WAY OUT WEST - Reviewed by Mike
Category/Format: Conflict/ Boardgame
I have played this Martin Wallace offering in 4 sessions consisting of 3,3,5 and finally 4 players so now feel sufficiently brave enough to write a review.
I ordered this game from Essen, having read about it on the internet and the theme intrigued me, as the only other game I possess which has a 'Western' setting is Pony Express and that is a race game dressed up in Cowboys clothing.
On receipt of the game I was suitably impressed by the box cover, a tough-looking hombre leading a herd of cattle, plus some cameos of a gunfight outside a wooden hotel and a locomotive with a large cowcatcher on the front. The components don't disappoint either, consisting of :
Stout Map Board on which are depicted 5 towns(more of which later); a series of Actions squares which graphically depict what a player can choose to do in a turn; a Turn Scoring track of 1-12, marked out in groups of 3 and finally a Turn Order track marked out in 1-5(no surprise there).
5 sets of Player's Counters in different colours, these depicting Cattle, Cowboys, Types of Buildings and Types of Transport.
6 Farmer Counters( 1 is a spare copy), all of which look the same and do not belong to any player.
18 Wanted Posters, 1 of which is awarded to the winner of a gunfight.
16 Wooden Markers, 1 in each of the 5 colours and 11 black ones.
62 Money Counters in $1,$5 and $20 denominations.
4 six-sided dice, which are used to resolve gunfights.
Set of Rules in both English and German.
At the start of play a Black Marker is placed on the appropriate position on the Turn Scoring Track, (9 or 12, depending upon the number of players). Each player is given a set of Player's Tokens, the matching Wooden Marker, 2 Black Markers and a Farmer Counter.
Roll dice to determine a Starting Player, who will place their Coloured Marker on the Turn Order Track in position 1. In clockwise order the other players place their markers in positions 2-5. This determines the initial Turn Order. Then, in Turn Order, each player is allowed to place one Cowboy counter of their colour in any town. This process is repeated until each player has placed 3 of their Cowboys on the board.
Now on to the game itself. Each Turn consists of doing 4 things :
1. Bid for Turn Order using your Money Counters
2. In Turn Order each player selects an Action Square by placing one of their Black Markers upon it, paying the price(if applicable) and then performing the Action
3. Once everyone has performed their first Action this process is repeated again for a second Action, again in Turn Order, but as these can only be selected from those Action Squares without a Black Marker already upon them the choice is more limited. (You can choose to forfeit your Action if you wish).
4. Move the Marker one space forward on the Turn Scoring Track.
After each set of 3 Turns, Income is generated based upon your placements at the time. But this game is not about money, that is only one factor that generates Victory Points at the end and there are several others , mainly about having the most counters in the largest town, but that is easier said than done.
The player with the most Victory Points is the winner.
Earlier on I mentioned the Towns and at this point it would be wise to describe them to help you understand this review. Each Town consists of :
A Town name box, into which Cowboys are placed
A series of Corral boxes, into which Cattle and Farmers are placed
A series of 'building plots', into which buildings and transport counters are placed.
There is always one more Corral box than there are building plots in each Town and the towns get larger as you work your way up the board, except that Towns 3 & 4 are the same size.
The Action squares offer the following choices to the player :
Place a building or transport counter in a building plot. Cost range from $3 to $20.
Place 1 or 2 Cowboys in a Town name box. Cost $1 each.
Place 1or 2 Cattle in a Corral box. Cost $1 each.
Move 2, 3 or 4 Cowboys from one town to another. No Cost.
Move 1 Cattle counter to another town. No Cost.
Place 'your' Farmer in a Corral box. No Cost.
Have a gunfight. Name your target. No Cost (at least not in money !)
Lots of choice as you can see and it's this , together with the placement rules for each Action and the effect of your Income at turns 3,6,9,12 and the ultimate Victory Points conditions that gave us a serious problem with the game. There's just too much to be aware of and we were constantly looking up and down the rules to find out what was good and what was bad for us. They're all in the rules somewhere but you've got to search through each one to find out if it affects your particular choice.
Martin has provided a clever simulation of what the effect of a particular action has upon the towns and the scoring system but they are so multi-purpose it's difficult to work out which one is the best for the particular circumstances that prevail at the time. This meant that certain players turns (the thinkers, not me !) took 10-15 minutes, as they insisted on reading all the rules to see what the effect would be.
As an example let's see what effect Placing the Farmer has.
1. He doesn't cost anything to do the Action, so that's a good thing for us as it saves us money. But we only have one Farmer so make sure we use the option wisely.
2. He must be placed in a Corral box. If he wants to he can replace a Cattle counter that's already there, which is returned to the owning player. That could be used to stuff another player !
3. But wait, each cattle counter is worth $2 at Income time but the farmer reduces this to $1 and he also reduces Cattle Victory points by 1 point. If we also have cattle in this town, our Income will be reduced as well !! (hmmm.better think again.)
4. And there's more, supposing we are the owner of the Store in this town. At Income time we gain $1 per Cattle counter belonging to the other players, not our own, so we don't want to eliminate their Cattle counters. We also get an extra $2 if a Farmer is present (as he spends money at the Store) so in this circumstance we do want to place the Farmer here but not eliminate another players Cattle counter. (hmmm.should I place him somewhere else ???).
5. Once a Farmer is present in a town no more Cattle counters can be placed in the Corral of that town until the Farmer is eliminated from it.
6. Supposing we did place him in this town. On a subsequent turn one of the other players chooses to have a gunfight to kill this pesky Farmer as he's reducing their Cattle Income and they send in 3 Cowboys to do the job. As the Farmer does not belong to any particular player he has no Cowboys to add to his defence so someone other than the attacker rolls 1 dice for him against the 3 dice of the attackers and he will almost certainly end up in "that great prairie in the sky". The attacker gains a Wanted Poster for his victory and (yet another condition to consider) the player with the most Wanted Posters at the end of the game gains 4 VPs. So by placing the Farmer we set up an easy target for someone else, so perhaps it wasn't such a good idea after all. And just to rub it in, we used one of our Action phases to do so !
As I type this review I thought I'd chosen a fairly easy Action as my example but as you can see there are quite a few things to think about. Believe me the others are just as involved and it does your head in after a while.
In an attempt to alleviate this I created a spreadsheet in Microsoft EXCEL which portrayed, for each Action, the placement rules, the effect on Income and the effect on Victory points. This was quite difficult to achieve and I can see why Martin didn't include a "playguide summary" in his production.
I created photocopies of the spreadsheet for each player and they used it next time, which reduced the game length considerably. However there was still dissatisfaction with the game as a whole because it was felt that the money was too tight and you needed to do more Actions in a turn. Now this may be due to the fact that only one of my group is a Wargamer and he was the one who did best. Alternatively, it could be that as a group we were too naive and fought too many gunfights in the early rounds and had to spend our loot on buying replacements rather than on new buildings or transport counters to increase the size of the towns. The latter meant that the Income generated was so pitiful that only 1 player (the eventual winner) managed to get an Income of over $20, so nobody built a train.
I can't really recommend this game very strongly but I'd be interested in receiving comments and opinions from other subscribers on it, as I really wanted it to be a winner. I'm reluctant to call it a 'Bum Steer' without more goes at it but I'm not sure my groups will be too keen on that suggestion. So for now I'll settle for "Gunfight at the NOT OK Corral".