Game Review – Great Western Trail

img_3232

Greetings ranchers! We’re in need of some quality cattle in this here parts, and the best come from Texas. Calling all ranchers prepared to wrangle up herds of cattle, get them to Kansas City, and load them onto trains for delivery. But this is no easy task because the trail is full of hazards, and you’ll have to keep your herd in tip-top shape to ensure your most valuable cattle make it to Kansas City. Along the way, you’ll employ cowboys, builders, and engineers to help traverse the trail. Are you willing to brave the Great Western Trail?

Designer: Alexander Pfister
Publisher: 
Stronghold Games & Eggertspiele
Genre: Deck Building & Point-to-Point Movement
Players: 2-4
Play Time: 75-150 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 3

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

Great Western Trail is a deck building, point-to-point movement, and tile placement game that has players herding cattle to Kansas City. The main goal of the game is to get the most victory points by strategically utilizing your herd of cattle as you encounter hazards and neutral cities along the trail. Once you arrive at Kansas City, you’ll load your cattle up onto your transportation train to get them to their final destination. You’ll hire some help along the way. Cowboys can help wrangle up more cows to your herd, craftsmen will construct settlements along the trail, and engineers will manage the railroad line.

Game Play

On a player’s turn, he/she will perform the following three phases:

img_30751. Move cattleman along the trail

  • During this phase, players must move their cattleman along the trail. Only moving onto/past tiles on the trail count as a movement point
  • Some locations have a green/black hand, which will require any players to pay a fee(Except for the player who owns the building).

2. Use the action(s) of the location where cattlemen stop

  • Players will take the actions listed on the location. Actions on locations can only be performed once per turn, but they can be done in any order.
  • If the location belongs to another player or none of the displayed actions on the location are performed, players can take one single auxiliary action.
  • A cattleman ending their movement on Kansas City will perform the following five sub-phases:
    • img_3190Foresight 1: Choose one tile from the first foresight row and place it onto its corresponding section. (Hazards or teepees)
    • Foresight 2: Choose one tile from the second foresight row and place it onto its corresponding section. (Employees)
    • Foresight 3: Choose one tile from the third foresight row and place it onto its corresponding section. (Employees or teepees)
    • Income: Players will reveal their hand of cattle cards and gain money equal to the value of each unique cattle card. Players can also trade in certificates to increase income during this step as well.
    • Delivery: The cattle are delivered to a city along the railroad that is equal to or less than the value acquired in the income step. If players deliver to cities that their train has not yet gotten to then they will have to pay transportation costs.
    • After all five phases have been performed, cattlemen will return to the beginning of the trail.

3. Draw cattle cards back up to your hand limit

  • Initially, players will start out with a hand size of four cards which can be potentially increased to six. If you have fewer cards than your maximum hand size, you’ll draw additional cards from your deck until you reach the maximum hand size.

The game will continue until a worker is placed on to the last space of the job market (bottom space of the right column in the job market). Once this happens, the current player will take the job market token and finish their turn, this will be their final turn. Everyone else will then get one last turn and the game will be over. Players will use the provided score pad to add up their scores and the player with the most victory points is the winner!

He Said

img_3064Yee-Haw! Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a rancher and make a living off a herd of cows? I can’t say that I ever have until I played Great Western Trail. The theme of the game is unique and is only our second game in our collection that takes place in the wild west.

When pitching the game to new players, the idea of herding cattle doesn’t exactly invoke a ton of excitement. Once you get past the first couple of rounds you’ll find that Great Western Trail is a simple game on the surface, but really deep and rewards you for long-term planning and gives you a satisfying feeling as you execute your plan.

The Cowboy Way
There are three different kinds of workers to hire in Great Western Trail – cowboy, craftsman, and engineer – that each have their own role in your journey. In the three games we’ve played, I’ve noticed that going for cowboys early and often is a very strong strategy. It makes sense since the success of your trip to Kansas City is based mostly on the herd of cattle you have. If you were unfortunate enough not to get cowboys early on because everyone else took them then you could be in a tough position to get the money flowing. Even with this strategy, there are some tough decisions to make, especially if you want to mix in other types of workers because money is pretty scarce.

img_3056I’ve tried focusing more on craftsmen/engineers, but I felt like I struggled a lot more in those games while the players who went heavily into cowboys had more options because of their increased income. So far, every game we’ve played has been won by someone who goes heavily into cowboys and the win has usually been by a pretty large margin. This is probably due to inexperience, but when a player gets high-value cows, they can have high-income trips to Kansas in a short period of time.

I would like to try a strategy of focusing on certificates and engineers/craftsmen to see if that would be doable since the certificates can increase my income a fair amount. Ultimately, I probably feel this way because the cowboy strategy is easier to execute than other strategies that rely more heavily on craftsmen/engineers.

If You Build It, They Will Come
With each of the ten personal buildings having an A and B side, it creates a unique experience every game if you randomize which side of each building tile is used. I did like the mechanic of only being able to utilize your own buildings and some buildings having fees for players passing through them. With only so many ways through the trail, it allows players to strategically place these in front of critical locations to collect that precious money from other players.

I felt like the placement of these buildings creates a very tactical feel to the game because a couple well-placed buildings could generate you quite a bit of income. Even with well-placed buildings, there are some options for players to take the rough terrain and pay the bank rather than you, so you’ll have to be careful not to get too greedy in one area. There were a lot of times where I would end up taking a slightly more expensive way just to prevent my opponents from getting my hard-earned money.

img_3071The one thing I was surprised about was that the map didn’t actually fill up too much with buildings, even in a four player game. It also takes a lot of investment to get to the higher level buildings, which forces players to choose quantity or quality for buildings.

I found it pretty difficult to prioritize investing my money into buildings. Maybe upgrading a building every turn would be a good idea, but with money being so tight, it was better spent to get that six-point Longhorn or a worker that’ll give me a bonus instant action. In our games, the highest level building placed out was a level eight, and that was on the very last turn of the game.

Going with a heavy building strategy would also vary from game to game dependent on the combination of A & B sides that are being used. Which would make it fairly difficult to implement a craftsmen strategy used in a different game if certain buildings weren’t available. So far I’ve only really dabbled with going with a heavy craftsmen strategy and it didn’t work out too well for me. If you are able to rush some of the higher level buildings with stronger actions earlier, it could give you a huge return on your investment in just a couple turns.

More Cowbell
There are a lot of different mechanics in this game, and they all mesh together pretty well and don’t overly complicate the game. The game is pretty simple in terms of mechanics since players move their cattleman, and take the actions shown on the location. While the mechanics are simple, there are a wide variety of strategies to try out. The biggest hurdle I had with teaching new players the game was the large amount of symbols used throughout the game. It’ll take about half the game for players to get it down, but once they understood, the game ran very smoothly with minimal downtime between turns.

img_3189We’ve played the game at all player counts, and the board changes quite a bit with more players. There is a lot more competition for prime building locations and the number of buildings increases. The two player game is fast paced and quick as players can move further along the trail with fewer buildings to slow them down. The job market is also a lot more limited in a two player game with only two workers per row.  The higher player count games took a bit longer – four player game coming in at 3.5 hours due to it being everyone’s first time playing, and the three player game coming in at 1.5 hours with one new player. I feel like the average time for a three or four player game would be between 1.5 – 2ish hours when playing with experienced players.

Of all the player counts, I felt like the four player game was the most enjoyable because it felt like there was more time to pay off on the strategy you’re working toward. The two player game felt like it ended a little too abruptly and there wasn’t enough time for strategies to be fully implemented.

img_3193Final Thoughts
Overall, I’ve liked my experiences with Great Western Trail, and actually did like the theme of delivering cows to Kansas City. I enjoyed the herd deck, and the risk and reward of utilizing your cattle now for instant money. The toughest part is keeping in mind that you’ll need the best possible hand by the end of the trail to get more income and a better delivery. It felt like a constant battle of optimizing your money so that you’ll have just the right amount to do everything you want. There were a lot of times where I’d be just one or two coins short of what I wanted to do and could pinpoint where I went wrong with my spending.

Based on my review so far, it may sound as if I don’t like the game that much, but it has me constantly thinking about what I could have done differently and what new things I can try the next time I play. To me, a game that has me thinking about it after I’m done playing it is a sign of a great game.

While the I did enjoy the game a lot, it didn’t blow me away. I’d definitely recommend this game to anyone that enjoys deep strategy games. The game is really simple to understand and the complexity lies in how you’re going to execute your plans.

She Said

img_3192

Cowboys, engineers, craftsmen – when traveling down the Great Western Trail, these are all essential component to successfully transport cattle to sell. And in the world of adventure board games, Great Western Trail fits right in and provides a great game experience. A game that blends a strong theme and great game play, this game has been a great addition to our collection.

Wild, Wild West
Though I’ve certainly never had an extreme interest in Western-themed anything, this game really surprised me. This is one of our few games with a Wild West theme, and most elements of this game tie directly back into the theme. The artwork on the board is pleasing to look at, and the board is not too cluttered. And this means the board is then easy to understand. The designer of the game made it very simple to determine the setup for 2 players, 3 players, or 4 players. And each player even has colored starter cattle cards, building tiles, and individual markers, speeding up setup a bit.

img_3085I also enjoy how the different workers tie into the game. Although most people, myself included, do not think the engineer looks like an engineer (to me I think he should look like the craftsmen), the workers do tie in well with the theme and add a lot to the game play.

The one element that I question the relevance is the tee-pees. Although it’s obvious that it’s a reference to what was occurring during that time period, it just seems very random and doesn’t seem to tie well to the theme. I think in order to have it tie to the theme, the designers were worried it may offend people with the whole Cowboys vs. Indians.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
One of the main reasons I love this game is because it provides so many interesting decisions and strategies. The obvious and straight-forward strategy is to accumulate as many cowboys as possible and then grab a few extra engineers or builders. This strategy helps you build up you cattle deck, and allows you to continue to move your train forward in order to deliver to higher valued cities.

An alternative strategy you could go with is to go all-in on craftsmen and build a ton of buildings that provides you money to buy cows at that expensive price or to up your certificate to deliver to a higher-valued city. Although I’ve never tried this strategy, I’m not sure it’s the best option. We had a friend go more heavily into craftsmen and engineers, and he purchased only one cow the whole game. Obviously, this backfired on him because he was never able to deliver cows to a higher valued city. But this was a case of not diversifying enough. I would say that it is not smart to go with just engineers and craftsmen together.

img_3058Rhinestone Cowboy
Based on these strategies, I think the cowboys are too important and essential to the game. It is virtually impossible to accomplish what you need to without having at least a few high-value cows, and the easiest way to obtain these is to get cowboys.

If you are unlucky and cannot get cowboys at the beginning of the game, this does make things really challenging. In one game, I was unable to get more than two cowboys the whole game, and paid a ton for each cow. This was super frustrating, but I ended up getting second place in the game because I went heavier into engineers and moved my train up higher.

To me, it seems like there should be more cowboys in the game since they are pretty much essential. Or there needs to be another way to balance this incredible importance on one type of worker.

Final Thoughtsimg_3056
Ultimately, this game is a well-balanced game, but it does have moments where it is too random. There are times when very few cowboys come out, which makes it very challenging to accomplish what you need to do. There are numerous viable strategies, and the different workers play off of each other well, making it necessary to balance between all workers.

The game plays well at all player counts, but I find three player games to be the best. With a three player game, there’s a nice balance of players constructing buildings, buying cows, and removing hazards. At the two-player or four-player count, some elements seem much less important, like buildings.

Overall, I really enjoyed this game and found the theme surprisingly enjoyable. I know this game was pretty hyped up, and though I do like it, it’s not my favorite game that has come out recently. But it is definitely worth adding to your collection.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
-Mechanics work well together
-Map layout can vary quite a bit from game to game, so each game plays a little differently
-Ramps up nicely as players start off doing similar things and eventually branch off into their own strategy
-The game is pretty simple to learn once you understand the symbols
-Good amount of meaningful decisions
-Turns are quick and downtime is minimal

Cons:
-Can be fairly long with four players
-Large amount of symbols to keep track of that can be overwhelming at first
-If your strategy doesn’t go as planned, you can fall behind early and not recover
-No catch-up mechanic
-Cowboys seem stronger than other workers, and it can force that strategy on players

The Verdict

He gives this game out 7.5 Black Angus out of 10.

She gives this game 7 Trips to Kansas City out of 10.

Board Game Geek Page

Buy it Here

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s