This episode James and Jeff make it further along the boardgame sports alphabet, looking at such diverse sports as golf, greyhound racing, horse racing, hunting, hockey, motorcycle racing, mountain climbing and the Olympics!
This is another family of sports games I had no idea about. Golf. A game about using very specific clubs to hit a small ball really accurate distances from different terrain types. Wind speeds, wind direction, blood to alcohol ratio. It seems like a complex sport. And in our top ten list of Sports most represented in BoardGameGeek’s listings it comes in at number 6, with over 310 titles to choose from.
So what does the world of golf boardgames have to offer in terms of simulation?
The highest ranked game in this family (besides a golf version of Spot it! which I’m not going to count) is The Front Nine (2014). It’s a 45 minute game for 2-4 players that plays as follows:
The Front Nine is a card game where players compete to build the best nine hole golf course with a balance of challenging par, scenery and facilities. The course cards depict each hole (pars 3, 4 and 5)and after paying the land and resource cost for trees, water and sand, they are laid on the table to depict the actual layout of the course. Each player develops a course from club house to 1st tee and from green to following tee etc. Each hole has a differing topography which constrains tee access and green exits which results in each player’s course snaking across the table. Players must manage their finances carefully to enable their course to generate an income to ensure they can afford the ever increasing land costs and resources required to design and build each hole. The winner is the player whose course design best links back to the club house, has the best design, bunkers, woodland and water hazards and optimizes the use of the natural environment.
The Front Nine has direct player interaction and competition and an economic engine with an interesting spatial aspect where careful thought is needed for card purchase and placement.
Which sounds more like an interesting card game about running a business and less about playing a sport in boardgame form. But I also have to admit a person would probably enjoy this game a lot more if they had a working concept of the sport. For a person like me, who has next to no understanding of Golf, this might not be the most satisfying. It is fitting that they emphasize direct player interaction and competition, though.
The next highest ranked Golf game comes is GolfProfi (2002), from designer Albrecht Nolte. Players roll a variety of dice as they play across a golf course board covered with a hex overlay. At first glance it looks like an expansion for a train game like Age of Steam or a wargame map. With the use of polyhedral dice to determine the outcome of your game, I couldn’t help but find this one kind of intriguing. Any time there’s more than a d6 involved I assume it’s not just a roll and move. My lack of love for the sport might be a hindrance to me understanding/enjoying this fully, but it does seem like a solid attempt at simulating Golf.
Now I know what you’re saying – surely Avalon Hill must have brought us a statistics based simulation of PGA golf? In 1981 they published Pro Golf. They’re not messing around with that title. Based on the description they give it looks like they are trying to live up to the reputation of all the games in the Avalon Hill sports line we’ve looked at throughout our boardgame sports series:
Each player has a “Player Card” that models the performance of a PGA golfer and the table uses a “Course Booklet” which models a famous course–the first two were Augusta National and the Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Each shot, the player rolls 2 dice and reads them low number/high number and checks his player card to determine the result of the shot LL=Long Left, SR=Short Right, etc. This result is checked in the course booklet to determine where the ball landed and the “club” (i.e. the column on his player card: FW, LI, MI, SI, CH, PITCH, SD) that will be used for his next shot and any penalty for being in the rough/trees/sand/etc.
Occasionally, an option will be given to the player to layup or “Go for the Green!” using a longer club.
If a number comes up, the player is on the green and the number determines the distance left on his putt. For putting, if the number rolled on the putting column is greater than or equal to the distance left to the pin, the putt is good. Otherwise, unless the putt is badly missed (which checks another “Second Putt Card” to determine the length of the next putt), the second putt is assumed to always good.
Record the score for the hole. Repeat 17 more times for entire round.
I’m assuming “Repeat 17 more times” is not a joke. Again, no idea. I’m not proud of my golf ignorance. I hope if you are a golf fan you are nodding your head and thinking “that sounds fun.” Or shaking your fist angrily. We are not interested in tepid responses to this podcast.
And now you’re probably wondering “just how old is the oldest Golf boardgame?” Will it be Milton Bradley’s Golf from 1890, which beat out Parker Brothers’ Popular Game of Golf from 1896? No. It will be the Game of Golf from 1881 from McLoughlin Brothers.
Which led me to the internet in search of the history of golf. While the sport goes back hundreds of years, my old friend Wikipedia notes that:
In 1880 England had 12 courses, rising to 50 in 1887 and over 1000 by 1914. The game in England had progressed sufficiently by 1890 to produce its first Open Champion, John Ball. The game also spread further across the empire. By the 1880s golf clubs had been established in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Singapore followed in 1891. Courses were also established in several continental European resorts for the benefit of British visitors.
This timing of the birth of boardgame golf makes perfect sense. The late 1800s are a time of innovation in sports and boardgames were quick to capitalize on these popular trends.
Greyhound Racing as a sport doesn’t follow this timeline. It doesn’t really take off until the 1920s in the US, and boardgames reflect this. It’s also interesting that a lot of the games listed in this game category are from this time period. Spin and move, roll and move, play cards and move.
The top ranked game for Greyhound Racing is simply titled Greyhounds (1985), a 90 minute game for 3-4
players that emphasized wagering:
Players place secret bets and then race their greyhounds in a series of three races, each one longer than the previous one. Players have sets of number cards from which one is selected and simultaneously revealed each turn. Only the greyhound with the highest number showing will move, advancing a number of spaces equal to the difference between the highest numbered card and the second highest. The player with the most money after three races wins.
Interestingly, this title was brought to us by designer Bernd Brunnhofer, part of the alias Michael Tummelhofer, perhaps best known for the game Stone Age. Greyhounds was a 1986 Spiel des Jahres Recommended game, and I think that’s as good as we’re going to get for this category so let’s move on.
It will be easy this episode to mention the inevitable Reiner Knizia title. Winner’s Circle is his 2001 contribution to Horse Racing. Although it’s really a re-issue and upgrade of his 1995 title Turf Horse Racing. Here’s the BGG gameplay overview for Turf Horse Racing – Winner’s Circle being very similar in overall mechanics:
Initially players bet on the horses as they are dealt from the deck, then the horses race on the die roll, the course being 40 spaces. The cards & die have 4 symbols, jockey’s hat, boot, horse shoe and horse’s head; the head is on the die 3 times, giving it a 50% chance of being rolled. The cards have different values against each symbol, showing how far they move when that symbol is rolled. But the number against the horse’s head is always 1 to 7 for the same horse. So Raven Beauty always has a 50% chance of moving 7 spaces, Lagoon Lady moves 4, and poor old Roamin’ Emporer goes 1 space. The trick, and it’s a good trick, is that the other 3 values vary wildly for the lower horses, making them outside chances to win. One lucky roll and Roamin’ Emporer can leap forward 20 places! So do you bet on the steady goers, or take a gamble on the nags? Players take turns to roll the die and choose which horse moves, so with a good roll you move one you’ve bet on, with a bad roll you move someone else’s horse. Points are awarded to 1st, 2nd & 3rd home, and one of your bets is a doubler.
In a lot of sports I dislike dice rolling, but it seems perfectly suitable for horse racing. If someone was a big horse racing fan they might want to see gameplay revolving around horse breeding and jockey skills in addition to the obligatory betting.
Or if you’re cynical like me you want a game like Horse Fever (2009) from designer Lorenzo Silva:
Horse Fever transports players to a setting based on the noir novels of the 1930s, where each player is called on to impersonate rich bettors that will use any means necessary to cause the bets they place to pay off. They will fix races, bribe bookmakers, make horses fall asleep, buy stables and borrow money from the Mob in order to gain victory for their bets.
Horse Fever has three different game modes: Board Game, Family Game and Party Game. These three different modes enable each kind of player to have a good time. The Board Game will enable expert players to discover a game based on an endless number of strategies; the Family Game will enable little players and families to get to know the basic game dynamics while playing a simpler but yet just as fun game; the Party Game will transform Horse Fever into a platform for a potentially endless number of players and turn any boring party into the most entertaining event of the century.
Will you end up with a horse’s head in your bed? Will you have to beg for favours from a fickle and unforgiving mob boss? Wait, those last items are what I want to see in a Horse Fever expansion. Even though I’m not a fan of Horse Racing as a sport I really like the sound of this game.
2009 also brought us Long Shot, Chris Handy’s design that “includes over 100 unique cards allowing players to combine strategies and resources for maximum control of the race. Will you buy a horse or two in the hopes of winning some of the purse, or will you bet it all on the long shot?” The game featured an oval board and little horse racing miniatures.
Which one gets the honour of being the oldest Horse Racing game listed in the BGG? That would be Steeple-Chase, a spin and move from 1862. It does not sound nearly as odd or interesting as 1880’s Ascot, however. Here’s the description for it:
This early game from John Jacques featured a very unique method of determining the winner of the race. The game itself was a large wooden box. It had up to 8 horses attached to the box with wires. A hand crank on the side of the box attached to the horses by a variety of gears was turned resulting in a different horse winning the race. Players bet on which horse would indeed win the race.
Horse Racing was filled with surprises for me. For one, there’s not a single boardgame called Glue Factory.
And with that let’s move on to an activity I would never have thought of as a sport.
As I’m completely against so-called sport hunting I didn’t think I’d like researching this category, but it turns out the top ranked game in this family is pretty OK. Tally Ho! is designer Rudi Hoffmann’s 1973 game that asks:
What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted?
In Tally Ho!, one player takes the role of the hunters and the lumberjacks; the other takes the role of the foxes and bears. Both players hunt each other!
At first the forest lies peacefully under the face-down tiles. As the players turn the tiles over and move them on the board, the forest awakens and the hunt destroys the serenity of the forest. The lumberjacks cut swaths through the forest to provide hunting fields for the hunters. The bears then use these same aisles to track the hunters and lumberjacks. And both sides hunt the ducks who are just trying to live in peace!
The two sides are balanced with luck dominating the early game, but skill taking over at the end. Good hunting!
Originally published by Spear Spiele in 1973 as Jag und Schlag, Kosmos republished the game in 2000 as Tally Ho! / Halali! as part of its Kosmos two-player series.
At a 20 minute gameplay time and aimed at all ages, this sounds like a fun family game and a nice cautionary tale.
The next highest ranked game for Hunting also finds an interesting way of not being a modern game about blasting animals. It’s Mammoth Hunters, a 2003 title from frequent collaborators Alan R. Moon and Aaron Weissblum. The description tells us that:
It’s a cool, windy day in autumn, some time around 30,000 years ago. For several hours now, a group of hunters have been following a herd of mammoths. Will they succeed? Will they actually be able to bring down one of these giant animals? Its meat would last the entire tribe for several weeks…
Take on the role of one of these fearless Ice Age tribesmen and try to keep close to the mammoth herds. Of course, everyone else wants to accomplish this as well, so there will always be fights over territory. Who may stay, and who has to leave? Lucky for those with a club handy!
It’s listed as an Area Control / Area Influence game, which makes sense when you look at the board and wooden bits for this one. It’s 3-5 players and sounds like light fun
Before we leave it’s worth mentioning the third ranked game in this category as it comes from designer Steve Jackson and Steve Jackson Games. Trophy Buck, a 2011 game, is exactly the kind of title I expected from this category. The publisher tells us:
Get that buck!
Trophy Buck is a fast-moving game about deer hunting. The 12 custom dice represent deer. Push your luck to bag the most points, but stop rolling before too many “startles” end your turn! Will you bring home a trophy, or will you just be looking at tracks?
Each game takes 10 to 20 minutes and can be taught in a single round. It comes in a durable cammo bag – great to take on camping or hunting trips.
Everything about that sounds utterly terrible to me. Additionally, it doesn’t sound like much of an advance from the oldest title in this family, Jagd-Spiel, a hunting roll and move from 1825.
My biggest complaint, however, is that the card game Battle Royale (2000) isn’t listed under this family of games. But there’s no time to dwell on the past, it’s time to lace up and skate over to our next sport.
I was surprised by the top ranked Hockey game. I expected something that was statistics heavy or based on player trades or something equally obsessive. Instead I found the silly card game Slapshot (presumably inspired by the 1977 movie). Originally published in 1982 it’s since been republished. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Slapshot is a wheeling, dealing game for hockey nuts of all ages. Each participant in Slapshot assumes the role of a team manager. The object is to skillfully manage your team into the playoffs and then win the championship. During the regular season, you will be able to improve your team with trades and drafts. Injuries and luck will play a part, but it is your skill as manager that will guide your team to victory or defeat.
The second ranked Hockey game also surprised me – Rod Hockey. Also known as Munro Tabletop Hockey (named after designer Don Munro). It’s a classic Hockey game that’s always seems to have been around, which would make sense as it originally appeared in 1932. Due to Canadian broadcast laws I will now recite the Wikipedia history of Rod Hockey from memory, followed by our standing and singing the national anthem, followed by our having to listen to anthemic rock and/or organ blaring in the background for the remainder of the podcast:
The game of table hockey was invented in 1932, in Toronto by the Canadian Donald H. Munro Sr. Don, like so many Canadians in the depths of the depression, was short of cash for Christmas presents. He had a wife and three young children. That year, the family all pitched in and made the first table hockey game. This mechanical game was built out of scrap wood and metal, and included used coat hanger wire, butcher’s twine clock springs and the lumber came from the coal bin. Unlike current games, the game looked more like an early pinball game, with one key difference: this was a two player game. The playing surface had a peak in the middle and sloped down toward each end. The players controlled levers for the goalie and flippers for the players. The story goes that a traveling salesman noticed the game and encouraged Don to take the game down to the local Eaton’s department store. Don did just that. The first game went in on a consignment deal. By the time Mr. Munro got home, the game was sold and more orders were placed.
I have no idea how much of that is based on fact, but it’s a good story.
And, finally, at rank 3 in Hockey games we get the stats heavy Strat-O-Matic Hockey from 1978. I don’t think we need to elaborate on this.
While there are a lot of Hockey games, bringing it in at number 8 for sports with most games with nearly 200 titles, I was surprised that the older games held their rank so well. This could be due to the high number of variations on classic air/ball/rod hockey or the basic card game versions. Mostly I think it’s because it’s a game that invites lots of dexterity game implementations.
I should note that while there is an NHL category there’s not many games and high overlap with the main Hockey listing, so we’ll take off our helmets and move on to our next sport.
Wait! No, pass me my helmet again. Not the hockey helmet, the other one for when I fly off a huge jump and land on my head.
It’s a sport with little boardgame representation, so let’s jump right to the top – Moto Grand Prix, a 2008 title from designer Gianluca Santopietro. “Moto Grand Prix is an exciting game for all ages with a fast, realistic, dice-based system for playing multi-lap races quickly. Moto Grand Prix’s beautiful, accurate models can lean and wheelie, and the modular boards allow a wide range of realistic circuits.” The game doesn’t sound too complex and I suspect it’s popularity has more to do with the “6 1:55 scale model bikes, each with a rider and a special stand” that it comes with.
While there are a lot of older games listed, the first one with a definitive year is Speedway: The Great Motor Cycling Race Game (1930 – although description states 20s or 30s). While it might have only used a die and a spinner in its mechanics, the game has minis, the track is colourful and the box cover looks pretty cool. It essentially looks like they nailed what makes this sport interesting to gamers.
Sure, people have tried to make card versions, but it’s hard to beat little motorcycle miniatures when it comes to getting into the theme. And with that we are done talking about Motorcycle Racing.
When you look up at Mountain Climbing as a board game family there is a chasm between the highest ranked game and all the rest. K2 is a 2010 title from designer Adam Kałuża. Here’s how he approached this sport:
K2 is a board game in which each player controls a team of 2 mountaineers, trying to climb to the summit of K2 and return before the other players’ teams and before the mountain kills them. Every player uses an identical deck of cards. You use the cards to move your climbers on the route pictured on the gaming board, or to acclimatize the members of your team.
You can also set up a tent and wait for better weather. You will have to choose your path carefully, as the other mountaineers can block your way, and watch the upcoming weather which can lower your acclimatization to 0, thus killing your climbers.
K2 is a hand management game for 1-5 players, with strong interaction and low luck factor, lasting up to 60 minutes. The theme is very well represented by the mechanics, including such elements as changing weather, lack of oxygen and death of the mountaineers. The result is an exciting match for gamers and non-gamers alike.
It sounds brutal, non-cooperative, and fitting well within the reality of Mountain Climbing as a competitive activity. It also doesn’t sound like a fun way to spend an evening with friends. But I guess that sums up expedition-style climbing.
Alright, how about cooperative climbing? Out of over 70 titles only 3 are listed as cooperative.
How about the oldest listed? It’s 1923’s Mount Everest. It’s a team based roll and move. The board is a picture of the mountain from the bottom to the peak, numerically dotted in a way that makes it look like a giant connect the dots. OK, K2 is sounding better the more I think about it.
Let’s end this episode with the grandest competition of ego and nationalism. The Olympics. It might be fatigue from looking at so many sports games, but none of the titles in the listing jumped out at me. So let’s jump back in time. The oldest title listed is from 1936, Olympiaden. The BGG description notes:
This is a Swedish card game for two to six players from the 1930’s themed around the 1936 Olympic games.
Each card shows an athlete, his nationality, which event he competed in and his result. There are five athletes from each nation (Sweden, Finland, Germany, England, Italy, USA, Japan and Canada. One card shows the Olympic rings and serves as a joker.
The players are dealt five cards each. On her turn the player draws a card from the stock and discards one. The player who first has all five cards of one nation wins the game.
The most interesting part of this boardgame is its place in history. When I think of the 1936 Olympics I think of the 1938 film Olympiad by the German filmmaker/propagandist Leni Riefenstahl. Perhaps this connection is conjured by the Nazi party flag on the front cover of this boardgame box. It is worth noting that this was a reality of 1936 and not an endorsement, so the game isn’t a political one.
And on that dreadful note, between everyone dying while Mountain Climbing and talking about the Nazis, we conclude part four of this series.
But there was one small victory we should celebrate – we made it to the letter O this week!
If you’ve got comments or want to remind us of some Reiner Knizia sports games we forgot to mention in this episode click on the link in the show notes – or you can find me on twitter @epicgumdrop.