I sometimes wonder if the story of the hare and the tortoise was meant to make slow people feel better about themselves. I suspect that many slow people, like myself, who always try and think of others and follow the rules, would secretly rather be driving over traffic in a giant monster truck that spits out fire and shoots missiles. Screw that slow and steady crap. I’ve been doing that my whole life and I’m tired of it.
Hare and Tortoise was the first winner of the Spiel des Jahres in 1979. It was designed by David Parlett and has been published by a variety of companies over the years. I do not believe that it is currently available, but used copies are easy to find online. The original German version was titled Hase und Igel, which would be the story of the hare and the hedgehog. I’m pretty sure that version of the story ended with the hedgehog winning because the hare was stone drunk under a table in a Munich beer garden. The best description I’ve ever heard of the game was that it is a children’s game played on the planet Vulcan. My friend Mark Jackson told me that quote came from Derk Solko, but I have been unable to verify that because it would take way too much effort and I am really lazy. It sounds like something Derk would say.
My single play of the game was enjoyable, probably due more to the company rather than the game, but honestly I could say that about most game experiences. Obviously, the goal of any race game is to be the first to cross the finish line, but in Hare and Tortoise, you need to be able to do lots of math while you are racing. Carrots give you the numeric fuel that you need to travel and the farther you travel, the more carrots you need to do so; however, you must gather carrots as you go and for some reason, you cannot cross the finish line with more than just a few carrots. The finish line must be near a state border or something that restricts you from traveling with fruit or vegetables.
You also have three heads of lettuce that you must get rid of before you can cross the finish line. I’m not sure why anyone would decide to take lettuce with them on a race. Perhaps the lettuce is a metaphor for cash that must be spent on energy drinks throughout the day, because there’s no way carrots are going to give you the kind of buzz you need to make it though the arithmetic needed to be the first over the state line, or whatever it is.
The game can be played with up to six players. We played with four and that seemed like a sweet spot. The game can be played in under an hour and is listed for ages 8 and up. The version we played had cheat sheets to help with the math. No, I’m not kidding. I’ve seen a few versions of the game, but the one we played was published by Rio Grande Games and it looked great. The board is fun and colorful and the bits and cards are top-notch. It really does look like a simple roll and move kids game.
I would certainly play this one again. I didn’t mind the math, and I felt like I had to make some meaningful decisions. If you can find a copy, I would encourage you to give it a try. There are some rule variations that add random effects when you land on the hare squares, but I would suggest that you avoid those. Don’t try and make this game into something that it is not. Hare and Tortoise is kind of like a graphing calculator hidden inside of a stuffed animal, which is probably something that’s really popular in Japan. You can quote me on that, Mark Jackson.
This is part of my Spiel des Jahres winner series. If you would like to comment on the 1979 winner, Hare and Tortoise, then please do so on this post. If you would like to discuss or comment on the Spiel des Jahres award in general, please do so on the Spiel des Jahres series post.