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Auf Trab in Sulkydrom
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I have always enjoyed horse racing games and I find them good games to introduce to new groups, as they make for easy explainations. Everyone knows that the object is to win the race and you just have to understand how to manipulate the horses round the track.
In this horse racing game, the "horses" are ponies and traps and each of them occupies two half squares. The race is once round the circuit and then up the finishing straight. The board is a jigsawed piece of string cardboard, colourfully finished in a very pleasant style and fits into a wooden box. The German rules are on the reverse of the sliding lid.
Two packs of cards are dealt out evenly to the players. The white pack moves horses forward according to their position at the start of the round; the yellow one moves named horses. Each horse has the same chance of winning, as the cards are evenly distributed, and the secret is to get your horse moving at the right time.
Having seen each of his hands in the two packs, each player sorts each into a sequence and places it face down. When I first played this, I thought this is just random play, but what the heck? However, you can take any card from the face down packs on your turn. So if you have stacked your yellow pack with the highest movement points at the top and lowest at the bottom for your horse, you have a pretty good idea how far your horse will move that turn. You might also have stacked the white pack with the best movements for first and second place at the top and the worst at the bottom. This gives you some measure of control.
When each card is played though, all horses move starting with the horse in first place, so unless you have a perfect memory you'll never remember how fast other horses are moving. This can mean that your middling cards, which move you 2 spaces may move a rival 4 spaces (the maximum). Such is life.
The way horse races deal with changing lanes is always interesting. In Sulkydom, you can change lanes only if there is enough space and you have a 1 or higher movement card since it costs 1 movement point to change lanes and move forward a half square. This can lead to some blocking issues and you have to be careful not to get blocked in--something that is very distressing when it happens.
There are two ways in which your normal turn can be altered. These occur at the beginning of your turn only when you get the chance to play one of two bonus markers. One immediately moves you 2 squares forward while the other makes another horse "run" and since this is a trotting race, this illegal movement action by the horse concerned carries a penalty, the penalty being that the horse may not move this turn. You then play your card and hope that it would have moved said rival horse 4 squares, though in practice sod's law means that the card tends to say it would have moved either 0 or just a half square. Each player may only receive one of these penalties during the course of the race and inevitably it is the leaders that tend to get picked on.
The game appears to be full of luck, and while it undoubtebly is, there is enough control left in the game for you not to feel it is out of your hands. Sometimes the missing four movement cards are played by someone on you and you're right up with the leaders again! The game tends to produce close finishes and in one game the leader who was a full straight ahead two-thirds though the course ended up 5th.
Points are awarded for each position and you can either play a number of games up to a fixed points score, say 100, or be the first to receive two winner's rosettes.
When we were taught this game by the inventors, we were all in a light hearted mood. Whether this was intentional or not, this is exactly the right level to play this game--it is enjoyable, fun and provides some good laughs. Having played it the most of any game I got from Essen, I can say that if you are in the right frame of mind, this game will be an excellent end to a good evening of games.