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Board Game of the Month: Royal Turf

September 30, 2010

September brought an unusually high equine presence in my life.

I rode a horse.

Picture (c) of the riding instructor whose name I never quite caught

(I’m the one with the fancy scarf).

(The riding was inspired by Alex Horne and his cricket on horseback, by the way. I wrote about that a while back).

I also played a board game about horses. That may not be a lot of horse, but it is more than I get in a normal month. So, about the board game with horses in it.

Royal Turf is: a circular racecourse, seven horses, betting, dice and a sprinkling of strategy and psychology. In short, you bet on certain horses and bluff about having bet on others. You then roll the dice and move the horses, but are restricted in how you can move them so you have to operate strategically. Everyone is trying to guess what the others are actually betting on, to try to hinder the horses the opponents have their money on, and make their own horses win the race.

Royal Turf. Picture from

Easy to learn, quick, simple, and a lot of fun. I remember laughing a lot. I teamed up with someone else on Earl Grey the lame horse. I forgot or pretended to forget what my real and bluff bets were. People kept getting the horses mixed up as most of them were of varying shades of brown. We were a group that hadn’t really met before, and yet I had a feeling we all had a good time with Royal Turf. Despite that having nothing to do with the satisfaction that comes from playing a complicated game.

It made me feel a bit like the horse-riding above did: clumsy, but having whole-hearted fun.

Thinking about Royal Turf some weeks on, after a couple of conversations about the purpose of scoring in games, I realised I completely forgotten who won. I vaguely remember that I thought I was doing well but I ended up not doing anything special, and that all the scores were very close together. I also remember counting the scores up at the end almost got boring. That’s interesting because the aforementioned conversations about scoring were questioning whether scores are and should be the main incentive in games, or what else motivates players.

Perhaps the worry over the over-importance of scoring belongs more with video games than with board games. It is mainly when you are playing solo that you start obsessing over improving your score and your ranking. It is when the purpose of the game is to keep you hooked that scoring is prominent. But is it the same with board games? Is it because in board games it is easier to tell who won?

Since asking myself these questions I have noticed that all my favourite board games are based on a scoring system that only “seals the deal” at the end of the game. You may feel during play that you are doing very well and then lose. Or you may be surprised at the end that everyone else did worse than you when you thought you were doing badly enough already.

My enjoyment and my interest in board games, if it wasn’t clear already, are in the interactions amongst players. What’s happening there between people that isn’t strictly to do with the mechanics of the game? When you can’t keep tab of the score very closely, or it is unpredictable until the end, all of what goes on “around” the game takes centre stage. Playing a game that requires making some guesses about the other players’ psychology, and playing it with strangers, really merges the “getting to know each other” with the game tactics with the filler conversations that happen during play anyway. And that, for me, is blissful fun.

Disclaimer: The new (and much more widely available) version of Royal Turf is called Winner’s Circle. Some of the game dynamics are different though so I don’t know how the experience would compare!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Steve Bond permalink
    November 18, 2010 11:27

    Hah! I had this when I was little and it was called ‘Totopoly’ and the set was pretty old then, so it probably dated from the early 60s. Looks like the same game though.

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