Review – Ready Set Bet
|Designer||John D. Clair|
|Artist||Kirk W. Buckendorf, Athena Cagle|
Ready Set Bet is a game of real-time horse betting. In this game, 1 player rolls dice repeatedly, in quick succession, to simulate a horse race. At the same time, the other players place bets on the outcome of the race in hopes of winning big. Ready for a day at the track?
In Ready Set Bet, up to 9 players participate in a series of frenzied horse races, wagering on their outcome. The goal of the game is to earn the most money.
To begin, 1 player is chosen to play as the “House,” basically the game master who controls the action. Normally, this person does not participate in the betting (though there is a variant that allows them to), but rather, they play out the race, acting as part dice roller, part announcer. Optionally, players can instead use an app to run the races.
The game takes place over 4 rounds/races. During setup, every non-House player receives a set of tokens in values 2-5. Each round, players place their tokens onto the central betting board to make their predictions.
The House player or app manages the race itself. The race takes place on a side board, and it consists of 9 horses with values ranging from 2-12. (The lowest horse is values 2 and 3, and the highest is values 11 and 12.)
In real time, the House player/app rolls a pair of dice, moves the appropriate horse 1 space, and repeats these actions. If a horse’s number is rolled twice in a row, that horse receives bonus movement—1, 2, or extra 3 spaces, as indicated on the board. (Exception: the 7 horse gets no bonuses.)
As the horses move, players place their tokens onto the betting board to predict the win, place, and show. Each space can only hold 1 token, so players want to bet as early as possible.
A red line on the racetrack indicates when the betting stops—as soon as the third horse crosses this line, no more bets can be made. The race ends immediately when a horse crosses the finish line. At this time, players earn money for each horse they bet on that placed at the ranking they predicted or higher. Their payout is equal to their bet value times the multiplier; for example, a 4 token on a 5x betting space would award $20 if correct.
Then, after successful bets have been paid out, players lose money for each incorrect bet they made. The amount lost is listed in the small red circle. This is a flat value and is not multiplied.
After the first, second, and third rounds, all players receive a VIP card, which grants them a special bonus for each future round. At the end of the fourth race, the game ends and the player with the most money wins!
Real-time games are typically derided among hobbyists—I myself can only think of a few that I enjoy. Given that this genre relies on the artificial stress of a ticking timer, many gamers feel that these games lack real depth (and maybe they’re right about that).
Regardless, Ready Set Bet is fantastic.
The frenetic pace of this game is perfect for the theme of horse racing. Players will really get into the racing mindset, cheering and jeering as the contest progresses. The House player sets the tone of the game, so whenever possible, this person should play up the drama and color commentary. Rather than simply saying “7… 4… 9…” as they roll the dice, they should ham it up. “And they’re off. Here comes #4, off to a strong start, but #8 is close behind! #8 takes the lead with a bonus move, look at him go! #5 is coming in hot, check out her beautiful stride! #10 seems to be stuck at the starting gate.” (For its part, the app does a good job of narrating the action like this.)
The betting is fun and chaotic for the players. There is a push-and-pull between wanting to bet early and wanting to wait and see how the race plays out. If a player bets too early, they likely won’t have much information to go on. However, if they wait too long, the bet spaces will start to fill up, limiting their choices. It’s a hectic balancing act of monitoring the race, making good predictions, and trying to grab the best bets before the other players. What’s more, unexpected things can happen throughout the race. A series of well-timed rolls can move a horse from dead last to a contender for the win.
The production quality of Ready Set Bet is above average, with a large betting board, vibrant components, and a thorough rulebook. In a perfect world, I would have loved the board to have been felt and the betting tokens to have been poker chips, but I’m sure that doing so would have raised the price point considerably. As it is, everything works just fine and looks nice on the table, even if it’s not overproduced. The app is very user-friendly, and it enhances the play experience for those who wish to use it.
This game shattered my expectations. Historically, my opinion of John D. Clair’s games has been middle-of-the-road, but this one is excellent. I expect it will make a huge splash in the gaming community as more and more people play it. Even if real-time games are not your thing, Ready Set Bet is worth a try. It’s a blast.
A review copy was provided by AEG.
The Bottom Line
Ready Set Bet is fantastic, perhaps John D. Clair's best game. Even if real-time games aren't your thing, I recommend trying this one out.