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.

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