When GAMES GAZETTE was a paper magazine I was lucky enough to have David Parlett, the author of the very popular and most famous version of the Hare and Tortoise board game. Now I am lucky once again as far as a HARE & TORTOISE boardgame is concerned with this totally different and excitingly new version of the fabled race between the speedy hare and the sloth-like but canny tortoise.
Quality games company, IELLO, have published Gary Kim's boardgame adaption of the race as the third game in their Tales & Games bookcase range and like the previous two games in this range it is an exceptionally good adaption of one of the world's best loved of Aesop's fables. Just in case you have never heard of the fable Iello have included a really nice touch, a small booklet with the Hare & Tortoise story adapted by Benoit Forget, illustrated by Mathieu Leyssenne and translated by Nathan Morse. There are three versions of the fable in this booklet, the celebrated and best known version, attributed to Aesop, the poetical version by Jean de La Fontaine and Benoit de La Flaque's adaption which is also in poetry format but introduces more animals to the mix.
Having re-assured ourselves of the facts of the challenge and how the race was run, the story book is most informative, it is time to look at the components Iello have designed to recreate the fable into a top notch boardgame. As mentioned already, the box is styled as a Book and that there is a story booklet inside. then there are the 11 sturdy track tiles, printed differently on each side and including a couple of stream tiles - the pieces that make up the podium (where the winning contestants are displayed), The chequered flag finishing post, a few ages of rules, a deck of cards (which include 81 Racing, 5 Starting Bets, 5 Player Aid cards) and the race pieces, different coloured wooden animal shapes onto which you have to place the correct stickers (both sides) prior to the first game. The components are all extremely durable because this is a game that will get a lot of playing.
The premise of the game is that the Hare has asked the Tortoise for a rematch and graciously the Tortoise has accepted. To make it more interesting the Wolf, the Fox and the Lamb were also entered into the race. Thus we have 5 playing pieces, one for each of the contestants, the Yellow Fox, the "screaming" Blue Sheep, the large Black Wolf, the Brown Hare and the Green Tortoise (wearing flip-flops - love the detail).
First off you have to build the race track. You do this by laying the race tiles end to end to form the required course, ensuring you have a Start and an End, placing the Chequered Flag at the end and the Contestants at the beginning. The podium can be placed wherever you like as it is only a little added gloss and is not essential to the race. It is satisfying to place see the piece you bet on sitting in the top position at race end though. Speaking of the piece you bet on, each player is given a Start-Bet Card which they can look at and then place face down in front of them, ensuring it is unseen by the other players. Seven Race cards are dealt as hands and from their hand each player selects a second bet card, placed unseen again face down next to their first Bet card.
The Race begins in a most unique manner. In clockwise order the players play 1-4 cards from their hands until one of two conditions are met, either exactly 4 cards of the same animal or exactly 8 cards are on display. The rules state clearly that neither of these conditions can be passed (so no more than 4 of the same animal or more than 8 cards) so the start of the race can only be held up for a short time. During the race the animals each have their own variant of movement depending on the number of their cards played. Once all cards displayed have been accounted for by animal movement the cards are removed to the discard stack and a new round begins, played in the same manner as before except that as players have been making their hands back to 6 cards (remember the seventh from the Deal is now one of your Bet cards) during play, there is no dealing of new hands. When playing cards from their hands the players may in their turn only ever play cards depicting the same animal and up to 4 (if possible of them); so all Tortoises, all Hares, all Wolves etc.
The Wolf has been given a minor but amusing advantage that can be used by clever players to help or hinder the race. The cards, as previously noted, show the animals in the race, but three of the cards depicting the Wolf have a Howl symbol printed on them - a circle with a howling wolf in it. When at least one of these appears on display then the other animals are scared to move and the Wolf gets to move all on its own. How, when and whether you play these Wolf Howl cards can be part of a player's strategy.
The race continues until three of the animals have crossed the finish line and then points are awarded, 5 for 1st place, 3 for 2nd place and 2 for 3rd place. The players reveal their Bet cards and add up the points they have scored according to the animals on these cards. The winner, naturally, is the player with the most points. If the mood takes you, the game is certainly good enough to warrant it, you can play several races and keep a running score. There is a variant for beginner players and another variant that introduces +2 bonus counters but neither of them really add or detract anything from the basic game.
The Hare & Tortoise game by David Parlett has the respect of old-time gamers (like myself) as a classic; and many people who play it for the first time get addicted and add it to their list of favourites. This new version from IELLO could and should be held in the same respect as the and should in time be marked down as a classic. It is a super 15-20 minute game for 7 years olds and upwards. It relates favourably to the Fable, is easy to understand and like the other version it has a very clever mechanic, though not quite so mathematical. The first two Tales & Game book-style games from Iello, Baba Yaga, and Three Little Pigs, could both be regarded as very good games in the classical traditional manner, I like them both a lot, but this third book-style volume is, in my opinion, the best of the range so far.