Introduction



So you're wondering about the horse racing game with miniatures. Change Horses. The name sounds a bit unusual, doesn't it? But could this be the racing game for you? The miniatures look cool. But what else do you get with this game? And how does the game work anyway? Well, read on to find out, because in this pictorial overview, you'll find answers to those questions and more.

The Box

Ah, yes, the box.



It's big. Almost Zooloretto box big! In fact, it's the same dimensions as a Zooloretto box, just not quite as deep. So slightly shallower than your average Agricola box, but wider and not quite as high.

Ooh, you're impressed. So am I! We flip it over and check out the bottom of the box.



"Are you frustrated by losing too many games? Here's one where whoever comes in last wins!" That sounds cool! Talk about a race game with a difference! We want to know more!

We read on: "In the game of "Change Horses", you are the secret owner of one of the horses and are trying to help your opponents cross the finish line before you do. It's a tactical race, where every card you play can change the outcome. And if things are looking grim for you, you can always change horses!"

Now our curiosity is really aroused. Not to mention that there are pictures of cool looking miniatures and cards. We can't wait any longer, let's get that box open!

The Rulebook

First we find... a rule book!



It's your average Rio Grande rule book. Well, what else were you expecting inside a Rio Grande Games box? It's 12 pages long, with clear headings and text, plenty of illustrative pictures. The actual rules themselves are ... let's count ... less than 6 pages. Oh, and what's this - some "Quick Rules" on the back page! That's great, so now we can get right into the game super quick! So what else do we get inside the box?

Components: Game board

The first thing we find is a cool looking race track. It's folded into sixths, and when we unfold it, here's what we see.



Cool! We keep digging in the gamebox.

Components: Six horse miniatures

Once we've pulled out the rule book and the game board, our first look inside the box is a little disappointing.



Is that all? Is that empty filler space I'm seeing? Just two decks of cards and a sticker sheet? But then we notice something. What is that strange white styrofoam thing doing in the middle of our game box?!



Maybe we're supposed to open it? It's sealed with tape, so we grab our handy pen knife and pry it open.



What's this? Now our pulse rate starts to go up a little! Am I seeing miniatures? Real miniatures? Nicely packaged in a styrofoam box? Yep, sure enough! Nicely packaged in little baggies, to keep the jockey's clothes nice and clean during delivery to my house!



Ah, so now we realize what the sticker sheet is for:



Carefully following the instructions to make sure we get the letters matching the right colours, we apply the stickers on the lovely miniatures:



Wow, these are super nice. Super nice! And look, we can pop them back in the styrofoam between races to make sure they're well taken care of! Sweet!



Components: 180 Cards

So what else do we get? We get to work prying the shrink wrap off the two decks.



Cards. Lots of cards. About 180 of them! Impressive! But what are they, and what do they do? Let's sort them out.

Cards: Ownership Certificates

First of all we find six Ownership Certificates.



They come in six different colours, and fortunately for the colour blind, they also have corresponding letters.



Each of these cards matches one of the horse miniatures.



So these Ownership Certificates are going to be distributed to the players at the beginning of the game, one per player (two each for two player games). This indicates which horse miniatures is yours. Thing is: you keep this secret! Shh...don't let anyone else know which horse you have your money on! Notice: the game has a maximum of 5 players, and there are 6 different horses. So you can never be sure which horse belongs to who! And because there's an extra horse, you can even switch horses mid-way the game! Sneaky!



Cards: Horse Movement cards

But now what's this? We have five little mini-decks of 15 cards each. Each of them has different artwork on the back:



So make your choice, folks, do you want to be Bob, Ted, Joe, Ulf, or Sir John? Pick your jockey! There's five sets of these, because the game is up to five players. We look at the cards carefully.





Let's be Ulf! So we grab the set of 15 Ulf cards, and start looking to see what these cards are about.



Hmm... a Horse Movement card. Orange B, and Green D. Two colours/letters. In fact, all 15 cards have two colours/letters, it seems!



We check out some of the cards more closely:



It turns out that these cards are the ones we are going to play during the game, and these will determine how much the horses move. Players will be picking and revealing these simultaneously, and horses will move forward dependent on how many cards of a certain colour show up. If three blues are played, the blue horse will move forward three spaces. There's a few twists to that, but we get the basic idea. So what other cards do we have? What about if we want to do a sneaky move?

Cards: Wild Horse

There are 19 Wild Horse cards featuring this cute fellow:



Wait a moment, maybe there's some sneaky tricks hiding behind that cute smile? Turns out that these are jokers. And our stable hand joker can pull out some clever tricks. The four symbols tell us the four options that he'll let us do if he is played before playing a Horse Movement card:
- Stumble (the rope icon)
- Slippery Track (the water bucket icon)
- Fast Track (the slingshot icon)
- Change Horses (the certificates icon)

Details, details, we'll worry about that later. We're having too much fun checking out these cards! What's on the other side? Oh, how nice, it looks like they give us instructions about what the icons mean!



How thoughtful! But wait, what about if I don't speak English? Well, then, what are you doing reading this review? Oh that's right, you have an interpreter reading this to you. Well, interpreter, you might be out of a job real soon, because not only are there Wild Horse cards in English, but also in three other languages:



Great, I've always wanted to learn German! So what other cards do we have?

Cards: Racing Form cards

We also discover five Racing Form cards, which look like this:



Surprise, surprise, they're numbered from 1 to 5.



Fortunately horse racing isn't rocket science, and these cards are going to be shuffled to determine the turn order from time to time throughout the game.

Cards: Carrot cards

There's also a big stack of 75 carrot cards. Nice fat juicy carrots, with lovely carrot art on the back.



They come in six different values.



These are used in an Advanced version of the game, if you want to add complexity by enabling players to bid for turn order (the Racing Form cards, remember?) Well we plan on starting with the basic version of the game, thank you very much, so we'll just put the carrots in the fridge for now. Let's get those horses racing!

Gameplay: Theme and How to Win

The theme is nicely explained at the beginning of the rulebook. In a nutshell, the object of the game: "Be the player whose horse is last when the first horse crosses the finish line." We rub our hands. The last shall be first! This is going to be fun! Here's how the rule book explains it:



Ahh.. fantastic, we come last in games too often anyway, but being able to win by crossing the finish line last, now that is a novel concept!



Gameplay: Set-up

So how do we get going? To begin with, we set up the board, and notice carefully how the race track has 12 numbered sections.



All six horses are lined up in random order at the starting gate.



But which horse is mine? The six Ownership Certificates are shuffled and you get one and keep it secret. Ah, we got Blue. Now we also need a jockey. We picked Ulf, remember? So each player gets a set of the 15 Horse Movement cards, along with two of the Wild Horse cards (jokers). The Racing Form cards are dealt randomly to determine the turn order for the first round. Let's get racing!

Gameplay: Playing cards and Moving Horses

From their 15 card deck, each player selects three Horse Movement cards, which are revealed simultaneously when everyone is ready. According to the turn order determined by the Racing Form cards, each player in turns puts down one of their three cards in the middle of the board. The turn order is important because movement is going to be determined by the number of cards of a particular colour/letter that are played. But now here's the twist: horses only move if an odd number cards of a certain colour are played! So if there are four green cards, the green horse does not move! If there are three red cards, on the other hand, the red horse will move three forward! This is important, because if we're playing last in the turn order this round, and there is a Blue card played, if we play a second Blue card, then Blue will have two cards (an even) number, and won't move forward at all! Which is what we want, because we want our horse to come last!

Want an example? Here's how the first turn of a game might look:



Two red cards and two blue cards have been played, and since those are even numbers, those horses remain in the starting blocks and don't move forward; all the other horses move forward one because there's one card of those colours. Had there been three green cards, for instance, then the green horse would have moved forward three!

Choosing and playing cards is the heart of the game, and a great deal of fun. The simultaneous action works well, and what gives the game more strategy and control, is being able to select just one of your three cards, and being able to do this while seeing the opponent's cards and knowing what they are selecting. If you had to play all the cards you selected, it would come down to randomness for the most part, but having to choose only one of your three face up cards to play, is a very neat mechanism that gives some feeling of control.

After the movement has been determined, the Racing Form cards are reshuffled to determine order for the next round, although the player who went last the previous round is given the 1 and must go first in the next round. This time players must play one of the two remaining cards in front of them; when they are down to just one card in front of them they simultaneously play two from their hand to bring the face up Horse Movement cards back to three. And then the whole process just keeps repeating itself!

Gameplay: Playing Sneaky

But you're not content with honest racing? Don't worry, let's call in our sneaky stablehand!



Playing the wild Horse card lets us perform a few tricks! We can use it to cause a horse to "Stumble", which involves covering one of the cards that was played (and thus it doesn't contribute towards the colour count!). Or we can make the track slippery, which will move a horse to a neighbouring lane, and possibly block another horse from moving forwards (which we want, if it's our horse that's moving forwards!). Or we can make a fast track, to move all the horses in the last two rows forward by two lengths.

Or best of all, we can Change Horses (now do you get the name of the game?), and switch our Ownership Certificate with one from the pile. Was our horse galloping ahead too fast and threatening to cross the finish line first? Quick, let's Change Horses! The Wild Horse cards add an additional fun element to the game, and possibilities for extra strategic choices.



Gameplay: Winning the Race by Losing at the End

The race ends when a horse crosses the finish line (or when players only have one Horse Movement card left, which is not played), the horse that is in last place at this point of the game wins the game! Yah!

There are tie-breaker rules as well. In this example, the player with the Red horse was the winner:



Looking at the whole board, here's what the end of the game looked like.



In this case it was a two player game, so each player had two horses each. Here the game happened to end before the orange horse crossed the finish line, because both players had used all their Horse Movement cards.

Gameplay: Advanced Game

Do you want more? Well then try the advanced game. In this version of the game ("The Derby League Game"), the gameplay is essentially unchanged, but you add the Carrot cards, and players use these to bid for the turn order. Ideally you want to be last in the turn order, because then you know the cards that others will play, and perhaps be able to stop your horse from moving forward 3 or 4!

The rulebook also comes with a "Horse Sense - The Tip Sheet" strategy guide, with eight great tips for good play. Note that there are also special rules for a two player game, the main adjustment being that each player has two horses, simultaneously reveals four Horse Movement cards each, and plays two of these. In our experience, the two player game may even offer more strategy than when playing with more players, but with 3-5 players the fun factor and competition is ramped up.



Conclusion

The game as it is, takes only about half an hour, which is a perfect length for the kind of game it is. Is it a complicated gamers game? No, Change Horses is not going to become the new Agricola. But it's not supposed to be either, although playing with the carrots definitely increases the strategic possibilities offered by the game.

Change Horses is primarily about the fun of racing. My children had a blast the first time they played this, and immediately wanted to play again. It's certainly a great game for families - the play time is very reasonable, the theme very understandable, and the idea of trying to finish last makes for a lot of fun and tension. There are fun and careful choices to make when choosing the Horse Movement cards to put on the table, and which ones to play on the board. People who like bluffing will especially enjoy being able to "pretend" which horse is theirs.

And trying to come in last place is a hoot! If a horse is in last place, often all the other players will try to work together to make it shoot forward. There's great tension, especially towards the end of the game, as everyone jockeys for position, and there can be sudden changes giving everyone a chance! This is "bash the leader" with a difference, because everyone is trying to stop the guy who is last from ... err ... winning! And if our plan to be last isn't quite working, then we just switch horses, or try some other funny business with the Wild Horse card! And certainly the components are fantastic, far better than a game of this type should really come with!

Is it a game for you? Hopefully this pictorial overview will help you make the right choice. Change Horses might not be the first game you'd pick, but should it be the last game you'd choose to buy? If we've learned anything from Change Horses, it is that sometimes the last will be first!



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The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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Dice Hate Me
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Gah! So many... pictures... making game... hard... to resist... surprise
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Mark Jackson
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Very nice review - actually helped me learn how to play the game!

However, the "win by coming in last" is not a novel idea - Le Paresseux uses the same idea & was published in 1991.
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Matt Hiske
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Awesome review and pictures. Myself and fellow Engineers @ work really enjoy this along with a few gaming buddies and we enjoy the underlying yet subtle strategies. You really need to play with the Derby Rules to get the most out of it.

Top Racing Games: The Need for Speed:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/35838
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Werner Bär
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gamemark wrote:
However, the "win by coming in last" is not a novel idea - Le Paresseux uses the same idea & was published in 1991.
And in Das Letzte Kamel (1989), where ownership of the camels is hidden, too.
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David McCulley
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Great review. Well done
 
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Thom Parkin
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Great Review. There can never be 'too many' pictures.
Based on your description I will gladly drop $33.00 at CoolStuff Games to buy this one!!
I really like your comment about the 2-player option being even more strategic. That is unique. Many games designed for 3-5 players have crappy (after-thought) rules for two players.
Thanks.

Addendum: In observance of the Kentucky Derby, we are playing this game all day long!!!
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Liam
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Wow Enders has the goods! Just picked this up new for £8/$13. Excited to jump in.
 
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