Monday, June 23, 2014

Horse Fever /hɔːs/ˈfiːvə/ noun: a disease that causes someone to suddenly shout names of colors with much vigor and excitement

Ah Horse Fever, it's been awhile since "Come on Red!" I last took you off the "Red!" shelf. Those were the "Blue Blue Blue!" days, hanging with my pals and "Just roll Yellow damn it!" having a jolly good time of Horse "Sprint White Sprint!" racing and wild bets. Not many games can "Green for the win baby!" make 3 grown men stand and shout with such "Bla Bla Bla Bla Black!!" ferocity and much joy at the movement of clay pieces "Wooooo Blue baby yeah!" down a cardboard stretch.

Well, my friends were reminiscing about it during previous game sessions, and I was feeling it, so I took it out again, and man, what a reception. Haha. The last game that brought about so much emotions in them would have to be Robinson Crusoe. But this time, we weren't feeling like working our way off or around an island, we wanted to get our hands dirty in some old school - fixable and rig-able - horse racing.
So off to the races we went!

Making bets before the race. My bets on Green to win and Blue to place. Green won! Blue placed! JOY

Horse Fever is a horse racing betting game whereby the player with the most Victory Points ( not money ) is the winner. The game is very simple to play but the one caveat is that there is a learning curve when it comes to the iconography. Seasoned gamers may still need a game or two to get it all pat down, but there is a reference section in the rulebook, so you will find yourself heading there A LOT during your first playthrough.

They are ready to go! But it seems that the red and green horses have been rigged...

A round of Horse Fever proceeds as follows:

a) Purchase Phase ( each player has 2 purchase actions to do any of the following )
- buy an assistant ( gives ongoing ability )
- buy a stable ( 1 VP and pays out if your horse places )
- buy a horse ( improve your horse )
- buy a goal card ( conditional end game scoring cards )
- buy action cards ( used to rig the races )
- take a loan ( from mafia or the bank )
- pass ( receive money for passing )

b) Betting Phase ( each player must make 1 bet, may make 2, in the following order )
- make an initial bet on a horse ( mandatory / to win or place )
- rig the horses ( place action cards one at a time facedown )
- make a second bet in counterclockwise order ( optional / to win or place )
- reveal action cards

c) Race Phase ( executed in following order )
- turn over a race card, move horses based on card odds
- roll 2 sprint dice ( horse of that color moves an extra space )
- repeat till all horses cross the finish line
- pay out VPs and money ( win - 3 VPs, place - 1 VP )

d) Auction
- dutch auction to sell a VP to market
- english auction to buy a VP from market

And they are off !! Yellow and Green are head to head and Black is obviously enjoying the scenery somewhere

This sounds all simple and straightforward because it really is!
The tough part for the first playthrough is that when each player buys something, they usually get to take 4 cards and choose 1. So with the iconography throwing them off, they need awhile to find out what each card does and this will slow the game down. You don't have to wait for the person's turn to be over of course, since there are many many cards and other options for each player to choose from.

Just to help you wrap your head around what generally happens during the game.
VPs are how you win, and the only way to get them is either through buying a stable ( this gives you 1 VP but they are expensive ), making the right bets ( if you bet to win, you get 3 VPs only if that horse wins, if you bet to place, you get 1 VP if that horse comes in 1st, 2nd or 3rd ), buy one at the end of round auction, or fulfilling a goal card ( nets you 2 VPs, generally involve having the most or least of something - stables, assistants, money, horses, etc ).

So if VPs are everything, what's the point of money?
Well, money is crucial because first they are needed to buy any of the cards, second, you can use them to buy the VP at the end of round auction, and lastly, the more VPs you have, the more your minimum bet on a horse must be. So you may be raking in the points but if you haven't made money from your bets ( betting to win nets you money multiplied by the horse's race odds / betting to place merely gives you a 100% return on investment ), you will soon find yourself having to borrow more or lose VPs.

It was neck to neck to neck to neck in the final race, but white and yellow sprinted ahead due to the dice roll

The main decision points in Horse Fever revolves around which horse you want to bet on, and whether to bet on it to win or to place ( players may own particular stables, but that doesn't prevent anyone from betting on it, or rigging it ). Winning gives you 3 times the VPs that placing does, and thus without having a winning bet throughout the game, you will find it difficult to win.
Deciding what cards to buy is also extremely important as the assistants can be powerful, but they give you no VPs, whereas the goal cards give you 2 VPs, but you might find a tough one to follow through on.
And lastly, the action cards. Yes, the lovely lovely action cards. These cards affect the horses in a lot of exciting ways. Some give you more VPs or money when that horse finishes in the standings, some let the horse burst out of the gate, or sprint twice when the die is rolled in its favor. Then again, there are negative ones which stall the horse out the gate, or ensure the horse loses all ties, etc. You can decide not to buy any action cards and just bet on what you think has been placed by others, but when you leave it to luck, it generally does not turn out well. Greater knowledge is always a good thing.

The results for the final race. White wins!

That's Horse Fever in a nutshell.
Man, I LOVE this game. I really do. Every time I play this game, there will be players standing up ( me, sometimes I hop on the spot, don't ask ), we will be screaming and shouting the horse's color when the sprint dice are being rolled. It may seem like nothing at first, that's just 1 more space that the horse moves, but man, some of the races are sooooo tight, one space is the difference from first/placing, to being out of the standings. In the last game we played, I actually let loose a long and loud cheer when the white horse won. I think my mum must have thought I went crazy. Haha.

When you lose a bet in Horse Fever, you feel sick to your stomach - especially when someone else has won something. You lose money, they gain money and points, makes you just want to smack someone out of spite.
The excitement constantly fills the air each and every race. You may bet a bare minimum, but the stakes will always feel high. And there's nothing more satisfying than revealing the action cards to see how badly the horse your opponent has bet on has been rigged. Haha. Above all, the player interaction and communication really stands out in the game. Players will be cursing, egging, and simply telling you how poor your horse reading skills are. You seldom affect each other directly ( except for certain assistant cards, and the rigging of horses ), but you will always feel involved in everything that everyone is doing. This is not multiplayer solitaire, this is not you work your strategy I work mine, this is simply an out and out race to the finish where you jostle, cheat, deceive and laugh your way till someone is crowned the King ( or Queen ) of Horse Betting.

And for that, I can only give my highest praise and recommendation for Horse Fever. I always have a great time when I play this, and I think that will likely never change.

P.S. - Those horses you see in the pictures do NOT come with the game. They were custom made. Please do not email me or the publisher asking where your horses are if you ever buy the game.



  1. search for "Dragons and beasties". The artist who made the horses has a facebook page.

  2. Sigh ...... my copy is still collecting dust ...... sigh ....... seeing all these write up ...... sigh ....... I can only sigh .......

    1. You should just take it out and give it a go!