Breakneck Derby Game Review

The Basics:

  • For ages 12 and up
  • For 1 to 10 players
  • Approximately 60 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Enjoy the thrill and disappointment of real-life horse racing


  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!


American author, Roger Kahn, said: “Horse racing is animated roulette.” In a race where man and beast merge into one galloping form, the crowd on their feet in eager anticipation, and the cumulation of dreams and hopes ending or beginning at the finish line; horse racing is always exciting. In this game, players will take on the role of one or more jockeys, guiding their horse around the track. But be sure not to just focus on getting ahead. Instead, this race will require players to think, strategize, and jump to the lead when the small window of opportunity opens.

Breakneck Derby, published by Big Ham Games via the Game Crafter, is comprised of one gameboard, 10 Horse counters, 10 Horse Owner cards, 96 playing cards, 10 Head-to-Head betting tokens, 15 Bet Multiplier tokens, five additional tokens, and a set of paper play money. The game board is thick and durable, as are the tokens and counters. The playing cards are typical of your standard playing card in quality and durability. Unfortunately, the play money is made of paper and prone to folding, creases, and getting crumpled. While play money has been a staple in the board game hobby for generations, I look forward to the day we stop using it. It’s a challenging game component to use (they tend to stick together) and can easily be damaged.

Preparing for the Big Race

To set up the game, first place the gameboard in the middle of the playing area and within easy reach of all the players. Next, place, at this time, each of the Horse counters, as well, matching the number on the horse to the “Starting Gate” spot located on the gameboard.

Second, shuffle the 10 Horse Owner cards and deal an equal number to each player, placing any not dealt to the side. The Horse Owner cards not given to a player are considered “House Horses,” who will still run the race but are not owned by any players. Finally, have each player place their Horse Owner cards in front of them face-up.

Third, shuffle the playing cards and deal three cards to each player face-down. This is the player’s starting hand. They should look at their cards but keep them hidden until played. Place the remaining cards face-down to create the draw deck. Leave room for a discard pile.

Fourth, place the tokens and paper money to one side and within easy reach. You only need these components if you are using the optional betting rules.

That’s it for game set up. Time to race!

And They’re Off!

Breakneck Derby is played in rounds with no set number of rounds per game. However, a typical round is summarized here.

Step One: Flop the First Card

Any player takes the top-most card from the draw deck and places it in the “1” position of the “Bonus Hand” row found on the game board. If the card is a face card (King, Queen, Jack, or Joker), discard it immediately and draw another until a number card (1 – 10) is revealed and placed.

Step Two: Move the Horse

Each number card will be assigned to one horse based on the card’s number value, regardless of the suit. For example, a “7 of Clubs” and a “7 of Hearts” will move the Horse counter with the number value of “7”. When the game begins, all horses are in the “Starting Gate.” Take the horse from the “Starting Gate” that matches the first drawn card a place it on the racetrack one space past the starting line. The lane it’s placed in must match the card’s suit.

Step Three: Continue Play

The owner of the horse that just moved now plays any card from their hand. This card is played to any open position on the Bonus Hand track or any face card. Again, the horse that matches the number played moves their horse, but this time, the number spot in the Bonus Hand determines the number of spaces the Horse counter moves. Finally, the owner of the horse just moved plays the next card. In this way, a player could play several cards, so only their horse moves, or they could play a card for a horse that is so far behind that their race advancement wouldn’t impact the player’s opportunity to win.

Movement is always the same. The player advances their horse a number of spaces on the track per the suit on the card and position in the Bonus Hand. Lane changes are considered “free” movement. A horse can “jump” another horse as long as another horse does not block their final position in the movement. That is to say, horses can shift and move through horses but can never stop and share the same space as another horse.

Players can “block” other horses on purpose, which is a great way to tactically and strategically annoy your opponent, but also an excellent approach of keeping a horse from sprinting forward. By doing so, a player can force a horse not to move at all.

Image courtesy of Big Ham Games

The face cards have special actions that must be resolved when played. They are always played to the Bonus Hand and can be played over previously played cards, but never on top of a number card. With the one exception of the Joker.

  • Joker: Play to any spot in the Bonus Hand, canceling any previously played cards. The Joker card, however, does not allow the player to move their horse.
  • King: Play to the Bonus Hand and immediately move one horse of the player’s choice straight ahead on the track. If the horse’s lane matches the suit of the King, the movement is doubled.
  • Queen: Play to the Bonus Hand to move all horses in the lane matching the Queen’s suit straight ahead equal to the Bonus Hand spot value.
  • Jack: Play to the Bonus Hand to move all horses in the lane matching the Jack’s suit straight ahead equal to the Bonus Hand spot value, except one horse of the player’s choice.

Players redraw their hands to three cards whenever they play their last card, move to another player, or fill the Bonus Hand with number cards.

Playing the Bonus Hand

Play continues as noted above until all five spots in the Bonus hand show number cards (meaning no visible face cards in the row). It’s now time to determine bonus movement!

While it’s important to note that where you play cards in the Bonus Hand does contribute to the horse’s movement, the position in the Bonus Hand row also counts when determining bonuses once the Bonus Hand is filled. The rule book goes into detail about how to resolve each bonus hand. The bonus hands are as follows and impact the horses that match the card numbers. Each bonus hand is scored once, meaning a player cannot score movement for a double and then a triple.

  • Trap: Two cards of the same number value not adjacent to each other in the row, scoring one movement space for each card “trapped” between them.
  • Double: Two cards of the same number adjacent to each other in the row score four movement spaces.
  • Triple: Same as a Double, but requires three adjacent cards of the same number value to score nine movement spaces.
  • Quadruple: Same as a Double and a Triple, but requires four adjacent cards of the same number value that will score 24 movement spaces.
  • Streak: Three to five consecutive number cards in sequential order (from left to right), scoring three to 12 movement spaces based on the number of cards in the streak.
  • Flush: All cards of the same suit score 15 movement spaces.
  • Paint: All cards of the same color but not of the same suit score three movement spaces.
  • Bolt: All five cards of the same number (regardless of suit) allow the horse that matches the number to “bolt” forward and immediately win the race.

If none of the listed conditions are met, the Bonus Hand is considered a “dud,” and no bonus movement is awarded.

After the Bonus Hand has been resolved, discard all the cards played to it. Shuffle the discard pile if the draw deck is ever depleted.

This ends the round.

Managing the Horses of the House

Depending on the number of players in the game, an individual could be managing one or more horses in the race. Any that the players do not own is considered owned by the House. They still compete and move as any other horse.

Typically, the player who just moved their horse gets to play the next card to the Bonus Hand. However, since the House Horses do not have a hand, the gameplay is slightly different. After a House Horse moves, draw the next card from the draw deck and resolve.

  • Number card: play to the lowest available open or face card space in the Bonus Hand, moving the corresponding horse accordingly. Play then continues, as usual, drawing no more cards.
  • Joker: Play to the top of the number card closest to the Bonus Hand “5” space, ignoring if there are no number cards in the Bonus Hand. Then draw another card and resolve.
  • King: Play into the lowest available open or face card space in the Bonus Hand and move the horse currently leading the race. Then draw another card and resolve.
  • Queen: Play into the lowest available open or face card space in the Bonus Hand and move all horses in the lane matching the Queen’s suit. Then draw another card and resolve.
  • Jack: Play into the lowest available open or face card space in the Bonus Hand and move all the horses except the one leading the race. Then draw another card and resolve.

Continuing the Game and Winning the Big Race

The game continues with the next round of gameplay as described above until three horses cross the finish line for the second time (you go around the track twice) either during the cards played to the Bonus Hand or after resolving the Bonus Hand. The first horse to cross is in first place. Continue to play until a second and third horse also cross the finish line. Place these horses into the “1”, “2”, and “3” Starting Gate spots as per their placing.

The horse that crosses first gets the “Win” token. The second horse that crosses gets the “Place” token. The third horse that crosses gets the “Show” token. All other horses are considered to finish the race in the current position of the “Show” horse crossing the finish line.

The race is over! Congratulations to the winners!

Game Variants

The base game is a lot of fun and exciting, with the positioning of horses changing continually. The game can be made even more exciting by adding in some betting. Gameplay remains largely the same, except for the use of paper money and the chance to win it back. There are three ways to bet.

  • Win, Place, or Show: each player contributes to the “purse” and will get a percentage back of the purse’s total value based on the horse finishing position.
  • Head to Head: A blind bet to determine which horse will win, rewarding the player with the amount bet and multiplied.
  • Stud and Nag: The player who owns the horse that came in first gets money from the player who owns the horse that comes in last.

Of course, if players want to, they are welcome to play with all three betting options, which makes each race not only exciting but also potentially catastrophic, financially speaking. However, I highly suggest players replace the paper money with traditional Poker chips. Paper money is the worst.

Breakneck Derby can also be played solo, with the player owning any number of the horses and the rest being managed by the House. Same game rules apply.

To learn more about Breakneck Derby, visit the game’s webpage. There is also a “lite” version of the game that comes in at a lower price point and excludes the betting rules and supporting components. That version of the game, which was not reviewed here – but is really the same game minus some bits and bobs – can be found here.

Final Word

The Child Geeks report having fun with the game but were frustrated with the Bonus Hand. The cards played to the Bonus Hand row, and the horse’s movement made a great deal of sense. What caused continuous frowning was when the bonus hand was scored, which never seemed to go the way the Child Geeks wanted. According to one Child Geek, “I think the Bonus Hand is tough, and I don’t think about it very much. The race is great!” Another Child Geek said, “I liked it all, and I think the Bonus Hand is not as important as my dad says it is.” This is not to say that the Child Geeks didn’t understand how the Bonus Hand worked. They just didn’t put much time or effort into it. Moot point, however, as the Child Geeks all agreed that the game was “pretty good” and gave it their approval as they found the racing to be fast and fun.

The Parent Geeks were much more “clued in” about the game. According to one Parent Geek, “I liked the game. It was fast, and the cards you played always resulting in the race as we advanced. This made every play around the table interesting and a bit nailbiting towards the end.” Another Parent Geek said, “Really fun, and I didn’t think that a horse racing game could be so. I thought the Bonus Hand scoring was a bit clunky at first, but now I see it as the final ‘jocking for position,’ so to speak. Made for some entertaining moments in the race.” When all the horses crossed the finish line, the parent geeks gave the big trophy to Breakneck Derby.

The Gamer Geeks found the game to be entertaining but not as in-depth as they would like. According to one Gamer Geek, “I think the game is very well done, but I wanted there to be more control over my horse. Or better put, more protection of my horse. Perhaps some blocking cards or some sort of way to counter a breakaway? I don’t know, but I do think the game was fun and engaging.” Another Gamer Geek said, “I was impressed. The Bonus Hand was a nice bonus touch, but the game didn’t need it. However, I was pleased with what the game provided and would play it again.” It turns out this game was a bit of a dark horse from the start but did very well with our gaming elitists.

Breakneck Derby is just plain fun. I played it solo and played it with several folks. Great stuff. No matter how many players you have, the game always worked. Games – and the races they represented – were always engaging. Each card played is a horse moved—everything shifts, and not always for the better.

The betting aspect of the game was found not to be as important as the race itself. Yes, it’s fun to place your bets and see the outcome, but the absolute joy comes in the form of playing your cards smart and revealing the final Bonus Hand’s results and impact on the race itself. Honestly, winning or losing a bet seemed a very distant secondary importance. However, it does have its place and was found by more than a few to be the “next level” of engagement and fun in the game once the basics were mastered.

Racing games can be tricky. You want to impart upon the player a sense of urgency without panicking them. You can do this by making outcomes random or forcing players to make decisions with time restrictions. None of this exists in Breakneck Derby. Players can take their time, think things through, and not once did we ever feel rushed. But we all felt excited about the race. Movement is constant, and the race tracks seem to be in a continual state of change.

Best of all, the winner of the race was always not clear until the very end. Oh, for sure, it was apparent who the leaders were, but it felt so good to see a horse in the rear suddenly move ahead or a horse with a substantial lead shortfall behind. Phrases like “Oh, yeah!” and “You gotta be kidding me!” were uttered, muttered, and said aloud throughout games, along with more colorful expletives.

Pro-tip for you folks: Always play with all the horses. You might be tempted to only play with five because you only have five players at the table. But, don’t be that gamer. Breakneck Derby is easy to play, with one player taking on all the horses or dividing them up among many players. It would be best if you had those horses. You love those horses. Without them, the game has dead pockets of inaction that make the race feel stagnant. Dare I say even dull? Yes, dull. I dared.

In short and in summary, this is a great game. So do play it the very first chance you get. I bet it crosses the finish line as a winner. And that’s an easy bet to make.

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.

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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 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 Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....

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