Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ben Hurt

Ben Hurt is a game of chariot racing, printed in the mid '90s by Cheapass Games. It was a gift from my brother, Mark, on either a birthday or Christmas many years ago. As with all games by Cheapass, it comes with only the unique components to the game: the board (in six pieces that you have to assemble yourself), the rules, and 80 playing cards. You have to add money, player tokens, and dice, of a unique color or style for each player.

Each player represents a rich layabout trying to become richer by funding chariots in the chariot races in ancient Rome. Each player starts with 100 ducats, which seems like a lot, but they disappear quickly. To enter reach race, you have to ante 2 ducats per lap in the race into the "pot." Then, you also spend money on various cards to either improve your chariot prior to the race (by either improving the chariot itself or getting a special driver), or to use during the race to break the rules in various ways.

This is handled in a pretty cool way. You get a few cards for free each race, but more cards are given up for auction. Each player will have cards that they can either pay for up front (each card has a "quick sale" cost that allows the auctioneer to simply buy it), or it goes around the table. The first time around, anyone who wants it has to put 1 ducat into the pot. If more than one person put into the pot for it, it goes around again, but particpants have to put in 2 ducats, and so on. Each time round it gets more expensive, and this helps make for a richer pot.

Once the race begins, player move their chariots around the track. Each chariot is represented by a die. The reason for this is that your movement points is both a combination of your chariot's speed (usually the number you rolled in the previous round, but not always) and what you rolled. For example, chariots start out at a low speed (duh), usually 1 or 2. Thus, if I start with a speed of 1, and then roll a 6, I move 7 spaces. However, then my speed becomes 6. In the next turn, if I roll a 4, I move 10 spaces, and then my speed becomes 4. So there is some momentum. This would make you think that the entire game is random and based on speed die rolls. This is partly true, but there are many cards that let you mess with other players. Maybe they have to re-roll, maybe you throw a cat or an orangutan at their chariot (yes, this can happen) to slow them down, maybe you drop grease behind your chariot as you pass someone making everyone else to slower, etc. The game would be hopelessly lame without the use of the cards.

However, even with the cards, the game still feels a bit too random. Maybe it takes a number of plays to really figure out the best cards to get, and therefore the best ones to bid one before the race. The game is helped by the "tournament" structure that it has. See, there isn't just one race. The game consists of a series of races. The number of races, and their length in laps, is decided by the players. The standard series is 3 races of lengths of 1, 2, and 4 laps. You can have much more involved races, though. The length of a race really impacts the way cards are played. In a short race, you will probably play your cards as soon as possible, because the race can be very short if some bursts ahead. In a longer race, though, you will likely see more saving of cards to use until late in the race, if it stays tight.

When a race is over, the pot is paid out to first, second, and third place finishers. The pot is divided into 6 equal shares. First place gets three shares, second place gets two, and third place gets one. It only takes a couple races without winning to really put a player in a bind, with little cash left to invest in new cards. Thus, there can be some momentum in the game, with a player getting an early lead in the series and it being hard to knock them out. Because of this, even though the game is rated for 4 to 8 players, I'm not sure I would play it with more than 6. The game can also get long with many players, though it also gets pretty crazy.

In the end, this game is pretty average, as tends to be the case with games by Cheapass. It is pretty simple and easy to pick up and play, but it has some depth in knowing how to properly play the cards and handle the auctions for more cards. However, the game just didn't really grab me, and throwing cats at opposing chariots, or attacking them with hoes (like you use in your garden), just seems silly. It's good for a laugh, but it gets old, and there are better games to play.

No comments: