Fair Play

A "board" game (tiles and cards, actually) for 3-6 players
by Spartaco Albertarelli,published by EG, Italy.
These comments copyright 2000 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated June 19, 2000

Fair Play is one of those light bluffing games which you may or may not find fun. It's a car racing game, but there is no skill in the mechanical aspects of play, only in knowing whom and when to bluff. Sometimes this type of game appeals to me, and sometimes it doesn't - I have to weigh them on a case by case basis. I'm not a big Poker fan, for example, but I like Liars Dice. I find Fair Play to be a good light closer for the end of an evening, when everyone's punchy.

The game comes with 48 road tiles and six cute little metal cars, each with a different colored plastic inset. There is a deck of 55 movement cards, and a special die, with three faces "1", two faces "2", and one face "3". The rulebook comes with English, Italian, German, French, and Spanish rules.

Game Play

To prepare for the game, remove the Start and Finish tiles, and split the other 46 tiles into two equal stacks. Lay the Start tile face up on the table. Shuffle the Finish tile into one of the stacks, then stack the remaining tiles on top of that stack, so the Finish is somewhere in the last half of the game. Decide on first player, and deal each player three cards.

All cars start on the Start tile, which is the only tile allowed to hold more than four cars. In your turn, you roll the die and move that many spaces forward. If, as for the first move of the game, there aren't any spaces to move to, you add tiles one at a time to the racecourse, only as many as needed at the moment, then move your car. Since there are no "Y" or "T" pieces, only straights and curves, it's a one-dimensional race, so there is absolutely no skill involved in this phase.

Next you draw a card, bringing your hand to four cards. You select one of these cards and offer it face down to another player. They may either accept it or reject it. If they accept it, the card's action is applied to their car. If they reject it, the card's action is applied to your car. The action is always straightforward - there are no choices - so the actual resolution of the card has no opportunity for skill.

Continue taking turns until someone reaches the Finish tile, and they win the game.


So: there is no skill involved in moving the cars, only in deciding which card to offer which player. There are slightly more "good" cards than "bad" cards, which actually makes the game more interesting: 31 cards which can help you versus 24 which can hurt you. After a while, the race will have a fairly wide spread between first and last place cars: lots of choices (at least with lots of players) about whom to offer a card to. You not only have the other players' personalities to consider, but also their place in the race. Some cards are mild in their effect, either positive or negative, and some are powerful. Do you dare risk giving a powerful positive card to someone already in first place? Ah, but they might not expect that! Ah, except they know you know that ... and so on. And so we have the category for this game: I know that you know that I know that you know that I know ... which has a "rock-scissors-paper" feeling.

So the skill lies in making the other player believe the card you are offering is the opposite type than which you really are offering. If you're in last place, and I pass you a card saying, "Here's a good card, I feel sorry for you in last place," do you believe me? Sometimes you should - and other times you'd be wisest not to ...

Of course, you could play the game totally randomly: simply draw the top card and offer it to someone sight unseen. This reduces the game to pure luck, however, with no element of skill whatsoever, so is less fun. But there's no rule against it, so if you are simply lousy at bluffing, you could try it.

The Cards and Tiles

There are seven types of cards:

  • Move ahead (ranging from +1 to +3)
  • Pass the car ahead of you
  • Shortcut: become the leader
  • Fall back (ranging from -1 to -3)
  • Low on Fuel (mistranslated as "Engine Trouble" in the English rules): reduce your hand size
  • Breakdown: go back to the last Repair Station tile you passed
  • Flat Tire: miss your next turn
If the "Pass" or "Shortcut" cards are played by the leader, they act as a "+3" card, instead.

There are five types of tiles:

  • Regular road tiles: four-car limit
  • Fuel Stations: remove "Low on Fuel" cards; resume normal hand size
  • Repair Stations
  • Road Construction: stop upon entering
  • No Passing Zones: one-car limit
Plus the Start and Finish tile, of course - the Start tile is a Fuel Station and Repair Station, by the way.

The first three types of cards listed are good - they help whoever uses them. The last four hurt to some degree or another. A Breakdown can be devastating if you haven't had a Repair Station tile in a long time. A Shortcut is an automatic "become first player" for whoever plays it - or "increase your lead" if you already are first player. So knowing when to offer these cards, and to whom, is the major skill in the game.

House Rules

We've added two house rules so far:

  1. Instead of putting the Finish tile in the last half, we put it in the last third.
  2. Once someone reaches the Finish tile, everyone who hasn't had as many turns as the first player gets one more turn. The furthest through the Finish line wins. Ties are resolved by sudden death: only the tied players are still in the game, and they take an equal number of turns, until one car is clearly ahead. (You can only offer a card to someone you are tied with at that point!) Since we've had some close races, we find this makes for a more satisfying game.
There are two tiles with banners, and two with flags, which are just decoration. I've been toying with making them special tiles in some way, but I'm not sure what yet. If I think of anything, and it works, I'll add it here someday.

Summing Up

I like this game when we're all a bit silly, but not otherwise. As a late-night closer, it's a good game. The Shortcut and Breakdown cards can really shake things up, which is good. In most race games, it's hard to catch a runaway leader, but this one has some mechanisms to equalize things ... if you can bluff someone into taking or rejecting a card at the right moment!

Light fun, not to everyone's taste.

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