Design by: Frank DiLorenzo
Published by: R&R Games
2-6 Players, 1 hour
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
Designer Frank DiLorenzo is a fan of the sport of horse racing, so it was only a matter of time before he published a game that recreated the sport. Homestretch is that game, and while it certainly concentrates on racing, the major emphasis is on the betting aspect of the sport.
Before the first race is held, players spend money to obtain an interest in one of the eleven horses that will participate in the four upcoming races. The number of “shares” acquired varies with the number o players, but will be at least three. Horses and shares are numbered 2-12—corresponding the values generated by the roll of two dice—with the cost of each share bearing a correlation to the odds of rolling that number. For example, the cost of Emalus (2) and Pants on Fire (12) only cost $2,000 apiece, while Pressure Point (6), Time’s Up (7) and My Lucky Day (8) cost $10,000 apiece. While the odds may favor the horses with values 5-10, they are more costly. Further, those horses are often negatively handicapped during the four races.
The method of drafting the shares is identical to the method of selecting cards in 7 Wonders. Each player is dealt the same number of cards. Players select one and pass the remainder to the player on their left. Players continue selecting and passing cards in this manner until there are no further cards to pass. Players then tally the value of all of the shares they have acquired and pay that amount. There are no tokens or bills for money; rather, cash is tallied on a score track.
Players have another opportunity to acquire two more shares following the first race. The selection method, however, is different. Several shares are turned face-up and players—in order from least-to-most on the money track—may purchase a face-up share for its face value or purchase a face-down share for $3000 plus the cost of the horse revealed. A player may pass and opt to acquire only one or no additional shares.
Prior to each race, a track card is revealed. The track card reveals the winning purse for horses finishing first, second or third in the race. This amount increases significantly in the third and fourth races. The card also reveals which horses are handicapped—some negatively and some positively—in that race. The handicap can be a first roll benefit of +2, +4 or +6. Alternatively, it can also nullify the first roll for certain horses. These negative handicaps always affect the more commonly-rolled numbers. In a nice touch, the cards list the names of actual racetracks around the world.
Following the revealing of the track card, players will place their five betting tokens (face-down) onto the betting track, which lists the payout for horses that win, place or show in the upcoming race. The token values are two 1s, two 2s and a 3. The values of the tokens serve as multipliers to the base payout. For example, if a winning horse has a base payout of $5 and a player placed his value 2 on that horse, his payout is $10. Successfully betting on a horse that wins will generally pay more than betting on a horse that shows, but the payouts are always larger for the horses whose numbers are less likely to be rolled. For example, betting on Time’s Up (7) to win has a base payout of $3, while the payout for Emalus (2) is a whopping $12. The payout for Time’s Up to Show is only $1, while the “show” payout for Emalus is $8.
The order in which players place their betting tokens is designed to serve as a “catch the leader” mechanism. The player with the most money must place all five of his tokens first, and may not place more than one token per space. All other players may place multiple tokens on a space. Thus, the leading player cannot place all of his bets on the favorite.
An actual race is a simple matter of rolling dice and moving the corresponding horse. After rolling the dice, the player has two choices:
· Move the corresponding horse two spaces and pass the dice to the next player; or
· Move the corresponding horse one space and roll the dice again, moving the horse corresponding to the new roll two spaces.
This mechanism does give players a small amount of ability to play the odds, either moving a horse they favor two spaces, or rolling again, hoping to get a more desirable number. This control, however, is certainly minimal, as the luck of the dice plays a dominant role.
Several horses are handicapped as described above. This handicap affects only the first time their number is rolled, after which the token is removed.
The first three horses to complete the 10-space course are placed in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place slots, with the race concluding when the third horse crosses the finish line. A race usually takes only five minutes or so to complete. The betting adds a bit more time, so one full race can usually be completed in 5-10 minutes.
The first payouts to be awarded are the purse amounts (as listed on the track card). The amounts for each place are divided by the number of shares in that horse and distributed accordingly. For example, if the payout for first place is $18 and there are two shares in players’ stables, the payout will be $9 per share. Steering horses to victory horses in which you have shares is a key goal.
The betting payouts are straightforward if you understand the “win, place or show” system, a concept with which our group struggled. Basically, if you bet on a horse to win, it must finish in first place for you to receive a payout. A bet on a “place” slot will pay-off if that horse wins or finishes second. A “show” bet will pay-off if that horse finishes first, second or third. So, you have a better chance of receiving a payoff with a “show” bet, but the amount will generally be somewhat less than a successful “win” bet.
After all payouts are distributed, the horses are reset in the starting gates, a new track card is revealed, and betting tokens are again placed. A total of four races are conducted, and the player with the most money after all races are complete wins the game.
As mentioned earlier, while the races are important, it is the betting that is at the core of the game. Place successful bets and you will reap the financial rewards. Bet poorly and you will quickly lose money and fall behind your more astute—or lucky—opponents.
The problem is that, while there are handicaps and odds to consider, the ultimate results are primarily determined by luck. The dice rolls determine which horses will place and which will be left in the dust. Players have some influence on the progress of the horses by the movement system, but this is not enough to overcome the vagaries of the dice. It certainly appears that players’ fate has far more to do with the dice as opposed to the decisions they make.
That being said, I readily admit that I am not a betting man. As such, I am not adept at calculating odds and risks and betting accordingly. This is just one reason I avoid games of chance such as poker and blackjack. A player who is adept at such calculations may well perform well in this game.
There is no denying that the actual races can be fun. As with many dice games, there is a considerable amount of cheering as players hope for certain results. There is also some cajoling and pleading as players try to convince their fellow players to move a certain horse one or two spaces. This can be fun. Is it enough, however, to overcome the powerful luck element? That is certainly a matter of personal taste. I have fun with the game, even though I am not an astute bettor. Most folks with whom I’ve played, however, have found the luck element to be too prevalent and therefore disliked the game. So, my advice would be that if you enjoy horse racing and betting—and don’t mind a very healthy dose of luck—then Homestretch is worth a look. Otherwise, you should choose a horse of a different color.
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it):
2 (Neutral): Greg Schloesser
1 (Not for me):