Friday, May 7, 2010

Review: Long Shot

My biases first: I am a big fan of theme in games and do not mind reaching through piles of chits if the theme and game play is good enough. While I do favor confrontation, chits, bits and polished pieces of AT games, there are still a large number of Euros that I'll build my farm on or attend auctions at and be quite content at the end of my experience. Also, I used to train on and show horses and loved it. I also have gone to the horse races from time to time, not so much though for the gambling aspect, but more for watching the horses running. Oh, and I recently just went to my first Kentucky Derby party. So, I suppose I am familiar with horse racing. And finally, I am not above getting games for free to review. Thought I'd throw that last one out there just in case.


The Overview:


The box is your fairly standard 11.5" x 11.5" x 2.75" size.

Long Shot is a horse race game, representing a race at the track and offering the players the chance to place bets on the horses as well as play the role of owner of one or more of the horses. As the race goes on, players have the option to place bets and purchase any of the ten horses in the race and play cards to either get more money or manipulate the position of the horses on the track.

The game is for 3-8 players and is plays in about 45-60 minutes. Experience really doesn't have too much effect on the play time, so novices won't slow down the game too much. Number of players doesn't have so much of a direct impact on playtime, but if you have fewer players and those players purchase more horses, by the game mechanics, the horses should move a bit faster and end the game sooner.



An example horse card for Horse #1, Wonder Bred. It lays out his price to purchase, special ability, betting odds and bonus movement numbers. 


Each horse has odds that it pays out depending on if it wins, places or shows in the race. The odds are fairly easy to figure out. For example, Wonder Bred (Horse #1) has pay out odds of 6:1 if he wins, 4:1 if he places and 2:1 if he shows. So every $5 bet placed on Wonder Bred would pay out $30 if the horse wins the race. Since horses move based on the roll of a 10-sided die to see which horse moves each turn, you would think that all horses would have the same odds to win. However, horses do move differently, but only after someone purchases a horse.

Purchasing a horse in the game gives a few benefits to the owner. First of all, if the horse wins, places, or shows in the race, then the horse owner gets a cash bonus at the end of the game. Secondly, every horse has a special feature that it grants its owner (such as giving its owner an extra card when it is in the lead, or allowing you to place an extra bet, or collecting extra money if your horse shows in the race). And finally, on the horse owner's turn, each horse has an extra opportunity to move forward on the track, even if a different horse was rolled to move. Each horse has a few extra numbers listed on the bottom that move the horse forward on the owner's turn only. For example, Wonder Bred (Horse #1) moves whenever a "1" is rolled on the horse die. However, on Wonder Bred's owner's turn, he will move if a "1" is rolled, or if a "2", "4", "6" or "7" is rolled as well (along with the corresponding horse). This means that owned horses are more likely to move than unowned horses (and this is why the odds are different for each horse--Horses with lower odds generally have more numbers that they can move on during the owner's turn, while horses with higher odds have fewer bonus numbers listed).

Each player starts the game with $25, three randomly dealt cards and one "Reroll" token. Play order is determined and each player takes their entire turn before play passes to the player on the left.

Before anything else is done, the player must first check to see if any horses that he owns offers any bonus for the turn (usually based on its position in the race).

Then, two dice are rolled. The Horse Die is a 10-sided die that tells you which horse to move (and again, on your turn, only horses that you own that have the same number in their bonus movement bar also move on this turn). The second die is a 6-sided Movement Die that tells you how many spaces the horse moves. The die has one "0" facing, four "1" facings and one "3" facing. Whatever number is rolled on the Movement Die is how many spaces the matching horse on the Horse Die moves. However, if a "0" is rolled on the Movement Die, the horse does not move, but the player steals a card from the owner of the horse rolled on the Horse Die. If no one owns the horse, then they draw a card from the draw pile.

Each player also has a single "Reroll" token that they can use on their turn. Immediately after they
roll the Horse Die and the Movement Die, they can use their single reroll and choose one of the two dice and reroll it. They must then use the new result. Players can only use their token on their turn and only use it once per game.

Next, the player can take ONE of four possible actions:

• They can play one card from their hand. Cards will usually give the player a chance to collect more money, place free bets on a horse, adjust the position of the horses on the track, or another such chance, opportunity or gain.

• The player may purchase an unowned horse from the bank. From this point on in the race, the horse will offer the bonuses to its owner and get the extra movement possibilities on the owner's turn.

• The player may place a $5 bet on any of the horses that is not in the "No Bets" area of the track. The No Bets section is the last quarter of the track, and it means that players cannot wait until a horse is one space away from crossing the finish line before placing a bet on it to win. It makes placing bets a little more challenging, but also can block you out from making a bet on a horse if he gets to that section of the track before you have the opportunity. Now a player can only make a $5 bet on his turn, but that can be used to add to an existing bet on a horse that the player has made in a previous turn.

• The player can discard two of his cards and collect $5 from the bank. This generally only occurs if a player has no money and none of their cards are useful, though this seems to be a rather rare occurrence, especially since a player can only take a single action and most players seem to feel this to be a wasted action.

After this, the player draws a new card and play passes to the left. This continues until the game is over and three horses have crossed the finish line to signify who has won, placed and showed in the race.

The owner of the 1st place horse wins $100. The owner of the 2nd place horse gets $75 and the owner of the 3rd place horse wins $50. Any bets on any of these horses are then paid out according to the position they came in. All bets for any of the seven horses that did not cross the finish are lost and returned to the bank. Any money that was still in a player's hand and not placed on bets is kept. Everyone's money is then totaled and whoever has the most cash at the end of the game is the winner.


The Theme:

Long Shot is a family-friendly horse race game that relies on odds and betting. Since this all takes place over one race, which in real time would be about 2 minutes, there isn't really that sense of realism, especially as you buy a horse halfway through a race. However, that doesn't matter. For a light, fun game, it still carries some of the excitement of a real horse race. Once you have a couple horses come to the last turn and final stretch, the tenseness starts to rise and it becomes much more exciting. This is actually the case with real horse races as well; there is a crescendo of excitement that becomes electric at the final stretch. The game (depending, of course on the rolls) often captures this feeling. Maybe not always for who will win, but the race for who will place or show can often be just as exciting when you have your bets placed.


Learning the Game:

The rules are laid out in a 12 page 5.75" x 8.25" booklet with a fair number of pictures and examples in it. Play is really simple and easy enough for casual gamers as well as non-gamers. I played this game with my parents (my mother also used to ride and show and loves horses) and both of my non-gaming parents grasped it quickly. The only little rules confusion came from my mother who would keep getting excited when a bonus movement number on the horse she owned was rolled by another player and kept forgetting that the bonus movement only applies on her turn. Even mildly experienced gamers will have no problem with the rules and learning this game. The game is also very quick and easy to teach as well, which is great to introducing it to non-gamers.



The Components:


The track and the board. 



The horse markers on the track, showing a race in progress. The horse numbers are stickers that are attached to the plastic horses.




Examples of some of the cards in the game. 




Betting tokens, the Reroll token and the paper money that is in the game. Yes, paper money. Deal with it.  



The components don't stand out as being amazing, but are perfectly sufficient for what they are. The sculpted plastic horses are pretty enough and the cards are of a good, sturdy stock. Most of the other components are just cardboard tokens and are fine for what they are. Sure, the board could be a little more "realistic" in its artwork, but this is ultimately a lighter game, so it works perfectly fine. I only have a couple of minor complaints with the components.

A set of stickers come with the game to attach to the plastic horse markers. The stickers look fine and stand out bright enough to mark each horse. However, they do not adhere to the plastic very well. Each time I've played the game, step one of the set up has been to push the stickers back onto the horses. It is only a matter of time before they lose all of their adhesiveness. Now the game comes with a second set of stickers, but it would be nice if there was a way of not dealing with this at all (other than painting your horse figures).

And some people do not like paper money. First of all, I think it works for this game and makes betting easier. Secondly, for those who argue against paper money, I do not want to have to pay an extra $10 per game to offset the cost of nice, heavy poker chips being produced and added to the game instead of paper money. That being said, the game does not have enough paper money in it. There are bills in $5, $10 and $20 denominations. However, in games with heavy betting and big wins, there should be either at least twice the number of $10 and $20 bills and some $50 bills to distribute. It really can make totaling winnings at the end of some games annoying frustrating when it would be very easy to correct. Even if you do have enough money to distribute, people are forced to count tons of $5 bills.


Playing the Game:

The game is quick and easy to learn and play. Each player's turn really only consists of rolling the dice, then taking one action. However, there is still downtime in the game. It isn't that bad, but it becomes more and more noticeable with more players, especially on the turns when your single action is just playing a card to collect $10. The game, however, is very quick and easy and non-gamers can easily pick up on the play, making it a great family game.

The game play offers a number of different strategies. Since owning a horse moves them quicker and winning pays well to the horse's owner, some players may wish to put most of their stock in owning the winning horses and betting on their own horses. Other players may wish to focus heavily on bets, watching to see what horses other people have and playing the odds to get their big win. Others still will have a hybrid and own a horse or two and bet on the other players horses, creating instances where you may actually be rooting for an opponent's horse since it pays better. Ultimately, there are a number of different ways to approach the opportunities to make money in this game, though ultimately, fate and randomness of the rolls will make an impact on which of them plays the best for that specific game.


Scalability:

The game is for 3-8 players, but the game play ends up changing a bit depending on the number of players. First of all, three player games will move very quickly and have little downtime and players will have many more opportunities to place bets and play cards on their turns. Eight player games, however, will have much more downtime and each player will have much less opportunity to take actions on their turn, which means fewer bets and opportunities for each player.

Also, the pure randomness of the Horse Die is mitigated by having a horse owner having a chance to move his owned horses by his bonus horse movement numbers, so some horses should have more chances to move and thus be "faster". However, since this only happens on the owner's turn, the number of players will have a big impact on the speed of those horses. For example, if I own a horse in a three player game, that chance of a bonus movement will come up every three turns. But if I own a horse in an eight player game, that bonus movement opportunity only comes up every eight turns.

With the horse bonus movement and down time considerations, the scalability is a little wonky. Ultimately, I would say that this game has a very hard sweet spot of 5 players. 4 player and 6 players are also not too bad, but the game dynamics change almost too much with more or less players.


Does the Wife Like It?:

The most important category. I play games without her, but she's an integral part of my core gaming group and my most frequent game partner. She doesn't have the equestrian background that I have, but I have taken her out on trail rides and she has gone to the race track with me on a couple of occasions. I was actually rather surprised at how much she liked it. Our first "learning game" to feel out the game before introducing it to a larger group was played with just the two of us, though we each played with two sets of money as if each of us were playing as two players. She has enjoyed this game enough that on weekday nights when we are deciding on what to play, she casually will suggest Long Shot and then say, "Oh, wait. (sigh) We need more players for that." I know that this is 'wife-speak' for me to say, "Well, we can play it and each control two hands if you want."

The game doesn't play as well that way, since you will not be likely to play cards detrimental to your other hand and will be more likely to play cards in one hand that will help the other hand's horses. So we do not play it two-player like this often, but I bring it along with us to our other gaming meet ups, as it makes her happy and it works really well as a light filler game that is easy enough for the casual gamer and still fun enough for the hardcore gamers to play while waiting for a deeper game to open.


The Pros:

*Plays in 40-60 minutes.
*Family-friendly game, even if your family consists of a number of non-gamers.
*The final stretch can actually create a lot of exciting moments, even though the excitement is really just the randomness of a couple of dice rolls.
*Solid components, even if they do not stand out as anything amazing.
*Could be used as a gateway game.
*Horse race theme is very accessible to most people, especially around the Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing time of year.


The Cons:

*Stickers do not stay on the plastic horses very well.
*Despite playing 3-8 players, there is a very hard sweet spot that really shortens that range to 4-6.
*Downtime can be an issue with more players.
*Randomness will turn off some players.
*Too light and not a hard strategy game will turn off some players.
*Years of reading X-Men comics in my teens makes me want to type "Long Shot" as one word "Longshot" and it keeps coming up blank in the BGG archives.


Overall:

Long Shot is a light family-friend horse racing game that offers a number of different paths to try to mitigate the randomness to win big. The ease of game play and simplicity of the rules makes the game very accessible to casual and non-gamers alike. While the game can play up to 8 players, downtime and the change in odds that occurs makes it less suitable for a "party game" and more suitable for a "family game" of 5 players. While some will be turned off by the randomness and lack of real strategy in the game, if you can get past that, you will ultimately see the fun in the game and capture just a bit of that excitement in the final stretch where almost anything can happen.


7.5/10

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