Pony Express

A very different betting and racing game for 2-6 players

Game by Alan Moon.

Published by Abacus Spiel.

Buffalo Bill was merely the best known of the tireless and brave riders of the legendary Pony Express. It's operations ranged over two thousand long and lonely miles, keeping up unbelievable speeds of service. And for more than 100 years, the Pony Express was without opposition. So let's move ourselves back in time, to those days of bitter struggle for the best horses and riders. The players take on the roles of rich westerners, risking their gold to gain control of horses and riders capable of riding the 2000 mile trail to California, faster than any other. And to really capture the taste of the Old Wild West, once they've found their horses, then they bet on them too, or on the opposition if that suits them better. Poker, Bluff, Tactics, Enjoyment, Suspense and Nerves of steel, they're the ingredients you'll find in and need for the 2000 mile trail of the Pony Express.


Game Board
The large game board consists of three important sections
  1. The Odds Table, (bottom right)
  2. The Betting Chart, (Bottom left)
  3. The seven Pony Express race trails, each beginning in a solitary house on the right or bottom of the board and all converging on the small town in the top left corner. Every trail is 19 spaces long, the town counting as the last space.

7 Horses
Each player tries to gain control of up to two horses, and then to lead them to victory in the race. But they must first win the right to control the horses.

7 Odds Markers
Each horse has an odds marker in it's own colour to show it's price in the betting.

1 Marker Stone
The order of movement for the horses in the race does not follow the seat order of the players, so we've included a marker stone to help you keep track of whose turn it is.

42 Movement Cards
The cards each have a value of from 1 to 9 on them. The values do not represent the amount of movement, but are rather a guide to the horse's stamina.

6 Dice cards
These have two uses. First they remind you which of the 6 Westerners you are representing, hence the name on it. Secondly they can be used during a crisis to try to reverse unkind dice rolls.

6 Odds Movement Cards
These tell you what effect the play of movement cards will have on the odds on a horse.

5 Information Cards
These detail the distribution of various values and colours of movement cards.

7 Ownership Cards
Each horse has one of these in it's own colour.

90 Poker Chips
These are used to gain control of horses and to place bets on them.

1 Ten-sided Die
Used during the race. The 0 counts as 10, not as zero!

1 Score Block
Used to work out bets and find out who has won.

1 Set of Rules


So now that you know what all the components are, let's see how you use them to play Pony Express.

The owner of the game acts as Bookmaker. He takes all the cards and distributes them as follows.

  1. Every player is given a dice card, the name on it is theirs for the duration of the game. The corresponding column on the betting chart may only be used by that player.

  2. Every player gets an Odds Movement Card to help them work out how the odds will change with the play of movement cards.

  3. Every player should get an information card. Unfortunately there are only 5 of them so if there are 6 players then two will have to share. We did have 6 but the yellow horse did so well in the last test game that it's owner fed it the card as a reward!

  4. The starting odds for the horses are determined. The seven ownership cards are laid down in a row alongside the board in the order, Brown, Beige, Yellow, Orange, Red, Blue, Green. Then 7 movement cards are taken from the pack, each of a different value from 9 down to 3. The cards chosen can be black or yellow cards but must not be blue, red or white, (Move Up) ones. The movement cards are placed in descending order, one to each ownership card. Thus the Brown card has a 9 laid by it, the Beige an 8 and so on. Now the odds markers are placed on the odds table, starting with Brown at the top, Beige on the next line down, then Yellow and so on, down to Green on the 10-1 line.

  5. The 35 remaining movement cards are well shuffled and dealt face down to the players as follows:

     Players                Cards per Player     Remaining Cards
       2                        17                      1
       3                        11                      2
       4                         8                      3
       5                         7                      -
       6                         5                      5

    The cards left over can be put down to one side but they'll be needed in a minute.

  6. Finally, each player gets 15 poker chips which they should arrange in piles 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 high.

  7. The Bookmaker, as a reward for his efforts, gets to go first. He takes the marker stone to show that he starts the first round.

A little advice before you start your first game. Pony Express uses several unusual game mechanisms, and you may need a game or two before you're totally at home with them. It's a good idea therefore to use the first game as a kind of test game, just to get used to the rules. Once you've finished the first game, have another look through the rules to be sure you haven't missed anything, and then you're ready for a real game.

Course of Play

A game of Pony Express comprises two stages, first the Poker stage, and then the Race. In the first part the players place their chips so as to bet on and get control of their favourite horses. At the same time they're giving movement cards to the horses, which affects the strength of the horses and so their winning chances. This in turn causes the odds being offered on each horse to alter. At the end of the first stage, the owners of the horses, the odds, the quality of the horses, the turn order and the amounts laid on each horse are all settled. The race can then begin. In the second part of the game, the owners of the horses are also their riders. They hold the movement cards for their horse(s), and play one each round, attempting to move their horses up to four spaces forwards. To make the most of each horse the rider/owner should try to use the movement cards as well as possible, and also to use the particular features of that horse's route to it's best advantage. The race ends as soon as three horses have finished. These three get prizes for winning. Then all the bets placed on those horses are worked out and winnings paid. The Westerner who, at the end of payments, has the most money, is the winner of Pony Express.

Stage 1, The Poker Stage

Every time that a player has a turn, he must carry out three actions.

  1. Bet
  2. Play a card
  3. Change the odds

Once he has carried out all three actions then his turn is finished and the player to his left takes his turn.


In the first round, a player must place 5 chips as a bet on a horse. He takes his pile of 5 chips and places it onto the betting chart, so that it lies in his column, as shown by his name at the top (taken from the dice card he holds), and in the row opposite the horse of his choice. Each player does the same in turn, putting 5 chips onto the horse of their choice. Then in the second round each places 4 chips and so on, until in the fifth round each player places 1 chip. The number of chips in a round is fixed, and must all be placed on one horse, it can't be split between two or more. In subsequent rounds however, the player need not, but may, place further bets on the same horse.

Play a Card

The player chooses a card from his hand and plays it next to a horse ownership card, ensuring that the value of the previous movement card is still visible. As soon as a horse has 6 movement cards next to it's ownership card, then it's movement card allocation is complete and no further cards may be given to that horse. To ensure that no mistakes are made, you should put the horse marker onto the sixth movement card so blocking any further plays.

Changing the Odds

Once a card has been played on a horse, the player must check whether this causes the odds on the horse to change. The change is related to the difference in value between the movement card just played and the movement card which was previously the last on that horse. Example. The last movement card on a horse was a 5. Now someone plays a 9 card, a difference of +4. Looking at the odds movement card shows us that a difference of +4 causes the odds to move +2, ie the horse's odds marker is moved up two rows on the odds table. In this case this might mean the odds moving from 4-1, up to 2-1. If the card played is lower than the previous card then the difference is negative and the odds marker falls rather than rising.

The Move-Up Cards

These cards (with white values), have no direct effect on the odds. They cause no immediate change, but value of the next card played is compared with the value of the Move Up card, not to the card beneath it, and the odds are altered as per the difference between the new card and the Move Up card..

Changing the Starting Player

After each round, the marker stone moves one place to the left and it's new owner starts the next round. Thus the player who starts the first round, will be the last player to play in the second round.

Playing the Remaining Cards

Once all players have placed all their cards, any remaining cards are dealt onto the ownership cards, starting with the Brown horse, until each horse has 6 movement cards. These cards cause changes to the betting odds in exactly the same way as cards played by players. If there are 5 players this isn't necessary since there are no cards remaining.


Where there are less than 6 players, players continue to play movement cards in rounds after the fifth round, even though they can no longer bet. Odds are altered in the normal way.

Phase 2, The Race

The Riders

Beginning with the Brown horse, each horse is give to it's owner/rider. This is the player who has placed the largest number of chips as bets on the horse. The owner takes the horse marker. If two or more players have staked an equal number of chips on a horse then no one controls the horse. For details of the procedure in this case see Uncontrolled Horses.

Choosing Tracks

Beginning with the Outsider, ( the horse whose odds on winning are longest, or to put it another way, the horse whose marker lies lowest on the odds table), the horses are each allocated a track. The Outsider runs on the uppermost track on the board, the horse at the next worse odds on the next track down and so on until the favourite takes his place on the track next to the bet chart. If two horse's markers lie on the same row of the odds chart then the outsider is deemed to be the horse on whom least chips have been staked in total. If that doesn't split them then the outsider is the horse with the smaller total movement card values. If there's still no difference then the lower dice roll takes the outsider's place.


An alternative method of allocating tracks is to allow the owner of the favourite to choose a track for his horse, then the owner of the second favourite and so on. In this way the owners can try to match the movement cards held with a particular track.

The Cards

Now each owner takes the ownership and movement cards for his horse(s). They are held, hidden, in the hand. If a player owns two or more horses then he must keep the cards for each horse separate from each other. To help in this it's best to hold the ownership card for each horse with the related movement cards.

The Start

The horse on the uppermost track starts the race. Then the horse on the next track down takes his turn and so on until all horses have had a turn. The marker stone can be used to help remember which horse's turn it is. It's important to remember that the horse's turns follow the track order, not the player's sitting order.

Playing Movement Cards

Each turn the player whose turn it is must play a card. He simply lays this down face down in front of him so building a discard pile. If he owns/rides two or more horses then he builds two or more separate discard piles. Should all six cards have been played before the race finishes, then the player takes the cards back into his hand and plays them again as before.


Depending on the track, the movement card played and the roll of the die, a horse may move up to 4 spaces per turn. But if you push your horse too hard, then he may simply refuse to move. The riders decide how hard to push their horses.

Normal Movement

A horse may always move one space forwards. The colour and value of the card played are irrelevant.

Extra Move (coloured space)

If the horse starts it's move on a coloured space, (blue, red or yellow), and the card played is of the same colour, then the horse automatically moves an extra space.

Fast Pace

If the rider decides to push the pace along he may decide to take a risk. He rolls the dice once. If the dice roll is equal to or lower than the value on the movement card played in that turn then the horse moves forwards a further space. If however, the dice roll is greater than the number on the card then the horse refuses to move at all, it simply sits still on the space where it started it's turn.

Risky Pace

If a rider has successfully managed to make a fast pace, then he may then decide to push on still harder. He rolls the die for a second time, if the roll is less than or equal to the movement card then he moves on one further space. If the roll is higher than the card then he loses everything and the horse stays on the space on which it started the turn.

To clarify, a player choosing fast or risky pace takes the risk that his horse will make absolutely no move in that turn. If the dice go against him then not only does he fail to gain the extra move(s) but he also loses the basic move, and any extra move given by a colour match between card and starting space.

The Move-Up Card

Playing this card allows the player to move his horse until it is level with the next horse in front of it. This replaces the normal, extra, fast and risky moves. Alternatively the card can be played as a normal movement card of very low value.

Special Rule

If a horse can reach the town then it must do so, for example, if a horse is only one space away from the town then the rider must take a normal move and move into town. He may not try for a fast or risky pace and so possibly fail to move at all.

Uncontrolled Horses

If a horse has no owner then it is ridden by a nameless greenhorn. The movement cards are shuffled and each turn the top card is turned over. Depending on it's position in the race, and the movement card played the horse may also try to increase it's pace. Up to a 4 movement card the horse moves normally. On a 5 or 6 card the rider tries a fast pace (rolls the dice once), on a card of 7 or more then the rider must try for risky pace and rolls the dice twice.

If the horse is in last place then it automatically tries risky pace whatever card is turned over.

The Dice Card

If a player is particularly disappointed by a dice roll then they may play their dice card. This makes the roll null and void and the dice roll is rethrown. The card is turned face down and may not be used again in this way.

Race End

The race is over as soon as three horses have reached the town. As they finish, the first three horses should be put onto the victory rostrum (above the odds table).

Prize Money

The owner/rider of the winner gets a prize of 15 chips, the second place horse gets 10 chips and the third 5.

Paying Bets

Once the positions in the race are known, then the bets are paid as per the odds table. A line (-) on the table means that there is no payment on a horse finishing in this position. A zero means that the player recovers his original bet. 1-1 means that the owner gets his stake back plus an equal amount as winnings, 2-1, his stake plus twice his stake as winnings and so on. Example, The Black horse comes in in first place and it's odds marker is on the fifth row (5-1), A player who had bet 8 chips on this horse would receive his stake of 8 chips back, plus 5x8=40 chips as winnings making a total of 48 chips. The White horse comes in second and it's odds marker is in the seventh row, (10-1). A player who'd bet 11 chips on this horse would get 66 chips (11 + 5 x 11) back.

The rider of the first horse home may reasonably reckon himself the best rider in the race, but the winner of the game is the player who has most cash at the end of the game.

Extra Rules

Once you've mastered the basic game you may like to try one of these variations:

Opening odds, here are three possible ways of varying the opening odds on the horses. In each case lay out the ownership cards for each horse along the side of the board and then try one of these alternatives.

  1. Shuffle the movement cards and deal one onto each ownership card.

  2. Beginning with the Bookmaker in turn chooses a horse and decides which movement card it should get as it's first card. The Bookmaker finds the chosen card in the pack and lays it onto the ownership card.

  3. Deal out all the movement cards to the players and then play as normal with players first betting on a horse and then playing a card onto the ownership card of one of the horses,(not necessarily the same one), if the card played is the first movement card for that horse then the opening odds on that horse are set as below

Using any of these three methods, the opening odds for a horse are determined by the first card played on it as per the table below.

    Value of First Card     Opening Odds (Odds marker)

             9                         1-1

             8                         2-1

             7                         3-1

             6                         4-1

             5                         5-1

             4                         8-1

             3                        10-1

          2 or 1                      20-1

Move-Up cards may not be played as the first card, and should one be dealt it is replaced in the pack and another card is dealt.

Alternative Movement Rules

  1. Whatever card is played the dice must be rolled, if the die roll is lower than or equal to the card value then the horse moves one space, otherwise the horse doesn't move.

  2. By throwing the dice a second time then the horse may attempt to move a further field. If the dice roll fails then the horse stays still.

  3. If the space on which the horse begins it's turn matches the colour of the movement card played then the horse doubles it's movement, ie moves two or four spaces rather than one or two.

Allocation of Tracks

As already described, one variant is to allow the owners of the horses, beginning with the favourite, to choose which track their horse will race on. Only one horse may race on each track.

Distributed by the Sumo Rules Bank.

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