- Designers: Lorenzo Silva, Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino
- Publisher: Horrible Guild
- Players: 2-6
- Age: 10+
- Time: 40-60 mins
- Review copy provided by Horrible Guild
Unicorn Fever is the rethemed successor to Horse Fever, a “racing” game from 2009 which I remember reviewing for my Cincygamers website over ten years ago, but that review seems to have been lost. In any event, the game has been spruced up and just finished a successful Kickstarter campaign. The new story:
Each player is a wealthy bettor, determined to be recognised as a the most skillful unicorn-race wagerer of the Unicorn Racing Championship and hold the title until the next rainbow appears. During 4 races, players will try to place successful bets to gain Victory Points and Gold.
To reach their goal, they will buy Contracts with unscrupulous citizens of the fairy realm to hire their services and turn the odds of the race in their favor, play Magic cards to straight up fix it, and try to avoid squandering all their hard-earned Gold and be forced to ask the Elf-Mob for Loans.
At the start of the game, you get a starting bank of money as well as an “ownership token” for one of the unicorns – this will guarantee a small payout if that particular unicorn does well in the race… You also get a hand of magic cards which can be used on the unicorns to modify their speed.
The unicorn tokens are randomly placed on the odds table, one per space – and the unicorn chosen for the bottom spot gets “Unicorn Fever” – its card is flipped over and that Unicorn gains a special ability. This situation is constantly reviewed, and whichever unicorn(s) have the worst odds get their special ability activated.
Players will perform 3 actions before each race, allowing them to fix the race with Magic, place Bets, hire shady characters to gain special abilities, or even perform combos between the above. The different actions are marked on tokens, and you take a token matching your chosen action.
When you bet on a unicorn, you can bet on a straight win – payout based on the current odds table, or you can bet on it to finish in the top three for a doubling of your bet. If you win, you will gain both Gold and Glory. Gold is useful to help you make more bets or to hire shady characters, but in the end, it is the Glory that will decide the winner of the game!
Also note that you can take a loan from the Elf Mob at any point in the game – this does not take an action, you can really do it whenever. If you take a loan, you get 20 Gold now, but you will need to give them 25 Gold at the end of the game to pay back the loan. You will need to pay them back or else your chances of winning could be severely decreased…
You can also use actions to play your magic cards (facedown) on unicorns to slow them down or speed them up! Since the action tokens available are limited, you will also have to read the intentions of your opponents and perform the actions you need before it is too late!
Then it’s time for the race – in Unicorn Fever the race is managed by an AI mechanism. First, you must reveal all the magic cards played on the unicorns. There is a nice system where all the cards have a letter in the top left corner; cards with matching letters cancel each other out, so they are easily removed. Then apply the effects of any remaining cards. Then when the actual race starts, Players don’t perform any actions: the unicorns will freely run and sprint on the board. All you can do is watch the race unfold, shouting and cheering for your favorite unicorn!
The main way the unicorns move is through a deck of cards – one is flipped over and placed next to the odds table – unicorns move a certain number of spaces depending on where they sit on the odds table. Then, the two sprint dice are rolled and the unicorns that match the color of the dice roll each move an additional space. Now, check to see if anyone has crossed the finish line – if so the race is over! If multiple unicorns have finished, the one which has moved the furthest past is the winner. If no one has finished, then repeat the process of drawing a card, rolling the dice and moving the unicorns.
Resolve the bets based on the finishing order. Collect gold and Glory (VPs) accordingly, but then you must pay a Glory tax where you pay 1 gold back to the bank for each glory you currently own (not just what you got this round – but what you have for the whole game!. Odds are then adjusted based on the Unicorn’s actual finish position as compared to their current place on the odds chart. Now, see which Unicorn(s) is in last place and give it the “Unicorn Fever”…
Players obtain Victory Points and money with each of their successful Bets over the course of 4 races. Bets can be placed on Victory (5VPs), or Podium (3 or 2 VPs). On average, unicorns with better odds run faster than those with the worse odds, but successful bets on slower unicorns pay better! Players must take risks and play wisely to turn the odds to their favor!
This continues for 4 races, and at the end of the fourth race – players should pay back as many loans as they can, and then they get 1 more glory for each 20 Gold they have left over.
Though you’ve been playing for Glory, the winner of this game is the player with the fewest Elf Mob Loans outstanding… Because I guess the Mob doesn’t want anyone winning who owes them money?! If there is a tie for fewest loans (and it’s usually a tie at zero loans), then the player with the most Glory amongst the tied players wins.
My thoughts on the game
Well, Unicorn Fever is an interesting race game – mostly because it looks like a race game, but it really isn’t. It’s a betting and manipulation game. The game is all about trying to get the race results to match your predictions (bets). Sometimes you’re just going to be lucky, but othertimes, you’ll use your skill to manipulate the horses to match your needs. In the end though, luck is probably the bigger factor – because you rely upon the flip of a card and the roll of a dice for movement. You can plan all you want, but you can’t control the cards/dice!
There is a huge risk/reward element to the game. I suppose you could play it safe, make only small bets, and never worry about going broke (though you might also not really worry about contending for the win). Or, you could make larger bets, going for the big payout. You could also throw you money behind a unicorn lower on the odds chart – because the payout will be much higher if they win!
The way the game is set up, especially with the Glory Tax, the game crescendos nicely. Generally, you’d like your largest wins to be in the 3rd or 4th races – because if you start off with a huge payout, you’ll be paying taxes on those winnings every round thereafter. So you have to carefully plan on how you want to approach the races, possibly even sandbagging the first one or two races to get you in the right position for the end.
Remember that at the end of the game, it’s the player with the fewest outstanding loans that wins…. You could go all game and not take any – and that would put you in a good place, but you can definitely pick up a lot more glory with bigger bets…. Further, if you’re trailing at the end, you can always take a lot of loans and make a huge bet and hope that it pays out in the end. In this way, everyone remains in the game until the final race is over!
The art is whimsical, and definitely good for kids and families. The sculpted unicorns are also pretty sweet, and they help add to the theme of the game. The deluxe version has wooden bits, painted unicorns and lots of other cool things, but I have just the regular set, and the pieces are still pretty sweet.
Unicorn Fever is a fun take on the racing genre, with a whimsical theme and art to possibly attract a different type of gamer. Lots of interesting twists and turns come up in the game, and if you’re looking for that sort of romp, this is the game for you.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor