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Hare and Tortoise

Players: 2-6

Age: 8+

Teaching Time: 5 mins

Playing Time: 45-60 mins

Setup Time: 10 mins

Value For Money: Mid

Luck: Low

Complexity: Mid

Strategy: Mid

Price: £20

Recommended: No


Its tough when playing games to review, on the one hand you want to play games a few times to give them a fair crack of the whip, on the other you don't want to get stabbed in the neck while you sleep. As such when your wife threatens to stab you in the neck while you sleep during the first play through of a game you have something of a conundrum. As such I'll admit to only having played Hare and Tortoise once.

Each turn players spend a number of carrots to move their piece along a movement track, the number you have to spend raises exponentially the more spaces you choose. Extra carrots are earned depending on the space you start your turn on with players in the rear generally gaining more carrots than those in front, or by moving backwards. You do this until someone crosses the finish line.

They must, however, cross that finish line without having more than 10 carrots or any lettuces (you start with 3 and must discard them at specific spaces) to win. There are a few spaces to discard lettuces and doing so takes 2 turns, spaces cannot be shared creating a peculiar frustration around the last few lettuce spaces of calculating exactly the right set of moves and then being forced to watch as a procession of other players leap-frog onto a vital lettuce space you are waiting to use. Its a frustration that can result in savage threats of spousal violence, apparently.

The game is mathsy, but not in a way that allows players to feel clever by spotting bonuses and combinations. Rather it simply forces a continual and unnatural cross checking of numbers. You have X carrots which means you can move X spaces, check the board and find you don't want to or can't move X spaces so you find out you want to move Y spaces but you can't afford to so instead you make a vague step forward because that's what you can do without forming a long term plan. It never becomes natural rather going straight from brain meltingly complicated to grindingly dull.

The biggest problem with Hare and Tortoise is that it throws away all the advantages of a race game but maintains all their failings. Race games tend to give up a narrative in return for clarity, from the start you know what to do. As such a race game that makes you uncertain whether you want to be in the lead or not and uncertain if you want to stock pile or spend resources has real problems. You should never spend the first few seconds of a race game wondering if you actually want to move.

Ironically the story that already exists, that of the tortoise and the hare, fails to be told by the game. The intent of the mechanic is that those who race off recklessly will be overtaken by those that bide their time. In reality players who plug away relentlessly and resolutely in determined tortoise like forward movement will be run down by players who shoot backwards and forwards like the story's hare. On the subject of theme, the original Hare and Tortoise game had a timeless Aesop's fables look to it, the new edition of the game not only illustrates the board with a narrow focus round Britain race image but populates it with landmarks already verging on out of date. Far worse, without wanting to be over dramatic the box blurb is worryingly unPC. It describes Hare and Tortoise winning the SDJ as akin to Reiksmarshal Goering appreciating the design of the British Spitfire. I don't know about anyone else but the idea of bringing up the Nazis on the back of a family friendly game disturbs me.

In relation to the SDJ, the main reason I and probably most modern gamers own Hare and Tortoise is that it is the first winner of the world's most famous boardgaming award. So where does it stand as an SDJ winner and why did it win? Firstly, its 39 years old which puts it before terms like "Euro game" even existed. The game is largely fair, only start order and "Hare" cards are at all random. So, in many ways the family friendly, low chance game is the prototype of the SDJ's following history of family friendly light Euro games. The route to a game like Camel Up can easily be seen. If this came out today it would barely make a dent on the market but in hindsight it is a very SDJ game.

Should you play Hare and Tortoise? Probably not. The only real reason to play it is that its catch up mechanic allows a small child who blows all their carrots to still come back and win. It feels like there's a lesson there, just not a good one.

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