The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game, above, is one on several outstanding board games based on horse racing available to the avid board gamer.
As an avid tabletop board gamer and a fan of horse racing, I have a decent collection of racing-themed board games. If you’re a fan of board games and horse racing, you’re in luck: there are a LOT of horse racing board games from many different countries and dealing with all aspects of the sport: racing, breeding, owning, and gambling.
The fact is, horse racing offers game designers so many game elements to play with, and designers have responded with dozens of horse racing titles. I’ll discuss a few of them here, but first a word about tabletop board gaming. These games (with one exception) aren’t as casual and simple as, say, Monopoly or Clue. These are strategy games in the vein of Settlers of Catan or Power Grid. They aren’t all difficult, but none is terribly simple. If you only like board games where the winner is decided by random rolls of the dice and the hardest decision you have to make is what color piece to play with, these aren’t for you.
1. Winner’s Circle
This game was designed by Reiner Knizia, the master German boardgame designer. In Winner’s Circle, players start with a round of placing bets then a round of moving the horses in the race. During the race, each player can choose which horse they want to move on their turn and how they want to move it - either to advance it or to somehow hurt the horse’s progress. By the end of the race, the bets are revealed and winners are paid out.
The game takes under an hour to complete. One of the best things about Winner’s Circle is that there are so many choices for a player to make on every turn, and you never feel “out” of the game until it’s all over. You always have something you can do to stay in the race until the very end. It’s also easy to teach and learn the rules.
2. Long Shot
A little bit more contemporary than Winner’s Circle, Long Shot is a very similar game in terms of gameplay with one exception - in Long Shot you can buy horses as well as bet on them. It’s not a minor difference. In Long Shot, when you own a horse, just like in real life, you earn purse money when your horse wins in addition to the money you make from wagering on the race. This means that if you buy a horse and it turns out to not do so well, you can still make money by betting on other horses. Just like with Winner’s Circle, one of the great things about Long Shot is that every player has something to root for the entire time. Nobody ever feels like they don’t have a chance to win. That’s usually a good recipe for a fun game.
3. Horse Fever
By far my favorite horse racing game, Horse Fever is also the most complicated (although the rules include two simpler versions of the game to play, as either a party game or a family game, but the full game is my favorite). The game has a lot of rules and actions and things to keep track of, but it also gives a more complete experience.
In Horse Race, you play as one of a handful of wealthy gamblers: a stable owner, a bookmaker, a mobster’s girlfriend, an oil tycoon, etc. You can borrow money from a bank or from the mob to build up your stake, and you place wagers on horses you think will win the race. In addition, you can hire an accountant, or a bodyguard, pay off judges, hire jockeys, slow other horses down, etc. There are so many things going on in Horse Fever besides just the race. The races can get so crazy from all of the moving parts and players and characters and actions that people stay pretty excited. I guarantee you’ll be whooping and laughing and just as on the edge of your seat as a real horse race. It isn’t unusual to see players bet the farm on horses that seem like they are mortal locks to win a race only to watch the other players conspire to fix the race and put them in the poor house.
Horse Fever is complicated (and takes a long time to complete a game - nearly two hours!) but worth it if you’re really into board games. It was extremely hard to find a copy before it was re-released in 2012.
4. The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game
This game from the late 1980s is the simplest, most casual of the games listed here. It’s rules fit on a single sheet of paper. You bet on horses then they move according to dice rolls. It’s as easy as that. What makes the game fun (and “nasty”) are the action cards players can play during and after the race to affect the outcome. From making horses run backwards, unseat their jockey, fail drug tests and other objections and inquiries after the race, the “really nasty cards” make a simple, straightforward game into a pretty hilarious party game for casual gamers.
There are so many more games than the ones I’ve listed here, but these show the range of the kinds of horse racing board games that are out there. It’s no substitute for the real thing, but it’s a lot of fun cheering for your horse in the stretch while sitting at your kitchen table.