Hase und Igel
- Designer: David Parlett
- Publisher: Multiple
- Players: 2 – 6
- Ages: 8 and Up
- Time: 45 Minutes
- Times Played: > 5, on the 2007 Ravensburger edition.
This is the first entry in a 36-part series reviewing each of the Spiel des Jahres winners. The Spiel des Jahres (SdJ) – German for “Game of the Year” – is awarded annually by a jury of professional game reviewers from German-speaking countries. The SdJ is arguably the most influential award in gaming, with winners often receiving at least a tenfold increase in sales. I have played all 36 winners, and the experience has been a trip through board game history. This series will “revisit” each one, discussing both what it contributed to the hobby and reviewing it against today’s games.
Hase und Igel: The Inaugural Winner
When it was first published in 1974, David Parlett’s Hare & Tortoise was the latest entry in a time-worn and crowded genre: race games. Nonetheless, the game’s central mechanic – “carrot economics,” as the designer has playfully dubbed it – turned out to be both popular and revolutionary. Nearly all race games before Hare & Tortoise used dice or other randomizers to control movement, making them essentially games of chance. In Hare & Tortoise, by comparison, the game is won or lost by resource management. Non-dice race games would eventually be commonplace, but in 1974, they were a rarity.
Hare & Tortoise was released by Ravensburger in Germany in 1978, albeit under a different name. In “Hase und Igel” (translated as Hare and Hedgehog), the tortoise of Aesop’s fables is replaced with the Brothers Grimm equivalent, the hedgehog. Ravensburger initially had difficulty marketing the game – it looked like a children’s game, but most certainly was not – and instructions went out to stop selling it. That might have been the end of Hase und Igel, but it was saved by a newly-created game award, the Spiel des Jahres.
In 1978, a group of prominent board game reviewers founded the SdJ to promote board gaming and distinguish exceptional games. Hase und Igel was their inaugural choice, beating out 9 other games (including Acquire, which is still popular today). The game was selected as a winner in 1978, but the announcement was made official in 1979.
Given their difficulty in marketing the game, Ravensburger was initially reluctant to even accept the award, but amid growing sales and publicity, they opted to do so. The award was presented by a member of the German parliament, who agreed to do the presentation if it was held within her district, which included Essen.
The rest is history. The SdJ would become the industry’s most influential award. Essen – which to that point had little connection to the gaming hobby – would become the location of the industry’s biggest game fair. Hare & Tortoise would go on to sell more than two million copies and be published in nearly a dozen languages. It is still in print today.
Players start the game with 65 carrots and must travel 65 spaces. The first player to cross the finish line wins. Players can move one space forward for one carrot, or they can move more than one space, but at higher cost. The amount of carrots paid is determined by an arithmetic series, with more spaces costing exponentially more carrots: 2 spaces costs 3 carrots, 3 spaces costs 6 carrots, 4 spaces costs 10 carrots, etc. In moving forward, players may not land on either the same space as another player or on a hedgehog space (in English editions, the tortoise space).
There are numerous ways to earn additional carrots. Players can move backwards to a hedgehog space and earn 10 carrots for every space they move back. Players can move forward to a numbered square, and if at the start of their next turn the number matches their position in the race, they are awarded ten carrots times their position (third place, for example, would earn 30 carrots). Players can also land on a lettuce space and, instead of moving on their next turn, discard one of the three lettuce cards they were given at the start of the game and then take ten times their position in the race in carrots.
A player may not cross the finish line with any lettuce cards remaining in their hand. Additionally, the first player to cross the finish line must have less than ten carrots remaining.
The only randomness in the game comes from the drawing of hare cards, which happens when a player lands on a hare space. The cards trigger many different events, some good, some bad. Some cards award additional carrots, others force you to give carrots away. One card forces you to show your carrot supply to other players, and another makes your movement to the hare space free. In one popular variant, players who prefer to play the game without this randomness can simply agree in advance not to land on the hare spaces.
Does it stand the test of time? My thoughts on the game.
I’ve found Hase und Igel to be strategic enough for gamers, yet streamlined and approachable enough for less experienced players. In that regard, it is prototypical of the Spiel des Jahres winners. Would it win the SdJ if it were published for the first time today? No, almost certainly not. Nonetheless, the game is fun, and in my opinion, compares favorably to many of today’s lighter Euros.
The game is easy-to-learn, with a typical rules explanation taking only two or three minutes. Despite this, there is significant depth, with numerous viable approaches to victory. There is some randomness, but for the most part, Hare & Tortoise eschews luck in favor of strategy. This element is what made the game revolutionary, and though strategic race games have become ubiquitous over the past forty years, few are as well designed as Hare & Tortoise.
The game can be tense: it is difficult to determine just who is winning. Just become somebody is the farthest along the track doesn’t mean they have enough carrots to cross the finish line. Conversely, somebody at the back of the pack with a handful of carrots might have permitted themselves to fall dangerously far behind. That said, there is little concern about a runaway leader: the game has a fairly strong catch-up mechanism, with the lettuce and numbered squares doing far more for those at the back of the pack than for those at the front.
The game can be a bit “math-y” – it is, at its core, an efficiency and hand management problem. If you dislike doing basic arithmetic in the midst of a game, this probably isn’t the game for you. I’ve never found it overly burdensome (and in fact I enjoy it), but I could see where it could be a turn off for some players.
As with many Eurogames, particularly the early ones, the theme is pasted on. I suspect the designer would admit this: he developed the main mechanic for a different game (one based on a race to the moon) and then later adapted it for Tortoise & Hare. Depending on who you ask, the lesson of Aesop’s tortoise and the hare story is either “haste makes waste” or “slow and steady wins the race.” That notion is present in Hare & Tortoise’s primary mechanic and artwork, but otherwise, the theming is minimal. The theme is even less compelling in Hase und Igel. In Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the hedgehog wins through cleverness, not tenacity.
Depending on which version of the game you play, the production value can be quite high. I’ve only played the Ravensburger 2007 edition, but judging from the photos of the other editions on BGG, that is the most beautiful edition, and it is the one I chose to buy. The board is beautiful, in the colorful Ruritanian, or fairy-tale romantic, style. It is still in print in Germany if you’re willing to import it.
In conclusion, Hare & Tortoise is a classic, and it has a special place in my collection, for the history almost as much as for the gameplay. The game isn’t one of my favorites, but I like it, and it has been a hit when I’ve pulled it out.
(My thanks to David Parlett for answering my many questions on the game’s history. His website, www.davidparlett.co.uk, has far more information on Hare & Tortoise than I could include in this blog post. His book, The Oxford History of Board Games, is a great resource on the history of the gaming hobby.)
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Brian L. I think Chris nails it when saying this game can be a bit “mathy”. Still, it remains reasonably popular and for that I think deserves recognition for perhaps being ahead of it’s time. Not a game I’ll go out of the way to play, but I won’t run the other way if it is suggested, either.
Matt C. I like the simplicity of design so that it is easy to explain to new gamers. As a math-y person I even enjoy the slight math inclinations of the game. Perhaps unfortunately for the game, it isn’t in my go-to list of games to pull out and show new gamers. Once I’ve been through all the “new gamer” games I tend to pull out, the new person has now become a more experienced gamer and has often moved on past the lure of Hare & Tortoise. However, I did go out of my way to obtain it and it remains in my collection holding a somewhat unique spot for lighterweight “racing” type games.
Mark Jackson: I must credit Derk Solko with the best one-line review of this game: “It’s a children’s game… for Vulcan children!” (I used to like it more… but I can’t say I’d seek it out again.)
Patrick Brennan: It doesn’t come out as often as it should because of its mathy nature, and because I expect the game to go longer than it does. And then I remember how much I enjoy the positional jockeying (the crux of the game) and the fact it’s all over in 30 minutes, almost filler territory. In essence, it’s a game of continual guessing on whether the other players will allow you to gain advantage. Will they collectively move so that you’ll be in third when it comes back around to your turn while you’re on a 3 spot (because it’s to their personal advantage to do so), or will they make potentially lesser moves to deny you taking advantage? Self-interest vs collective good – it makes for interesting decisions in a game of this weight and length.
Larry: This game has been a personal favorite of mine ever since I first played it 15 years ago. Even though it’s been around for over 40 years, it still holds up. In fact, we just played it at the last Gathering and it played wonderfully as always.
I’m not sure I agree with Chris’ contention that H&T “almost certainly” wouldn’t win the SdJ if it got its initial release today. I’m not sure I can think of other race games like it, so it’s still innovative. It plays fast and works well with families. It’s true that it’s a “bit mathy”, but Germans don’t tend to be as frightened by a little arithmetic as Americans often are. And the theme still resonates, with carrots and cabbages for the hare and a player falling backwards (but to the player’s ultimate benefit) to tortoise spaces. I’m not saying it would have been a shoo-in, but if it had been eligible last year, say, I don’t think a victory over Camel Up, Splendor, and Concept (the three SdJ finalists) would have been considered outrageous.
At any rate, I still love the game and consider it to be one of the best 6-player games ever. I’d rank it as my second favorite SdJ winner of all time, beaten out only by Tikal.
Dale Yu: (~15 plays) – I used to love this game. It was one of the first German games in my collection – you know, back when you only got 4-5 new games EACH YEAR. For a racing game, I like the ebb and flow of the movement and all of the strategy considered when trying to jockey to be in the right position at the right time. I’ve played it a few times with the kids in the past year, and the mathiness of it proved to be a bit much for them. The game is a deserved winner of the SdJ, and it still plays well now – though I agree with Chris that it represents gaming of a different era. I personally have no issues with all of the math calculations and would be happy to play this when suggested, but I don’t know if it’s something that realistically hits the table much anymore. And for the record, I prefer the deck of cards to the dice.
Joe Huber (25 plays): Larry, the issue I see isn’t that Hase und Igel wouldn’t be considered for an award – but given the split of the Kennerspiel des Jahres, I think it might be _that_ award it would be considered for.
The biggest debate I see about Hare & Tortoise is the best number of players. I’ve always found 4 to be optimal – enough competition for spaces to matter, but not too much downtime. But I’ve run into many folks who insist that the game is best with six.
Another frequent debate is whether the game is better with a deck of cards for the hare spaces or a die for “jugging the hare”, with the result depending upon position in the race. After playing many times both ways – I don’t find I really care enough one way or the other. If position in the race were always reflective of real standings, I’d probably care more.
On the whole, I find the game to be very enjoyable, and well worth pulling out on a regular basis. It’s not a top-50 game for me, but it’s still one I enjoy enough to gladly call a favorite.
Jonathan Franklin (~10 plays) – Yes, it is a classic. Yes, it has a really good weight to rules complexity ratio. I just played it with 2p and the Parlett rule that you nap on the hare. It worked surprisingly well to be able to choose between the two pieces you play each turn while the winner is decided by the player who gets their second rabbit in before the other player.
Having just played Gravwell, I really enjoyed H&T as a ‘better Gravwell for me’ It has the same forward forward backwards feel along with the slingshot potential, but you get to choose your direction, so more control. If there is a knock, it is that the last turn or two is mathy, but really, a game that plays 2-6 in under an hour with short rules and good depth – a winner!
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Larry, Joe
- I like it. Chris W., Lorna, Matt C., Patrick Brennan, Dale Y., Jonathan F.
- Neutral. Brian, Mark J., Nathan
- Not for me…