One look at the cover will make it clear that Winner’s Circle is about spaceships doing battle. No, no I lie and lie badly. It’s about horse racing.
Just like in real life, you are betting on horses. And in Winner’s Circle, each horse is unique and distinct, just like each Doctor on Doctor Who. Each horse has a value in four different symbols. That’s how far it’ll run when you roll that symbol on the die (which is horse head, horse head, horse head, horse shoe, saddlebag and jockey hat) And every horse is different with some pretty steady and some clearly designed for that long-shot chance. (Oh, and there are more than enough different horse tiles for multiple races. Twenty-eight In fact. You get variety in your line up)
Okay. Here’s the even more clever bit. On your turn, you roll the die THEN choose which horse your going to move, flipping over its tile. All the tiles have to be flipped before they flip back over so the favored can’t be picked over and over again in a row.
At the end of each race, the first three horses pay out and the last horse loses money. But, the payouts are based on the number of betters. So you win less money for betting on a favorite and a long shot can really pay off.
All right. I have a confession to make. I have more fun with Winner’s Circle than Colossal Arena, which is arguably Knizia’s classic betting game. Winner’s Circle is just more streamlined so I can focus on having a good time. Colossal Arena is amazing but it’s a lot less casual.
And Winner’s Circle is a great game for casual gamers or family gamers. It takes that old and much-mocked mechanic, Roll-and-Move and turns it on its head. It’s so easy to explain but Knizia uses it to offer honestly interesting choices.
And since anyone can move any horse, which can mean staying stock still, everyone is invested in every turn. Cheers and profanity are part and parcel of having Winner’s Circle on the table.
There Is the absolute top tier of Knizia’s ludography. Games like Ra or Tigris and Euphrates that are like the Gods of Olympus that will be played until the sun becomes a dwarf star. But, man, he’s got so many games in the second tier and those games are any designer would be proud to have created. His second tier games are still rock star.
Winner’s Circle or Royal Turf is definitely one of those games. It’s a family weight game that is easy to understand and explain and play under an hour but is just so much fun.