Perfect Stride Game Review

The Basics:

  • Ages 8 and up
  • Plays 2 to 4
  • About 45 minutes to complete (play time is adjustable)

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Rewards

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Moderate

Theme & Narrative:

  • You and your horse must gallop ahead of your fellow riders towards imposing jumps and obstacles while racing as quickly as you can to the finish line!

Endorsements:

  • Father geek approved!
  • Child geek approved!

Overview

In Perfect Stride, players take on the role of a horse jockey and must use their wit and skills to navigate an unknown course filled with obstacles of mixed difficulty, all the while pushing their horse to be the lead. Perfect Stride is more than just a race; it’s an obstacle course. The players must navigate it to the best of their ability, balancing luck and strategy in order to beat out the other players and be the very first to cross the finish line. From the very start, it is a close race and victory is never certain.

The game is comprised entirely of cards and a single small wooden pawn. In total, there are 7 different groups of cards. These include, Horse, Event, Jump, Skill, Ribbon, Pace, and the Finish Line card. The cards are of high quality and colorful. The text is very easy to read and the use of card symbols is kept to a minimum to make it easy to know what the card is saying without the need to pause the game and go read additional rules. Four summary rule cards are also provided for quick reference if needed. The wooden pawn identifies the player who is the Lead Rider.

All the game "bits"

To set up the game, all of the cards are separated into their different decks. Each player is dealt 3 Horse cards and must select one. This horse will be the player’s partner in the game. Each horse has a specialty that makes it unique and might provide the player with a slight advantage during the race. Once each player selects a horse, the Horse cards are collected and placed back in the box. They will not be used for the duration of the game.

Next, each player is dealt 3 skill cards at random. These represent the player’s initial skills. In addition, each player receives four Pace cards which represent the speed in which the player can push their horse. The Pace cards, from the slowest pace to the fastest, are Walk, Trot, Canter, and Gallop.

Next, 10 jump cards (or less if the game length needs to be shortened) are placed face down in a row and the Finish Line card placed at the end. The Skill and Event card decks are placed within easy reach of all players, and Ribbon cards, ranging from 1 to 4 (depending on the number of players) are placed in a sequential stack under each Jump and the Finish Line card. For example, if playing a 3 player game, each jump would have a single 3 Ribbon, a 2 Ribbon, and a 1 Ribbon. All the remaining Ribbon cards are placed in the box except a number of 1 Ribbon cards equal to the number of jumps. These Ribbon cards are placed in easy reach of all players.

To determine who goes first, a set of Pace cards are dealt face down to each player. The player with the fastest Pace card is given the Lead Rider pawn. You are now ready to play the game!

Each player has one and only one chance to clear each jump. Each jump has a difficulty number that must be matched with an equal or higher number of effort, which is provided by the Skill cards and possibly the Horse (if the horse’s abilities match the jump type). In addition, an Event card is played on the player’s turn that might or might not reduce the difficulty of the jump. In fact, the event might make the jump all the more difficult!

I will not go into the great detail regarding the card symbols other than to state that they are very limited in the number used. This is a real plus for two very important reasons. First, by reducing the number of information symbols, the game is slim, trim and can be played quickly. Second, while lack of rules might imply simplicity, it also creates a higher level of difficulty because it greatly reduces the number of ways a character can succeed. Therefore, on a player’s turn, the only symbols they need to read are the difficulty value of the jump, the effort value of their Skill cards, any effects from the Event card, and the horse’s ability that might assist them in the jump.

At the beginning of each round (or “jump”), all the players select one of their Pace cards and place it face down in front of them. They are then all revealed. The player with the fastest Pace card is automatically the Lead Rider. Turn order than goes from the fastest to slowest horse.

On the player’s turn, they complete the steps in the following order:

  1. If the Lead Rider, reveal the Jump for this round
  2. Draw a number of skill cards noted by the played Pace card
  3. Reveal the Event card
  4. Play as many Skill cards as necessary to provide an effort value higher than or equal to the jump difficulty value
  5. Use a single Skill card function or Horse Care that will add a one time special bonus
  6. Collect a Ribbon card if successfully cleared the jump
  7. Discard down to five Skill cards at the end of the round

The Ribbon cards are awarded to the players as they complete the jump. If the player does not complete the jump, they are not awarded any Ribbon cards whatsoever. The Ribbon card the players are awarded is determined by the order in which the player’s successfully completed the jump. The first player gets the most points, the second gets the next, and so on until all the players have collected a Ribbon card or have failed to complete the jump. At the end of the round, the player who is the Lead Rider gets an additional Ribbon worth 1 point.

The only other three rules I want to point out is Horse Care, Skill functions, and the shifting of the Pace cards.

The Horse Care cards are special Skill cards that can be “equipped” on a horse. These allow the player to do a one time special action, but they can only be played on the following round on which they were equipped. In addition, only one Horse Care card can be equipped at a time. This means the player’s have to do some serious thinking regarding what they should equip or not for future use.

Skill functions provide the player with a one time special activation of an ability granted by that Skill if it matches the jump type. These are much like Horse Care but are dependent on the jump type and sometimes the player’s current position in the race.

The Pace cards, used to determine the number of Skill cards drawn this round as well as turn order, are not placed back in the player’s Pace deck after they are used. Rather, the played Pace cards are passed to the left of each player. This adds two additional layers of difficulty. First, the player looses the Pace card they just used. Second, the Pace card they receive as a replacement might be a redundant or slower Pace card, which means the player is immediately limited and must consider carefully what they want to do for the next round or risk falling behind in points.

The game continues until all the jumps have been turned over and every player has had a chance to complete them. The very last part is a true race in regards to speed. Each player places one of their Pace cards out in front of them and then they are all revealed. The player with the fastest card finishes first, followed by the second, and so on. Ribbon cards are awarded to the players in the same way as the Ribbon cards under the jumps.

After all the player’s have crossed the finish line, the players count up the points on their Ribbon cards. The player with the most points wins and has a Mint Julep.

If it is not obvious, this race is not about speed. It is about management. Management over the player’s cards, management over what cards they pass to the other players, and management over positioning. And the best thing is, it is not a daunting task. The rules are streamlined, clear, and fun. Nothing feels out of place or unnecessary. And yet, it is real challenge to keep ahead of all the other players. This keeps the tension level high, the game well balanced, and continued building excitement as the race draws to a close.

Read the rules in more detail, including the “Basic” rules that make the game simpler and easier for your little geeks. There is quite a bit I didn’t cover and is worth reading about. Specifically, the card symbols and how they work together. There are also a number of videos available that walk the viewer through the game. I believe you will find the rules to be well written, easily understood, and to the point.

Final Word

I have always instructed my little geeks, in one way or another, to “never judge a book by it’s cover”. This is the most simplistic of lessons but also one of the hardest to follow, even for adults. It’s in our nature to automatically prejudge the value of something or someone based on our initial experiences and impressions. This is why, sadly, first impressions are so very important and can make all the difference. In the first couple of moments we are introduced to someone or a new idea, a judgement call is made. This judgement call is based on what we think from only seconds of input from our five senses and from memories. Depending on our impressions, it might take a good long while to change our opinions about something. Eating Sardines, for example…

I must humbly admit that I sometimes find myself not practicing what I preach to my little geeks. Yes, it is true, I am a hypocrite. But before you throw stones at me, allow me to explain.

I was passed Perfect Stride and asked if I would play it and then write a review. I must honestly tell you that the box and the game description did not fill me with excitement. What was this game about? Horses and butterflies? I am a “hardcore gamer!” I can play 8+ hours of a single game and still want more. I have so many hours of playing games under my belt that is makes my brain hurt trying to add them up. More importantly, I’m a guy! A dude! Why would I be even remotely interested in a game that looks like it was designed for girls? I LOVE BATTLEMECHS!

Those where the thoughts running through my head, just based on my first impressions of looking at the box and reading the back description. I grudgingly accepted the request and put the game on my “need to play” shelf and then promptly forgot about it. There the game stayed until I remembered my promise some weeks later. I opened up the box on a Saturday morning, drinking coffee, watching my little geeks rip apart my living room, not at all looking forward to the chore of learning this new game and teaching it.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, geeks and geeketts, I was overjoyed with what I found in the box! This was not a fluffy offering meant to pander to the interests of young girls and pass itself off as a “game”. NO! Perfect Stride has depth, strategy, tactics, risk and reward. In short, this game has real “meat” to it, and I was hungry for more.

I devoured the rules, learning the subtle mechanics and the intrinsic way in which the game evenly and smoothly flowed. It became obvious that this was a creation of passion, heavily themed and rich with narrative that unfolded itself in front of the players as they became the characters of the story. I cannot believe that I let this gem waste away, collecting dust on my shelf. I had fallen pray to the two very things I hate the most: hypocrisy and elitism.

I have since redeemed myself. I learned to play and taught the game. A wonderful experience was had by all. I also wrote a special note of thanks to the game designers telling them how much I enjoyed their game. Most importantly, I took stock of my attitude towards games and chastised myself for being so close minded. Foolishly, I had almost done myself and my little geeks a great disservice.

Perfect Stride is a fantastic and wonderful game. There is more than enough in the box to entertain the elitist gamer in your family and the non-gamer alike. Children will be drawn to the colorful artwork and adults will be pleasantly surprised by the game’s depth and challenge. This game was designed by individuals who put a great deal of themselves into it and it shows. There is careful thought and attention to detail that makes the game shine. I have played other horse-based games before, but never has any grabbed my attention and imagination so strongly. I can honestly say I look forward to my next Perfect Stride game and I will be introducing it to my weekly game group. I will be teased and mocked, I am certain, but I will calmly set up the game, explain the rules and say with a knowing smile…

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

 

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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