Remember when your mom told you the world wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns? Well, she was lying to you. Unicorns do exist! And there are also pots of gold, fairies, gnomes, goblins, witches, and leprechauns.
In Unicorn Fever, players wager bets at the Great Unicorn Racing Championship. The six unicorns in the game love chasing the rainbow until they find the pot of gold at the end, sure to bring lots of glory to those who believe in them. Players will play Magic Cards, gather resources such as Gold and Glory, Acquire Contracts, and vie for first place as they bet on the unicorn that they think will race faster than all the others.
Each round begins with the Planning Phase. This is done in turn order with players selecting an action. The first player to take an action of any kind will get the best value and the more that location is frequented, players will receive a lesser deal, but still a bargain. For example, the first time a player Acquires a Contract, they can buy a card for no cost. However, subsequent visits by the same or other players will require more Gold for the same action. In other locations, the first player might get to play more Magic Cards than players who visit after them. And lastly, when you want to Place a Bet, there is only one token each for Win and Show Bets for each unicorn, so if there’s a unicorn you want to bet on, you’d better get there before everyone else does!
Each game of Unicorn Fever plays with the same unicorns, Movement Cards, and Magic Cards; however, at the beginning of each game, players select (randomly or collectively) 2 different Clans to play with. For example, players might choose to include witches and fairies or gnomes and goblins. This means that each game will have a different flair and offer unique strategy techniques for players. With 5 Clans to pick from to populate their Contract Cards, the Clan combinations add the variety that’s needed for players to return again and again.
The exciting part of Unicorn Fever occurs during the Racing Phase! This is when Magic Cards are revealed to find out what kinds of boosts or impediments a unicorn might have during this particular race. Then a Movement Card is flipped, and it reveals how far to move the unicorns based on their order on the Odds Track. Usually, horses who are higher up on the Odds Track will move farther than those lower down, but that’s not always the case. And to add a dash of luck, the player with the Carrot (the first player token) will roll the Sprint Dice and the unicorns rolled will sprint one more space down the track. Movement Cards will be flipped one at a time followed by the Sprint Dice roll until all the unicorns have crossed the finish line.
Players’ bets are resolved by rewarding Glory Points and Gold to those who placed bets on unicorns that won or showed. Then the odds are changed for horses that performed better or worse than their previous ranking. After four rounds of planning and racing, the game is over and everyone tallies up their Glory Points.
There are several things I appreciate about this game. Most of all, I enjoy the “horse” racing aspect. I love racing games and Unicorn Fever captures the theme perfectly. It adds the racing thrills by allowing some strategy in the form of trying to boost the unicorn you have wagers on and thwart those you don’t. As well, a great racing game needs great names for the competitors and you can’t beat these: Frankie Flakes, Duke Rodolfo, and Melody Sweet. I always find myself chanting for a horse or two when I play, and this game doesn’t disappoint once the race has begun. It’s quite often a nail biter.
There are multiple ways to wager on a unicorn: you can choose a Win Bet, which means you want that unicorn to come in first. That has the biggest payout, but it’s also risky. A more conservative player might choose a Show Bet, which means the unicorn they bet on just needs to come in first, second or third. Each player is also given “ownership” in one unicorn at the beginning of the game but payouts are much lower. This gives players a gold bonus if their unicorn finishes in the top three of each race even if you don’t place a bet on them.
Another aspect I like about Unicorn Fever is the way the unicorns race toward the rainbow. The played Magic Cards will most likely change the outcome of the game and should not be undervalued. You can “trip” a horse, thus making their start movement one less than it should be. On the flip side, you can play a card on a unicorn to give it a finish line advantage. Magic Cards can even set up a unicorn to win (or lose) the whole race if both of the Sprint Dice match the selected unicorn!
When players earn Glory Points in this game, they have to pay taxes on them at the end of each round, thus making players who get a lead in the early rounds pay for their success. This tax helps players “catch up” with early leaders by giving them the opportunity to use their money to buy contracts and place bigger bets. Just make sure you don’t get too poor and have to take loans because they are pricey to pay back!
Never despair if your favorite unicorn comes in last place. In the next round, the last place finisher will get a special boost: a unique card called a Fever Bonus revealed at the starting line. This mechanism attempts to balance out the likelihood that that unicorn won’t perform as well at the back of the pack and gives it a chance to do better next time, thus becoming more enticing for players to bet on. And because that unicorn is in last place, the odds payout is quite tempting.
While Unicorn Fever is fun and goofy as the artwork and unicorn figures exhibit, it’s a balanced and strategic racing game. You never have enough turns to do everything you want during the Planning Phase, which means that you have to make tough choices. Sometimes the Sprint Dice are on your side and sometimes the horse you invest in gets edged out in the final lap. But each round in this game will have you laughing, thinking, and cheering to your heart’s desire. It has theme. It has strategy. It has heart. But most importantly, it has unicorns!