It’s the home stretch. This is the final race and you’re on your worst horse, the one with only three working legs and a bad cough. You’ve survived hedges and water traps. You’ve dodged rogue, riderless horses that have escaped the control of their jockeys. You stumbled at a jump once and were thrown from your horse, but you managed a miraculous remount and kept on going.
You’ve managed to make it round the entire board, and now you’re in the lead by a mile. One dice roll is all that stands between you and a four million pound payout, and you need it. All of your savings went into this race.
You cast your eye over the group. Celebrations have started amongst those who bet on your victory, and those who made the wrong choice resign themselves to the consolation prizes of second and third place. Everyone thinks it’s all over. You begin the final roll…
Some board games can only be played by friends. Close friends, the kind of people you’ve known for years. The kind of people who know forgiveness, and who you can forgive. Because friendships will be strained.
Someone clears their throat, slams a card on the table like a vengeful god. Silence falls instantly as everyone cranes their necks to read your fate…
Some board games are not meant for polite company. Where swearing and shouting and threats of violence are not considered acceptable. Because there will be blame and offensive gestures.
‘Slips On the Flat’. You watch in horror as your horse crashes face first into the ground, mere feet from the Finish Line. Some are shouting in anger, others laughing at your misfortune. You can’t hear them, only stare with glazed eyes as your chances of winning explode in dust…
Then you go mental.
The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game is one of those games. You’ll plot and scheme and lash out, ruining your own hopes for a chance to make someone else suffer. But after the red-mist has receded and the police have collected their statements, you’ll all agree that it has been one of the best afternoons of board-gaming you have ever taken part in. Very few other games have the ability to craft so much enjoyment from paranoia and anger, and even the most mild-mannered amongst you will feel compelled to cause trouble.
The basic premise of the game is this: you have a stable of six horses, numbered one to six from best to worst. There are six races, each rewarding podium finishers with increasingly handsome prize monies. One horse for each race. You and your opponents go round the track, over jumps and jostling for the inside lane. It all sounds very straight forward. But this is the kicker:
You don’t want to win the race.
At least, you might not want to win. You see, at the start of each race, the ability of your horse and their randomly-assigned starting lane are used to loosely calculate the odds of you winning. You then all place secret bets on who you think will come first. You might place a safe bet on the 3:1 stallion in Lane 1, or go for broke on the misshapen lump that you think might actually be two guys in a costume, but has odds of 50:1. So in the back of your mind, you have to balance whether the prize money from the race is worth more than the outcome of your betting.
To help you skew the outcome in your favour, everyone has a hand of Really Nasty Cards. These will be how you’ll make your enemies this evening. Some are relatively harmless, such as making an opponents horse to move to the outer lanes, or calling a False Start and restart the race. Others have devastating consequences, from causing horses to trip over hedges to disqualifying riders after a Steward’s Enquiry. Most are designed to cause some kind of tension between players. Even foiling an opponent’s ploy with a Remount card will annoy someone.
Really Nasty Cards can be played even when you’ve been knocked out of a race, allowing you to grief your foes from beyond the grave, or harass as a Riderless Horse, which can move in any direction to block those still in the race.
All of this while hoping no one knocks your money-maker out of the competition. It’s stressful work, but great fun. I’ve played this game with different groups of people, and all have enjoyed the experience overall. Its target mentality is hard to describe. It’s not for those who sulk when things don’t go their way, but even if you have trouble letting go of a grudge, you’ll be making the game more interesting for yourself and others.
The mark of a great board game is the flexibility of its rules, allowing you to enjoy the game how you feel it should be enjoyed. Randomising the order of races (as is suggested in the rulebook) can lead to a bit of an anti-climax, with the big race prizes being paid out early, leaving players to race for smaller rewards. This is easily remedied by playing the races in ascending order. I myself include a house rule that any downed horse has to remain on the field as an obstacle that you need to go around. It’s very satisfying to watch a particularly aggressive player get stuck behind the equine pile-up of their own creation and lose the race.
The game itself is well crafted. A large, brightly coloured board draws the eye while allowing plenty of space for up to six players. Money is suitably fancy in design, as board game currency should be. Everything is decorated in deep reds and blacks, lending an air of dignity to the game, the kind you might associate with the Grand National, and the little betting slips make for some enjoyably realistic immersion.
If you’re willing to sacrifice the respect and love of your friends and family for a few hours during play, I can highly recommend The Really Nasty Horse Racing Game to you. But don’t come crying to me if you choose your opponents poorly and end up with a riding crop lodged in your ear. Actually, do come to me, and bring photos.