1500 Gold

Published by Ragnar Brothers
Designed by sundry Ragnars
Reviewed by Mike Siggins

2-6 Players
about 90-120 minutes

1500 Gold is a game about what used to be the greatest race on earth until Coe, Ovett and Cram retired and everyone here stopped watching athletics. It is the latest creation from the famous Ragnar Brothers stable, who now seem to have established a steady production cycle of idea-design-testing-publication. Sadly, something must have gone awry in the second phase as this game is neither exciting nor particularly creative. Basically, if you sat down with eight mates and decided to design a game on training and qualifying for the Olympic 1500 metres, this is exactly what you'd expect to emerge after a few hours. There is a major sense of predictability, an overlong mechanism, daft runner names, only a modicum of feel for the subject matter and the odd passable idea. When I ordered this game, I had hopes of writing several pages of comparison with Lambourne's seminal Metric Mile. That isn't going to happen, partly because there is no comparison on quality, but also because I assume 1500 Gold is aimed at the family market. Because in all honesty, no one else would want it.

Why do I think this? Because it offers no real gaming challenge, it is not going to appeal to sports gamers and it seems to be essentially Totopoly with athletes and no little luck. The game breaks down into three main phases: Training, in which you progress Monopoly style around a track and collect tactical cards. Minimal skill, minimal effect, minimal fun. Qualifying, in which you run off against the others in a quick, abstracted but strangely satisfying heat or two and finally The Final, in which you slog around three and three quarter laps which feel like a marathon. You are given a team of three runners who vary from good to not so good, each one having a different chance of qualifying (using the Whippin' Bobby Lee morale dice system) and a unique running talent for the said final race. Your aim is to get at least one of your team through to the final, preferably more, and hopefully get one of them to win. If you can emulate the Kenyans and get 1-2-3, then all the better. But I couldn't make myself care, and I even had Britain.

How does it work? Training is pretty crude roll a dice and move (a clever random deal could cut out the whole shebang) and is notable only for its sheer tedium and the possibility of losing one or more runners (drugs, injuries, whim of the dice etc) before they've even got on the team bus. The qualifying rounds, through which you must all progress, are okay, and even quite fun at times, but there are a lot of 'em - quarters and semis, with added dummy runners to add interest and slow things up. This mechanism boils down to play some tactical cards, add a die roll and hope, with the furthest along the track qualifying. The final however is actually good in theory and systems, emulating the jostling, ebb & flow, and tactical timing of this majestic race, but is so long drawn out that you are happy when it ends. And no one felt particularly comfortable playing with Seb Toe, Dave Throttle and the rest. Why oh why?

And what is good about it, you cynical bastard? Well, the idea of having unique talents (not related to the real-life runners, by the way) is a good one but unfortunately doesn't have enough impact on the race, so seems to be there only for a dash of flavour. The movement system in the final is clever, but could benefit from a clarification of 'tucking in', and a telescoped race mechanic. Where 1500 Gold does score over Metric Mile is in having a proper track to run on. As good as Metric Mile is, that rolling Track with No End still doesn't gel after all these years.

So what else can I say about 1500 Gold? To sum up, there is almost enough here to entertain a sports loving family, but not gamers, for an hour tops. With five or six, we get to close on two hours and someone somewhere in the playtesting division should have blown the whistle (or woken up). To me, it is an odd game to publish as it bears none of the hallmarks of the Ragnars, and boy would I like to get back to the quality of HotW, Angola and Bobby Lee. Even Backpacks had more going for it than this one. It is a drab and largely unexciting rendition which with a transplant of speedier, exciting systems might almost come off. But we are stuck with what we have and eventually it drew the same reaction from everyone that played: okay, but way too long and with no easy way of cutting it down. But don't get the impression this is horrible; it isn't. It's just a big disappointment, totally normalised, not too inspiring and, that damning adjective, average. I'd give it five out of ten, but in fairness one member of the group was happy enough to walk out with it under his arm (who was it, by the way?). The other four deemed this a fortunate escape.

Copyright 1995, Mike Siggins

The Game Cabinet - editor@gamecabinet.com - Ken Tidwell