SPORT OF KINGS - Reviewed by Mike
For the true horseracing fan this game has everything that the sport offers, even more than Win, Place & Show, which more people have played. It is somewhat let down by its production values but that's an old story by now so let's concentrate on what the game offers.
There are 72 horses, 9 to each named stable. These horses range from the most hopeless of handicappers to the brightest Classic prospects and each horse is rated for its ability and correspondingly its cost. In similar fashion to Metric Mile, movement is generated by the roll of 2 die and cross-referencing this to the card. The cards are printed on both sides, the 'second' side coming into play when the owner decides to put it "under pressure" in the later stages of a race. This often increases the movement factor in most cases but carries the possibility of a horse reacting unfavourably to the whip or some other foible.
The game can be played as either a simple day's racing of 6 races or a campaign game is available for real enthusiasts covering 26 weeks of the flat racing season, and referring to real races. Let's stick to the simple version for the purpose of this article. Each player chooses a stable and decides in which of the 6 races he is to enter his horses. He will look at the distance of each race, the prevailing going and the cost of entry to determine his best chances of success. Each player has one "Superbly Fit" card, which can be used just once to increase the chances of one horse. They also decide upon the choice of jockey to be used for a particular race, stable jockeys costing nothing whilst first class and top class jockeys cost money, but they do provide extra movement factors, so could make all the difference.
There is a mechanism that determines by (modified) die rolls how many horses should contest each race. If the players have not entered enough horses between them "the System" selects horses from those stables not participating in the game and allocates a jockey. This means that each race is a competitive affair, even up to 15 in extreme cases!
When all the entries for a race have been the declared and the jockeys chosen, the odds for each entrant is calculated from a table which compares the relevant strengths of each horse. This is very clever indeed and provides for some interesting betting propositions. Do you back your own horse at low odds or invest on another horse at more attractive odds? …you can only have one bet so the choice is difficult.
The race itself is conducted by each owner throwing the die and moving the appropriate number of spaces. It's no good throwing lots of high numbers as this sometimes attracts a low movement factor….better to throw the middle numbers of 6,7,8. Even this is filled with interesting little tweaks as certain horses do not like to lead and if they find themselves in this position they have to reduce their next move by say 3 spaces. On completion of a race the prize money is shelled out, bets are settled and move on to the next race.
The additional features I mentioned at the beginning cover things like going changes, changes in handicap weights as a result of races, jockey championships, and even the use of sets of blinkers which can be used to temporarily change the movement factors for a particular horse for one race. The whole system knits together so well to provide hours of fascinating decision-making and high replay value. There's even expansion kits for National Hunt horses and "The Great Racehorses", where you can race champions from previous years against each other. Sheer heaven for the horseracing enthusiast.