First ever winner of the Spiel des Jahres - sitll going strong after 40 years
The clever race game with a classic theme
where even he who hesitates can win!
A pile of boxes
Hare & Tortoise was first published in Britain by Intellect Games UK in 1974 and has been in print ever since,
though Intellect has long since vanished from the scene.
In 1979 the German edition, published by Ravensburger under the title "Hase und Igel" (= Hare and
Hedgehog), became the first ever winner of the now prestigious
Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award.
Hare & Tortoise has since sold over 2 million units in at least 10 languages, including two known pirated editions.
Current publishers are
Gibsons Games (English-GB)
Rio Grande (English-US)
Devir Iberia (Spanish/Portuguese/Catalan).
What's it all about?
Hare & Tortoise is an unusual race game in that movement is governed by skill rather than chance. Instead of rolling
dice to find out how far to move, you can always move forwards as far as you like - but only if you can afford to pay
for it. This you do by consuming units of energy called carrots. The 65 carrots you start with are just enough to get you
home one square at a time by spending one carrot per move. Alternatively, they're enough to get you up to ten squares
forward in a single leap, and you can earn more by carefully choosing which square to land on.
But there's a catch! The catch is that the further you move in one turn, the faster the cost of
moving accelerates. Therefore -
If you play hare-wise, taking great leaps forward at each move, you risk running out of carrots so fast as
to lose valuable time trying to get them back. But:
If you play like tortoise-wise, plodding along as cheaply as possible, you risk lagging so far behind as to never
have time to catch up with the hares.
The skill of the game lies in choosing which square to move to and whether to play hare- or tortoise-wise according to
your position. The fun of the game lies in changing other runner's positions by overtaking them - or even
undertaking them by moving backwards.
So, unlike traditional race games, Hare & Tortoise is won by superior strategy and player interaction. The element of
chance is not only reduced to a minimum, but can be eliminated altogether by agreeing to avoid landing on Hare squares,
which are, by design, the only external chance elements in the game.
The actual cost of moving is: 1 for the first square, plus 2 for the second, plus 3 for the third... and so on. It
therefore costs 1 carrot to move 1 square, 3 to move 2, 6 to move 3, 10 to move 4, etc. To generalise, moving forwards
n squares in one turn costs n(n+1)/2 carrots. So, given 65 carrots to start with, you might play
tortoise-wise and get home in 65 moves at 1 carrot each and still have 1 carrot left over. Playing hare-wise, you could get
home in just one move, but only if you could afford the 2080 carrots such a leap would cost. To add to your problems, the
further ahead you are, the fewer the carrots you earn when you land on a pay-out square. In Hare & Tortoise, unlike
certain other games, you don't collect 200 carrots every time you pass Go.
In Aesop's classic fable the hare is so confident of winning that he takes a nap and wakes up, too late, to find himself
overtaken by the plodding tortoise. His moral is "Slow but steady wins the race". In the equivalent fable collected by the
brothers Grimm the hare races against a hedgehog and doesn't nap but speeds ahead. The hedgehog wins, however, by
concealing all his relatives along the route. At each lap's start the current hedgehog immediately hides and the next one
pops out of concealment just ahead of the hare. This moral is "Slow and cunning wins the race". Or perhaps: "If at first
you don't succeed, cheat".
I used to wonder why American commentators switched indiscriminately between tortoise and turtle, and
between hare and rabbit, given that tortoises are essentially terrestrial and turtles aquatic. (Tortoises
have legs and walk; turtles have flippers and swim). Hares and rabbits are not only different species but different genera
to boot. (And hares don't burrow.) All was revealed when I read the following: "British English distinguishes
tortoises, which live all their lives on land and have flat feet; terrapins, which live in fresh water and have fins; and
turtles, which have fins and live in the sea. In American English they're all turtles." (From a sidenote on page
187 of Caspar Henderson's wonderful
Book of Barely Imagined Beings (London 2012)).