My exposure to racing board games is limited but I know there are many fine examples. I have never heard Powerboats mentioned in lists of excellent racing games because of its simplicity but it is the simplicity my family really enjoyed.
Here is a quick overview of the game. Each player races a powerboat on a lake, navigating around three buoys in the correct order and direction and then crossing the finish line. Three-sided dice control speed. At the beginning of each turn, you can decide if you want to add or remove one dice. You also decide if you want to roll re-roll any dice. The combined total of the dice is your speed for that turn. You then move your boat that number of spaces, but before you move, you have the option of turning your boat one hex-side (or 60 degrees).
Sounds simple, right? It is easy to learn and play, but what makes the race tense is the number of turns (many of them very tight) that you will have to make to navigate the buoys in the correct order and direction. (The game board is modular and has an “easy” side and a “difficult” side, and there is even variations on where the buoys are placed, thus providing many replay opportunities.) Also, if you’re going to crash (into a buoy or island– you can’t crash into other boats– you HAVE TO move your boat in a direction where you will either NOT crash or will do yourself the least amount of damage. This means your planned route might suddenly change because you went to fast (did not get the roll you needed, for example). In the games my wife, son and I played, there were several instances where our routes had to change.
The uncertainty of the dice roll adds some moments of tension too. I also quite like that you can only remove one dice per turn, which makes going really fast a lot of fun but very dangerous! In one of our recent games, there was a straight path of clear water between the second and third buoy. I increased my speed over two turns in order to catch up to my son. I passed him all right, but I could not slow down in time to make my turn and thus overshot the buoy and needed to come back around. In the meantime, my wife passed me and eventually caught up to my son for a race to the finish. My wife won, my son crossed the finish line right behind her, and, alas, I was many hexes away.
The game board, three-sided dice and plastic powerboats are attractive, sturdy components. The tiny buoys need to be assembled and have a habit of falling apart if not handled properly, so I would recommend applying a little bit of glue to hold them together. The modular game board tends to slide around and its component pieces separate on a table surface, so I would recommend purchasing some grip mats. Place those on the table and the game board pieces on the mats. You can get these at places like Wal-Mart or even Dollarama and they work great for any modular game board (such as in Settlers of Cataan, Carcassone, etc).
There is not a lot of depth to the racing mechanics of Powerboats, but its simple rules, quick play, and variety of options in the game board and race setup made it a winner at my house.