Review: Horse Fever

Posted by James (admin) on October 3rd, 2012

I’m usually a bit skeptical about horse racing games as I find they can be quite dry and/or overly complicated; however, Horse Fever surprised me.  In Horse Fever, each player is trying to earn as many victory points (VPs) as possible.

Each round, players get cards, make a bet, play cards on horses (without revealing them), make another bet, reveal the cards and then the race takes place.  In the simpler version of the game that we played players are dealt cards – some cards help horses (they get a good start, move further when sprinting, etc.) and some hinder horses (they don’t move when in the lead, all beneficial cards are ignored, etc.)  In the full version of the game, players buy cards instead of bring dealt them (which I think would be the best way) – you can also get target cards (extra VPs if you meet the conditions at the end of the game), assistant cards (discounts on some cards, regular income, etc.), stable cards (you own a horse and get cash if 1st, 2nd or 3rd), horse cards (on-going benefit to your horse if you have a stable).  You can also take out loans and buy cards from other players.

The odds table has 6 rows of odds (from 1:2 to 1:7) and a coloured marker for each horse shows which of those odds each horse is at.  After each race, horses that finish in a position better than expected move up one position in the odds, and vice versa, for the next race (which is a simple but slick game mechanic).

Before a race starts, players can make a first bet by taking one of that horse’s tokens and placing it on top of the money they wish to bet; however, there are one fewer tokens than the number of players for each horse, so not all players can bet on the same horse.  The bet can be for the horse to win (earning 3VPs plus money based on the horse’s odds) or for the horse to come in the top 3 (earning 1 VP and doubling the stake).  Minimum bet is 100 times your current VPs so the better you do, the more you have to bet.

After the first bet, players place cards face-down on the horses they want to be affected by them.  This is interesting as you consider which horses you want to help or hinder, plus look at which horses other players have bet on.  Do you assume other players have played cards to help a horse so you may want to help it too and then bet on it?  Or, do you assume a player has hindered a horse so should steer clear of it?  Once players have played their cards (but they’re not revealed yet), players can place a second bet.  After this, the cards are revealed and the race can start.

The game mechanic to move the horses along the track is clever and it proved to be entertaining too.  When the race is underway, a race card is drawn which says how many spaces horses move based on their odds – lower odds horses usually move more often and/or further than the horses with longer odds; however, this isn’t always the case so it is possible for some horses to catch-up a bit.  After each race card, the sprint dice (with horse colours on them) are rolled and the matching coloured horses are moved 1 extra space.  Each horse is affected by the various cards that were played on them prior to the race too (i.e. can not sprint, moves one extra if in last place, etc.)  When the race ends, players get any winnings and the odds for each horse are revised.

Overall, I was surprised how fun Horse Fever was.  There’s still some luck involved, but the game mechanics really work in harmony with the odds of each horse – those with better odds are likely to do better but it’s not guaranteed so betting on an outsider is worth it if you play cards to help it and/or hindering cards are played on the favourites.

I was surprised how entertaining the horse races were.  Whilst the cards were random, the lower odds horses moving more often ensured the lower odds horses were more likely but not guaranteed to win and the cards played by players made a real difference.

Some card combinations can create some humorous situations like when we had a horse that moved into the lead and was 1 space from the finish, but then it didn’t move for two rounds after that because of a horse card that meant it didn’t move when it was in the lead and then an unfortunate race card with zero move for its odds, so it got overtaken and finished in 4th.  However, whilst the race cards, sprint dice and horse cards add randomness to the race, it still felt like there was structure to the race and horses with short odds did have a better chance of winning.  As a result, it didn’t feel completely random and races were engaging – I was impressed by this.

Watching which horses payers bet on and which horses players then played cards on added extra information with which to make your own decisions. In the full game, money is even more critical as it’s what you use to buy cards (rather than just having two random cards in the basic game).

Each player can own one of the horses, but this purely earns bonus cash if a horse wins and the game is primarily about successful bets as those earn VPs and cash.  However, it was strange how attached players get to their colour horse and want it to win even if there are better odds to be had by helping and backing another horse to win.

If you want a serious horse racing game or massive amounts of control, then Horse Fever will not be for you; however, Horse Fever isn’t just random or pure luck – you feel you have some control, and the focus is on the fun, watching other players and trying to hinder them whilst helping yourself.  So, I think gamers will enjoy the full version of the game.

In the end, Horse Fever was a pleasant surprise.  There’s still luck involved but that’s horse racing after all, and the game mechanics ensure the luck feels structured.  Playing cards to dope or boost horses was fun, especially when you knew another player had bet on it, as was making bets whilst trying to figure out what other players were up to.  I would like to play Horse Fever again and this time with the full rules.


[Played with 5 players]

3 Responses to “Review: Horse Fever”

  1. Jacob Says:

    I like horse racing games, but I never heard of this one. Thanks for bringing to my attention! I like what I read so I’m looking into getting this.

  2. James (admin) Says:

    Hi Jacob. Great to know it’s one you may not have been aware of already. Let me know what you think if it if you get to play it.

  3. Jacob Says:

    Haven’t got it yet. I have a big order waiting for some Essen titles. Can you tell (or predict) how this would play with three players? I hope it’s still tense.

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