Ben Ritter
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Santee
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Spurs: A Tale in the Old West has been described as a "sandbox" game, meaning that it tries to replicate the expansive feel of open-world video games like Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption in board game form.

Players compete to become legends of Western lore, but they can choose their own routes to victory. One player might be a bandit, robbing banks and stealing from other players. Another may be a cowboy, taming wild horses and herding cattle. A third might take to the mountains, hunting animals and panning for gold. And a fourth might be a lawman, bringing down banditos and keeping other players in line.

This isn't to say that players can do whatever they want and expect to win. In fact, players will almost certainly fall into one of these four specific classes. Each player has strengths and weaknesses (dictated by their character card), and playing against type is not easy.

A lawman may take on a low-level hunting mission because it's nearby, but he's not going to be able to bag a ferocious animal like a bear or a cougar. Conversely, a hunter will not be able to take down a series of dangerous desperados like the lawman can.

This is due to the game's central mechanic of blind-drawing bullets from a bag. Gray bullets are good for shooting people, brown bullets are good for shooting animals, and black bullets are good for nothing (mancato!).

Players can improve the odds that they'll draw the right type of bullet by visiting general stores and buying more of the bullets they want. They can affect their odds negatively by receiving wounds (red bullets that count as misses but can be removed by doctors). There are also magical white bullets that count as both types (gray and brown) but are discarded once drawn.

This mechanic is neat, but it factors so heavily into most elements of the game that the different paths to success don't feel all that different. One player might be trying to draw brown bullets and the other gray, but when it comes down to it, they're both drawing tokens from a bag. Ditto for gold-mining (in which you're trying to draw a yellow cube instead of a black one).

The notable exceptions are the horse-taming and cattle herding missions, which are unlike anything else in the game (but similar to each other). They take place on a nifty little hex board and involve a player rolling directional dice to try to move cattle into one contiguous herd or to keep a wild horse from running into a rock or a thorn bush.

While the limited mechanics keep this game from entirely living up to its open-world ambitions, it is a blast to play. The subtitle, "A Tale in the Old West," is apt; at times, I really felt like I was watching a classic Western unfold.

In one game, the lawman immediately (and foolishly) attacked the strongest outlaw on the board. The lawman was wounded, but doggedly built up his strength by fighting a string of low-level criminals. He was ready to face his nemesis again when he was suddenly ambushed by a small-time crook (who specialized in robbing ranchers). The lawman fended off the attack, but in doing so, he lost his lucky bullet and the big outlaw got away. The lawman won on points, but it was a hollow victory.

This is the type of story you just don't get from a Euro cube-pusher. Spurs is dripping theme, and it may dethrone Revolver as my go-to Western board game. Spurs is more of a knight-errant story, while Revolver is an epic showdown between good and evil, so I suspect they'll both be in heavy rotation depending on my mood.

What's not to like about Spurs? The luck of the draw plays a huge role, which will turn off some people. Sometimes luck crept into parts of the game where it didn't really feel like it belonged. In one game, just one cattle-ranching mission was drawn the entire time, which put the cowboy at a distinct disadvantage.

The components are generally of good quality except the paper money (whose different denominations cannot be distinguished) and the cow-herding dice, which are almost indecipherable due to black ink on dark blue plastic. They were a last-minute addition to the Kickstarter, but I doubt that white ink or a lighter shade of blue would have cost significantly more. It's a shame that the components aren't consistently top-notch, because the game itself is of the highest caliber.

8/10
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Doc Bedlam
United States
Aurora
Colorado
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I am inclined to largely agree with the OP.

I'm fond of Western style games, and have found that they tend to fall into one of three categories:

1. Roleplaying games
2. Fun, but highly specialized (The card game BANG! being an example)
3. Mediocre, and highly specialized. There are more "showdown shootout" games out there than I can shake a revolver at, some better than others.

SPURS tackles ALL the tropes you're going to find in classic Westerns -- shootouts, bank robberies, saloon encounters, cattle drives, rodeo antics, bounty hunting, and even bear hunting, for potato's sake...

...and, very surprisingly, makes it all work. And not only that, makes it work in a way that is fast paced, flows quickly and reasonably, and it's FUN, durnit. I did not expect such an ambitious game to be able to pull all of this off, particularly the bronco busting and cattle roundup minigames; I would have expected minigames to slow the whole proceeding down considerably. It did not, despite my inexperience with the mechanics.

The OP does make a strong point with the blue dice used in these minigames, though... perhaps in a future edition, these dice will be blue, with white markings? It'd work much better.

The OP again makes a point with the luck based mechanics of the game, but I'm not sure I agree with him completely -- the Cowboy, for example, does best with cattle and horse based missions, but could easily be a contender for victory even if NO cattle based missions are drawn (which is highly unlikely, given the number of cattle based missions in the stack); victory points are interchangeable, meaning a Cowboy who defeats outlaws gets the same victory points as the Lawman.

I'd agree with the OP's rating, but would go so far to bump it to 9/10 for Western fans.

Although I did have two points of irritation:

1. One victory point for shooting a rabbit? That must have been one hell of a rabbit. Was it terrorizing the settlers?

2. One of the promo cards is the "Gatling Gun" equipment card, which, among other things, provides a bonus when robbing banks. This caused a bit of a stir at the table, as someone described a mental picture of Jesse James rolling a gatling gun into a bank, "NOBODY MOVE! THIS IS A STICKUP!"

...at which someone else pointed out that gatling guns were famous for jamming.

...at which point someone else pointed out, "You see a guy rolling a gatling gun into YOUR bank, are YOU going to count on it jamming, or are you just going to hand over the flippin' money?"

Good game. Good times. Recommended.
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Matt Smith
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Troy
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I haven't played enough to know if your character "herds" you in a specific strategy direction. You certainly want to take advantage of your character's special ability, but from a weapons perspective, most characters start with the same bullets (2 pistol, 2 rifle, 2 misses). Some have an extra pistol or rifle bullet, but that's easily modified by getting equipment in town.
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Montgomery Van
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A very good review; thank you.

As a western fan, there haven't been too many games on the market that float my boat. From my initial play through, Spurs very well may be the game I've been looking for since 2nd edition Boot Hill was released. There are still a few tropes that I would love to see (posse chases, train robberies, rustling with a branding mechanic, etc.), but Spurs is open enough that the potential for expansion is there.

But those blue dice... ugh.
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Ben Ritter
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I actually agree that the cowboy in particular isn't necessarily bound by his character card, but every other character has an unequal number of bullets (and most have a power that would never be activated if they played the "wrong" strategy). Some degree of flexibility is key, but if a player with a natural tendency towards gray bullets is spending money to add brown to their bag, I think they're doing it wrong.

The mission tiles are evenly split between outlaws, animals, herding, and other, but since the "other" category includes desperados (which require brown or gray bullets), the cowboy is at a slight disadvantage insofar as every other character starts with a slightly better chance of killing desperados. I'm undecided if his flexibility balances this out (i.e., the cowboy is better at low-level brown missions than a gray specialist).
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Abdiel Xordium
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You make it sound like multi-player solitaire with players going off in their own directions. Is that the case?
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Ben Ritter
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Good question. The game plays with three to five. I played with three, and we all pretty much did our own thing. With more players (or more aggressive players), I suspect there would be more dueling.

For most of the missions, you need to carry something (an animal pelt, a tied-up outlaw, etc.) to town to claim your reward. If someone ambushes you on the way, they can take one of the things you're carrying.

You can also get one or two victory points for winning a duel. The problem is, the person you challenge can also take your stuff and earn victory points if they win. We were all pretty evenly matched, so it never seemed worth wasting a turn to (potentially) give your opponents points.

Doing nothing but dueling would probably be the way to go if you were pursuing that strategy, since you'd never be carrying anything of value. The board is small enough that you're almost always within striking distance of someone.
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Montgomery Van
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abdiel wrote:
You make it sound like multi-player solitaire with players going off in their own directions. Is that the case?


Sort of.

While it is true the individual player beats down their own paths to 'Fame', duels add a neat interaction between players. I just had a session last night where my Pioneer character got chased around the board for half the game after I cruelly shot down (and stole from) another player. In true cinematic fashion, the Gunslinger and Lawman characters trapped me in a town and put an end to my Wanted ways after a 2-on-1 shootout.

But at least I got to buy a round of drinks for the barflies before getting sent to Boot Hill.

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Curtis Thornock
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Idaho Falls
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Great review!

@ Doc - By the time the rabbit carcus/pelt gets dragged into town, it'll have pronghorns attached and be called a Jackalope! Guaranteed fame there.
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Gimle Larsen
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I guess the Gatling gun is a reference:
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Lawrence Lopez
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abdiel wrote:
You make it sound like multi-player solitaire with players going off in their own directions. Is that the case?


It sure feels this way. This is a fun game, but it is multiplayer solitaire. Sure, duels add a little interaction but not enough to offset the non-interactive aspects. I like the game, however, though I am a bit disappointed by the (overall) lack of player interaction and downtime between turns.
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