What is Table-Top Rallying?


Table-Top Rallying has it's history in U.K. road rallying.

Road rallies take place on open public roads and are usually run in hours of darkness over a Saturday night/Sunday morning. They reached their height of popularity during the 1970's and each weekend it was not uncommon to be able to select from dozens of events all over the U.K. Key events would attract up to 120 competitors.

Since then, with increasing traffic, less public tolerance and ever stricter organisational rules and regulations, road rallying is now a shadow of it's former self. New rallying competitors tend now to start off with Stage rallying and Road rallying now confines itself to fewer, smaller events, often with severe restrictions on the type of cars that can be used.

Because of the nature of road rallying, a significant competition element was placed on keeping down average speeds to usually 30 m.p.h. or less. This was achieved by making the route secret, having frequent control points to slow the passage of the event, and most significantly making the navigation not at all obvious. Sometimes the whole route was handed out when a rally crew left the start control; more common was a "plot and bash" theme, where route instructions were handed to the navigator as they left each control to get them to the next control.

The route instructions used all kinds of tricks to conceal the route and thus force the crew into losing time while the navigator attempted to unravel where to go next.

All such events are based upon the U.K. Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50000 scale maps. 204 maps in total define the U.K. mainland, with each map sheet covering an area of 40 kilometres by 40 kilometres. They are the most detailed maps in the world, rich in content, geographical features and place names, with a precise grid for defining map references. Consequently, organisers had enormous scope for designing route instructions in various forms.

Sometimes organisers might use Tulip diagrams - so commonly seen on stage rallies, but the route would be disguised by showing the diagrams in a jumbled sequence without the blobs and arrows. So the navigators, by a process of elimination, guesswork and skill had to transfer this information to the map before they could be on their way to the next control.

Table-Top Rallies (of old)

Table-Top rallies came about as a means of exposing road rally navigators to the kinds of tricks that organisers might use to define their routes. Events often took place at Motor Club meetings with tables and chairs laid out like an examination room. At the appointed start time budding navigators were given their first route instruction (known as a route card) and they had to discover the intended route as quickly as possible. When complete, they would race to the "examiner's" table to hand in their answers and collect the next route card. Penalties were accumulated depending on how long they took to solve the route card and the accuracy of their plotted route. The accuracy of the route was determined in one of two ways. Either the map was required to be annotated (usually be marking the route with pencil on each side of the roads used) for visual inspection, with marks being lost for any deviation from the correct route; or a series of questions about the route were posed (like how many churches were passed).

With the decline of road rallying, such a training ground for navigators became less popular. However as a sport in it's own right table-top rallying acquired it's devoted band of followers. Not just for ex-road rally navigators and motor sport enthusiasts, but also for anyone who had an interest in maps, puzzle solving and competitions.

Table-Top Rallies (until recently)

The club based events are few and far between now, but postal based events have been running for many years, culminating in a National based series which emerged in 1987. (further history can be found at Championship: The Route So Far) This series ran until 2001 when a generation of organisers moved on, leaving just the Cultivator event.

A typical postal event in the National Championship would last for about four weeks. During that time you were required to solve about 20 route cards of varying difficulty. Sometimes you were given the choice of which route cards you answer, so that you afford to miss out the ones you found too difficult without impacting on your score. You generally didn't need to know anything about rallying except that you have go from A to B according to the instructions given using roads on the map. By virtue of the time allowed for the competition, the route cards were usually more difficult than you would have expected on a road rally or a club based event. Most of the clues were based upon features on the map, though occasionally organisers might resort to general knowledge type questions which might result in numbers, which when assembled would perhaps reveal a map reference.

There were two basic styles of event, the map marking kind and those requiring answers to questions. The former required you to mark your route on the map and then return the map to the organisers. This was checked against the master route and is returned to you with the results. In the latter you solved the route cards and then answered a set of questions which check you have taken the right route. You then sent in just your answer sheet for marking.

Entry fees are around £6, and the map for an event will cost you about the same. So for a month of entertainment (or frustration, depending on how you did), a fee of £12 was excellent value.

Table-Top Rallies (now)

Since 1998, Ray Crowther a.k.a "Crow" has been organising table-top rallies via the Internet. The events are just like the postal question/answer equivalents in terms of format and difficultly, except the route cards are published on a website and competitors send in their answers using an electronic form.

One-off events ran in 1998 and 2000, and then the first Internet championship of four events took place in 2003. An expanded championship, with classes for experts and masters ran during the 2004/2005. A further expansion with a class for novices ran in 2006.