Cost: 25 From: Walter Muller Spiele, Friedrich-Ebert-Strasse 4, 8960 Kemplen, Germany Players: 2-5 Playing Time: 30-60 minutes Type of game: Family Complexity: 3 Skill: 3 Reviewed by: Peter Sarrett, Issue 2.1, Fall 1993
Sporting events have always been popular subjects for games. Many fail to capture the spirit of the sport, and many are just plain awful. Favoriten is an abstract horse racing game from Germany which manages to avoid these pitfalls. I should emphasis the word "abstract" here. Favoriten concerns racing and betting on horses, but draws little else from the sport. There are no jockeys, fancy maneuvers, track conditions or money. Instead the sport has been distilled to its essence and a game crafted around it. The results are surprisingly good.
Five horses (represented by colored, light-weight wood chess knights) compete in each race. Each player receives an identity card indicating which symbol he'll use and takes the three matching betting markers. The symbols are functionally equivalent to each other. The board depicts an oval track with 33 spaces, five columns of colored circles (one per horse) and a winner's circle for the top three horses.
Play is exceedingly simple. One each turn, all players may bet on a horse. To do so, you place a token on the topmost unoccupied circle in the column of the horse you wish to bet on. Each player can place only three bets per race, and each horse can accomodate up to five bets. After all players have bet or passed, one player rolls the die five times. After each roll, that player must advance one horse the number of spaces rolled. Each horse must be moved once, and only once, per turn. The track is divided into two lanes, allowing horses to move into the opposite lane every turn. This makes it easy to determine what horses have yet to be moved. Once all five horses have been moved, the die passes clockwise and the next round of betting begins.
When three horses cross the finish line (and enter the appropriate spot in the winner's circle), the race is over and bets are paid off. Only bets in the columns of the top three horses score. The closer your token is toward the top of the column, the more points you receive. The values are well-chosen: 32, 22, 16, 12, and 10 points for bets on the first place horse; 24, 17, 12, 9, and 8 points for bets on the second place horse, and 16, 11, 8, 6, and 5 points for the third place horse. Notice, for example, that the first bet on horse number three is worth the same as the third bet on the winner. After a number of races equal to the number of players, whoever has the highest total score is the winner.
The point spreads encourage players to bet on horses early. The downside is that the earlier you bet, the longer other players have to slow your horse down. It's pure folly to bet on a horse before they're out of the gate unless you're the player rolling the die. Otherwise, when a one is rolled, you can be sure that your horse won't be going very far. Likewise, you want to be careful about putting all your markers on one horse, making that horse the obvious slowpoke choice for your opponents.
When different players bet on the same horse, things start to get really interesting. With more than one person rooting for a horse, that horse tends to move faster. But although a player with the third bet on a horse will want to help that horse cross the finish line, he'll be much more interested in helping the horse for which he's got the top bet.
Deciding which horse to move is not always easy. Suppose, midway through the race, a five comes up on your first roll. Do you move your favorite horse, or do you give a different horse the five and hope you can come up with a six? If you wait, you may get stuck with a two for your favorite instead. And you'll kick yourself.
If this sounds like a kid's game, think again. When I played this with a bunch of hard-core gamers at a recent convention, the hall echoed with shouts of "Six! Six! Come on, six!" A crowd gathered to find out what all the cheers and jeers were about. When I brought it out at home, a group of more casual players also enjoyed it. Not only is Favoriten fun, but its simplicity makes it easy to learn.
Such wide appeal is rare. Favoriten, seemingly a dark horse contender, has nevertheless earned its spot in my gaming winner's circle.