We're not supposed to judge books by their covers, and the same can logically be applied to games. We are, however, supposed to judge books by their content -- the story, the writing, and everything else that falls between the first and last pages -- and here is where games are slightly different. While sharp writing, or a good story can often strengthen a non-digital game, ultimately it's the design that determines whether it's any good.
So yes, Custom Game Co's Horse Fair Card Game has a pretty bland cover. And yes, the story is pretty much explained by the title. And yes, it does come with plastic horsies. But the only thing that really matters is the gameplay, and there Horse Fair Card Game proves that it's a lot more than just a game for little girls.
By all appearances, though, Horse Fair Card Game really is meant for little girls. The fiction states that all players are judges at a (you guessed it) horse fair, voting for their favorite horses. The gameplay doesn't strongly support this story, however, and you could injure yourself trying to justify the plot's connection to the mechanics. So, we won't.
Each turn, players play cards representing different horses. Each horse has its own name (like Snowflake, or Rascal, or Dandy), and all cards for that horse share the same number (Snowflake is 6, for example, and Rascal is 3). Once there are that many of that card in play, the play space resets, with all other cards in play getting discarded, and points going to the players who have cards of that particular horse. The player who completed the set gets a horse figurine. Collecting four figurines automatically wins the game, otherwise the points are tallied once there are no more cards.
Custom Game Co's first published game, Horse Fair originally caught my eye because it was unique. This wasn't a well-worn mechanic with horsies slapped on the front. This was something genuinely new to the field. The crazy thing is, it works. The simple rules introduce an interesting bluffing element, and since all players benefit from completed sets, winning is never as straightforward as collecting the most figurines. It's not the deepest game you'll ever play, but as a 20-minute gameplay experience it's certainly more than meets the eye.
Final Verdict: If you're interested in fast-paced card games, enjoyed Chain Factor, or are just a really big fan of horses, it's worth picking up. If you have some bizarre hatred of / traumatizingly violent obsession with equine creatures, you may want to avoid this game and possibly seek psychiatric help.
Scott Jon Siegel is a fledgling game designer, a professional blogger, and a mediocre cook. His words and games can be found at numberless, and he wants you all to know that he played the role of Alan Strang in Equus during college. And you all know what that means...