Why the long face?
One of the joys of attending conventions is getting to play games you might not have picked up yourself. At Tabletop Scotland recently Kenny Li, who is a friend of the team, had brought Long Shot: The Dice Game. Half a game later we got kicked out of the halls but it didn’t matter. I was hooked.
Long Shot: The Dice Game is a Roll & Write of horse racing and gambling. Chris Handy designed Long Shot: The Dice Game with art from Clau Souza. Perplext publish the game. Chris had previously designed a game called Long Shot, also about horse racing, giving us the slightly word salad title.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first about the theme, and setting, of this game. It’s all about gambling and I can totally understand if that is a major turn off for you. I think the gambling industry is a total unregulated nightmare for many countries and the amount of gambling ads I hear and see in the UK makes me feel ill. From placing bets on horses, to manipulating the odds of them moving, you will not be able to get away from the fact that gambling is woven in the DNA of this game.
Long Shot focuses on the thrill of the race. You’ll become invested, figuratively and literally, in the horses zooming around the track. When you setup you will be given some free bets on a couple of horses, pushing you towards them being your favoured steeds. By the end of the game those bets can be everything or nothing. Long Shot encourages you to forge a path through its puzzle without dictating direction (though I recommend forwards for the horses).
The production here is simple but great. Chunky screen printed horse tokens zoom around a brightly illustrated track. All the names on the horses evoke the ridiculous ones you see at races worldwide. All the horse art is great, giving you the distinct impression that the horses have their own personalities. It’s also got a magnetic closing box which I am a sucker for.
The core of Long Shot is Roll & Write. If you aren’t familiar with this genre of game it usually involves a random element, cards or dice, that give you options on your player board to tick, draw, and manipulate. In this case you have 1 lap of a race track to determine the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place horse and make as much money as you can. Rolling an 8-sided die to determine which horse moves and a 6-sided one to determine how far.
Now we are off to the races. 1 horse moves along the track. Each horse’s card shows the other horses that move along with it, each of them trotting 1 space only. Now every player gets to take an action based on the 8-sided die result.
Maybe you will simply mark a concession, filling out a little 4 x 4 grid. You start with some of this grid filled. Every row or column you complete allows you to take a bonus. Maybe you will fill your pockets with cash, get horses to race faster, or even go backwards!
You could place a bet on the horse rolled, hoping it at least gets into the home straight to get your money back. If it crosses the line in a podium position then glorious multipliers are yours, and a big cash prize.
Maybe you’ll go as far as buying a horse. I don’t know a lot about horse racing but I think it is unusual for horses to be bought mid-race, but here we are. Buying a horse puts its card in front of you and you now get to use its special power. These can be anything from giving you the occasional free bet to manipulating how you fill out concessions. On top of that if the horse gets on the podium, you get an owners bonus in cash.
Of course no game about horse racing would be complete without different odds on the competitors. As I mentioned earlier during setup you get two free bets on horses. You can use your action to place a new bet on the horse rolled, at up to $3 a time. At the end of the game each bet is worth the amount of the bet multiplied by a number based on if the horse placed first, second, or third. If it gets in the final straight that multiplier is one and you at least get your money back. Anything else is gone.
As you go from horse 1 to 8 the multipliers increase, representing decreasing odds of that horse crossing the finishing line. This is because the higher numbered horses feature less on the little movement strips each card has on it. Never fear though we can manipulate the odds!
One of the actions you can take is to add a jersey to a horse (whether it goes on the horse or the jockey in your mind’s eye is entirely up to you). Doing so allows you to mark a new number on that horse’s card, meaning even more of the pack moves when it does. Mark an 8 on 8 for instance so whenever an 8 is rolled it moves and then moves again!
You can manipulate the odds in your favour even more with a helmet. Once they are in the final straight, all bets are off. Literally. You are no longer allowed to throw your money down on any of the horses in that position. Unless you have a helmet marked for that horse. This allows you to leave your bet till late, but will you be able to get enough on that horse before it finishes the race?
Long Shot does not allow you to do everything. You simply can’t. The horse powers allow some manipulation of how many pieces of the puzzle you can access on your turn, but at the end of the day you can’t fill out everything. This does mean you can choose a path to victory and pursue it relentlessly. What I’ve found with Long Shot though is that some improvisation along the way pays dividends. The situation changes a lot, and the game is generous enough to give you ways out. It even goes so far as allowing you a wild choice from time to time to really shake things up.
Long Shot combines an individual player puzzle, like many Roll & Writes, with a central race element everyone is invested in. It is a brilliant combination of solitaire style puzzle and group created problems. There are moments of recrimination as horses refuse to move or even go backwards. Elation comes as they round the final corner, hurtling towards the finish line. Then you come crashing down as your favourite is overtaken by some no-name from way back in the pack. Betting slips are torn up and tossed into the air, coming to naught, and owners smile as they see their foresight come to fruition.
Long Shot: The Dice Game invites you to embrace both the short term goal that might keep you going with the outside bet that will see you claiming victory. It gives you loads of tools and is generous in letting you use them. You will revel in the thrill of the race and the temptation of just one more bet on that horse before it crosses the line. Maybe. I am looking forward to introducing it to more people and it will be a permanent addition to my convention bag.