Posted by: gschloesser | August 3, 2011

Hare and Tortoise

Design by:  David Parlett
Published by:  Rio Grande Games / Abacus Spiele

3 – 6 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review also appeared in Moves Magazine #104

Note:  I wish to thank Steve Kurzban for historical information relating to this game.

OK … let’s see a show of hands.  How many of you would be interested in playing a game if I told you it was based on the children’s tale of the race between the swift Hare and the slow, plodding Tortoise?  How about if I also informed you that during the course of the game, you had to gobble some lettuce and you moved down the winding track by munching carrots?  What about if I also mentioned that the board is filled with delightful, cartoon-style graphics?

Unless you have a house filled with small children, I can pretty much bet that not many of you would be terribly interested in spending your time playing a game such as what I’ve described.  Many of you probably have visions of Uncle Wiggly or Candy Land dancing through your heads.  I can’t blame you.

However, how about if I also explained to you that this game is recognized by serious gamers from around the world as a genuine classic?  It is held in such high esteem that it captured the coveted German Game of the Year Award, the Spiel des Jahre, for best game in 1979.  Finally, I’ll let you in on a secret:  this is not only a game that can be enjoyed by children, but is without a doubt a challenging and entertaining game for adults as well. 

Now, are you interested?

The game in question is Hare and Tortoise, and was designed by Englishman David Parlett way back in 1973.  Since then, the game has undergone a series of revisions and reprints, being re-released nearly a half dozen times by various companies, including Intellect Games, Waddington, Gibson Games, Ravensburger and, most recently, Abacus Spiele and Rio Grande Games.  Its continued popularity has kept this game a much sought-after title amongst game aficionados. 

If you are one of those rare folks who are not familiar with the age-old story of the Hare and Tortoise, a brief explanation is probably in order.  It seems there was this obnoxious, braggadocios hare (that’s a rabbit for those of us down South!) traveling about the forest boasting of how fast he could run.  He claimed that he was the fastest animal in the forest and no one could ever beat him in a race.  Most of the other animals recognized the hare’s claims to be true, so no one dared challenge him to a race. 

Then, one day, the painfully slow Mr. Tortoise (that’s a turtle for we bayou dwellers) decided that he had just about enough of the hare’s boastings, so he challenged him to a race.  The rest of the animals were dumbfounded, knowing that there was absolutely no way the pokey tortoise could defeat the fleet-of-foot hare in a race. 

The day of the big race finally arrived and when it began, the swift hare dashed out to a commanding lead.  He was so far ahead of the tortoise, he just knew the tortoise would never, ever catch him.  So, he decided to rest for a while in the beautiful meadow.  Time passed, and the hare continued to snooze.  When he finally awoke, to his horror he discovered that while he slept, the tortoise had slowly and steadily continued the race, had passed him and was nearing the finish line.  The hare leapt to his feat and ran as fast as he could to try to catch the tortoise, but by that time he was too far behind.  The slow but steady tortoise crossed the finish line ahead of the hare, to the cheers and admiration of his fellow animals.

Sure, it is an entertaining children’s story containing a good moral (slow and steady pays off), but is it suitable material to build a game around?   Mr. Parlett has answered this question with a definitive “yes”!

In the game, each player attempts to be the first to reach the finish line, traversing the track of sixty-five spaces.  Interestingly, each player is represented by a hare token, but must exercise a delicate balance of “speedy” hare and “steady” tortoise tactics in order to prevail. 

Movement along the track is not determined by the throw of dice.  Indeed, the die included with the game is only used to roll on a special event chart (known, for some strange reason, as the “Jugging the Hare” chart in earlier English editions).  Each player receives an initial supply of sixty-five carrots, which are used to move along the track.  The hungry hares gobble these carrots as they expend their energy in the race, so, in a sense, the carrots are the ‘fuel’ that keeps the hares running. 

Each turn, players determine how far they wish to move, then pay the required number of carrots to make that move.  The number of carrots required to execute a given move are listed on a handy player reference chart, and follow a numerical sequence.  For instance, to move one space, the expenditure of one carrot is required.  To move two spaces, a player must expend three carrots (1 + 2 = 3).  A three-space movement requires a player to discard six carrots (1 + 2 + 3 = 6).  Get the idea?  You can readily see that attempting to make a significant move will require a player to play a huge number of carrots, thereby quickly depleting one’s hoard of the vital veggies.  There are methods in which to replenish your carrot supply, which I explain bit later.

Each space on the track either requires the player to take certain actions, or at least provide the option for the player to exercise certain abilities.  These spaces are:

1)  Carrots – Yum!  When a player moves his token to a ‘carrot’ space, at the beginning of his next turn he may either acquire ten more carrots for his supply, OR discard ten carrots from his hand. 

Discard carrots?  Why on earth would you want to do that?  Ahhh … this is one of the brilliant twists in the game.  You see, it isn’t enough to be the first player to reach the finish line.  No, a player must be an efficient racer.  No one is allowed to finish the race unless they are in possession of a certain number of carrots.  To finish in first place, a player must have ten or less carrots remaining in his supply.  To finish second, a player must possess twenty or less carrots, and so on.  So, a player must carefully manage his carrot supply and make sure he has completed the race in the most efficient manner possible.  Very, very tricky … and an essential element of what makes this game so special.

2)  Lettuce – Yet another twist in the game.  Each player begins the game with three  lettuce cards and must dispose of (that is, eat!) these three lettuce cards before he can finish the race.  There are only four lettuce spaces on the entire board, so a player must carefully plan his movements so that he can land on these spaces in order to eat all of this pesky green stuff.  Since these spaces are so popular and the fact that only one token can occupy any space, it is quite common for players’ tokens to stack up behind a lettuce space, awaiting a previous occupant to vacate it. 

When a player lands on a lettuce space, he will spend his next turn not moving, munching the leafy veggie while he idles.  On the following turn, he MUST move off the lettuce space, but does acquire more carrots for his supply equal to ten times (10x) his current position in the race.  Hey, if you gotta eat all that lettuce, you might as well get a reward!

3)  Numbers – Many spaces on the track contain numbers – either 2, 3, 4, or a 1-5-6 combination.  If a player lands on one of these spaces, nothing happens immediately.  However, if the player is in that position in the race when his turn arrives once again, he acquires more carrots for his supply equal to ten times (10x) the matching number. 

For example, if a player lands on a space marked with a ‘3’ and on his next turn he is currently running third in the race, he will acquire 30 carrots (10 x 3 = 30) from the carrot bank.  This can be tricky to accomplish, however, as your opponents are likely to maneuver their hares so that you will NOT be in the desired position by the time your turn arrives.  If you can accomplish this feat, however, the additional carrots gained are a mighty tasty treat!

4)  Tortoise – Finally, we have a tortoise in the game!  Well, actually there are nine tortoise spaces along the track.  These are the ONLY spaces on the board which cannot be landed upon by moving forward.  Rather, players move to these spaces by moving their token backwards.  Moving backwards to the closest tortoise space does not result in the expenditure of any carrots. 

Why would someone want to move backwards?  Well, there are a number of reasons, but the most popular one is that a player is rewarded with ten carrots for each space he moved backwards to reach that tortoise space.  Thus, this is a popular method of restocking your carrot supply.

5)  Hare – Feeling lucky?  Or, do you need a big boost?  The hare spaces may be just the thing you need.   When a player lands on a hare space, he rolls the die and consults the player aid chart.  Depending upon the number rolled and the player’s current position in the race, he may enjoy benefits which include eating a lettuce, gaining some carrots, munching some carrots, getting a free move, etc.  However, the chart is also fraught with danger, as it is possible for a player to lose a turn. 

The chart is designed to slightly favor those players who find themselves at the back of the pack.  Rolling on the chart when you are in first or second place is a bit riskier. 

Players continue to take their turns – munching carrots, moving their tokens, eating lettuce, etc. – until one player manages to successfully fulfill the requirements and crosses the finish line.  The game can then conclude, or players may opt to continue playing until all hares have completed the race. 

So just what is it that makes this game – which incorporates a theme that is squarely aimed at children – so appealing to adults and dedicated gamers?  Well, there are a number of reasons, but most can probably be condensed into a few major points:

1)  The game is a true challenge to play and there are lots of factors to consider.  Players must carefully manage their supply of carrots to insure that they can successfully complete the race without any unnecessary and harmful delays.  I’ve seen many players waste several turns near the finish line because they had either too many or too few carrots in their supply.  Proper management of one’s carrot supply is critical.

Further, players must also keep a wary eye on the available spaces on the board and the likely effect their move will have not only on themselves, but their opponents as well.  It may sometimes be wise to make moves that deny opponents bonuses for achieving a certain position in the race due to their landing on a matching numbered space.  Also, take advantage of empty lettuce spaces whenever possible.  It is far too common a mistake to near the end of the race and still have one or two lettuce cards to chew. 

Don’t overlook the windfall of carrots that will ensue by moving backwards to a tortoise space.  As with lettuce spaces, take advantage of empty tortoise spaces whenever possible. 

2)  The game is accessible by both adults and children.  This is one game that an adult can play with their children and not actually feel that their brain is turning to mush.  It is fun and challenging, yet not too difficult as to make children shy away or lose interest. 

However, it doesn’t need to be played just with children present.  I’ve played the game countless times with adults as the sole participants and we’ve had a wonderful time.  The game is truly one of those rare gems, which is equally suitable for both adults and/or children.

3)  The game is easy to learn and, as a race game, possesses a theme and an objective that is popular with most players.  The goal is easily understandable – be the first to cross the finish line.  There are no complicated victory conditions or convoluted methods of calculating who won. 

4)  The time invested in the game is minimal.  The rules can be explained in just a few minutes, and the game plays to completion in less than an hour.  This is a very attractive feature for many families and gamers.

Hare and Tortoise was out of print for many years.  The last version was published in Germany in the 1980’s under the title of Hase und Igel.  For some reason, Germans seem to have an affinity for hedgehogs (called ‘Igel‘ in Deutsch), and they substituted the ‘Igel’ for the traditional tortoise.    The new version brings back the scorned tortoise.  Sadly, up until this latest version, the game has been absent in an English version for well over a decade.

The new Rio Grande version is of typical high quality, with sturdy components, which should endure repeated use and play.  The illustrations and artwork has changed from the earlier versions and now has a “cartoonish” appearance.  Although it is appealing, I much prefer the 1970’s Ravensburger artwork, which was done in a classical, children’s storybook fashion.  The new version has also repositioned some of the lettuce spaces and eliminated one in the process, making it a bit more difficult to eat those lettuce cards.  Finally, the ‘Jugging the Hare’ chart has reappeared, replacing cards that were utilized in some of the previous editions.  The chart has been modified somewhat to tilt it a bit more in the favor of those players who find themselves behind in the race.

I, and gamers around the world, am thrilled to see this classic game once again available.  This is one game that deserves to be on the game shelf in every household.  Sadly, most adults don’t give this game a second glance, not being able to get past the cutesy artwork and children’s tale theme.  That is truly a shame as inside is a unique and creative design, which can and does delight both adults and children.  Sometimes, it is worth re-visiting those childhood stories.




  1. I didn’t get the enthusiasm for the game for many years. Now, I at least see the puzzle of min/maxing your cards. This is a math game. Not a bad thing just not my thing. 5/10

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