Hare & Tortoise

A game for 2-6 players by David Parlett, published most recently by Rio Grande Games
These comments copyright 2002 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated February 19, 2002

Aesop Would Be Proud

Hare & Tortoise is a classic race game first published in the 1970s. It's held up well, has been published by at least three publishers over the years, and is still an excellent choice when you have 4-6 players and want an interesting race game that is more skill than luck. (Although it says it's for 2-6 players, I think it plays best with at least four.)

The game is very attractive: a delightfully illustrated board, pretty cards and wooden tokens. Every player has a player aid to calculate how much it costs to move and the "Jugging the Hare" table. (This pun is lost on most Americans: think rabbit in a crockpot and you'll be close to what jugging the hare means.)

The concept is simple: each turn you can move like the hare or the tortoise. You pick how fast you go - one space, a dozen, twenty - whatever you want, even backwards. Provided you have enough carrots, of course - it takes energy to move forward, and carrots give you energy. So to move one space takes 1 carrot. To move two spaces takes the one carrot for the first space plus two carrots for the second space = 3 carrots. To move a third space takes the three carrots needed to move two spaces plus three carrots to move to the third space = 6 carrots. And so on - each player aid gives the carrots needed for each space up to 40 spaces (which takes a mere 820 carrots, in case you're curious).

And in case you're really curious, the formula is: required carrots = (N+1)*(N/2), where N equals number of spaces moved. So moving, for example, 20 spaces at once would take (21)*(10) = 210 carrots. But you only need the formula if you lose all your player aid sheets ... or plan on moving more than 40 spaces at once!
You start with enough carrots to finish the race: 65 carrots (95 with 5-6 players) and there are only 64 spaces! Of course, you may want to move more than one space in a turn, so you have to figure out a way to gain more carrots. Fortunately, there are a few ways to do that ...

Basic Course of Play

Carrot cards come in lots of denominations, all with the same backs so that during the game it becomes difficult to know how many carrots a given player has. There are also Lettuce cards - you start with three of these and must get rid of them before you're allowed to finish the race. Choose a start player and you're ready to begin.

The start player simply says how far he wishes to move, pays the required number of carrots, and moves his piece. The second player does likewise, but has one restriction: you can't land on the same space as another player.

What happens when you land depends on the type of space you land on. The board has five different types of squares:

  • Number squares
  • Carrot squares
  • Lettuce squares
  • Tortoise squares
  • Hare squares
Number squares: these range from 1-4, and the 1s include 5 & 6, too. Nothing happens right away, but on your next turn you may win some carrots. You win carrots equal to 10 X the number you're on if that number equals your position in the race at the start of your next turn. Example: if I land on the number 2, I get twenty carrots on my next turn if I'm in second place. I get nothing if I'm in first, third, or any other place but second.

Carrot squares: nothing happens when you land. On your next turn, though, if you decide not to move you may draw 10 carrots. You can stay there as long as you like: each turn draw 10 carrots. Conversely, you could discard 10 carrots if you stay on such a space. You sometimes need to do that because you're not allowed to finish the race if you have too many carrots in your hand!

Lettuce squares: these allow you to spend your next turn eating a lettuce - discard a lettuce card. You can only stay one turn on a Lettuce space - there aren't very many of them and everyone has to chew their lettuces before they can finish, so there's always a line-up to use these spaces.

Tortoise squares: you can only reach these by going backwards. If you wish to move backward you must stop at the nearest Tortoise square, and only if it's unoccupied. Each space you moved to reach that Tortoise square is multiplied by ten: draw that many carrots. You may move back from one Tortoise square to the next one to draw even more.

Hare squares: these introduce the only luck in the game aside from choosing starting position. When you land on a Hare space, roll a die. Add your current position in the race (1-6) and consult the table on your player aid chart. (In some versions you don't add your position, but cross-reference it.) Results vary from the good to the bad:

  • Move backward
  • Miss a turn
  • Gain carrots
  • Lose carrots
  • Get a free turn
  • Chew a lettuce
  • ... and so on.
So the basic course of play is to pay carrots to move forward - or move backwards to gain carrots. Sometimes you sit where you are for a turn or two to gain or lose carrots or a lettuce. You can choose the space you land on, provided you have enough carrots to reach it and no one else is there ahead of you. Pretty straightforward but usually an interesting choice.


Oh, there are lots of strategies for this game! That's what makes it so delightful. The basic three are run like a hare, plod like a tortoise, or be somewhere in between. But there are probably others, such as the March Hare strategy: hit all the Hare spaces and roll that die constantly ...

Running like a hare means you rarely have many carrots. You try to keep moving 3-6 spaces most turns, and sit on a carrot space now and then when you have to. You gain 10 carrots on a carrot space if you spend a turn there, and 10 carrots lets you move 4 spaces. So keep moving, never plod, and you'll never have to worry about having too many carrots to finish the race ...

Plodding like a tortoise is hanging out in fifth or sixth place most of the game, just building up a huge hand of carrots. If you're in sixth place and land on a "1-5-6" Number space, on your next turn you'll draw 60 carrots unless someone stops you by dropping back to a tortoise space behind you. But even then, you'll be in fifth place and the same space will give you 50 carrots. Then just when those pesky hares think they have the game won, you smugly lay down 300 carrots and move 24 spaces to win the game!

Being somewhere in between means always looking out for opportunities ahead and behind. You've got to be flexible enough to spend a lot to grab an open lettuce space, and not feel bad about falling back 7 spaces to pick up 70 carrots.

The bottleneck spaces are the lettuce spaces. There are only four of them, and you can't sit on one for more than one turn. You can move backward off one to hit it a second time, though, and it's often a good idea to do so. In a six-player game, there are 18 lettuces that need to be chewed, and only four spaces to chew them all on ... so good lettuce management is key to this game.

It can be important for somebody to try to stop big carrot accumulations on the Number spaces. You may decide it's somebody else's job, though, and just ignore it. But if I'm in fifth place sitting on a "1-5-6" space, I'll get 50 carrots next turn. If you fall back to a Tortoise space behind me, you not only pick up carrots for going backwards, but also put me in fourth place, meaning I get nothing. So there is some defensive play involved - especially since 25 of the spaces are Number spaces!

The Hare spaces are the hardest to discuss. Results can be wonderful or disastrous. Most people save them for when they're desperate, but others play them just because they like chaos. Take your choice.

Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?

Some people claim there's a first-player bias. It's true that the first player can reach a lettuce space on his/her first move, but that costs 55 carrots - over half of your starting allotment even in a 6-player game. Most players think it's worth it, though, and that's a very typical opening move. The other players then have to choose whether to move slowly, hoping to get onto that lettuce space next, or just bypass it and head for the second lettuce space down the path a ways. Either way, some critics claim the first player has an advantage. It may be so, but I've seen the first player lose fairly frequently.

Proposed fix for those who feel there is a first-place bias: bid for the right to go first. High bid starts with fewer carrots. Example: if I bid "8" to go first and no one raises me, I start with eight fewer carrots than anyone else in the game.
Some people don't like the bottlenecks - it can be a bit frustrating trying to maneuver your way onto a lettuce space only to have someone else beat you there yet again. This frustration is probably the biggest flaw in the game - some people just don't like to feel frustration in their entertainment, since most of us have more than enough in our lives. I can't blame them, though I actually don't feel the way they do. I enjoy watching someone play cleverly enough to outmaneuver me. But you may be of a different personality type.

It can be a bit long - most six-player games clock in around an hour, which is fine, but I've seen some go over an hour and a half because of over-analysis. That's a bit long for this type of game. If you play with slow analyzers, this game will probably take a long time - be warned. You could just play Cartagena instead.

Summing Up

A classic. A largely skill game with multiple strategies to follow, with a fun setting and illustrations. Recommended.

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