Sunday, August 17, 2008

Early Prototype Pics

OK -- a few notes about the pics. The original board was built in 1983 by my father and it looks really nice. The board in the pics was made by me and my best friend in 1986 -- I was 14. So, I know it looks rather shoddy but keep in mind that the board has been through several moves, long stints in the garage, etc. I'm actually surprised it's still in working condition.

For the actual prototype I'm going to make a smaller board -- and ditch the felt. The board here is WAY too big. This can be blamed on my buddy Dave, who drew the lines way back when. The goal was to make a mile-long track. His calculation was a bit "off." The picture with the horses set up in the top right corner? Follow the track around to the last pole -- that's a one mile race.

Also, you'll note that on the turns, it's the exact same number of spaces on the inside as it is on the outside, which goes against:

A) Logic
B) Every other racing game design I have seen

There is a reason for that, though. I'm not a fan of forcing players to take the outside lane arbitrarily like in WP&S and I also don't like that the outside is ALWAYS a bad place to be. If you know racing you know that is not always the case. Sometimes you want to be a few lanes wide.

So with the game cards it is a bit of a risk to stay on the outside (some of the events will nail you for it) but it is NOT something that will automatically cost you several lengths.

This pic is of the horses we created. The models are taken from Win Place and Show and we hand painted the silks. We also painted the horses that were red, blue, and green and made them colors that represent actual horses. No green horses in my game.

Also, each horse has its own specific silks so it will always be the same horse every time it hits the track. I need to find more of these horses if I can or a suitable replacement.

A close up of the horses just to show off some of the silk designs. Mostly basic stuff like hoops, dots, etc.

The outer track is for dirt races, the inner for turf. Six horses are ready to race in the upper right corner. The white pole is the starting pole. The green poles are the markers for when you use the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base moves for the horses. The red pole is the finish.

Next up I'll provide some sample horses as well as a session report of a sample race going 1 mile on the dirt with Class Grade I horses.

The Anatomy of the Cards

So I have discussed the horses in detail (although there's additional stuff for each horse including special traits, etc.) but it's time to bring all of these various parts together and discuss the game cards -- these drive the they're fairly important.

While dice are used for ratings checks, a card is played every turn by each player, after which a new card is drawn and added to the player's hand to bring the total back to full. (Depending on the horse)

At the start of each race players receive a number of cards based on the horse(s) they are controlling.

Each card has five parts: An All Move number, a Base Move number, a text event, a gate number, and a stretch kick number.

It looks like this:

All Move # Base Move #

Event Text

Gate # Stretch Kick #

All Move # - The number of moves every horse moves each turn. If a horse fails his rating check, it moves one less. This part of the card is ONLY used by the player who starts the turn and it affects all horses for the duration of that turn.

Base Move # - The number of moves a player may use as a Move Action for that turn. Ranges from 0 to 4. These moves are deducted from a horse’s base move for that section of a race. May not be used in conjunction with event or stretch kicks.

Event: A wide assortment of things that happen during a typical (and non-typical) horse race.

Gate #: This is the Post Position Number of the horse(s) that may use their Break move on the first turn of the game. The gate bonus MAY be used in conjunction with a horse's base move action.

Stretch Kick #: This is the Post Position Number of the horse(s) that may use stretch kick moves – may only be used in the designated stretch area on the track and events may not be used in conjunction (unless horse is a Dominant Closer, which is one of the many horse special traits in the game)

Base Moves

OK I so have gone over a few of the characteristics for the horses but the real meat of the horse is in its base moves. Rating is important, as are triggers and break and stretch kick numbers but if a horse has few moves it's going to be slow.

Base Moves:

In many ways, this is the nuts and bolts of the horse. Simply put: how fast he is. Each horse receives a set of moves, and they vary depending on the distance of the race. Some horses are pure sprinters who have no chance when running longer races and this is reflected in the moves.

An example might look like this:

Sprint Moves: 8-4-1

This is the move breakdown for a sample horse when it runs sprint races. (Sprint races are anything from 5 furlongs up to 7 furlongs or in game terms 50 spaces to 70 spaces. In real life 8 furlongs equals one mile. Each furlong in the game is 10 spaces so races like the Kentucky Derby, which is 10 furlongs, is 100 spaces total.)

As you can see the example horse has a grand total of 13 moves (8+4+1) when sprinting (which is actually quite good) -- and if a sprint is between 50 and 70 spaces that leaves several other factors that come into play when determining the winner. Other factors including some racing luck, card play, tactics, etc. will play a role in addition to a horse’s base speed. However, a horse with few moves has little chance of beating a horse with a lot of moves, particularly if that horse also has a high rating.

In the example above, the horse receives 8 moves for the first third of the race, 4 in the middle and 1 in the final third (the stretch). This horse is a moderate front runner who can also do ok sitting just off the lead but it lacks a late punch, reflected by the 1 final move number.

You may see a horse with a move set that looks like this: 0-2-10 – this would be a come from behind horse that starts off slow and comes with a late surge.

In order to USE these moves, cards must be played as Move Actions. These actions will give a horse from 1 to 4 of its base moves on one turn. Once the first part of a race is over (each “section” is marked on the track) then you can never get those moves back so if the horse in the above example doesn’t use his 8 moves in the first third of the race – he can never get them back.

This gets tricky because each card has a Base Move number but they also have Events on them that can help your horse or hurt other horses -- and you cannot use a card for both its event and as a Move Action.

Making sure to get all of your moves spent is one of the key factors in the game. Some horses are more difficult to play than others. Horses with a lot of moves are exceptionally talented but require smart play to use well, whereas a horse with few moves, while not very fast, is easier to play because you rarely have to worry about not spending all of your moves.

Going back to the horse in the above example: the most important part of this horse’s race will be the first portion because that’s where he has the most of his moves (in this case, 8). Making sure that all 8 moves are used will be a priority for that player controlling this horse. There are even event cards that reward players for using all of his moves and some that punish players who do not.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

From One Design to Another

One of the key challenges when redesigning the game was that I wanted to make it a playable game that kept everyone involved with as little downtime as possible while keeping as many of the simulation aspects of the original as possible.

One of the things that irked my father about other racing games is that horses made these ridiculous moves going from last to first in a matter of one turn. This isn't Formula De. The moves that horses make are more subtle and while driving finishes where a horse comes from out of the clouds to win is certainly possible, a horse shouldn't make up ten lengths in one fell swoop. It just looks goofy.

I went through several ideas that were inspired by games I was playing at the time. I think that's a common thing that novice designers go through. It's only natural. If you're playing Ticket to Ride -- hey colored cards -- cool idea! Or if you're playing Memoir '44 or C&C:A: -- hey commander cards -- I gotta use that! Thing is, you can't force a mechanic onto a game. Sometimes it just doesn't fit.

So I ended up using more of dad's original design than I thought I would -- only re-working how the cards are used. One mechanic that did end up working quite well is the card mechanic from games like Twilight Struggle and Hannibal. That is, using cards in various ways -- presenting the player with a choice of how to use each card. I like decisions in games, being forced to pick the lesser of two evils at times or considering when to use seemingly good cards.

Anyway I am getting ahead of myself. Let's talk about the horses -- and what makes them tick.

Much of this is taken directly from the original design only with some tweaks.

In Wire to Wire horses are rated in various categories -- and there are dozens of horses in the game (as individual large cards) from Grade I class stakes winners to lowly claimers. (Claimers being the lowest rung on the racing ladder)

Name: Self-Explanatory, I'd hope
Sex: Ditto...
Dirt Rating (from 20 to 100)
Turf Rating: (from 20 to 100)
Mud Rating: (from 20 to 100)
Break Bonus: 0 to 3
Stretch Kick 0 to 3
Base Moves: (for various distances)

Here's what all that stuff actually means:


The maximum number of cards the player who controls this horse may have in his hand at one time. Better horses are allowed more cards, but this can vary. Some really fast horses aren't very tactical, and thus get fewer cards.


A trigger may be used to activate an event on a card or to block a negative event that is played on the player who controls this horse. Some horses have no triggers (this is bad) and some have many, which makes it tough for players to gang up on them. Yes, if you're wondering, this idea was taken pretty much right out of 1960: The Making of the President. If you're going to leech ideas, leech good ones.


This is considered a reflection of a horse’s breeding, not necessarily his speed or talent, but just his “class.” The ratings, generally, run from 20 to 100. It is possible (and even common) for a horse to have a lot of Base Moves but a very low rating. These types of horses are highly unpredictable—winning one race by 10 lengths and then getting hammered in its next start. Conversely, a horse can have a high rating but few moves. (Not all well bred horses are actually any good).

In game terms, ratings work as follows. The player who goes first (determined by whose horse has the lead at the start of the turn) rolls two D10. The two D10 roll is calculated as a percentile roll. One die is white and the other is of another color for ease of use. This is the Rating Roll and every horse, not just the player’s horse, will move on that turn using this one roll.

If the percentile roll is HIGHER than a horse’s Rating, the horse moves ONE (and only one) less than the “All Move” number of the card that was played for that turn. (explained below). If the percentile roll is equal to or lower than a horse's Rating, then the horse moves the full move. Thus, over time, a horse with a low Rating will lose several lengths per race unless the dice are hot. Using horses with a low rating is risky, but the design will force players to use poor horses at times, depending on the class level of the race.


Horse A has a rating of 64
Horse B: 45
Horse C: 20

The card played by the first player for the turn has an “All Move” number of 4.

Player 1 rolls the dice and the percentile roll is a 54. Horse A moves all 4 spaces; horse B and horse C both move 3. There are other ways that horses move on a turn in addition to this method – using base moves, event cards, etc.

But every horse will move each turn according to the All Move number as well as the rating roll. The All Move number is only determined on the first player's action. So the player whose horse has the lead has the advantage of being the only player who plays an All Move card and he's the only player who makes a Rating Roll each turn. I'll write out a detailed turn example later. Writing rules is a bitch let me tell you.


This is reflected as a single number (from 0 to 3) and is only used on the first turn of the game as the horses are leaving the gate. Each player will play one card per turn and some cards have break numbers listed on them. The numbers correspond to the post position number for the race so if you're horse is the #2 horse and the #2 is listed on your card under "break" then you can use your horse's break move in addition to the All Move number and its base moves if the player wishes (which I'll get to in a bit).

Basically, this is a way for a horse to get a great jump out of the gate – but every horse is different in how well they can break. Again a horse’s Break Number may only be used on the first turn of a race. After that, the break section on each card is ignored.

Stretch Kick:

This can vary, depending on the horse. It could be one number, a series of numbers…or no number at all. This reflects a horse’s ability to find a 2nd or even 3rd gear when the chips are down. Some horses, even front runners, have the ability to find that something extra when a jockey needs it the most.

The numbers range from 0 to 3 so you might see a horse with a stretch kick of: 1-2-3; this simply means that the first time the kick is used (via a section on a card, determined by post position number, just like the Break number)) the horse gets a bonus of one move. If the horse uses a kick the second time, he gets a 2 move bonus and if a 3rd kick is used, a 3 move bonus occurs. After that, no more kicks may be used – you only get as many kicks as you have numbers and they must be used in order. And of course, the Stretch Kick may only be used when your horse is in the stretch (which is marked on the board).

OK this is getting longer than I wanted -- I'll get to the Base Moves and the Anatomy of the Cards in the next post.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Where To Start?

How about the beginning?

I grew up playing games. From the original Atari to the C-64 and everything in between. We had an Amiga, PC, Intellivision, and on and on.

I also played board games with my father. We had a lot of the old Avalon Hill stuff from wargames such as D-Day to fantasy offerings like Wizard's Quest.

What really held our attention was the line of Statis Pro Sports games: Baseball, Basketball, and Football as well as stuff like PayDirt! and Bowl Bound. We spent hours and hours with these games when I was 9, 10, 11, 12 years old.

In addition to being a gamer since birth I have also been a serious fan of Thoroughbred horse racing. My dad got me hooked on the sport when I was a kid. I was 5 years old and witnessed Seattle Slew win the Triple Crown live in New York. Being from Ohio...that's not a quick car ride.

I was always a fan of the sport of racing more than I was a fan of the gambling aspect. I'd watch the Breeders' Cup just to see who won and I didn't need to have a nickel wagered on the outcome. I enjoyed the stories, the rivalries, the drama -- the speed. And my dad is literally an expert on the sport. He's a walking Encyclopedia and today is part owner of several horses via West Point Thoroughbreds. He's really a racing Rainman.

Getting back to games -- when I was a kid dad made sure that we tried every horse racing game around and the one that was the most popular was Win, Place, and Show from Avalon Hill.

Unlike the other sports games we loved, WP&S didn't scratch the racing itch. It wasn't realistic in the slightest and was basically a dice throwing game with only a modicum of strategy. Dad was really intrigued by the Statis Pro system of Fast Action cards. The cards in the Statis games drove the games; there was no dice. These were more simulations than "games."

So in 1983, dad decided to create his own game. He made a huge board (we're talking Railroad Tycoon big) painted jockey silks on the Win Place and Show horses and even ordered extra sets of horses so we could have a nice variety.

It took him about a year of steady work to get it where he liked it. It was a sim, it used cards like Statis Pro, and he worked all of the details out for the horses from scratch. We created seasons, had rules for horse aging, kept track of winnings, stable earning, etc. I still have those old binders with reams of data in them in my basement. The game was brilliant. It even got my best friend hooked on the sport. We ran no less than 5 full seasons of two year old, three year old and older horse races, including turf -- we're talking hundreds and hundreds of races.

I played "the game" (it never had a name, it was just our racing game) until I left for college in the fall of 1990. I didn't touch it again for over a decade. You grow up, get married, get a job (ironically my job is editor of a videogame website...) and you just get into other things.

About five years ago I started to get heavily back into board games. It was like I rediscovered a part of my youth. I could not believe what I had missed since the late 80s. Since then my gaming collection has exploded. (Thankfully, my wife plays games with me...whew)

When we built our new house in the country a few years ago, I stumbled across the old board that dad made back in 1983. I still had the cards. The horses. The data. I was stunned that I still had it -- and that dad let me leave the house with it way back then...

In my basement I have three large tables that I use when I get new games -- I set 'em up and learn them solo. I quickly laid the huge board on a table and shuffled through the cards and set up a race with some of the best horses from the old game. It was still a blast. Problem was, it still wasn't a "game."

Dad's design is a wonderful simulation, but you, as a gamer, aren't really doing anything other than picking the right spot for your horse on the calender. The cards drive the entire game. You're literally a spectator. As a sim, it was dead on, and you could turn it into a great sim or gambling game -- but that wasn't what I wanted to do.

It was then that I started thinking of ways to modernize the design, to make it more interactive and to turn this fantastic horse racing simulation into a fantastic horse racing game.

That's what this blog is all about. My journey from a 12 year old kid playing a homemade game with his father into a real life board game built from the ground up by a 36 year old kid.

I've actually been working on the redesign for several months, and we've ran some test races.

In the next entry I'll go over some of the nuts and bolts behind the game itself.