Arcadian Del Sol
With some birthday money and a rising need to supplement my tactics-heavy game collection, I opted for several purchases and among them was a horse racing game. I selected it for two reasons: I dont have a horse racing game, and it said 'Knizia' on the box.
Opening the box
The components are very high quality. The 'cards' for each horse are not actually cards at all, but thick cardboard 'shingles.' The artwork is very clean and artistic and at the same time, nostalgic. This game manages to take modern molding and printing techniques and create a game that looks like it might have been played in the late 1920's or early 1930's - arguably the peak of horseracing popularity. It sets the mood perfectly.
Learning the Game
The rules are simple, straight-forward, and easily digested. You select the horses for the current race, you place your wagers on the horses you think will win, place, and show - and then you take turns rolling a die and moving each horse in turn. It is no more complicated than that. Within 4 minutes of opening the box, we were playing - and not having to refer back to the rules to clarify ambiguous moments.
The strategies are plenty. Do you move the horse you've wagered on, or do you move the horse an opponent wagered on in order to prevent that horse from breaking away from the pack and possibly winning? The structure of the game requires that no horse can be moved again until ALL horses have been moved. Horses move using the centuries old mechanic introduced by 'Parchesi' where one piece per space means that a potentially faster horse can find itself 'bottled' inside of a slow moving pack of horses. A game consists of three races, and rarely does one find a player so far out in the lead (scored by the accumulation of cash from one's wagers), that the game is over before it ends. It always seems to come down to the last race.
There are no guns or player eliminations or resource/land grabs where players duke it out with dice. Its largely non-confrontational while remaining competative and very fun. The wife enjoyed the game, and looks forward to playing again. If you have a non-gaming spouse, this game is your gateway.
Id consider this a must-buy were it not for the fact that I obviously already own it. Thus, I consider it a 'you-must-buy' for anyone whose game collection attempts to introduce new games with such fare as Twilight Imperium, Caylus, and/or Railroad Tycoon. If you need a gateway game that you can also enjoy instead of 'enduring' until you can promote your group to meatier fare, then get this one.
I'm scoring it a 9/10.
The reason it is not a perfect 10: This game would be a perfect 10 if it went the extra mile and incorporated weather, track type, and instead of just the horses' stats coming into play, it had also included a 'jockey deck' where a good horse on a bad jockey might make a riskier wager.