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The idea of the game
TurfMaster is a board game that requires tactics, skill and some luck.
The horses run for victory and position. As on the racecourse, in TurfMaster a horse also does not simply stay in the lead from start to finish and win. Constant changes of position, polished race tactics, the menacing of the opponent are all things that go to make up TurfMaster.
A victory only takes place at the finish and not on the way. The ideal starting position has to be found by the final bend at the latest before hitting the home straight. Overtaking, risking detours over outside lanes or remaining on the inside and saving metres yet risking being blocked in are all things you decide completely on your own like the jockeys of fast horses in real life.
The way it looks is also important, as anyone knows who likes playing games. It is simply more fun if the figures, the cards, the dice and game board are lovingly designed.
Whoever plays TurfMaster will still have pleasure even years later in opening the box and taking the pewter horses and the coloured dice in his hands. All game parts are designed in such a way that they last for many years even if they are played with a very great deal.
Like every year we went last week on our annual 'gaming weekend'. Among other games we brought 'Turfmaster' with us and I must say that it was an immediate hit! Even though some among my alltime friends don't like games like 'Formula D' or other 'sportsgames' they sure did like Turfmaster. The game has an own 'feeling' about it and it's NOT totally luck based. The fact that everyone has the same set of cards makes it kind of strategic. Admitted every other round there is a 'dice round', but the numbers you throw are for EVERYONE not just for you. So you have a tough decision to make as to how to choose the number you want (because you always have three possibilties: you take the sum of the two dice you threw or you take one of the single numbers).
The knowledge that it's not 'luck driven' and the fact that it's very pretty to look at (outstanding supplements) earns it a five big stars.
If you're a gamer (and a collector) it ought to be on your gaming shelf, I ordered mine the first thing last monday!
I've owned a lot of horse racing games in my life. I was very keen on the sport as a child, and had several, most of which will be unfamiliar to readers of this site. However, with one exception, a game called Totopoly by John Waddington of Leeds, England, the focus of the game was always the betting. As a child, I wasn't interested in betting (I'm still not as an adult), so I focused more on the racing, which basically was reduced to roll the dice, spin the wheel (or whatever) and move the plastic horses along the course. To add to 'the excitement,' there were penalties: 'Miss two turns', 'Broken Rein, Out of Race' or advantages: 'Pass two horses', 'Advance three spaces', etc. These games could have been played with cars, little track athletes, bikes, motorbikes, whatever. They really bore little resemblance to real horse racing.
Not until I moved to the U.S. and bought Win, Place & Show, did I find a boardgame that actually captured the essence of real horse racing--but even then, much of the emphasis was on the betting. Turfmaster is different. The game is about horse racing, not betting, and the rules have been developed to realistically capture the flavor of 'the Sport of Kings.' The races are usually close, as is typical in most real horse races, especially if the handicapper has done a good job. Most often, it doesn't work if a jockey tries to lead all the way (although this tactic can work occasionally). Similarly, in a field of 8 horses, the maximum in a normal game of Turfmaster, it is difficult to go from last to first in the home straight. Timing is everything. Lose your position, or get boxed in at the wrong time, and your chances to win evaporate.
Turfmaster is very easy to learn to play (although the English translation of the original German rules is a little confusing in places), but not easy to master. You alternate between playing a card from your hand or using a dice roll to determine how far your horse moves. However, those horses in the first three positions are restricted on how far they can move, while those in fourth place or worse have no such restrictions. There is never a sure-fire winning strategy, so every race is subtly different, at least to those who can appreciate the finer points of horse racing. There is some luck in this game, but I find the luck element exists in nearly all board games, even the most complex. Even though I've never ridden in a thoroughbred horse race, I suspect that luck also plays a role in determining the winning horse in real life, too. Certainly if you're a jockey, a better horse will give you a better chance to win. To attempt to balance the luck element in Turfmaster, the players/jockeys each use their whole deck of 32 cards over three races, receiving 10 (or 12) cards for each race. In this way, all of the players end up with the exact same cards over the course of a game. If you are dealt a relatively poor set of cards in the first race which limits your chance to win, you will likely have a better hand in the next two races.
I give Turfmaster five stars because I like it better than any other horse racing boardgame I have ever played. I realize that the wider audience may not share my enthusiasm for a horse racing game with no betting. Also, this game is expensive, the Deluxe version especially so, and not everyone will want to shell out this price for another horse racing game. However, for those that do, they will receive a wonderfully presented game: a high quality board and dice, six plastic hurdles, eight packs of quality cards in their own plastic cases, and eight pewter horses, about an inch long (beautifully hand painted in the deluxe edition). I want more of these horses for my other horse racing games. They make the game that much more pleasing to the eye, in the same way that games played with miniatures are more attractive to the onlooker than those played with cheap plastic or cardboard pieces. If you are a fan of horse racing but you are not keen on the betting, and you appreciate high quality components, try this game; you won't be disappointed.
First, the game looks great. The horses, of which there are 8, are about an inch long (25 millimeters for those who use reasonable units of measure). If you buy the standard edition, which I did, the horses are painted entirely in a single color; blue, red, black, etc. There is also a deluxe edition that features hand painted horses. I haven't seen those but I'm told by a friend in Germany that they're very, very nice. Even without the hand painting, the horses are very nice. They are 3 dimensional rather than flat (as in 3M/AH's Win, Place, and Show) and are made of metal. The game also comes with 8 decks of movement cards, each in its own clear plastic box (a nice touch) with the backs colored to match the horse colors. Finally, there are 8 pairs of dice also colored to match the horses. The board is sturdy and attractive to look at. Overall, an excellent package for the price.
Now, what about game play? Before giving my opinion on game play, let me give a brief overview of the game mechanics. Movement is handled two ways - alternating between card play and by rolling dice. During a round of card play, beginning with the player whose horse is in the lead, each player plays a card and moves their horse the number of spaces show on the card. During a dice roll move, one player rolls two dice then chooses whether to use the sum of both dice or just one of the two dice. All horses move the amount selected by the player who rolls the dice. If things were that simple, though, there wouldn't be much to the game. Fortunately, things aren't that simple.
The first complication is the handicap. The horse - or horses if more than one is tied - in first place cannot move more than 8 spaces. The horse or horses in second place cannot move more than 9 spaces. Finally, the horse or horses in third place cannot move more than 10 spaces. During card movement, if a player plays a card with a number higher than the handicap allows his horse to move, the horse doesn't move - unless the card played is a joker. There are 4 joker cards - movement numbers 9, 10, 11, and 12 - that allow a horse to move the full distance shown on the card regardless of the handicap. During dice movement, if the total to be moved exceeds a horse's handicap, the player controlling that horse can only move the horse the amount shown on one of the two dice. (Example, the dice show a 5 and a 6 for a total of 11. The player who rolled the dice happens to be in fourth place and has no handicap. The player opts to move the full 11 spaces. The players in first, second, and third place can move their horses 5 spaces or 6 spaces while everyone else moves 11 spaces.)
The second complication involves lane changing. A horse can only change lanes (moving diagonally) as the first space moved and again starting with the seventh space moved. A horse may change lanes no more than twice. Further, if the horse doesn't change lanes as the first space moved, the horse may only change lanes one time from space seven on. Finally, a horse cannot move into the space directly in front of or directly behind another horse.
These two complications add a lot to the decision making process. Changing lanes isn't easy and it's very possible to find your horse blocked from a complete move due to the positions of the horses ahead of yours.
I have played several races, though none with the full 8 players, and have thoroughly enjoyed each race. The movement of the horses reflects the way horse races actually look. Further, the decisions to be made are very interesting. Do you jump out to a lead early and hope the numbers on the dice stay low (8 or lower)? If you do go for the early lead, you might find your horse fading down the back stretch as horses without handicaps play their high number cards or benefit from a high roll of the dice. If you hang back, you might find yourself forced to go wide on the final turn, using precious movement spaces to keep up with slower moving horses. Finally, if you wait too long to play your high number cards, you may find it too late to benefit from them. One high roll of the dice in the final quarter of the race can radically affect card play.
Overall, an excellent effort from a small company and a must have for all fans of horse racing games. And if you think you don't like horse racing, this game could change your mind!
One of the more attractive presentations at Essen was a horse racing game on a standard oval track. Early news on it as a game was that it was ok, but nothing special, but this is typical for an Essen -- an early view steers punters away from a purchase. Fortunately, it's also typical for it to be wrong and several copies of the game then leave the Show when the revised view is obtained from a wider audience. The other problem new publishers have to face is that a high standard of presentation is often associated with an average game. So how pleasant it is to report a good game from a new designer.
The game has been in preparation for 12 years and over the last year the husband and wife team decided to produce a "professional" presentation. The board is large and unlike many horse racing games features a short straight in between the corners at the end of the oval. The horses are painted in 8 different colours, and the presentation allows for 8 sets of cards also in matching colours. As if this was not enough, the game has 8 sets of dice which also match the colours of the horses! Six plastic fences complete the components. The game can be played over jumps or on the flat. This review considers the game on the flat.
So what's the game like? Well each complete game lasts three races, with all of the cards being used over the 3 races. Players dice for racing position and play cards from their hand to move their horse forward. There is a limitation on the speed of the horses in the form of a handicap, which is applied at the beginning of each turn. This is a key rule in the game and it means that the horses in the first three places can only move 8, 9 or 10 spaces respectively.
The second aspect of movement is that on alternate turns, a player throws the dice to decide how fast all horses move, with the player concerned having a choice whether to use either one or two of the dice. For example, if a player threw a 4 and 5, all horses would either move 4, 5 or 9 spaces. Note that the handicap would prevent the first horse from moving if the 9 was used. The control of the dice rotates each turn. This allows a lot of tactical play. If you are well behind, you may choose to use only the smallest die in order to prolong the length of the race. There can also be times when a player can use the dice to get a move that just takes him past the winning post and so win a race. I liked this rule which can provide some benefits, but does provide a small measure of control and since it applies to all horses, affects all players evenly. Nice one.
The next clever rule is the one about changing lanes. You can only change lanes on the first point of your move and the seventh or later. In order to change lanes, a horse may not be within one space of another horse in the same lane. These two rules combine in such a way as to make the horses change lanes fairly slowly, and watching the horses as they do, it adds a level of realism. It certainly feels right.
The cards range in value from 3 to 12 points and include a small number of joker cards, numbered 10 to 12, which can be played to overcome the handicap. This means that you cannot be sure that a leader will limit their move to their handicap. The game lasts three races, with the winner being the person who scored the most points over the three races.
The game plays pretty quickly (20-30 minutes per race), has enough tactical problems to solve to make for some decent decision making, but also has a clean system to ensure you realise what those options can lead to. The components are good, but the price reflects this. Even the cards packs come in their own plastic cases. The only missing option is a betting system, but those with any horse racing experience in them could quickly add one. Overall, a pleasing experience and a game I'm glad not to have missed.