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Games: Royal Turf
What the hell? I wrote a rave review about Puerto Rico and basically called it the best thing since the invention of the pluot, and not a single one of you went out and bought it? You are so disappointing. I mean, okay, I kind of see your point: few of you are avid board game players like myself, so the prospect of buying (much less learning and teaching) a game with 700 rules and twice that many pieces might have seemed a bit daunting. Perhaps you need to be eased into this hobby. So let me make another suggestion: purchase Royal Turf. Now! Do it! Actually, Royal Turf, while a very enjoyable game, isn't worthy of such exhortations. But if you've been toying with the idea of trying out these "Designer Games" I'm always rambling on about, this might be exactly what you're looking for.
Let's start with the bad news: The rules that accompany Royal Turf are in German. But it doesn't matter, honest Native American. You can easily find an English translation on the web (tah-dah!), and since the game is about British horse racing, the names of the horses (the only text on the game components) are English: Albino, Earl Gray, Othello, etc. So don't let that stop you. The good news is that Royal Turf is very simple to learn, plays in under and hour, and is small enough to fit on the table of a tavern.
The game consists of three races, and each race has three phases: the Betting Phase, the Racing Phase, and the Payout. Before each race, a Movement Card is revealed for each horse, and the animals are queued up at the start of a 33-space racetrack. Each player also receives three betting chips. During the Betting Phase, players place their Betting Chips on the horses of their choice. Players must use all of their chips and cannot bet more than once on a single horse, so at the end of the Betting Phase everyone will have wagered on three of the seven contenders.
And they're off! During the Racing Phase, each player in turn rolls a special die, and then movies one of the horses forward a specified amount. The die has a Horsehead icon on three of its sides, with the other sides bearing a Horseshoe, a Saddle and a Jockey's Cap. The Movement Cards show how far each stallion advances for each of the four symbols. The Card for "Sahara Wind," for example, might indicate that he advances 3 spaces on a Horsehead, 9 spaces on a Cap, 5 spaces for a Saddle and 7 spaces for a Horseshoe. After rolling the die, the player may choose which horse he wishes to advance. Once a horse has moved, his Movement card is pushed aside to indicate that it cannot move again; after all horses have been used, the Cards are restored to their original places and each is again eligible for movement.
The race ends when the third horse crosses the finish line, at which time the horse currently in last place goes to the Losers Box. Each player who bet on a winning horse receives money, dependent on what place the horse came in and how many other players bet on the same horse.
Everyone who bet on the Losing Horse must pay $100 to the bank. After three races, the player with the most money wins.
There are plenty of fun decisions to be made in Royal Turf. After rolling, deciding to move one of your own horses a long distance or moving an opponent's horse a few spaces is always an agonizing choice (and the other players will cheerfully badger you with their opinions on the matter). Because a moved horse cannot advance again until all the horses have been used, moving an opponent's stallion forward "1" can seriously hurt their chances of winning. The betting Phase also entails some tough choices. Betting on a popular horse means you'll get less money if the horse wins, but it also makes a win much more likely.
There's not a ton of strategy in Royal Turf, but certainly enough to make for an interesting 45 minutes. Best of all, the game, while nowhere near an actual simulation of horse racing, does a good job of recreating the track atmosphere: you'll find yourself cheering for your favorite pony and groaning with dismay when he's hobbled by an opponent. Simple rules combined with a popular theme makes this a perfect game for families or groups of friends who just want something to do while sipping beer at the local brewhouse. If you have any interest in games but have been hesitant to take the plunge, Royal Turf would be an excellent place to start.Posted on October 18, 2002 to Games