Let’s talk about horse racing. Not the actual cruel and outdated sport. I mean the popularly imagined horse race – the version romanticized in media like Guys and Dolls and Luck as a platonic ideal of sporting culture. Stripped to its essentials, horse racing is a slow-motion roulette wheel, a massive gamble in which second-to-second changes in race order lead to ultimate thrills and the chance for riches and glory. The “horse race” has evolved to a metaphor that captures that immediacy, the love of the chase and jockeying to the exclusion of all else.
The developers of QuarterPole clearly love both kinds of horse race. Their intensive knowledge of racing culture is evident, but despite the game’s often impenetrable density, it never loses sight of the base pleasures of the race and the bet. By offering multiple ways to play on both sides of the track, QuarterPole ensures you’re never far from the satiating drama of watching fortunes turn at the last second.
QuarterPole incorporates both the race management and the gambling aspects of horse racing. Blue Rock Downs serves as a hub for both these activities, giving you access to the stables, betting counter, auction tent, president’s office, and other locations where horsery goes down. If you’re betting, you’ll spend all your time at the public information booths; if you want to enter a horse, you’ll hang around the trainers and jockey lounge. Regardless, everyone ends up the racetrack to watch some or all of the day’s ten races. You can sit in the stands for as many of them as you want, more if the day’s field seems interesting or fewer if you expect better tomorrow.
You can play whichever side of the track you want thanks to the game’s scenario structure. This is the linchpin feature that makes QuarterPole more fascinating and adaptable than a typical simulation. At the start of every game, you choose a profile that gives you a different stable size and wealth level. You can play as anyone from a deadbeat dad with only $80 to a legacy stable manager with a fleet of a dozen champion thoroughbreds. Those looking for high-stakes betting can dive right into that, and someone interested in some bootstraps-pulling can enter the racing world with a single contending horse. And if you’re invested in a scenario and want to taste the other side, you can easily buy a horse or place a few bets.
You don’t have to waste time playing a version of the game you dislike or grinding to the level you enjoy. Everything is interconnected and remarkably easy to jump into. Your preferred horse racing cliches are available from the get-go.
It’s harder to succeed, though, once you move into the real details of the sport. QuarterPole heaps extreme minute attention upon every corner of its world. This can be fun when you wander Blue Rock and click on all its little the knick-knacks. In the horse racing simulation itself, it’s a black hole of authenticity. When betting on horses, for instance, you can pick one of the top choices as recommended by the oddsmakers. But you could also read up on each horse’s owner, win ratio, historical matchups, weight, and outfit color. The deep end is intimidating. The management side faces similar problems: if you don’t know the business of horse racing, individual jockey assignments probably only create confusion.
The game’s intricacy risks spoiling its accessible structure. The complexity becomes clearer with extended play and familiarity, but its visibility still risks alienating anyone new to the territory. Luckily, if you’re only a fan of the metaphorical horse race and not the busyness of the real thing, you can just bet and race and have fun. The scenarios with greater wealth and large stables are ideal for newcomers to play around without penalization.
The races themselves are absolute keepers. Randomized races probably don’t sound thrilling, but the game optimizes them for maximum drama. Horses pull ahead, fall after breaking away, and finish in split-second decisions. Rarely do races effectively end in the first few seconds. They’re shockingly fun to watch, even without betting. You don’t need to know anything about horse racing to enjoy them, and you could probably have a good time at Blue Rock Downs without actually playing the game as intended.
QuarterPole‘s versatile structure ensures that everyone gets to those thrills quickly. The game earns most of its appeal from those winningly simple horse races, but they’re powered by a complicated and reverent simulation of the actual sport. The realism of that background engine might be so unfathomable as to discourage further play. Still, Blue Rock Downs has room for players of any skill and interest level. It lets you go as far down that horse-themed rabbit hole as you’re comfortable with, even if you’re just there to see some horses run fast.
QuarterPole is the first in a series of very similar horse racing simulations by MicroLeague Interactive Software, followed by Hooves of Thunder and QuarterPole Plus. All are based on the obscure board game QuarterPole, though their similarities to that game are mostly thematic.