Review by Tyler Sivret
Slow and steady wins the race…sometimes. In this racing game that’s fun for any age, you’ll find fast and frantic gets it done as well. Made for 2-4 players, the Hare and Tortoise has cute loveable characters, easy to grasp mechanics, deep strategy, great replayability, and a container that travels well.
Those of you familiar with Aesop’s Fables will know the story of the Tortoise and the Hare, (or the Hare and Tortoise). The story goes something along the lines of: A hare was teasing a tortoise for how slow it was. The tortoise responds by challenging the Hare to a race. They race, and the Hare is so far ahead that he decides to take a nap. In the meantime, the Tortoise overtakes him and ends up winning by keep a slow, but steady pace. The moral of the story being: Slow and steady wins the race. The game itself actually includes a small pamphlet with this story as well, told in a much more compelling fashion.
The premise behind the Hare and Tortoise is that those two are up for a rematch. Only this time they’ve invited a few other animals from the Aesop-verse to join in. In addition to the Hare and Tortoise, there’s a wolf, a fox, and a lamb. This is a card game, and each animal is featured on a number of cards depending on who it is. Players draw at random to decide which animal they’re betting on, and they’re also dealt 7 cards and must decide from those cards which other animal to “bet” on. So even if you want to “bet” on the Rabbit, you may not get the opportunity.
Players then take turns playing cards to get their animal(s) to move around a track with 11 spaces…it takes 12 moves to cross the finish line. It’s up to you to assemble the track anyway you like with each space more or less being the same, except the stream spaces which I’ll get to in a hot second. You can play up to 4 cards from your hand at a time so long as they all have the same animal on them. The animals move after 8 cards have been played in total, or one animal has 4 cards featuring them on it. That fires the round and then the animals move.
Each animal moves depending on how many of their cards have been played, and they also move in the order of the Rabbit, followed by the Tortoise, then the Wolf, next the Fox, and finally the Sheep. This way there are never any ties. The Rabbit moves 2 spaces if at least 1 Rabbit card is played. However! If he’s in first place, even if he’s tied for first, and 4 Rabbit cards are played; he doesn’t move. Just like the story he lies down for a nap, confident in his assured victory. This doesn’t apply if he’s at the starting line. The Tortoise always moves 1 space, unless 4 Tortoise cards are played. In which case, he moves 2 spaces. Real slow and steady like. There’s one exception to the Tortoise always moves rule which I’m about to address. The Wolf moves 1 space if at least one Wolf card is played, or 2-3 spaces if 3 or 4 cards are played respectively. The Wolf also has special Wolf Howl cards. If one of these cards is played, the Wolf is the only animal to move as the others are just too frightened by the howl, which is the exception to the Tortoise always moves rule. He can howl from the winner’s podium, so even if he’s finished the race he can still troll the others. The Fox is boring…he moves as many places as cards are out. So up to 4 per round. The Lamb moves X+1 where X is the number of cards played, but he always stops at a stream to take a drink. So, if 4 Sheep cards are played, he moves 5 SPACES!…which is over a third of the track. However, if 4 Sheep cards are played and he’s right in front of a stream, he only moves 1.
The game comes with a cheat sheet for each player that tells you how each animal moves, so you don’t need to memorize a thing. Each race itself takes around 10-20 minutes. It’ll take a bit longer as you try to grasp the mechanics, but once you all get a hang of it, you can finish races quick.
And while the core mechanics of the game are easy to understand, there’s a lot of deeper strategy that goes into playing this game. Which cards to hold onto becomes just as important as which cards to play. Sometimes it’s advantageous to howl even if it’ll prevent your character from moving. Things get more complicated when you get near the finish line and you realize that even though the Tortoise only moves one space, he moves before every other animal except the Hare. Meaning even if you play 4 Lamb cards and 0 Tortoise cards, he’ll end up crossing the finish line before the Lamb if he’s on the final spot. There are also more Hare cards in the deck than any other animal. So while it’s easy to make him move, if he gets ahead, it’s also easy to make him nap. While the outside of the box may look childish, there’s a lot going on here. If the game seems TOO complex for your children, or yourself…don’t be ashamed, there are alternative rules that take away the separate movement rules and card numbers, making things much easier.
This game oozes replayability. You can change the track. Which animal(s) you want to win can change, and each animal has a different strategy. The amount of people playing changes the strategy, I’ve found two-player head to head to be very different from 3 or 4 players.
I’ve played this game for countless hours with a variety of people. People who wouldn’t normally play board games at all, and I’ve only had a couple who say it isn’t for them. Mostly those people didn’t enjoy it because nothing dies.
One final thing that I really like about this game is that it sets-up easy, and gets put away easy. The game box looks like a storybook, and everything fits in there snug. It’s a small case, that’s magnetized shut, so you can take it with you and play just about anywhere.
To make the game even more enticing, the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price is $24.99.
I have to dig deep for criticisms and the only one I can come up with is that it does get old after playing it 300+ times, but I took a short break and now I’m back to playing it again…so…yeah. Also, nobody seems to be able to get 1st place with the Wolf when playing it between only two players. I haven’t played it enough 3-4 player to confirm that this is a real issue. It just seems the Wolf has got some balancing issues. If you have different experiences, let me know, I’d be happy to receive some advice on how to win with this guy. I’ve also found that it’s super easy to win with the Hare heads-up, but this isn’t so much an issue with more players where it’s anyone’s game…’cept the poor Wolf.
Just a quick recap, The Hare and Tortoise is a great family game made for 2-4 players, it takes about 10-20 minutes for a race, it has great characters, easy to grasp mechanics, deep strategy, great replayability, and it travels easy.
I give this game a 9/10 for what it is. There’s no such thing as a perfect game, and I’m comfortable giving out a 10/10 if the game warrants it. I was going to give this game a 10/10, but I have to take a point away for the balancing issues. I would be happy to bump that up to a 10 if someone can prove that we just aren’t playing the Wolf right.
Now obviously, if you prefer games with lots of explosions, you will not enjoy this game. For everyone else, I highly recommend you buy it. This game needs to be on your shelf somewhere.