirteen year old loves it). With the lack of text on the base game cards I can’t see why even younger kids wouldn’t enjoy this unique racing game. I have a feeling this age limit was more based on child safety regulations, small pieces and magnets, than it was on game complexity.
The MSRP for Reality Shift is what I would call a reasonable $65, with Reality Shift Deluxe costing $20 more and coming in at $85.
Reality Shift takes racing to the third dimension, using magnetic racers that move along tracks that are on the faces of chunky cubes. Movement is based on a mix of die rolls and card plays, and those same cards can also be used to “hack the board” by sliding, rotating or flipping the map cubes. Not only are you racing on a three-dimensional track, the track keeps changing as the game goes on.
Now the copy of the game we have is Reality Shift Deluxe. This version contains everything in the standard printing and more, including all of the stretch goals from Academy Games’ well funded Kickstarter. These include things like power ups, battle mode, a mounted board, more track cubes, rules for five players, and more.
To get a look at the magnetic racers, the cards, and the very cool map cubes check out our Reality Shift Deluxe Unboxing Video on YouTube. There you can see just how chunky these cubes are and the brilliant way they fit together.
The component quality in Reality Shift is excellent. The magnetic racers easily grip the map cubes, the cubes actually lock into each other making them easy to stack, the card quality is solid, and the two rulebooks are fantastic at slowly introducing the game one bit at a time.
One thing that you won’t find in the box but that you may want to have on hand is a Lazy Susan or some other way to rotate your playing surface. Another good option is to play at a standing table where players can freely move around.
The reason for this is that as the cubes in Reality Shift are manipulated racers can end up in all kinds of nooks and crannies and you are going to want to be able to see what is on the faces of all of the cubes before you make a move.
How to play Reality Shift
The base rules for Reality Shift are quite simple. You can be up and playing in minutes.
To get started you take the nine base game cubes, mix them up and make a grid of cubes that’s three by three with the start cube in the opposite corner from the finish cube. The red finish space should be face up.
You then rotate the cubes so that the other corners and the middle cubes are white side up. The four edge pieces need to be flipped so that each has a different colour face up.
Place the checkpoint cards off to the side and shuffle the action deck. Deal three action cards to each player, who should grab a summary card and a racer in the colour of their choice. Select a first player and you are ready to go.
Note, I’m covering the base game first here. If you have Reality Shift Deluxe you will be leaving a bunch of stuff in the box. I’ll get into all of that optional content in a bit.
A player’s turn starts by rolling the die. Then, if their racer isn’t on the board, they place it either on a visible starting space on the starting cube or on a visible checkpoint they own from a previous turn.
Next, the player takes these three actions in any order:
(Mandatory) Move based on the Die: The player moves their racer a number of squares equal to the value on the die. This action must be completed every turn. Racers move square by square following the track with their back end pointing to the square they just left, as facing matters in this game.
If the player can’t complete this movement, due to running into a dead end or another player’s piece, they crash and their racer is removed from the board. At the start of their next turn, they will respawn as described above.
(Optional) Use a card to move or rotate: The player discards a card from their hand and then either flips their racer 10 degrees or moves forward a number of squares equal to the value of the card. It is still possible to crash when moving this way.
(Optional) Shift reality: The active player discards a card and then picks a cube on the board that has that same colour face up. Note white are wild cards. White cards can manipulate any cube and white cubes can be manipulated by any card.
The player then rotates, slides, or flips, the selected cube as indicated on the discarded card. Rotations are done in either 90 or 180 degree increments based on the card played. Slides move a cube one space orthogonally adjacent making sure that once the move is done every cube is touching at least one other cube by at least one corner. When flipping a cube you can ‘roll’ cubes up on top of other cubes and any cubes that would finish their move above an empty space fall down and retain their orientation.
The track in Reality Shift is a dangerous place, during any of these moves if any racers are caught between or under cubes they are removed from play and will re-spawn on their player’s next turn.
Once completing one to three actions (remember moving based on the die is mandatory and the other actions are optional), the active player replaces any played cards with new cards from the deck and play moves to the next player. The first player to land on or pass over the finish square wins the race and the game.
One thing I haven’t covered is how to claim checkpoints. There are seven checkpoint spots, one on each cube besides the start and finish ones. If you can get your racer to pass over a checkpoint you may collect the matching checkpoint card, if it hasn’t already been collected by another player.
Once you have one of these cards, whenever you respawn you can do it from the checkpoint that matches your card or the start cube. Players can only hold one checkpoint card at a time.
Another easy-to-forget rule is that when a racer is on a piece of track that is the same colour as them that cube cannot be manipulated in any way. It’s suggested you skip this rule for your first game but I suggest adding it in as soon as you are comfortable with the base game rules.
That’s it for the rules for the core game of Reality Shift. This covers everything you get if you pick up the standard version of Reality Shift.
What Reality Shift Deluxe adds to Reality Shift
Reality Shift Deluxe comes with a number of optional add ons for Reality Shift all of which are explained in a separate rulebook. Please note that Reality Shift Deluxe contains everything that you get with Reality Shift. It is a different core game, though there is one set of optional maps that does require you to have both Reality Shift and Reality Shift Deluxe.
Let’s take a look at each addition that Reality Shift Deluxe adds, one at a time:
Rules for Five Players
Reality Shift Deluxe includes a new white racer and summary card to go with it. This allows you to play with up to five players (or with less while including the white player colour).
Due to the rules for colour matching, the player who chooses to use the white racer needs to pick a disadvantage like not being able to use checkpoints or going slower. This is because there are fifty per cent more white faces on the cubes than any other single colour.
Deluxe Track Cubes
Reality Shift Deluxe includes twelve cubes instead of nine.
The first new cube is the White Hole Cube. This cube features a vortex on every side. There’s no track to be found. This cube can be manipulated by any card and is great for cutting your opponents off or crushing them, but watch out as your opponents will be trying to do the same thing to you.
Next is the Portal Cube. This cube features a portal in the centre of each of its faces. When you move onto the portal you can move off of any other visible portal face on the cube.
Finally, you get the Vortex Cube. When you move onto the Vortex Cube you continue to zip around until you come out another side. There are arrows on the cube to indicate which direction these movements must be made.
Power Up Cards:
Reality Shift Deluxe includes a deck of power up cards. You claim one of these by passing over a checkpoint and each player can hold a max of two.
These include powerful game-breaking abilities like Disintegrate, which lets you move onto an opponent’s racer and destroy it, Warp, which lets you swap spots with another player’s racer, and Hack Checkpoint, which lets you swap a checkpoint card you have for any other card, even one claimed by an opponent.
Battle mode is a new way to play Reality Shift which has players working to destroy each other. This mode requires the use of power up cards and turns the game into a PVP battle instead of a race.
The Grid Board
One of the best new additions in Reality Shift Deluxe, and one we tend to use every game is the new mounted board.
This board has two sides. The first is just a grid to help organise the cubes better and keep things square. The other side features paths. When using the path side your racers can now go both on and off the cubes. It even features Pac-Man like warp portals that let you wrap around the map.
Power Mode is an optional mode of play that turns Reality Shift into more of a relay than a straight race.
Players must race from checkpoint to checkpoint collecting power cubes. The first player to collect four different numbers wins the race, but watch out there are only so many cubes of each number.
The last thing you get with Reality Shift Deluxe are some very interesting new starting track configurations. These include tracks that combine the base game cubes with the three new ones in Reality Shift Deluxe.
There are even some Super Tracks for groups who have copies of both Reality Shift and Reality Shift Deluxe.
There are a number of special track rules presented here. You can use one of these rules with the deluxe track you choose and each track presented here comes with a suggsted rule. Then the super tracks have their own set of special track rules as well.
Who should pick up Reality Shift Deluxe?
Reality Shift is, at its heart, a pretty simple racing game with a neat 3D element and the ability to modify the board to your advantage, and your opponent’s disadvantage, during play. Reality Shift Deluxe is all of this plus a bunch of optional ways to modify and add to that basic gameplay.
That’s pretty much it and I’ve got to say it’s pretty damn cool.
I first saw this game set up on a demo table at Origins 2023 and I was instantly intrigued. When you look at Reality Shift you know exactly what you are looking at. At first, you see the cubes and are like, “Huh, what’s that?”, but then you notice the racers stuck on various faces of the cubes and you notice the track and think, “OMG! This is a racing game! With a very cool race that happens on all sides of cubes!”
Before I even knew there were rules to manipulate the cubes I was sold on Reality Shift. I told myself right then and there that we were taking a copy of this game home with us (thanks again to Academy Games for letting that be in the form of a review copy).
As someone who runs public play events and who knows the importance of catching people’s attention with table presence, I knew this game would be a hit. What I didn’t know was just how popular it would be.
I also wasn’t expecting the odd learning curve Reality Shift Deluxe has. We quickly learned that not really planning ahead and just moving cubes for the sake of moving them often leads to short games. Without watching what you are doing you can rather easily set things up for your opponents. When playing this casually we had more than one game end before all of the players had even got in a turn.
From there we quickly learned that to play Reality Shift well, with or without additional stuff from Deluxe, you have to focus on making sure you aren’t setting up your opponents to win. It is often more important to stop your opponents than it is to focus on your own plans.
Once players get this, Reality Shift becomes surprisingly deep and thinky. It was at this point, with a bunch of experienced players, that the game started to stretch way past that one hour mark. You almost get a chess-like feel with such a group, and I think that’s a good thing.
Now I did find that the more optional stuff from Reality Shift Deluxe you use, the more chaotic and casual the games became. This can be good or bad depending on what you are looking for from your racing games. What I liked the most about this revelation is that it means the game has sliders that I can manipulate based on who I’m playing with or what I’m looking for that game night.
Of all the people I’ve played Reality Shift with it has been my teen daughters that enjoy it the most. I have often walked into our dining room to see them playing Reality Shift and my oldest daughter has even brought it to school to play with friends. She has also taught the game at our local public play events.
My kids’ favourite part of the game though is coming up with ridiculous cube stacks and tracks. While they seem to love it and will spend hours trying to win one of these silly set-ups, I recommend sticking with the suggested maps in the Reality Shift Deluxe rulebook. The maps in there are playtested to make sure they aren’t too over the top.
Anyone who has played Robo Rally knows exactly what I’m talking about here. It’s the exact same thing with Reality Shift.
Overall, Reality Shift is a very neat racing game and very different from every other racing game I’ve personally played. While it can seem a bit chaotic at first, once all of the players start paying more attention the game gets very tactical and can be quite strategic. That said, Reality Shift can also be a fun beer and pretzels experience if no one is taking the time to overthink it. The added rule variants and additional materials in Reality Shift Deluxe let you adjust this slider even more.
If you grew up playing roll and move style racing board games and want to see that genre reborn into something more modern and tactical you should check out Reality Shift. If you are normally against roll and move games and prefer abstract games all about outmoving and outthinking your opponent, Reality Shift may also be for you.
One of the best parts about this game is the amount of variation you can get with just this one box.
Folks who should probably stay away from Reality Shift include those who do not like randomness in their games. I also can’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t like games where the board state changes significantly between turns. This game is all about the constantly changing board.
Finally, game groups that don’t enjoy confrontational, take-that style games should also avoid Reality Shift. This game can get quite nasty as often the best way to move forward is to move your opponents backwards, or to just crush them between a couple of cubes.
As for whether you should pick up Reality Shift or instead get Reality Shift Deluxe, that’s going to be up to you. The base game is really solid and good on its own, but for only $20 more I would rather have all of the options and versatility that Deluxe adds.
I think the thing that surprised me the most about Reality Shift Deluxe is who is publishing it. Academy Games is well known for their historical board games, including many that are designed to be used in classrooms.
I found this to be a nice change of pace actually, and it’s always good to see a publisher spread themselves out a bit.
What’s a game from a publisher that you know and love that’s something different from their usual fare? Let me know about it in the comments below!
- A fast paced 3D racing game where racers shift the track to their advantage
- Teach a New Player How To Play in Under 5 Minutes
- Use the Magnetic racers to race along the sides of the large 3D track cubes to reach the finish point
- 2 – 5 Players, 20 Minutes, Ages 14+
- This Deluxe Edition includes a double sided grid board, 5th player pieces, battle game mode, power-up cards, and 3 new Specialty Cubes