Legend has it that a long time ago, mankind was ignorant to the extent of not knowing how to count or tell the years apart. The ever-benevolent Jade Emperor wanted to help mankind out. From there, the idea of a twelve-year cycle and the naming of each year in the cycle after an animal was born.
But how should the Jade Emperor choose twelve animals from among so many animals in the living world, while remaining impartial? To resolve this equitably, the Jade Emperor decided to hold a race involving all animals on his birthday. The first twelve animals to cross the river and reach the Heavenly Palace will have a year named after them, in the order of how they finished the race. The race became known as The Great Race and the twelve-year cycle was named the Chinese Zodiac.
Race for the Chinese Zodiac is a board game that recreates The Great Race. Each player has a hand of eight action cards (numbered 1-8) as well as energy cards of different values and karma tokens. Each player selects one animal token and takes the corresponding animal card, which grants the player advantages during the race. All players place their animal token on the start space of the racetrack. Players assemble the dual-layered and double-sided action wheel that's used to determine the effectiveness of each action and place it in the center of the table.
On a turn, all players select an action card and an energy card from their hand, then they reveal these cards simultaneously. If the action card selected is one value lower than the player's previously played action card, the player must spend one karma token; if two or more values lower, they must spend two karma tokens. Players then resolve all played actions based on the orientation of the wheel, ideally gaining movement, new energy cards, and karma. Everyone places their played cards face up in front of themselves, then rotate the wheel clockwise by one space and start a new turn.
The first animal to complete the race earns the coveted right of having the first year of the Chinese Zodiac named after it!
—description from the publisher