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When I first discovered Cheapass Games, I thought they were great. I loved the funny text and the clever instructions -- I frequently laugh out loud while reading them for the first time. The premise of the company is a good one, too. Why pay so much for slick game components when the gameplay is what counts?
My first Cheapass Game was Kill Doctor Lucky. Ben Hurt was my second. Alas, the more I've played them, the less I enjoy them. I've come to learn that the components do make a difference, and the ability to hold the various pieces in my hand, survey a well-designed full-color map board, or roll specially-made dice add a lot to my gaming experience. It's my opinion that with plastic chariots, a color board, and higher quality cards, this game would be a lot more fun. But hey, you get what you pay for, and I'll try to stop editorializing on the company and just describe the game.
In the little white envelope, you get a deck of smallish cards and six mapboard pieces that fit together to make a chariot track. There is also a one-sheet set of rules. It's up to the gamer to provide 100 Ducats (we use pennies) for each player, a six-sided die for each player that functions as a chariot piece, and a lap marker for each player.
A game consists of several chariot races with an auction phase between each. The standard game has three races -- the first is one lap, the second two, and the last is four laps long.
Before each race, an auction occurs. Each player gets a few cards to add to their hand, and then a stack of cards to auction off. In turn, each player turns over one of their auction cards. Each card has a "Quick Sale" price which the player can immediately put into the pot (which will be the prize for the race) and add the card to their hand. Or, the player may start an auction for the card.
Auctions in Ben Hurt are pay-to-stay affairs. Starting with the person on the auctioneer's left, each player decides if they'd like to stay in the auction. If so, they contribute 1 Ducat to the pot. During the second round, everyone must contribute two... then three... then so on. The auctions can be a bit vicious since even if you don't win the card, you've still put a sum of money into the pot. It's easy to spend ten or twelve Ducats and get nothing in return.
The cards might be improvements to a chariot like Wheel Knives or Caesar's Blessing; they might be die roll modifiers that can be played during the race; they might be events which alter the course of the race; or they might be drivers who can improve the chariot in some way. Some are valuable, some are less so, and this is reflected in the Quick Sale price of each card.
Once the auction is over, the race starts. The rules for racing are pretty simple. The board is a standard oval with four "lanes" in which to travel. Players use six-sided dice to represent their chariots. On turn one, chariots have a starting "speed" of 1 or 2, marked by turning the die to show the appropriate number. On a player's turn, a separate six-sider is rolled and added to the chariot's speed. The chariot moves that number of spaces, and then the number just rolled becomes the chariot's new speed.
Through the course of the race, cards can be played to help yourself or hurt other players. You can add numbers to your die rolls, change the results of a die to a higher or lower number, or use cards to affect the race. Many of these event cards are funny and really make the game. You can use a Plow Handle to stop a chariot that's passing you and knock out the driver, or a Well-aimed Cat to cause the target to swerve randomly as it goes past.
When the race ends, the pot is divided. The winner gets half, second place gets 1/3, and third gets 1/6. At the end of the last race, the person with the most money wins.
Well, I don't really like this game very much. I've already outlined my feelings on the lack of components, which is strictly aesthetic and my own hangup. But this particular game just isn't very fun.
For one thing, there is way too much luck for my taste. Cards aside, the race depends entirely on the roll of the dice. Especially the first turn can really screw you over -- if you only roll a one or two and get to move a mere two or three spaces, and then on turn two your speed is only one or two, it's very difficult to catch up. Like most race games, the turns occur from front to back (not in any particular set order) so going last is a real disadvantage as you try to get around curves.
Second, the cards aren't as neat as they appear to be. Everyone winds up with a lot of cards from race to race, and the fact that many of them are dealt to the players rather than bid upon adds even more luck to the game. Sure, you can play a "Move 1" card on a target, trying to slow them down so you can get past, but there's a good chance the other player can just play a "Move 5" on themselves and suffer no ill effect. I could have done with many more funny event cards and fewer "Add-1" or "Move-X" cards.
Third, after someone has won the first race, it's tough to catch up. The winner usually then has significantly more money than the other players, and because of the pay-to-stay bidding style, can easily beat anyone for all of the good cards. With the best cards and the most money, it's hard to catch the leader.
If I want to play an auction game, I think Modern Art or Pizarro and Co. are much better games. If I want a racing game, Formula De wins hands-down. There's probably a good mix of the two styles of games somewhere, but this isn't it.
But hey, I got it for $5, so it's not like I expect a masterpiece or anything. Ultimately, that's really the best thing about Cheapass Games. You can get a new game and try some new rules for less than what you'd spend on lunch. So I'd have to say that if Ben Hurt sounds even vaguely fun to you and your group, you may as well go ahead and pick it up.