The Process – Idea 3: Il Palio

If you haven’t heard of or seen the Palio watch this: https://youtu.be/-R1ZTAduCKE

This is the excitement that I want to bring to a board game.

Back in 2010 my wife and I were tripping around Italy and on the list of things to do was see Palio Di Siena. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but the whole thing is next level. The whole town gets caught up in 2 weeks of preparation and celebration. As tourists, we were welcomed into the experience, but I am sure we still didn’t get to (and rightly so) experience the most meaningful of traditions, which just makes it all the more exciting in interesting.

We saw horses being taken into churches and chapels, whole streets were shut down for each contrada to host massive banquets, streamers hung from awning and lamp-posts. It had the feel of excitement that I thought was reserved for six-year-olds at Christmas, not men and women in their sixties!

The brief overview of a race that is steeped in history and tradition is this. I must state that this is my understanding of the Palio Di Sena and how it operates. If this game comes to fruition I will do a lot more research to ensure it is factually correct as can be and the years of tradition and culture are respected :

Horses are selected from a pool of eligible horses. These horses are trained by people simply for the glory to run in the race. There is then a random draw to see which Contrada gets which horse. From there, each Contrada must select a jockey. The jockeys are mercenaries who go to the highest bidder, they have no allegiance.

From their Contradas scheme and plot against each other. Bribing other jockeys is completely legal. Some jockeys are even given money to bribe other riders at the start line. This is seen in the jostling that happens at the start line as jockeys position their horse for unknown reasons. Horses kick and bite each other, jockeys kick and punch each other.

Once the race begins it is a hair raising three laps in which, the first horse across the line wins. This is a crucial distinction as many a rider does not.

I can feel a game bristling with theme and excitement and here is my first attempt to structure a game around it:

Theme: The Palio

Story: You are a contrada (an Italian suburb) vying for the best horse and the best jockey to win the most famous bareback horse race in the world.

Mechanisms: Auction, Bluffing, Luck, Take That, Event deck

Win Condition: First horse past the line

Game Play: There are 4 Phases of gameplay

Phase 1: Blind draw for a horse. Each horse has different abilities that will be able to be activated by the rider. Each horse comes with some action cards

Phase 2: Bid for a jockey. Players fight it out to get the jockey of their choice through bargaining. You argue with each other about who you want and make offers in return for the jockey of your choice. You may even interfere with someone else’s negotiation. Each jockey also comes with action cards.

Phase 3: Bribery/Prerace. Players can bribe each other to take certain actions in the race, to hopefully disadvantage others and help themselves. Anything? Is fair game. Action cards can be used in this section to have in-game effects. Action cards can hinder or help you and other horses. The length of time is unknown as an event deck will determine some pre-race events.

Phase 4: The race. The horses race around the track based on rolls of the dice. Players then use their action cards to alter dice, power up their horse or attack other riders. The winner is the first horse to cross the finish line – with or without its rider!

Extra Ideas:

Contrada feuds – you have to make another Contrada comes lasts

Legacy style – You have seasons and can develop horses and riders. The new aim is to amass the biggest fortune.

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Design Theory
Joe Slack

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  1. This theme is crazy, I love it! I can picture the excitement of your jockeyless horse closing in on the finish like while the other rider is closing in from behind.

    I’m curious to know whether there would be a physical race board (something like Flamme Rouge or Automobiles) or whether the positions would be implied and it functions more through card laying. It’s your vision, you can figure out what is best for it.

    The only part I can’t wrap my head around at the moment is the bribing. I like the concept, that it would deal you some sort of disadvantage in return for some extra money, but if the game’s win condition is winning the race then how does the extra money benefit you. I can see why someone in real life would take a bribe, but why would the player that purely wants to win do so? What can the money buy them pre/mid race?

    Regardless, I love the idea!