Hare and Tortoise adds Strategy to Fairy Tale Racing Concept Board Game

The original 1974 edition of the Hare and Tortoise game, styled to look like an Edwardian-era game. The bold claim about it being “the most ingenious race game yet devised” is actually kind of true.

It’s springtime again, and soon Peter Cottontail will be hoppin’ on down that bunny trail delivering his bounty of plastic, candy-filled eggs to children everywhere. As a board game player and collector, I can’t think of a better time to revisit the classic European family game Hare and Tortoise, created by British game designer David Parlett. The game was first published in the UK in 1974 under the Intellect Games brand.

It’s a fairy tale racing concept pitting the fast but arrogant animal over the slow and steady one. It was a somewhat revolutionary game for its time, eschewing the “roll and move” mechanics typical of family games at the time in favor of a movement mechanic, wherein players spend resource tokens (in this case representing carrots) to advance along the race track with an escalating cost based on how many spaces forward the player chooses to move. Extra carrots can be earned by slowing down and moving backwards or remaining on certain spaces. A player that races ahead will find themselves short on carrots and unable to maintain a lead.

It’s an unusually strategic, compelling take on the racing game genre. Luck isn’t much of a factor apart from some event cards drawn whenever a player lands on a “Hare” square. One very neat twist is that players have exactly 65 carrots to start with, and there are 65 spaces in the race. So theoretically, every player could play one carrot a turn and all would finish at the same time. The strategy comes from knowing when to push ahead, when to draw back to stockpile carrots, and when to make a play for the finish.

Despite its smart, ahead-of-their-time mechanics, Hare and Tortoise was fairly obscure until the German toys, puzzles and games company Ravensburger Spielverlag printed a German language version in 1978. The title was changed to Hase und Igel (Hare and Hedgehog) to reflect the original zoological competition as described by the Brothers Grimm. The next year, the very first Spiel des Jahres award (sort of the Academy Award of the European tabletop gaming world) was issued by a committee of German game publishers and designers. Hase und Igel won the prize, and it would go on to sell more than two million copies over some 20 editions in at least 10 different languages. There is still a Hare and Tortoise world tournament held every year as part of the Mind Sports Olympiad held in England.

The award-winning 1978 edition of the game is actually the second German language edition. The winner of the first prestigious Spiel Des Jahres award, it also set the trend of reissuing the game with the award on the cover.

The game remains little-known in the United States, where a current version has been in print for several years under the auspices of Rio Grande Games, a hobby market publisher. It features modern artwork with a sort of motorsports theme running through the artwork, standing in contrast to earlier editions that used a more storybook style of presentation. The game remains the same as it always has, although minor variations have crept into some editions over the years.

Hare and Tortoise—in any of its editions—isn’t a particularly rare or collectible title. This isn’t surprising, given how many copies are out there in comparison to other, scarcer board games. Aftermarket copies range from $15 to $30, depending on condition and to some extent age. The pre-Ravensburger edition from 1974 would likely be the most desirable for a collector to acquire, although oddities like an Australian edition or one of two known unauthorized “bootleg” versions printed without licensing or rights by unscrupulous publishers might bring in a little more.

The most recent American edition of the game, published in 2000. Is that an Animal Liberation Front badge on the hare’s jacket?

It’s yet another example of how value in the board gaming field is extremely relative and not always connected to the usual evaluation algorithms. This is a game that is fondly remembered by many Europeans who grew up with it in much the same way that Risk, Monopoly or Clue are so there is a sentimental value attached to it that may be worth more than a $15 thrift copy of the game.

But more importantly, the game was, for its time, very innovative and it was one of the first titles that made hobby-minded gamers take notice of both the Spiel des Jahres as a barometer of quality and also of the nascent trend in the especially German games design field for deceptively simple, family-oriented games with compelling mechanics and rich strategy.

Michael Barnes is a lifelong game player, collector and enthusiast. He has parlayed his passion for games into several successful ventures, including a retail hobby store, two popular gaming Websites, and 10 years of widely read commentary and criticism about both tabletop and video games.

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