In normal chariot racing games, it's all about who crosses the finishing line first. But in Ben Hurt, it's all about who own the most money after all the racing is done. Of course, it helps if you win the races as well ('cos the winner gets half the pot), but it is strictly speaking unnecessary.
Each player is a gambler with one hundred ducats burning a hole in their pockets (provided by you in the form of matchsticks, jellybabies, poker chips, whatever). Each also gets a chariot to race (you have to provide the chariots yourself – each player needs a six-sided dice to represent their chariot and a similar-coloured marker to show which lap they're on). Before each race (a game consists of a series of races between one and six laps each), the players must ante up (put two ducats per lap into the pot), and get some cards. Also, there are a larger number of cards placed in the 'auction pile'. Players may buy or bid for these cards (making the pot even larger). The longer the race, the more cards are up for auction; so the larger the pot gets.
The cards themselves consist of various good things for you (chariot upgrades, better drivers, high movement cards) and nasty things for everyone else (low movement cards and events). Each card clearly states when it can be used and exactly what it does (with one exception, but an e-mail to Mr. Ernest cleared that up for us straight away – see below). Some of our favourite and most useful cards are the Hook (each time another chariot passes your chariot, your speed is increased by one), the Plow Handle (play when you are passing another chariot, any Driver on that chariot is retired, and its speed becomes one) and our all-time favourite, the Well-Aimed Cat (play when another chariot passes you, it must stop, and you can move it three spaces in any direction – then they get this card!). These cards are what make the game so much fun.
Movement is fairly unique. Each turn, your chariot (a six-sided dice) has a number showing on top. This is it's speed. You roll an extra dice (don't accidentally roll one of your opponents by mistake), and add your speed. Move that many spaces, and t your speed becomes whatever you rolled for movement. What this means is that if you roll a one, not only will you have a crap move this turn, but your bad dice roll will come back to haunt you for your next turn as well.
You can play cards to alter the roll (changing it completely or amending it by adding one, etc). But so can everyone else. The last card played takes precedence, so save your really good 'Move 8' card until you're fairly sure no one can top it.
The only possibly unclear point about the whole game (and the one that causes the most arguments whenever we play) is passing. The rules do give a definition of what exactly passing is, but for some reason we still end up arguing over it. I e-mailed Mr Ernest to clear it up for us, and his reply was this :-
"You are 'passing' another chariot if
1: you are moving (including starting or finishing your move)
2: the space you are on is next to the other chariot, not in front or behind
3: your space's leading edge is forward of, or at least even with, the other chariot's space.
'Being passed' means you're the inactive player, and someone else is passing you."
Which kind of puts an end to all the arguments.
This is a great game that everyone enjoys whenever we play (even the guy who loses all of his cash and can't even ante-up for the last race – it happened!). And for the money, it's an absolute bargain (in the game, you get the oval racing track, 80 cards, and a four-page rulebook). Basically, if you want a board game in which the object is to screw over your friends and take their money (Monopoly money, of course!), then you should get Ben Hurt.
PS The ambiguous card I mentioned is 'Caesar's Ghost', and says something like "Move 4 spaces. Your speed becomes 4." When I asked James Ernest, he said that this is played at the beginning of a player's turn, and after playing it, that player gets his normal turn as well.