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Triactor: A Day at the Piecepack Downs

Players 3-6
Length 30-45 minutes per race
Equipment Required 8 unique piecepack suits, paper, pencils, optional playmat, optional cash or tokens, optional timer
Designer JonathanDietrich, JulieTaylor, KenMacKeigan
Version 1.0
Version Date2004-10-20
License This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.


Place your bets. Take turns rolling the dice, choosing one die, and moving the corresponding horse. When a horse enters a space containing the coin that matches its suit, the horse stops in that space, reveals the coin, and moves as if it just rolled the value (number) on the coin. Continue until the first three (3) horses cross the finish line. Calculate and pay out winnings based on the individual player's bets and the total number of players betting on each horse. Repeat as time allows, or until an agreed upon number of races have been completed.

Here is the starting diagram for Triactor with the optional print-and-play playmat (this image uses JCD piecepack images contained in VassalModule by JonathanDietrich and the Triactor playmat by JonathanDietrich, Julie Taylor, and Ken MacKeigan / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0):


Reviews & Comments

Runner Up in the GroupProjects design competion and winner of the "Best Eye Candy" award.

Triactor: A Day at the Piecepack Downs, by JonathanDietrich, KenMacKeigan & JulieTaylor

Triactor is essentially Turf Horse Racing (republished as Royal Turf) ported to the piecepack and tweaked for somewhat more strategic play. It's a betting game in which the players have some limited control over the outcome of the horse races that everyone is betting upon. Each race has three phases. First, players place bets on the various horses. Second comes the race itself, which takes most of the play time. Third, any winning bets pay off. A game is a series of races, which may easily be spread out across days or weeks by keeping a running tally of winnings. Each race takes roughly 30 minutes to complete, or sometimes longer if there are many distractions or if some players are prone to excessive analysis. We highly recommend using a timer to limit thinking time on each turn to, say, 15 seconds. This is a race, after all, and if a race moves too slowly, it isn't much fun. More on that later....

In the betting phase, everyone has three betting credits to use. In addition to placing bets on various horses to win, place, show or finish in a given order, players may spend betting credits to gather inside information about certain horses. All along the race track are coins that affect the movement of the horses matching their suits, for better or for worse. These coins, which are intended to simulate sudden bursts of speed, tripping, and the like, can have a huge impact upon the results of a race. Once bets are placed, all of the players participate in the movement of the horses (pawns) around the track, which is made up of face-down tiles in the straights and face-up tiles in the corners. Most "steps" along the track have room for up to two horses, with the exception of the corners, which have room for four. Horses advance via a shared dice pool mechanic in which the active player rolls all of the active dice, then chooses one horse to move according to the roll on the matching suit die. Null equals zero (no movement) and ace equals one, but on any movement other than an ace, the chosen die then becomes inactive until all of the rest of the dice have been used, at which point all are recycled. If a horse can't move as far forward as the die would allow (due to the target step already being full of other horses), it moves as far as it can. This dice pool mechanic is an enhancement of a related card-based mechanic used in games such as Yucata and Sunken City, or predetermined dice pool mechanics such as Domino Backgammon. In practice, the Triactor dice pool mechanic generally works well at keeping the race fair while giving each player a limited selection of options to influence the relative positions of the individual horses. After three horses cross the finish line, bets pay out according to a reference table, with odds determined by how many players bet on a given horse.

Let me begin by saying that the Triactor ruleset is very well-written. The layout was clear, and the graphics were outstanding. There were only a couple of very minor points of confusion regarding the payout of bets, but I trust those will be cleaned-up in the released version. Triactor requires a piecepack with eight suits to play, preferably with different colors for each suit or clear icons on each pawn. Included with the rules is an illustrated play mat for the race track infield. This was a very nice touch, but we felt it would better fit the rest of the layout if it were either two pages long or formatted for legal size paper. The play mat, while it's great so far, could be further improved by adding a winner's circle to keep track of the pawns as they cross the finish line and a short cost / payout table along with the already present betting reference. These are really only minor niggles, and the Triactor ruleset is among the very best I've seen anywhere. Other piecepack authors could learn a lot from the Triactor authors' example. The appendix, while brief, served its purpose adequately.

Mechanically, I've already noted that the dice pool mechanic generally works well. In this case, both the dice pool and the event coins are particularly well-matched to the horse racing theme, which in itself is a classic. However, and this is a big reservation, over analysis can really slow down the game to the point where the race feels like torture. The game is much more fun when played with a per-move time limit. This is especially true if the game is attempted by more than just a few players, which can lead to agonizing waits between turns. A variant that the authors suggested for "advanced play" (not revealing the horses each player bet upon) may actually alleviate some of the analysis paralysis during the race by simply taking away that information. However, this reduces the ability of players to use spoiler strategies, which are sometimes key to winning. The races can also drag on at times, and one player suggested removing either one or two tiles from each of the long straights to shorten the race, possibly using them to build a winner's platform in the infield. But this proposed shorter track is untested, and may lead to a more chaotic game.

Conclusion: Triactor: A Day at the Piecepack Downs is a solid and well-developed game. It also has very well-written rules and superb graphics, for which it gets the Best Eye Candy consolation prize. While the authors claim it supports up to ten players, we recommend it for five or six players, at most. More players than that drastically reduces the enjoyment due to long waits between turns and the relative lack of control each player has on the outcome. And please, play quickly. This is a race! Score: 22.48


Another excellent game from the GroupProjects contest. Triactor is easy to learn, playable and a fun gateway game for a group of three to six. I highly recommend it. (./) (./) (./) -- ClarkRodeffer

CategoryGame ThemeSportCategory RaceSimpleCategory MechanicBettingCategory MechanicSharedOwnershipCategory MechanicActionPoolCategory MechanicSecretGoalsCategory