While I am not personally a fan of horse racing, I have always been intrigued by horse racing board games. Horse racing just seems like a sport that would work well for a board game. You have bidding/gambling and movement mechanics two staples of board gaming. In the past I have looked at Winner’s Circle and Divinity Derby and I enjoyed both games. When I found Win, Place & Show at a thrift store I was interested in trying it out because it is surprisingly popular for a board game that is over 50 years old. For its’ age there is a lot to like about Win, Place & Show but at the same time it has aged poorly in some areas.
How to Play Win, Place & Show
Each player takes a racing program, a betting slip and $50,000. The rest of the money forms the bank. The stable and foul claim cards are placed to the side of the gameboard. A game of Win, Place & Show involves six different races (or the number of races agreed to by the players). Each race begins with an auction to determine who owns each horse for the next race.
Before starting the auction you have to familiarize yourself with the information in the program. For each race the program lists the horses that will compete in the race. For each race there is information about the race itself and each horse. The information about each horse includes the following:
- Post Position: In which position the horse will begin.
- Running Strength: A list of movement numbers used to move the horse in the race.
- Bonus Number: The number when rolled that gives the horse a bonus of three spaces.
- Type of Jockey: Whether the horse has a veteran or apprentice jockey.
- Odds: Determines payout if the horse wins a bet.
- Name of Stable: Used to determine which horse is currently up for auction.
- Speed: Indicates how likely the horse will win the race if all of the running strength numbers aren’t used.
- Class: Indicates how likely the horse will win the race if all of the running strength numbers are used.
To start the auction the six stable cards representing the six horses are shuffled. The top card is then turned over to see which horse is up for auction first. If there are less than six players a player is able to purchase up to two horses but every player has to purchase one horse. One player starts the bidding for a horse with the bidding moving clockwise around the table. The minimum bid is $500 and all other bids must be in $500 increments. If a player ever passes twice in a row on a horse they are out of the bidding for the horse. The player with the highest bid takes control of the horse and pays their bid to the bank. If no one bids on a horse it is put off to the side to be auctioned off later.
Instead of having auctions before every race, the players can choose to have one auction at the beginning of the game and each player will own the horses from that stable for the rest of the game. With this type of auction each player must pay at least $3,000 for a stable of horses and all bids must be in $500 increments.
After the auction has concluded for the current race the horses are put in the proper starting positions based on the length of the race. During the race either one player will always roll the dice or players can alternate rolling the dice. The number rolled on the white die indicates which horse gets to move first. The number of spaces that a horse gets to move comes from three places:
- The horse gets to move the number of spaces indicated by their running strength for the current roll. If this was the first roll they look at the first number. If it is the second roll they look at the second number and so on. If all of the numbers have been used and the race hasn’t ended yet, the last number is used for the rest of the race.
- The horse also gets to move the number of spaces rolled on the white dice.
- If the horse’s bonus number is rolled when the two dice are added together, they get three additional spaces.
Starting with the first horse to move, the player that owns the horse decides how it will use its’ spaces. When moving a horse it can only move forward or diagonally. A horse may not move through a space occupied by another horse unless it started the turn on a passing square. If the horse started the turn on a passing square (a square with a line through it) they are able to move through one space in their same lane that has a horse on it.
A horse is only able to move diagonally across lanes based on the skill of their jockey. When crossing lanes a horse cannot change lanes in the space in front of another horse. Horses cannot change lanes while going around the turns. If the horse has a veteran jockey the horse can cross two lanes and then move back to the lane in which it started the turn. An apprentice jockey can only cross into one of the adjacent lanes and cannot move back to the lane they started the turn on. To make up for not having as much flexibility, an apprentice jockey can move two extra spaces during one turn in the race.
A player must move their horse the full number of spaces in most situations. A player can choose to stop up to three spaces early if they can stop on a passing square. If a player is blocked by another horse and is unable to move any further, the horse has to forfeit the rest of their spaces.
The race continues until at least four horses cross the finish line. If more than one horse crosses the finish line during the same turn, the horse that moves the furthest past the finish lines takes the highest position remaining. If two horses end up the same distance from the finish line and one horse has a veteran jockey and the other has an apprentice jockey, the veteran jockey will place higher. If both horses have the same type of jockey, the horse that reaches the space last gets the higher position.
Bidding and Payouts
After the auction but before you begin the races each player will have the ability to bet on the race. Each player can make up to three bets. They can bet on one horse to win (first place), one to place (first or second place) and one to show (first, second or third place). A player can bet on the same horse for more than one of the bets. If there are only four horses in the race, no one can place a show bet. All bets must be at least $1,000 up to a maximum of $5,000 in increments of $1,000. To place a bet the player fills in the corresponding part of the betting slip and pays their bet to the bank. In addition to making win, place, and show bets; players can also make Daily Double, Baseball and Wheel bets.
At the end of the race players will compare their bets to the results of the race. If a player wins a bet they use the horse’s odds of winning and refer to the chart on the board to determine their payout from the bank. In addition to paying out bets the bank pays out the winnings for each place in the race to the owner of each horse.
Due to player’s not having to bet on the horses they own/control, there are rules to prevent players from sabotaging their own horse(s). If a player bid on a horse that they think the owner is sabotaging they can file a claim of foul against that owner. To lodge a foul complaint the player had to have bet on the horse that they think is being sabotaged. Valid reasons to claim a foul include:
- A player not taking their apprentice allowance.
- Stopping three spaces early to land on a passing square.
- Choosing an unfavorable lane during the turns.
When making a foul claim the player needs to give their reasons for the claim. If the claim is granted the player takes the foul claim card for the associated horse.
After the race has concluded the foul claim is settled. The owner of the horse reveals their bids. If they bid on any horse to place higher than their own horse the claim is upheld. The horse is disqualified and the player who bet on the horse gets their money back. The owner of the horse must also share half of all of their winning bids with the player who filed the foul claim. If the winnings are not a multiple of $1,000, the player who filed the claim gets the extra $500 and half of the rest of the bid.
If the owner actually bid on their horse to win the race, the person who filed the foul claim has to pay the horse’s owner $2,000.
End of Game
The game ends when all of the races have been completed. The player with the most money after the last race wins the game.
My Thoughts on Win, Place & Show
Win, Place & Show is kind of an interesting game. Created in 1966 when most board games were just glorified roll and move games, the designers of Win, Place & Show actually tried to create a strategic game. While the game does have rolling and moving in it, the designers combined those mechanics with horse racing to create a realistic horse racing game. Win, Place & Show kind of feels like an early designer game.
I think the most interesting part of Win, Place & Show is the racing itself. While the bidding is probably going to decide who ultimately wins the game, there is a surprising amount of strategy in the racing mechanic of the game. While most moves are probably going to be pretty obvious, you can make moves that can have a big impact on the race. Positioning, especially in the corners, is crucial to winning a race. By moving one horse you could potentially block another horse preventing them from even moving on a turn. A move like this could ruin the other horse’s chances of placing in the race.
Probably the most important factor in doing well in a race is turn order. Since turn order is determined by a roll of the dice, this does add quite a bit of luck into the game. Based on my experience it is usually best to move earlier in each round. This allows a horse to pass other horses and get in the way of horses that have to move later in the turn. If a horse is stuck behind a lot of horses though it might be beneficial going later since they otherwise might be blocked and will have more flexibility.
What makes the racing aspect of the game interesting is the fact that each horse in the game races differently. Some horses get out to a fast lead but fade at the end of the race. On the other hand some horses start slow but catch up quickly at the end of the race. This might feel like a gimmick but it actually works surprisingly well in the game. In one race I had a horse that fell behind quickly to the point that I thought it had no chance at placing in the race. Then in the last two turns the horse came out of nowhere and quickly passed enough horses to place. This makes the ending of some of the races quite exciting.
Not being much of a gambler myself, I don’t know what to think about the betting mechanics in Win, Place & Show. I will say that I am impressed with all of the options you have for making bids in the game. Not being a gambler though I didn’t really understand some of the special types of bids that you can make in the game. Not being an experienced gambler the bidding does seem to be a little too reliant on luck. More experienced horse race gamblers probably can form a strategy but for inexperienced horse race betters it kind of feels like you just randomly pick horses that you hope will win. Basically I approached bidding by deciding if I thought the race was going to be short or long and then bid on horses that were good at the beginning or end of the race.
Once you get used to Win, Place & Show the game is pretty easy but I was surprised by the game’s learning curve. This is probably due to not being much of a horse racing fan but I did not find the game to be one that you could immediately pick up and play. Some of the types of bids are kind of confusing for people not familiar with horse race betting. The movement mechanics are not that difficult but it takes a while to get a hang of them. This isn’t helped by the fact that the game’s instructions are poorly written. While the game has a recommended age of 8+ I would probably say that 10-13 is more appropriate.
Being created in 1966 you have to give Win, Place & Show a lot of credit. In an era where most board games were just roll and move games, it actually has a lot of interesting ideas and more strategy than a lot of games from that time period. Back in the 1960s Win, Place & Show was probably considered a great game. With the game being over 50 years old though it is starting to show its’ age. The board game industry has changed a lot over the past 50 years and Win, Place & Show just doesn’t stand out as much as it used to.
I don’t know if this should be considered a positive or negative but Win, Place & Show feels like a very realistic take on horse racing. The game feels like it was designed to be the most realistic horse racing game that it could be. The different horses’ strengths and weaknesses seem to have been developed using statistics to create realistic race situations. The game gives you plenty of different bidding options. Even the racing itself seems to try and simulate how a real horse race plays out. For fans of horse racing they will probably love this aspect of the game. For more casual horse racing fans though this can create some problems.
I think the biggest problem with Win, Place & Show is that it is just too long. Saying that the game only takes two hours might be a little generous. You have to dedicate quite a bit of a gaming night to Win, Place & Show if you want to complete a full game. You could eliminate a couple of the races to shorten the game but that kind of messes up the bidding mechanics. Just doing half of the races will still likely take more than an hour. The biggest problem with the length is that Win, Place & Show just drags on. It would have been a better game if it was 30 minutes to an hour long instead of two hours long.
The reason why Win, Place & Show takes so long is that it could have used some streamlining. As board games have evolved over the last 50 years one of the biggest changes has been that designers have figured out how to streamline games to shorten them and put the focus on the most interesting aspects of the game. Win, Place & Show has some interesting mechanics but at times the game spends too much time on mechanics that just aren’t that interesting. This is one of the biggest reasons why I think Winner’s Circle and Divinity Derby are better horse racing style games.
An example of how Win, Place & Show could use some streamlining is the idea of fouls. While I give the game credit for coming up with a way to prevent cheating, the rules are too complicated and kind of unnecessary. The reason I think they are unnecessary is that I find it really hard for a player to get away with sabotaging their own horse(s). Most of the time your move is going to be pretty obvious. Therefore it is really hard to make a move that would actually significantly sabotage a horse and not be so obvious that it would be called out immediately. Instead of coming up with a complicated set of rules for when it happens, I think you would be better off letting players veto a move that they feel is meant to sabotage a horse. This rule just feels like one of the rules the game has added in order try and make the game feel more realistic.
For a game that is 50+ years old I have to say that the components for the game are quite good. While they are only plastic I like the horse figures. The gameboard’s artwork is quite bland but the gameboard is quite large. My favorite component is probably the programs though. The game could have just included a sheet of paper showing the horses for every race but I like the little extra the game put in to make them look like race programs. The rest of the components are basically what you would expect from this type of game. While they aren’t as good as the components of a modern designer game, the components are quite nice for their age.
Should You Buy Win, Place & Show?
Win, Place & Show is an interesting game that feels like it was before its’ time. The game has a lot of unique mechanics that make it stand out among the other board games released in the mid 1960s. The racing mechanics are interesting and the game does a surprisingly good job simulating horse racing. The problem with Win, Place & Show is that in the past 50 years the game hasn’t aged that well. The game lasts too long and could have really used some streamlining. Games like Winner’s Circle and Divinity Derby have found a way to streamline the horse racing genre to make a fun racing game that doesn’t take two hours to complete.
If you don’t really care for horse racing Win, Place & Show won’t appeal to you. If you are only casually interested in horse racing I would probably recommend Winner’s Circle or Divinity Derby. If you want a really detailed horse racing game though you might want to consider picking up Win, Place & Show.