Friday, July 14, 2006

Hare and Tortoise

So I was wandering through the con on Sunday and saw some people I didn't recognise setting up Hare and Tortoise. Because I didn't recognise them, I assumed they weren't really serious gamers, so I was a little intrigued that they were playing such a serious game. But of course, Hare and Tortoise doesn't look like a serious game. So I asked if I could join in, and volunteered to explain the rules. That was when I remembered I'd forgotten them, but I at least knew the spirit of them and we could go through the rule book pretty quickly.

For those who don't know, Hare and Tortoise looks like a roll and move game. It even has a six sided die, to trick you. But it is actually an almost purely analytical game, and that's the sort I like. It's a race, where you pay carrots to move forward. To move forward n spaces, you pay (n * (n+1) / 2) carrots. There are turtle spaces you can move backwards n spaces to get to, and you receive 10n carrots. There are position spaces labelled n, where if you are in nth position at the start of your turn, you receive 10n carrots. There are carrot spaces, where you can receive or lose 10 carrots. There are lettuce spaces where you can eat a lettuce - you are required to eat 3 lettuces throughout the game. Finally, there are hare spaces where you roll the die and have something good or bad happen to you, with the good more likely if you are behind many other players.

The hare spaces are the only random element (apart from the other players), and I personally despise them. However if other players want to waste their time taking a chance when they can get on with winning the game, that's their problem. I also never use the carrot spaces - 10 carrots sounds like a poor deal compared to 40 or more that you can get from a turtle space.

I started the game by spending carrots boldly and zooming to the front, where I stopped to snack on a lettuce. The weakness of leading from the front is that the positional spaces don't give you many carrots, so when I was getting low on carrots I slowed down and sat on a 2 space. The player who was easily able to pass me declined to do so, preventing me from receiving 20 carrots. I tried to do that a couple more times, and every time the other players chose not to let me get anything. No worries... now I know how to keep them behind me :-). I changed to trying to get carrots from tortoises, and that worked pretty well.

However the end game is where it's all at. There's a restriction that the first player to cross the finish line must have fewer than 10 carrots, so if you don't plan to eat all of your carrots, that will cost you. But you can figure out what you need to do. If you're 12 spaces from the end and you have 80 carrots, that's one move to win (costs you 78). If you only have 50 carrots, you need to make two moves of 6 costing you 21 each time. If you've got basically the right number of carrots near the end of the game, you can come up with a plan to finish neatly. My opponents did not do that. I did. I won by several moves.

OK, I admit it. Hare and Tortoise looks like a kids' game, but it is so much easier if you did 3 years of honours-level maths at university and have learned that way of thinking. I can do it, and I like this game a lot.

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