I have a personal pet peeve with most tabletop racing games. More often than not, they don’t feel like a race. They may emulate the pattern or the environment, but a race would rarely offer truly tense moments of position changes or upsets. While a racing game will give you plenty of opportunities to take chances, it usually doesn’t offer much in the way of developing your play method. This is even less true with roll and writes. And yet, here I find myself with the auspicious privilege to introduce Long Shot: The Dice Game, a roll and write racing game where, despite having lost, everyone feels like a winner in the end.
If you are unfamiliar with the original Long Shot, it’s a game where players are in the roles of gamblers going to the horse track to spend their day (and their paychecks) betting on and buying horses and, of course, screaming for those blasted horses to move faster. It’s a title I have recommended for a long time to new gamers since it is easy to learn, has a pretty open decision space, and will always elicit a positive reaction from first-time players. Part of what makes it so approachable is the low rules overhead and the straightforward theme. Roll and write game designs will often favor mechanics over thematic tie-ins. Even breakout hits like “Welcome to…” have much of their theme abstracted down to make gameplay smooth. The draw to something like Long Shot: The Dice Game comes from the fact that it immediately feels welcoming, and by the end of the game, you feel as though you had spent your time at the race track researching jockeys and horses, placing bets, navigating concession stands, and most importantly wagering just more than you can afford in the hopes your gambles will pay off.
All players start LS: TDG with $6 worth of bets split on a couple of random horses and $12 in your pocket to spend throughout the game. The eight horses are lined up at the starting line, the cards that represent the horses are placed next to the board, and a player is chosen at random to start. On a turn, the active player rolls two dice – an eight-sided die that determines what horse to interact with and a six-sided die that will move the indicated horse 1-3 spaces on the track. This will always move an additional 1-2 horses an extra space (depending on what banners are marked on the rolled horse’s card). Now that the horses have moved, each player gets to take an action related to the horse that was rolled. At first, the actions seem disproportionately beneficial, but as the race goes on and players spend their money and actions, those choices become more difficult. On a turn, you can buy the rolled horse in hopes of the purse it will earn for being in first to third place, or instead place a bet on the rolled horse in hopes that it will be a bigger payout at the end of the race depending on its position. Other actions will get you a jockey’s helmet for that horse (this will let you place bets on the horse even if it’s in the ‘no bets’ zone), or a Jersey for the jockey (these will help horses move even if they weren’t rolled). You can also spend your action at the concession stand – which basically entails crossing off the rolled number on a grid in order to unlock bonus actions.
The first couple of times you play, you will likely follow what the dice recommend. Roll a 4? You definitely need to take an action related to #4 horse. First-timers will likely buy the first horse they can, which is not a bad move since each horse has a special ability that will help you throughout the race. You will try to optimize your winnings by moving the horse you own forward with bonuses, move other horses in the lead that you don’t own backward, adding bets when you can, and try to get matching sets of helmets and jerseys for jockeys since that will get you a bonus $5 at the end of the game. You’ll also notice that the lower the horse number, the more likely it is to finish first. This isn’t by accident. The game is weighted in such a way that the horses with the best odds are more likely to win but have a lower payout for bets. This makes it a reasonable move to place bets on the #1 and #2 horses early since they will likely be in the top three at the end.
Although in later games, you will decide to take the reins yourself and force a desirable outcome. Because you can take the jersey action for the rolled horse (or actions in the concession stand), you can have a massive impact on the game in a somewhat unpredictable way. Storytime: After a few plays, I decided to try and force a horse to win. I had noticed that the #7 horse didn’t move the last game we played, and my starting card had a $4 bet on the #7 horse out of the gate. Well, ‘out of the gate’ is a bit of an exaggeration. As it turned out, the #7 horse didn’t move at all for the first half of the game. Oddly enough, the #7 wasn’t actually rolled at all for the entirety of the game we played (believe me, I kept track – see photo). Despite the dice not working in my favor, I was still able to make sure to pick up the jersey for every other jockey. This guaranteed that the #7 horse would move at least one space despite what was rolled, getting bonuses from the concession area to move my horse forward, place extra bets on it, keep others from getting too far ahead, and make some extra cash. Despite the #7 never being rolled, it took second in the race, and I won overall since the player with the most money is the winner. You see, the #7 and #8 horses have the best payout at 9:1 for first place but are the hardest to get across the finish line. Putting all my efforts into one of them paid off.
I have not had the opportunity to play Long Shot: The Dice Game with more than four players due to the pandemic, but the idea of playing with a full complement of eight players has me salivating. With four players, your time at the table is a smooth gallop with minimal moments of downtime. The only real changeup is the dice passing to the next player once everyone has decided on their action. Some early turns can move slowly while people choose which path to follow on their board, just like any other game. However, this is the starting point, and gameplay accelerates from there, bringing you barreling down the home stretch to the finish line, where inevitably there will be players with a reaction. Excited, relieved, furious, and exhausted, you will all tally up your winnings from bets, bridles, and bonuses to see who has earned the most money by the end of the race.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this little game was that it was also an unexpected love letter to solo players. You compete against the esteemed Roland Wright to again walk away from the track with more money than your competitor. While Roland is not terribly clever, they can be difficult to deal with – often throwing curve balls that will force your hand to a less optimal action on your turn in order to prevent Roland from gaining the lead horse or placing large bets for free. The solo system is easy to learn, and actions are quick to perform since the dice rolled will now correspond to a grid letting you know what action Roland will take after you finish yours. Very little is unknown for what Roland will do, so this gives you an opportunity for strategy that isn’t present in the multi-player sessions. You may start to feel as though you are only competing with yourself after a few solo plays, and the AI is there to make that task harder. While you won’t have trouble beating Roland, that doesn’t mean they won’t cause you trouble. This AI system is more akin to the gambler at the track that won’t leave the betting window in order for you to get your bet in on time, but doing better than them despite this can be even more satisfying.
With an updated aesthetic, smart choice for graphic design, and well-considered components, all of this makes it a simple task to recommend for fans of racing, gambling, roll and writes; or even just fans of good excuses to sit at the table with people they enjoy. The real delight in this game is that you feel as though you made out better by the end than how you started: when was the last time you walked into the track with $12 and walked out with hundreds? That kind of return is sure to make everyone feel like a winner.
*Review copy provided by the publisher. No animals were harmed in the making of this review.
Adam Reynolds is a co-host of the Board Game Squad Podcast. His time gaming is mostly spent asking to play games no-one else wants to play, and then making poor decisions in any game he does play.