This reporter may not have played a real board game in years, but....being the harness racing purist or junkie that I am; I could not resist being one of the first people to purchase a brand new board game called Midwest Harness Racing.
What is even more interesting than the game itself is the creator of the game. That person is Samuel Borntreger of Edgar, Wisconsin.
Samuel, age 30, works at a saw mill near his home in Wisconsin. He is Amish and he knows all about trotters and pacers since they have no automobiles, no electricity, and must rely on horses as their means of transportation, for working the fields and on their farms. He would not allow his photograph to be taken for this story due to his beliefs.
Samuel knows about harness racing from the grass roots, the county fairs where horsemen race for purses and there is no betting. He has always liked harness racing. His brother-in-law, a blacksmith who also breaks (trains) harness horses for trainer/owners and then give them back to them before they begin their racing careers, helped him develop the idea for the game.
"We were on Christmas vacation in December of 2010," Samuel explained, "visiting my brother-in-law in Iowa, and while we were playing another game, the idea of a harness racing game was born. When I got home, work was slow at the saw mill and I had time to develop the concept and work on the rules for the game. In February of 2011, we put the idea on paper and by November of 2012 we had it done.
"My brother-in-law flipped when he saw that I worked so much and had the game developed." Samuel added. "Then before we printed the instructions we made sure they were not too complicated. We played the game with everyone that came to the house and passed it along to neighbors, cousins and friends of the family to play and made sure we could answer every question they came up with."
Being Amish does not allow Samuel to travel a lot and he had limits on how he could contact board game manufacturers to actually create the game board, the playing pieces, instructions, packaging, etc.
Into Samuel's life came Ken Reemsma, who just happens to own a printing shop factory, just seven miles away from Samuel's home. They were able to work out a deal where Ken's shop would manufacture all the parts of the game. The game board, horse pieces, money, different game cards and even the little compartments for the "bank" to hold the money in.
"If not for Ken helping me and my wife Emma," Samuel said, "all of this would never have happened. He worked with me as a partner and made it happen. He would allow us to come into the factory afterhours and assemble the games and then shrink wrap them. Emma and I would package all the game pieces, the money and playing cards into plastic bags and make sure every component of the game was included in every set. It was just Emma and myself but once we got the system going we could assemble 70 games in one hour and before you know it we had 1,000 games ready to go on the market."
The best part of the game is that you really don't have to know about harness racing to play it. Someone who first played it with me and barely knows about the actual sport put it all together the best.
"It is a pleasant mix between Monopoly and The Game of Life," said Kat Owens. "It shows the reality of harness racing, costs involved with training, racing and breeding in ways that made it fun. Once we understood the rules the game was never boring and at time very exciting, especially when you were in a race with a big purse."
There have been other harness racing board games over the years. One of the popular games was John Campbell's Classic Harness Racing that came out in 1989. In 1972 there was Photo-Finish Harness Racing and in 1975 an English/French combined board game was made in Canada called "They're Off" that also had four LP's that played race calls in English and in French.
All of these games were based on pari-mutuel (betting) races while Midwest Harness Racing is based on horse ownership, racing (for purses not betting) and breeding.
At our first attempt to play the game we learned one major lesson. READ ALL THE INSTRUCTIONS FIRST! We did not and our first trip around the board we missed some important game strategies. Once we got by that, the second round was faster and more exciting and by the third and final round we understood the game and it became really fun.
You buy broodmares and then stallion shares so you can breed your mare. You roll the dice to see where you finish when you land on a Race card. And just like harness racing, if you roll a six you get no purse, only 1stthrough 5th place wins you purse money. You have to pay training bills, feed and hay bills, the blacksmith. You land on a horse auction and pay to purchase a racehorse. If you land on a race card and draw a trotting race and don't have a trotter in your stable, then you roll again and lease one from the person on your left or right and share half the purse you win with them. If you own more than one trotter and pacer, they both get to race and you can earn even more purse money.
At the end of a round (going around the board once) everyone gets to compete in a big stakes race for rich purses and that can get exciting. Twice around the board and you either sell your foal or trade it for a race horse. Draw the Super Horse card and for that turn your Super Horse can be either a trotter or pacer (sort of like a wild card) but when you compete in the big purse race at the end of a round, your Super Horse cannot finish worse than 3rd place.
There are also other special cards that can either set you back, make you more money and get laughter or tears when drawn. There are even some Casino spaces that if you land on them you roll the dice to see how much you won.
You can play as long as you want to. You can decide after so many laps around the board to cut it off and tally up all the money you have and see who the winner is. In our game I was second with $47,360. My wife, Stephanie, was the winner with $57,410 and Kat finished third with $39,010. It did help that with my background in harness racing I could explain a lot of the things to Kat as the game were played.
Overall the game is fun, pure and simple. It does take time. We played three rounds and it took over two hours. The cost of the game is $49.95 and that includes shipping. Not cheap compared to Monopoly that runs around $22. But this game is much more intense and the action much faster.
To order the game you must go to www.midwestharnessracing.com .
And what does game developer Samuel Borntreger have in store to follow up on the Midwest Harness Racing board game?
"I don't really know right now," Samuel said, "we have sold nearly 250 games so far. Let's wait until I sell the first 1,000 games and I will get back to you."
By Steve Wolf