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Ready Set Bet Review

ready set bet

Ready Set Bet is a real-time betting game, whose aim is to simulate a series of horse races. Designer John D. Clair is no stranger to publisher Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG). In the past they’ve collaborated to produce Space Base, Mystic Vale, Cubitos, Dead Reckoning, Ecos: First Continent, and Edge of Darkness. That’s an impressive roster! So should we have equal high hopes for Ready Set Bet, then?

Aaand… they’re off! The fizz of bubbly in champagne flutes. Betting slips clutched tight in fists. Hooves galloping. Exhilarating cheers and whoops reach a crecendo as the jockeys approach the final furlongs. Ahh, there’s nothing quite like a day at the races!

A Day At The Races

Much like an actual day at the racetrack, Ready Set Bet challenges players to try and earn the most winnings. You’re not rival jockeys, in control of individual horses. You’re betting on the outcome of the race, itself. It feels like a bizarre romance between push-your-luck dice game Can’t Stop, and betting game Camel Up.

Ready Set Bet can accommodate up to nine players, and the box has a suggested play time of 45-60 minutes. This game length is accurate, since more players doesn’t equate to more down-time between turns. There are no ‘turns’ as such; players bet in a simultaneous fashion, ‘live’, during each race. You work out your winnings (and/or losses) after each race, then reset and go again. There’s four races in total, with the most accumulative prize money winning the game.

One player is ‘The House’. They’re like a Dungeon Master in D&D or a tabletop RPG; the Storyteller in Blood on the Clocktower. They’re not competing within the game. Rather, they’re in charge of conducting the race, unfolding it for the rest of the punters. There are modes in which The House can join in with the betting. There’s also a free app you can download that does this for you. Are they worth it? All will get revealed, later! First, let’s look at how the races work, themselves.

These Horses Can’t Stop!

Nine horses compete in each race. The horse meeples start lined up on the racetrack board, which is a drop-down-view grid of nine lanes. The Finish Line is 15 spaces away. Each horse has a number corresponding to its lane, so there’s one 2/3 horse that sits on the top lane. The 11/12 horse sits at the bottom. The other seven horses (numbered 4 – 10) sit between them.

Ready Set Bet also comes with two six-sided dice. The House rolls these 2d6, with the sum of the dice indicating which horse moves. So if The House rolls double-five, the number 10 horse moves one space. This explains the horses numbered 2-12 - these are the variations you get from rolling two dice. The probability of what you roll is a natural bell curve: in theory, seven is the most common outcome. (1+6, 2+5, 3+4, 4+3, 5+2, and 6+1). Rolling a six or eight is close behind, with five and nine less common. It’s harder still to roll a 4 or 10.

If The House rolls a two or three, the 2/3 horse moves. The same applies for rolling an 11 or 12 for the 11/12 horse. The number seven horse, then, as ‘the favourite’. It isn’t as simple as assuming that 7 will win more often than not due to sheer probability, though. Each horse’s jockey has a bonus move up its bright-coloured sleeve.

If the same number gets rolled twice in a row, then that triggers a bonus movement for that stallion. If numbers 6 or 8 roll back-to-back, they move an extra +1 space. Horses 5 and 9 move an extra +2 spaces, and 4 and 10 move an additional +3 spaces. 2/3 and 11/12 also move an extra +3 spaces. So if you roll an 11, and then a 12, first that horse moves one space. Then another space, plus a bonus three spaces. So five spaces in total, across two dice rolls!

Horse 7, meanwhile, gets no boost for back-to-back rolls. Think of it like the other horses getting an adrenaline boost mid-race. Number 7, though, runs at a steady pace throughout. 7 should – in theory! – have a strong chance of being ever-present in the running. But you can never rule out a burst in pace from one of the outsiders. It’s The House’s role to chuck these dice at a quick pace, moving the horses, and commentating on the race as it progresses. While this occurs, the other players place their bets as quick or slow as they dare. Once a horse reaches the Finish Line, the race ends straight away.

To Bet Or Not To Bet: That Is The Equestrian

Each player has five betting chits (numbered 2, 3, 3, 4, and 5), meaning they have five opportunities to bet each race. The main Bet Board is a grid, reminiscent of a roulette casino cloth. Along each row are each of the nine numbered horses. There’s three main columns, split into Win, Place and Show. As the race unfolds, the players can place their betting chits into these sections. It's a first-come, first-served basis. Once placed, the chits remain placed.

This grid might look complex, but it is, in actual fact, simple multiplication. In each spot within this grid is a number, which is a payout multiplier. Let’s say, for example, you bet on horse 9 to win (and it did win the race). You placed your number four-value chit on the 5x ‘Horse 9 To Win’ space. In this case, you’d earn four multiplied by five, for 20 money chips. With the logic of 7 being the favourite, its multipliers are, of course, lower than those for the other horses.

There’s three opportunities to bet on each horse to win, outright. Not all are the same multipliers, though; some are higher than others. Using horse 9 as an example again, there two 4x betting spots, and one 5x. You have to get in there quick to get the better odds! Some spaces have a red negative value in them, though. If you bet in a space with one of these and the bet doesn’t pay out, you have to pay the associated fee. If you place a betting chit in a losing spot, it's more a case of a missed opportunity. You only have one 5-value chit, so you don't want to waste it!

You can also bet on a horse to Place, or Show. ‘Place’ means that you’re predicting the horse finishes in the top two (so first, or second). These odds aren’t as great as winning outright, but are a safer bet. Lower still is betting on a horse to ‘Show’. This means you’re betting on the horse to finish in the top three. The horse that wins the race Wins, Places, and Shows. (Because it finished in the top three, and the top two, and won!) So if you want to go all-in on a single stallion, you can win big! But if it finishes fourth or worse… you win nothing!

Only Fools And Horses: He Who Dares, Wins, Rodney

You can also bet on a certain colour horse to win. Horses 2/3, 4, 10 and 11/12 are all blue, 5 and 9 are orange, and 6 and 8 are red. There’s also a further betting option, which is “Horse 7 finishes 5th or Worse”. These four spots are also first-come, first-serve. The whole nature of this creates a tense and reaction-heavy experience. Players have to keep an eagle eye on the racetrack, and bet when they think the time is right. Act too quick, and a late runner might ruin your plans! Act too slow and all the fantastic odds locations get gobbled up!

There’s a red line on the Race Track Board, marking the final third of the race. Once a third horse crosses this line, The House announces, “No more bets!”. Players are now not allowed to place any more chits. This is important, because otherwise it’d be too easy to wait until the last possible moment to place any bets at all. Instead, players have to act quicker, gambling on results before this point in the race. A lot can still happen after this moment, though. But to quote Del Boy: “He who dares, wins, Rodney…”

VIPs Are The Mane Attraction

There’s three other sets of cards you can add into (or remove from) gameplay to make things easier or deeper. You can add five Prop Cards per race, which are specific requirements. (Most offer odds for horse X finishing ahead of horse Y.) I found it easy to forget about these in among the panic of the real-time scrabbling for bets! Some are particularly risky, given the red line. But if you get in quick, they offer decent returns.

The Exotic Finish cards offer further tempting bets, but also with exact conditions. One is, for example, “All horses move 6 spaces or more”, and another is a Photo Finish. (This means the 3rd place horse must lose by three or fewer spaces.) Exotic Finish cards have three spaces on them, so three players can bet here, unlike other spots. You draw one per race, with them staying there for the race’s duration. So come race four, there’s four Exotic Bets to consider.

The VIP Cards are a brilliant mode, and I’d never play without these. At the end of each race, each player gains two VIP Cards, and gets to keep one for the rest of the game. There’s 32 VIP Cards, and they offer fantastic, fun variety. Each are personal boons that only apply to you for the rest of the races.

Some gain you extra betting chits (some as valuable as a 7-value chit! But it comes with -5 cost penalty if your bet doesn’t come in…). Others reward you with money every time double-ones or double-sixes gets rolled. Others let you piggyback on top of other bets, which I earlier explained was not allowed! By the end of race three, you pick your third and final VIP Card, and go into race four with three of them. This aspect reminded me a little of another AEG title, The Guild of Merchant Explorers. I love the asymmetrical cards players gain there, and I enjoyed these, too.

The House Will Shout Themselves Hoarse

At first, when I heard that one player has to act as The House, it set off alarm bells. What? One player can’t even participate? Their task is to roll dice and move the horses? I’m delighted to announce, though, that I ate humble pie once I took on this role. On New Year’s Eve, I was The House for eight friends. I got them all to name the horses before I introduced the game. For my commentary, I used these horse’s names rather than bland numbers. “Oh no, Watch Me Neigh-Neigh has lost the lead!”

Hearing people scream, “Come on, King Arthur! One more!” was a delight. They got so invested in it, cheering and hollering throughout. I found myself grinning and laughing with them as I commentated. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t betting. I was totally absorbed in the action, the drama, and the race’s late twists. I found myself loving every second of it. (AEG missed a trick here, though, not providing anything for players to name the horses like this. It added so much extra oomph into proceedings. I won’t play without this creative house rule ever again!)

Being The House is akin to being a DM during Dungeons & Dragons. Some players will embrace this position of ‘narrator’. They'll love being the centre of attention and the creator of chaos. Others might also prefer this role if they don’t enjoy the ‘gambling’ side of things. You can download a free app, which rolls bot dice and narrates the action for you, so everyone can play. However, this is somewhat tame and less personal in comparison to a real human commentating. The House can also join in with a mode where they place bets before the race even occurs. But these bets sit locked in, and not reactionary. It does give The House certain stakes and something to root for. But I found I didn’t miss it, when I played without.

With higher player counts, participants only have four betting chits rather than five (for scaling). Ready Set Bet is, without a doubt, more manic the more players. Eight frantic hands all trying to bet at once is silly in the best possible way. Having played it with as few as three players, you will score more earnings with fewer people. I’d say in a heartbeat, though, that it was way more fun at a higher player count. A lot noisier, too… This isn’t one to play in a library, or if you have children sleeping upstairs!

Watch Me Whip, Watch Me Clay-Clay

The main betting board is a decent size for up to eight people to scrabble around. It’s in a classic shade of British Racing green (yes, that’s an actual colour tone!). Once all the cards sit above and below the Show/Place/Win columns, it can look a tad busy. It’s a little too easy to forget/ignore the extra Prop Bets or Exotic Bets in the heat of the excitement.

I was a little disappointed with the size of the Race Track Board in comparison. For something so crucial, it’s too small in comparison to the size of its visual importance. It’s A5-sized, but I’d have liked for it to be A4, at least. The horse meeples are neat and custom. Their colours are stark against their white background. They scale well to the size of the racetrack, but again, if everything were twice the size, I’d be much happier. At least the Win/Place/Show arrows are a good size. You place these next to the horses at the race’s finale, so everyone can see who finished in the top three.

The two dice offer a vintage 1950s style. They’re not exciting to look at, but functional and clear to read. This is their job, after all: The House needs to roll them fast and read their faces in a heartbeat. The player chits, and the winnings chips are decent-enough cardstock. It would have been superb had these been actual poker chips (like Roxley’s Iron Clays). That would have added to the price in substantial measures, though. The player chips are colour-coordinated to mimic the silk patterns of jockey outfits/helmets, which is a pleasing subtlety.

Yay Or Neigh? Final Thoughts On... Ready Set Bet

I mentioned earlier Ready Set Bet gave me vibes of Can’t Stop and Camel Up. Can you warrant owning those and Ready Set Bet in your collection? Yes, 100%, yes. I’d argue this is easier than Camel Up, since there’s no pauses for individual leg scoring. It’s also a lot more tense than Camel Up, due to the pace of the real-time factor.

I must confess, before Ready Set Bet, I wasn’t one for real-time games. I’ve found the likes of Escape, Pit Stop, FUSE and Magic Maze too stressful! Yet here, the stress got replaced with sheer exhilaration. Ready Set Bet does a fantastic job of replicating the emotional rollercoaster of actual horse races. The base game can be so simple, which makes it so accessible to a wide audience. Exotic Finishes and VIP Cards are there as extra considerations for experienced gamers.

The fact I’d happily offer to be The House again tells you all you need to know about that role. I mentioned I’d like for the Race Track board to be bigger, but during our 8-player game, nobody complained. The VIP cards offer asymmetry, and with dice, each race will be different. While the box suggests 2-9 players (including The House), you want a five players, minimum, for Ready Set Bet to shine. It was the perfect game for New Year’s Eve, and simple enough for casual gamers to grasp. This is my new favourite party game!

That concludes our thoughts on Ready Set Bet. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Ready Set Bet today click here!