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Winner's Circle
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Winner's Circle

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Product Awards:  
Games Magazine Awards
Family Game Nominee, 2007

Ages Play Time Players
10+ 45+ minutes 2-6

Designer(s): Reiner Knizia

Manufacturer(s): Face 2 Face Games

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Product Description

THEY'RE AT THE POST... As the crowd tenses with anticipation one can only wonder what's going on in the minds of these seven men and their mounts, these "equines for the ages" will soon settle that long asked question "Who's the greatest of all time?"... And... THEY'RE OFF!

In Winner's Circle you are right in the middle of a classic day of racing. Which horse is the favorite? Does the long-shot have a real chance? How high are the betting ratios? Which bet promises the highest profit? Once the field is announced you must place your bets. You then take turns rolling the special die and moving the horse of your choice. Will you advance the horse you are backing or impede those horses backed by the other players? While having multiple players back the same horse improves its odds of winning it also lowers the payouts, and there are still no guarantees of victory. At the end of the running the best bets payoff. After 3 races the player with the most winnings is triumphant.

Product Awards

Games Magazine Awards
Family Game Nominee, 2007

Product Information

  • Designer(s): Reiner Knizia

  • Manufacturer(s): Face 2 Face Games

  • Artist(s): William O'Connor

  • Year: 2006

  • Players: 2 - 6

  • Time: 45 or more minutes

  • Ages: 10 and up

  • Weight: 1,227 grams

  • Language Requirements: Game components are language-independent. This is an international edition or domestic edition of an imported item. Manufacturer's rules are printed in multiple languages (including English).


  • 1 game board
  • 7 horses
  • 28 horse cards
  • 6 color cards
  • 24 betting chips
  • 1 pace chip
  • money
  • 1 special die
  • rules

Product Reviews


Average Rating: 3.9 in 15 reviews

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by A Gamer
Lots of fun to play with experienced gamers and anyone else
January 20, 2006
We played this game in Germany and in Portland at our game club. It's lots of fun to play with experienced gamers and anyone else too. You need both a little bit of strategy and luck too. We really recommend this just for lots of fun it doesnt bore people who arent used to playing hard strategy games and its pretty affordable too.


by Ynnen
Excellent, light bidding/racing game
February 22, 2004

I was completely caught off guard by how much I enjoyed Royal Turf and how well received it's been by my gaming groups. The rules are simple and straightforward, but despite the first glace that this is a simple game, there is far more at work.

Players take turns moving horses around the track to get them to Win/Place/Show after each race. By observing your opponents' actions -- which horses they move how far, how they react to other player's movement of certain horses -- you can try to determine who is rooting for which horse. Since there is a 'zero' or fake bid in the mix, you can never be quite sure which horses a player is pulling for except through their behavior.

The game plays very quickly, and since you play several races back-to-back for a complete circuit, you are never truly 'out' of the game if you perform poorly in the first race or two. There is also often collusion among players to completely decimate a horse they believe the current winner is bidding large on -- which can sometimes have unpredictable results!

A fine game with excellent components, a quick learning curve and incredibly high replay value. Highly recommende.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
January 23, 2004

This is one of the more fun games we have played in years. We played with my family over and over again. It was easy to learn and equally fun for a variety of ages (9 - 70). Highly recommended from someone who plays A LOT of different games. review is almost 50 words!

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
This game Wins, Places, AND Shows!
February 03, 2002

I must caveat this review by stating unabashedly that I am a huge fan of Reiner Knizia. Of the 14 Knizia-designed games that I own, I have never been disappointed with any of them. Time and again, Dr. Knizia delivers challenging games that generate a lot of fun.

That having been said, Royal Turf has become one of my favorite Knizia games. As he did on his classic auction game Modern Art, he has designed a game mechanic which puts value on objects that intrinsically aren't worth more than the paper they're printed on. I won't repeat the details here, except to note that the game can be explained to newcomers in less than a minute, and enjoyed over and over again. Twice, brand-new players have won the game.

How much fun is it? Well, I haven't played a race yet where players weren't cheering their favorite horses on. I've introduced Royal Turf to three different game groups, and each one has insisted on playing again. This is a great game for small parties and get-togethers.

I most highly recommend this game, for horse-racing fans and game-lovers alike.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
Seven Horses Racing, Five-Star Fun
August 25, 2001

My opinion of this game has been getting better each time I've played it, until finally I find I can no longer resist telling you about it! It has taken me about seven games to reach this point.

The first I ever actually heard of Royal Turf was when the list of Spiel des Jahres nominees for 2001 came out. I like racing games and I like Reiner Knizia games, so I needed no more convincing and immediately placed my order.

On first seeing it out of the box, I felt a bit let down. This is #2 in the Alea series of 'small box' games (I believe Wyatt Earp was #1), so the box measures about 7-1/4 x 9 x 1-1/2 inches, and the whole game board--which includes rectangles where the betting chits are placed on each horse, the racing oval itself, and a chart in the infield showing how much the bets pay off--folds out to a mere 9 x 14-1/2. For someone accustomed to the Daytona 500 board taking up half a table, the Royal Turf track did not look very impressive! Also, the spaces on the track are numbered, and my immediate reaction to a track with only 33 spaces on it was that this was not likely to be a very complicated race.

The other game bits are the seven plastic horses which race around the track, one wooden die, colorful cardboard betting chits and player ID markers for six, more cardboard markers for money, and the 21 heavy cardboard cards (three different ones for each horse--they're about 1 x 2 inches and show the running characteristics of each horse for that particular race).

One small problem, as we've been learning the game, is that four of the horses are shades of brown and have a tendency to be mistaken for one another. With familiarity, though, we're not making so many mistakes, so I don't consider this a long-term problem.

My final comment on the components, now that I've gotten used to them, is that they are entirely sufficient and well designed for doing and showing everything going on in the game. I find I actually like Royal Turf so much that I would not have minded paying another $5 or $10 for an even posher set of bits, but this should not be construed as a criticism of the excellent job that has been done to make the game playable at this price range and in this box. Franz Vohwinkel is to be commended on another fine design delivering function, form, and fun.

Now as it turns out, this little 33-space track has room enough for a very pleasant, though certainly not overwhelming, level of complexity.

Here is how the race works. On your turn, you roll the die. Each face of the die shows a little picture. Three sides show a horse's head, while a jockey's cap, a racing saddle, and a horseshoe are on the other three. So your chance of rolling a horse's head is 50%, while you have just one chance in six of rolling each of the other three symbols. After rolling the die, you decide which horse you want to move. The 'racing characteristics' shown on the seven cards for the seven horses consist of the four possible die rolls and the number of spaces that horse will get for that die roll. So if you're going to move Caramello, for example, and you've rolled a horse's head, you look at the Caramello card, you see that Caramello gets a 4 for a horse's head, and you move Caramello 4 spaces. (There's an exception: Two horses cannot occupy the same space, so if the destination space is occupied, Caramello takes the next vacant space back. Thus sometimes, especially at the beginning of the race when the horses start on every space from 27 through 33, a low number can result in a horse not moving at all).

Now Caramello's card is pushed slightly away from the board to show that Caramello has been moved, and the next player will choose on his turn to move one of the OTHER six horses, and the player after that one of the remaining five, and so on until every horse has been moved. (So, to put it simply, no horse will take a second die roll until every horse has taken its first.) Then the cards are reset and the process is repeated.

The horses line up in random order for each race, with one of each horse's three racing characteristics cards being chosen at random; so these are what you examine when deciding which horses to bet on before the race begins. Players take turns placing one betting chit at a time. Each player has a 2, two 1's, and (optionally) a 0 betting chit to place openly or (optionally) face down on three or four different horses. It is very difficult to bring a horse into the money if only one player wants that to happen, so you watch where the bets are placed and try to get on horses likely to be helped by more than one player. At the same time, bets do pay more money the fewer bets there are on the horse, so ideally you'd like to be on a horse that not TOO many other people are betting on--just enough that it will win. If your horse finishes first and there is only one bet on it--not bloody likely!--you collect 500, but 350 if there are two bets on it, 250 if there are three, and so on.

There's also a bonus of 100 paid for each bet on the pacesetter--that is, the first horse to reach space 18 on the racetrack--IF that horse goes on to finish in the top three (which will usually happen, but is not a cinch).

Making good decisions about where to place your bets is crucial for success in the game. Merely placing bets at random and hoping to roll good numbers will not, generally speaking, be enough. You need to look at the racing characteristics cards for all seven horses and formulate a general plan about what you will do with any possible die roll. Don't bet on three different horses that all need a jockey's cap to be rolled to move more than 4, for example. Be wary of betting on a horse starting way back in the pack unless its horse's head number is enough to get it out in front--somebody betting against you can all too easily start your horse with a number that leaves him standing in his tracks and losing a whole turn. Try to bet on horses where you'll get some help from another player or players. If the betting is secret, everybody's 0 bet is going to complicate that process--and that just makes it even more a game of skill.

Once the race is underway, there are numerous interesting decisions to be made. One is the pestering 'Do I take this good number for my horse, or do I give this bad number to my opponents' horse?' decision. You'll face it again and again. The answer won't always be the same. Often the selection of horses still to be moved in the current round will have a bearing on your decision, as will the matter of player order after you pass the die. If there are secret 0 bets in the game, you'll want to watch other people's decisions so you can figure out which horse they don't care about. If you can see you're getting a lot of help on one of your horses, you can spare more good numbers for another horse where you don't have that much help. Conversely, if you can see that everybody but you has bet on one particular horse, you'll want to put a special effort into giving bad numbers to that horse. There's also a penalty of 100 if your horse is in last place when the race ends (that is, when the third horse crosses the finish line), so sometimes it's worth a little to you just to keep that from happening.

And of course you'll deal with the aggravation of 'never' being able to roll anything but a horse's head, that 50% chance that keeps on coming true!

In the third and final race, the payoffs are doubled. I've heard a couple of players wondering whether this might be excessive, bending the game a little too far in favor of the winner of the last race, but I think it works fine. In the first place, this is a game where targeting the leader is a key part of the overall strategy, and it's when you're preparing for the third race that you really know best who the leader is. If you didn't manage to shoot him down in the second race, now you've got one more chance, even against his additional lead.

By the way, we've found that the game is actually taking a little LONGER to play now that we've seen the ramifications of what we're doing in the game and are thus able to try to plan a little farther ahead. Of course, it may speed back up once we get familiar with it at our new level of play, but for now we find the three races take a bit more than an hour.

Okay, so what is it that makes this game so really, really good? I think the first answer to that is that the decision about what to do with your die roll--which you might think would be really boring--I mean, just one die, and only four symbols on it!--is often pretty interesting to figure out. Since that's the basic unit of forward motion in the game, it's good that it's interesting.

The second answer is that, once again, several bits of simple arithmetic have been started into action from different directions and interwoven into a lovely, complex system that can be predicted as a whole with some canniness but never infallibly, and can also be manipulated for advantage from the inside while in progress. The relative positions of the horses, what the die rolls can do for them, and which players are going to want to do them... the better you can juggle all these ideas in your head at once, the better your overall chances will be.

My third answer is: Hey, it's a horserace! It turns out to be a very clever, very well tuned horserace indeed. My compliments to Dr. Knizia on another superb game.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
by Ed Watt
Great fun, family game.
November 23, 2003

Last night I played this game with my girfriend, her sister and my girlfriend's son. Usually when I try to get my girlfriend to play she is not too interested (as well as her family members). But boy, oh boy, we kept playing the game over and over again for at least four hours and had a blast!

If you want a light, fun game with laughs and a little thinking involved -- look no further. It is heavily weighed in the luck area but you don't care that much as you are having so much fun.

If you have less than four players, do use the hidden chip variant with the zero chip. It adds more to the game and you finding yourself forget where that 'zero' chip went.

Great game.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
by Dave
Lots of Fun
September 12, 2003

This is a great game for both gamers and non-gamers alike. It's something you can learn to play in about 5 minutes. Some strategy, but the emphasis is really more on luck and fun than anything. This game keeps everyone smiling - if you can't have fun playing this there's something seriously wrong with you.

Good components. Well balanced. Simply and enjoyable play. Great price. Need I say more? Pick this one up.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
by Jake
Chance will prevail.
December 28, 2002

Royal Turf is one of those rare breed of games that allows you to have some tense fun without thinking too hard. Strategy is mostly circumvented by luck, but it doesnt matter. Theres enough human influence on the outcome and emotion in mid-race to overshadow the luck factor. Best of all, the race is over in a gallop.

There are a number of enjoyable decisions to make in Royal Turf. Picking which horse to push ahead or which opponents horse to stumble (there is an amusing fear of realizing youve bet on the last place horse); betting on a popular horse which will result in a lesser payout, but a much more probable victory versus going alone on a different horse and fighting the odds (but reaping the rewards). Add to this a bit of a bluff factor which will keep everybody guessing your moves.

As I often like to do, playing this game in teams can be much more fun. If you have four people playing, divide the group into two teams and combine your winnings at the end of the game. Success is meant to be shared.

One of the reasons this game is considered light is because ones options arent very numerous or profound. Consequences of making one decision over another are plain to see not that its so easy making that decision. Chance will usually prevail in this game, but its a lot of fun when chance falls your way. The lack of complexity is really what keeps the race going and keeps everyone in the race.

Every group needs something like Royal Turf a fast, fun game to either kick off or cap off an evening of gaming. Half of the game is betting and the other half is rooting for your horse. Getting paid is merely a bonus.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
by Wendy
Highly interactive
May 05, 2002

This game is fun. The best thing about it is it keeps everyone in the game through everyone's turn. A real plus for me.

It's heavily luck driven and having so many people with their eyes glued to the center of the table, I would have liked to see a bigger board with bigger, easier to manouvre horses and larger bidding chips and spaces to place those chips, otherwise an excellent choice for an hour.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
Fun Time For All
March 03, 2002

For a quick playing attractive horse racing game you would be hard pressed to beat Royal Turf. Win,Place and Show is still the only game that makes me feel like I'm at the track, but WPS also can take 3-4 hours to complete. RT really captures first place when it comes to balancing stategy, components, price, excitement and fun. I think it's only weakness would have to be in realism.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
by Fred
Realistic Horse Racing
January 07, 2002

I think this game really works. First of all, it's NOT random. You work quite hard to ensure some horses move as per your bets. But then again you're not the only bettor, so you are not in control. And isn't that what horseracing is all about?

The high stakes on the 3rd race can swing the game quite a bit. You can criticise this or see it as the 'bet the farm' you would do at the last race of the day. Either is defendable.

I docked a star due to the unnecessarily small board, the cheesy money (did it have to be that cheesy?), and more important of all, the closeness in colour of the various shades of brown / red horses. The horses are small, cheesy, and way too close in colour. That didn't need to be so. True, the nice little game fits in a nice small box, but 6 people crowded around it doing eye tests on brown horses can be a bit messy, especially past 11pm. I don't dock it more stars due to the gameplay. Recommended.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
by Greg J. Schloesser
Horse-racing and betting fun!
December 01, 2010

Designer: Reiner Knizia
Publisher: Face 2 Face Games
Number of Players: 2 – 6
Time: 1 hour
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser

NOTE: This review was first published in Knucklebones magazine I'm usually not fond of race games, and horse racing in particular has never been a favorite of mine. However, Winner’s Circle (formerly released as Royal Turf by Alea Games) immediately struck me. It is fast, fun and has some interesting betting and movement mechanics. Sure, there's luck involved, but the other facets of the game overpower the luck and help make it quite exciting to play.

A field of seven horses is raced around the fairgrounds, with three races being held in a complete game. The number of races, of course, can be varied to suit your tastes and time constraints. Players place bets on the horses, with payouts being made for the horses who win, place or show, which is horse-racing vernacular for finishing in either first, second or third place. After three races, the player with the most winnings is the champ.

Each horse in a race is rated with four possible movement factors, as listed on over two-dozen placards. Each horse is randomly assigned one of these placards. Which of the four movement values is used depends upon the roll of a die. Three sides of the special die depict the profile of a horse head, while one each depicts a saddle, helmet and horseshoe. The movement factors listed on the horse charts correspond with these four symbols. Some horses are slow and steady, having moderate movement for each of these four symbols. Others, however, are prone to swift sprints and can move 10 - 20 movement spaces IF the correct symbol is rolled and the player selects that horse to move. The drawback is that the other movement factors listed on these swift horses tend to be VERY slow ... often just a '1'.

Horses are placed in a line on their pre-determined starting locations, one behind the other. Each player, in turn, then places a betting chip onto the betting box of one of the horses. Each player has three betting chips, numbered 1, 1 and 2 respectively. An additional chip with a value of zero is used if playing the 'Hidden Bets' variant, wherein all chips are placed face-down onto the horses. Otherwise, the '0' chip is not used and chips are placed face-up. I've played both ways and actually prefer the Hidden Bets variant. The face-up chips, however, do make it easier to hinder the progress of opponent's horses and makes it easier to catch the leader. This placement process continues until all players have placed all of their betting chips.

Once all horses are in place and bets have been made, the trumpet sounds and the race begins (Sorry ... no trumpet included!). The start player rolls the die and may move ANY of the seven horses. The amount the horse moves depends upon the movement factor listed on the horse's placard that corresponds to the symbol rolled. The temptation is to move a horse upon which you have placed a bet, but often this isn't the wisest choice. For example, if you placed a '2' betting chit on Busher and roll a saddle symbol, this would only allow Busher to move 1 space. It may be wiser to move a different horse, even one upon which you do not have any bets? Why? Well, each horse can only move once and cannot move again until ALL other horses have also been moved. So, if you move a horse only one space which opponents have bet on, they cannot move that horse again until all other horses have moved. This often means that your opponents are forced to move the horses you have bets on ... and often they are forced to move these horses forward a bunch of spaces due to the symbol they roll on the die! This is a quite nasty aspect of the game ... and it is quite fun!

Play continues in this fashion until three horses have crossed the finish line. Betting chits on the horses are tallied and payouts are made. The more chits a horse has upon him, the less the payout will be per chit value. However, those horses have a better chance of placing in the race as more players will have an incentive to move them. Still, the payout of being the sole bettor on a horse and getting it across the finish line can be sweet. You just gotta love those underdogs!

There are few other payout twists. The horse who is the first to cross the '18' space on the track is labeled the 'pace-setter'. If he finishes in the top three positions, each player who bet upon him receives an extra $100 per chit value. The horse which finishes in last place (determined once the third place horse crosses the line), however, costs those players who placed bets upon him $100 per chit value. Ouch!

After a race is completed, betting chits are returned to their owners and the horse placards are removed. A new set of cards is dealt and another race is held. As mentioned, the rules call for three races, with payouts in the third and final race being doubled. This does provide a chance to catch the leading player, and often results in payouts in excess of $1000 in the final race.

As mentioned, Winner’s Circle is truly fun and exciting to play. There are lots of moans and cheers uttered as horses are moved, and it is great fun to cheer your own horse to victory. The decisions to be made with each roll aren’t terribly taxing, but are nonetheless meaningful. Winner’s Circle does a good job or recreating the quickness and excitement of the horse racing sport.

The Very Clever Horse Racing Game
November 13, 2001

My wife and I attended Unity Games 3, the third installment of a successful mini-convention for local gaming clubs here in southern New England. There is a prize table, and everyone gets to go to the table at least once during the day. My choice was Royal Turf.

This game is a good little horse racing game, but nothing takes it to that next level of being a great game. This is decidedly lighter Knizia fare. The bits themselves are quite nice, expecially the seven little horse figures.

The difference between most horse racing games and most auto racing games is that the auto race games tend to emphasize maneuvering while the horse race games focus more on betting. Royal Turf is no exception. I strongly suggest using the advanced rule of including the '0' bet chip and placing the bets face down on the horses. This makes the game much less deterministic by introducing a bluff element.

While the game is quite nice, there simply isn't a lot of strategy to it. Oftentimes the die roll is such that there is only a single logical choice as to which horse to move, and so the player must wait another round before making another choice.

A good little game, not up to the standards I expect from Dr. Knizia, but a fine effort from almost any other designer. Recommended as a medium-weight filler game, and it scales well.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
Light fare
March 05, 2002

Players race seven horses on which they have placed bets. On each turn, a die is rolled, and the current player chooses which horse to move. Each of the seven horses must be moved before any one is moved again. The die shows not numbers but various symbols, and each horse moves a different amount for each symbol. These movements amounts are shown on cards selected from a shuffled deck before the race. During the selection, players place bets.

The game isn't bad, but there's not much to it. All horses would have the same average speed if they were moved accordingly to random rolls of the die. But players naturally choose to use each roll as advantageously as they can, so horses with one large and several small movement numbers tend to win over horses with average movement numbers. There's not much excitement. Also, the ink on the betting spaces and cards does not match the dye colors in the plastic horses, so there is much confusion about which horse matches which card.

The theme could have been better incorporated into the game. For example, the symbols on the die (horse head, boot, horseshoe, jockey helmet) could have been made into weather symbols or some other relationship with why the horses are moving faster or slower. And the selection of cards at the beginning could have been played up as moving the horses into the gate.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.
This one Slipped Up on the Flat
May 14, 2002

Perhaps when you play as many games as I do, you get jaded. I used to love Monopoly, before I knew of the wide world of German Board Games (aka Designer Games). Now you would have to pay me to play it, and not with the small multi-colored paper. Royal Turf is a game that many would like. It's short, easy to play, and has a good amount of player interaction. It just doesn't have the kind of meat that I crave.

The game is played with seven colored horses. Cards are drawn to determine starting position and values for die rolls. The game is played by placing blind bets (the only one who knows your bet is you) on horses and rolling a die to move them. Once a horse is moved, it is marked, and it cannot be moved again until all the other horses have been moved. Betters on the top three placing horses get prize money, and those who bet on the losing horse lose money.

I guess the main thing that turned me off about this game is the lack of choices. Sure, you get to pick the horses at the start, but once that is done, it's 'roll-the-die-and-move-the-horse.' Many times you have few horses to pick from, since the others have been moved that round. It's a two-dimensional game, in my opinion. And one of those dimensions slipped up on the flat.

Note: this review refers to a different release of this product.

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