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Stven Carlberg
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Decatur
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The components of this horse-racing game, even in the non-deluxe version, are impressively attractive. In each of eight colors you will find a deck of cards, a pair of pearly dice, and an inch-long horse in midstride with jockey. The basic track (not the one shown in the BoardGamegeek photo) is a large oval suitable for flat racing or hurdles on a nice linen-finish board.

Each player has an identical deck of 32 cards with various values of movement points. You'll use your whole deck in three races, but only 10 cards per race -- with the extra 2 cards available as a bonus during your choice of one of the three races -- so on some races your horse will be stronger than others.

In between rounds of each player playing a card and moving his horse the number shown, there's a round where one player rolls his dice and that dice roll applies to every horse in the race. This provides the common forward momentum which makes for a slower or faster track. The player whose turn it is to roll the dice gets to choose, once having rolled, whether to use the sum of the two dice or just one or the other die, so he has that chance to control the tempo of the race.

More critically, it is also a chance for the lagging horses to catch up. On not only the dice round but also the card round, there is a limitation to how many spaces the leading horses may move: 8 for the horse in first, 9 for the horse in second, 10 for the horse in third. So if the player whose horse is in fourth place rolls a 12, he can move the whole 12 while the first three horses get only 6 apiece (as they are required to choose the pips from one die only). On the other hand, if the player in first rolls a 12, he can declare that only a 6 will be used by every horse.

The same limitations on movement apply during a round of cards, with the exception that each player has four cards in his deck (a 9, 10, 11 and 12) which are jokers and can be played no matter what the horse's position. These jokers are essential for the final sprint to the finish line.

A couple of problems with the rules deserve to be cleared up. One has to do with changing lanes in the curve: this is allowed. Of course, if you come to Turf Master from Formula Dé, it might never occur to you not to allow changing lanes in a curve. Coming from Win, Place & Show, on the other hand, changing lanes in a curve is unheard of. The rules fail to mention this issue at all, but Q&A exchange with the Turf Master people settled the point.

Another mystery was the use of the two "bonus-cards" in the deck of 32. The proper method is for the player who has decided he wants the bonus cards to add them to his hand and then go on playing as normally, one card in his turn. Our original understanding of this rule ("These two bonus-cards can be played during a race at any desired time.") was that you drew them and played them both immediately. This aspect of the game, not surprisingly, makes more sense when played correctly.

Now, how do the races feel? Well, there's a tendency for the whole pack of horses to run fairly close together. This is enforced by the limitations on movement for the front three horses and also strict limitations on when a horse can change lanes. (Only twice on a turn: once on the first space he moves, and once more starting with the seventh space, if he moves that far.) So in large part, you spend three-quarters of the race jockeying for position and the last bit sprinting for the finish line. It is crucial, especially in the final sprint, not to let your horse be blocked. More than one race has been lost by a horse who had the pips on the card but couldn't get to an open lane to use them.

The steeplechase rules provide additional challenge for the races. You've got to have four pips of movement to clear a hurdle; if your play of a card gets you up but not over, your horse falls and is out of the race. The cards with values of 3 and 4 become important in a situation where a dice roll has left your horse in a close approach to a hurdle but without a card to clear it.

The races do have the feeling that they're moving kind of slow. You're sitting there with your horse, all anxious to get him around as quickly as possible, and instead you have to wait for all those other players to do their little moves, and then it's well over 100 spaces to get around (more if you take the outside lane), so 8 or 9 card plays plus 8 or 9 dice rolls will pretty certainly be required for each race. It's hard not to wish it could go faster.

But the sum of the tactical challenges, while subtle, is substantial. Staying with the pack and then putting on a stretch run are separate problems and require different solutions, and it's interesting working them out. And, while I haven't yet played this game as much as I want to, I'm convinced that running the races against opponents who have also figured out how it's done has a chance to become very competitive indeed.
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Angela Kincaid
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There's an error in the lane changing mentioned in this review.

It is true lanes can only be changed twice per movement. The first lane change can be in the first six spaces of movement, the second can take place beginning with the seventh space of movement.

I think the confusion comes because in the rules, it says you can start out changing lanes initially on the diagonal. This means you can change lanes starting with your first space of movement, but it is not limited to the first space. It can be anywhere in the first six.

 
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Robert Martin
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Stven's description of lane changing is actually correct. Take a look in the links section for a link called "Demonstration of how to correctly change lanes (TurfMaster Tactics #6)". It shows that you cannot change lanes on spaces 2-6 and it also shows that you can change lanes on the turns.
 
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Angela Kincaid
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After much discussion on SpielFrieks and the opportunity to test drive it, I must say that Stven's analysis MUST be correct because it's a much better game that way!
 
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Randy Cox
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Clemson
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1024x768 works just fine - Don't Wide the Site!
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I played the wrong way our first time, too (allowing one change between space 1 and 6 and one more between 7 and X). So I sent an e-mail to AZA Spiele. Great customer service...they responded within a few hours.

Here's what was said about the lane changing:

"You can only change with the first move and once again somewhere after the 6th move."

That indicates to me that it's halfway between the two interpretations. The first change is rigidly on space 1 where the other can happen anywhere from 7 on out. Is this how others play?

Also, in that same e-mail, I asked about whether a player loses his or her two random cards from using the bonus before or after the next 10-card deal. The answer:

"It is before he draws 10 more cards. This is the original hard version. [The other option] seems to be a non official girls' version for softer players."

Not very PC, but quite helpful.
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