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Homestretch

Reviewed by: Herb Levy

(R&R Games, 2 to 6 players, ages 14 and up, 60 minutes; $29.99)

It’s back to the track with the latest entry in the stable of horse racing games: Homestretch, designed by Frank DiLorenzo. This game allows players to enjoy two sides of horseracing: ownership and betting.

homestretch1Each player begins with his own set of Bet tokens and a player token depicting a horse in that player’s chosen color. (A nice touch as it is easy to see which color belongs to each player.) Scoring cubes in players’ colors are placed at 50 (indicating that everyone has 50,000 to spend) on the scoring track on the board’s perimeter. The 33 Horse Owner Share cards come in two colors (blue and red). The 22 blue cards are shuffled and these cards dealt out evenly (any excess cards are saved for later) to all players. Now players begin to assemble their stable of horses.

Ownership cards display a number (from 2 to 12) and a cost. From the cards dealt, each player chooses one and passes the remainder to the left. This drafting of cards continues until all of the cards have circulated. At that point, all players reveal their cards and pay the specified amount on the cards for the privilege of owning shares in those particular horses.

There are two decks of Race Track cards (purple and green). The cards are similar but the green cards offer higher valued purses. Both decks are shuffled separately and two cards of each color randomly chosen. They will be the four races to be run in the game. The 11 horses (numbered from 2 to 12) are placed in their starting positions. At the start of the first race, the top purple card is revealed and handicaps assigned. (More on those later.) Now players place their bets.

All players have five betting tokens (two 1s, two 2s and one 3). Tokens are placed on the board underneath the horse’s number in the Win, Place or Show columns. Bets are in thousands and payouts are noted on the board. Bets are made in order of the player with the most money on the score track going first. Different players may place bets on the same spots but betting is limited in that you may only place as many tokens in the SAME spot as your position on the track. (So, for example, the player in 2nd place may place TWO bets on the same spot; a player in 3rd place may place THREE bets on a spot and so on.) This gives players who are lagging behind a chance to make bets that will give them a chance to catch up. (The rules allow you the option to have everyone bet simultaneously but it’s probably a good idea to see where the players ahead of you are putting their bets so you have the option to follow or try to overtake them by placing your bets where they aren’t.) With all bets placed, the race is on!

The player with the least amount of money starts by rolling the dice. The total thrown presents a choice. The active player may accept the number and move that horse two spaces forward around the track. Or, if dissatisfied with the number rolled, he may move that horse ONE space and roll again. Now, whatever the second number is, that horse is moved two spaces ahead. Once done, the dice are passed clockwise. The handicap tokens come into play depending on what numbers are rolled.

In a race determined by dice rolling, it is obvious that the numbers 6, 7 and 8 will come up much more frequently than 2 or 12. To address this issue, the race cards assign “handicaps” in each race. Handicaps are indicated by placing the appropriate token BEHIND the specified horse’s starting position with the token’s effect going into effect when that horse’s number is rolled. Handicaps come in four varieties: X which cancels out the first roll of a horse’s number, +2 which pushes a horse two spaces further along the track, +4 which pushes the fortunate horse two spaces further than that and +6 which accelerates a horse an additional six spaces ahead. In all cases, the handicap only applies to the first applicable roll.

The first horse to finish rounding the track wins, with second place and third place determined. (Should the number of a winning horse be rolled again, the difference between each die rolled will move the horse in LAST place forward a maximum of 3 spaces.) There are three Owner Shares for each of the horses. The prize money evenly divides by three so players who have shares in the horses will split the purse accordingly. Money earned this way advances that player’s scoring marker. Then, winning bets are paid off (again, by moving the scoring token on the track – no folding money here).

After the first race, players have a chance to improve their stables and ownership. Any remaining blue cards are shuffled in with the red ownership deck and cards equal to the number of players are dealt face up. Starting with the player with the lowest score, each player may either purchase one of the face up Horse Owner share cards OR buy the top card off the deck sight unseen for its face value PLUS $3000 or simply pass. Once everyone has had a chance, the display of face up cards is refilled. All players now get a second chance to get another horse share card in the same manner but after that, that’s it. No more shares to be bought. Your stable is now stable and those are the horses you will use to reap rewards in the next three races. When the fourth and final race is completed, purses collected and bets paid off, the player who has amassed the most money wins!

The graphic presentation of Homestretch is interesting. The circular board is a nice depiction of a race track, with brown tones used to indicate the different lanes. But the handicap tokens are a little too big to fit easily into those lanes. While it’s nice to have miniature plastic horses to manipulate with each neatly numbered, the horses are all brown! Despite the numbers, it is all too easy to have horses glide into the wrong lanes. Not a deal-breaker but annoying. A nice touch would have been to have them in different colors (like the jockeys who wear different colors in real life races) to make identifying them on the track easier. Along those lines, the Owner Shares come in different colors to indicate the ease of rolling particular numbers (Owner Shares for horses 6, 7 and 8, for example, are all green bordered). If going with different colors of horses, it would have been an excellent opportunity to have the colors of the cards match the colors of the horses.

Homestretch combines the Euro element of card drafting and a bit of strategizing with the luck of the dice. Although horse racing is “the sport of kings” and you may be tempted to try and calculate and maneuver to own the “best” horses, Lady Luck is still Queen. In sessions we’ve played, players who have played miserably (making apparently “wrong choices” down the line) have been rescued by lucky dice rolls as their horses have come in and rewarded them with large payouts on their bets and large purses for their coffers. This may bemuse (frustrate?) more dedicated gamers who like to analyze and control.

What you need to remember here is that in Homestretch, Lady Luck rules the day. This is, at its core, a game with some decision making but a large luck factor due to dice dependence. All of which makes Homestretch a fine choice for a mix of casual gamers. More serious players who are prepared to let the chips (and dice) fall where they will can enjoy it too. And you can bet on it!


Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.


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