Alfie Dix, 17, reviews board games that he plays with the family and subsequently with groups of friends. Here’s his review of Hare and Tortoise.
Animals, Racing and …. Carrots? That’s right it’s a race like no other and one that I was never expecting to partake in. I had been sceptical of the racing genre. ‘Roll and moves’ like snakes and ladders aren’t exactly my idea of diverse gameplay, and real time racing games can be unbalanced in a family setting. So what was I doing messing about in such a genre of gaming?
After being recently reminded through an unexpected loss that Backgammon is at heart a racing game, I decided to go on the hunt for other racing games that would provide the same level of tactical decision making as backgammon while keeping me safe from multiple double sixes (I can’t say my luck has been rather good as of late). After all, it would be preposterous to admit defeat in a category of game which we only owned one good board game in. Driven by my desire to find such a game I came across Hare and Tortoise and with low expectations. But, I was immediately blown away by the fascinating movement mechanics of the race and knew it needed further testing.
The aim of all racing games is to be first past the post, but in Hare and Tortoise, movement within the game is rather different. You could be at the back of the race for sometime and then race forwards towards the end.
At the start of each game each player is given 65 carrots and a chart. This chart is very simple, it simply shows how far you can move depending on how many carrots you pay. These numbers are triangular, so to move one space costs 1, two spaces costs 3 and so forth. This means that spending a few carrots on each turn is a more efficient way to move than spending lots of carrots to move a great distance in a big spurt.
In fact if you simply move one space ahead each turn you will reach the end with excess carrots, but this is not actually something you are trying to achieve and you will have most certainly come in last place as you will travel far too slowly.
There are several different types of spaces you can land on. The different spaces allow you to harvest carrots in different ways. But what is fascinating is that carrots aren’t distributed evenly. If you start your turn on a numbered space that matches your position in the race, you will receive 10x that number. Starting your turn on a 4 space when you’re in 4th position gives you 40 carrots, whereas starting on a 1 space when you’re in 1st place will only get you a measly 10 carrots. This is further exaggerated in 5 and 6 player games where huge gaps in wealth can appear.
This is where the Hare and Tortoise really gets its name. The number of strategies is limitless. Whether you start slow and accumulate resources or race ahead with consistent small leaps your victory will depend on your carrot management skills. To cross the line and win the race, you must have less than 10 carrots. So you may find you have to waste turns near the end ridding yourself of excess carrots.
There are a number of options for player interaction, such as backtracking to hinder opponents and the tactical donation of resources. But it is the amalgamation of these things that create self-made advantage throughout the game. For me, that’s what makes this game a great find.
While I know you can play the game in a very competitive setting – it’s part of the Mind Sports Olympiad (with a special variant for the Hare spaces) – it is designed primarily as a family game. The rules are easy to understand, it scales well to more players number of players and it’s good for all ages. It ticks all the boxes. This one’s a must have racing game.
Hare and Tortoise also features in Ellie’s Top Ten Spiel des Jahres Winning Games. You may also be interested to read about the day Ellie and David Parlett (the legendary designer of Hare and Tortoise) spent together at the London Toy Fair.