By Rick Teverbaugh
The Herald Bulletin
— After covering thoroughbred racing locally for a dozen years, it has been frustrating that no board game I’ve tried has ever done a solid job in all areas of capturing the sport for the tabletop.
That may be about to change.
R&R Games is preparing to release Homestretch, first in Germany at the big Essen show and then to the United States. It really looks as though this game is going to treat the sport with respect, be playable for small and large groups while covering both owning and racing horses.
The game was designed by Frank DiLorenzo and he was kind enough to provide some insight into the game and its background. The rulebook thanks Tampa Bay Downs for helping with the game.
“They were very helpful in working with us on the photography and graphics for the game,” said DiLorenzo. “Their track photographer, Stephanie Van Minos was very generous in supplying us with a wide variety of shots that she had taken at their track. They also provided some information on basic questions I had on horse racing as I developed the game.”
If players want an even more immersive experience, they will be able to go to the website and download some audio components of racing.
“It's going to be basically a little sound app or individual sound files that people can download for background sounds,” said DiLorenzo.” Just some added flavor when playing the game. Mainly the trumpet call at the beginning, the announcer stating they're off, sounds of horses galloping, etc. Just
Each race has 11 horses numbered 2 through 12 to correspond to the numbers that can be rolled on a pair of six-sided dice. Obviously, the 2 and 12 would be hard pressed to win as those numbers would only appear on 1 of 36 rolls compared to 1 in 6 for the number 7.
“It was definitely tricky to find the right balance when you have rolling dice as the main mechanic for moving the horses,” said DiLorenzo. “The 2 and 12 horses represent longshots and thus have a harder time finishing in the top 3 than the rest of the field. But they have to be able to finish from time to time or no one will ever take a chance on them. So there are two features in the game that give the longshots a better chance to finish in the money.
“One is the Race Track cards. “These cards handicap the horses in the races and effectively give a substantial boost to various horses, particularly the longshots. Likewise, those cards can also make a
track more challenging for the favorites to win. The second feature is that when a horse finishes in 1st or 2nd, if their number comes up again, that player must choose to give a boost to one of the horses in last place in the race. So if a 12 was lagging early on, suddenly, it can come up rapidly from behind if a horse that already finished keeps coming up on the rolls of the dice, especially if it also gets a boost from the
handicapping of the race track card. The mix of these features helps keep the races balanced and exciting, giving all the horses a chance to come out on top.”
Gamers will have horses they own and horses upon which they will wager during the course of the game. They can gain and lose money in both ways. The player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner.
Homestretch has the potential to reach across a wide demographic of gamers.
“I think this crosses three different audiences,” said DiLorenzo. “The gamer who wants a fun and exciting, yet strategic horse race experience. The horse racing fan who wants to play at home and experience the thrill of owning and racing horses without spending any real money. And the family who wants a simple and thrilling game that's just a fun time for all.”
One hurdles that many horse racing games haven’t cleared is the need for a large group to make the game work. Homestretch should play just fine with two or with more.
“I always attempt to find a way to make my designs for two players if at all possible,” said DiLorenzo. “This was easier than most games due to the fact that all the horses are always in play no matter who owns them. So two players can go head to head and experience the same levels of fun, strategy and excitement as with multiple players.”
Game time is about 45 to 60 minutes according to the game designer. Kids as young as 9 or 10 could grasp the game and enjoy it. There is a chance that if the game is successful, it could be expanded in the future.
“There are several ideas I have on the back burner for that,” said DiLorenzo. “Different cards to affect races, different horses that have special traits, new racetrack cards, and added ways of betting, just to name a few. I haven't developed those further yet, but if we get enough interest in it, I will certainly do so.”
I am most anxious to try this game and will post my reaction and a report on my gaming session as soon as possible. Now I am just waiting for the horses to be called to the gate.