When this one hit kickstarter, I was seduced by the idea of building the board up. I've always liked games with a 3rd dimension, so I backed this one right away. Now it's finally arrived, here's my review.
NOTE: This review is after a single play of the game, with the entire set of expansions that came with the Kickstarter.
In Saloon Tycoon, each player is a Saloon owner in a wild west town, trying to build up their saloon with various amenities. They do this by purchasing tiles and placing them on their board. The interesting part happens when instead of just building on a flat surface, players are able to add supply cubes to their buildings, and add new tiles on top of them, creating several story buildings over the course of the game.
Wow. Everyone at my table commented on how great the components were in this game. The tiles are some of the thickest cardboard I've ever seen in a game, the artwork on the cards is great, and since players need to build up, they end up being quite sturdy.
The card quality is really nice. They come in 2 different sizes. The iconography is very clear and concise, and no one in my group was confused. The game also has reference cards, which have all the pertinent information needed.
The player boards and scoreboard were bowing a bit, but I do live in Indiana, and the humidity is through the roof, so I won't pass judgement. The supply cubes are nice and thick.
The gold nuggets for money are a nice touch, but they feel a little generic. I think a lot of games now are using the asymmetrical tokens, and these don't feel as special anymore. But they are functional. No complaints.
The number of tiles seem to take up a lot of table space, especially with the expansion included, which adds a lot of single tiles that need their own piles.
Each player performs 3 steps during their turn, income, actions, and then end of turn actions. Play passes around the table continuously.
Income - Each player takes their income at the start of their turn, based on the number of tiles they have built. Each tile built adds one to the players income.
Actions - Each player can take a single action on their turn. They can choose one of 5 actions:
Take 2 gold - Player takes 2 gold from the bank
Draw 2 Tycoon Cards - Draw 2 Tycoon cards from the pile
Play 1 Tycoon card - Play a single Tycoon card
Build a Tile - Purchase a tile from the supply, and place it on your player board
Bribe a Character - Pay 6 gold to move a character from one board to another (including your own)
There are also 2 free actions that players can take as many times as they want:
Buy supply cubes for 2 gold each - Each tile has spaces for cubes (3 for small, 4 for large), when all these spaces are full, the tile is considered complete. Players gain points (7 for large, 5 for small), and can take the bonus action offered by the tile. Players can also build on top of the completed tile.
Stake an Open Claim - There are open claims on the table, which players can take when they have met certain requirements. These are drawn at the beginning of the game, and never replaced, so there will be a bit of competition to get them. There are also secret claim cards, that players take at the start of the game, and try to fulfill by the time the game ends.
By default, this all seems pretty simple, but two interesting things happen during the course of the game. The first is that the tycoon cards change the game in dramatic ways. And the second is that completing tiles by adding supply cubes gives players a single use special ability.
They often give the player gold or cubes directly, but can also add player interaction. They also can give the player extra actions.
By skillfully playing cards and completing tiles, players can chain together actions allowing them to complete a lot on their turn. For example, I was able to play a card that gave me two actions(Standard Action), with the first, I played another card that gave me two more actions(Standard Action). So now, I had 3 actions. I was able to draw 2 more tycoon cards(standard action), play one that gave me gold and supply cubes. I played supply cubes on a tile(free action), completing it, which gave me 2 extra supply cubes(bonus action). I placed those on another tile, and purchased enough to complete it(free actions), which gave me another bonus action, which allowed me to draw a tycoon card(bonus action). With my final two actions, I could perform any two of the 5 standard actions listed above, possibly chaining together more.
So the real magic of the game comes in chaining together these actions with the use of cards and tile abilities.
End turn actions - When players have taken all the actions they can take or wish, their turn ends. At this point, they check if they have met any open claims, and announce if the game end point has been triggered. The game ends when the supply cubes have been depleted. Each player after the player that triggered the end game gets one last turn.
The game has an interesting mechanic in the way it uses characters. There are a series of townspeople and outlaws that can visit your town for various reasons. The townspeople visit when certain buildings are completed in your saloon. They are worth 5 points each, and can be 'bribed' by other players as an action to move them to their own saloon.
Outlaws on the other hand work as a kind of catchup mechanic, giving negative effects to players who achieve certain in game goals. For instance, one character arrives when you have received your 5th cube in the game. That character then increases the price of the cubes for you from 2 to 3. Managing which outlaws you have, and when you use tycoon cards to send them to other players is an important part of strategy. For example, I needed two specific outlaws to complete my secret claims, and with 3 cubes left in the supply, the game was soon to end. So I took them from other players. However, the game went on for several more turns before anyone ended it, and with the two penalties, it was much more challenging for me to get ahead at the end of the game.
In addition, certain secret claim cards involve having some of these outlaw characters to score big points. Ensuring you have them at the end, but not crippling yourself by hanging onto them for the entire game is definitely an interesting bit of strategy.
I really enjoyed this game. The chaining together of the actions is really satisfying. Building up your tiles is really fun as well.
One problem in my game was the Tycoon cards. In the game we played, one player received a constant stream of cards that gave him lots of gold, cubes and extra actions. On the other hand, during the entire game, I only received 2 cards that gave me extra gold or actions. Otherwise, I just received cards that allowed player interaction, like moving characters, or stealing small amounts of gold. There wasn't much I could do. The player that received all the extra gold had a huge advantage, and actually went off the end of the scoring track by 5 points at the end. Myself, and the other player who didn't get such a big gold benefit were within 5 points of each other. I'm assuming that this was just a bad shuffle on a fresh deck of cards that kept things lopsided, but I'll be keeping an eye on this.
One other slight problem. I'd recommend 'curating' the open claims a bit, at least for your first game. We got two that had 2 common buildings in common, and different special buildings. Only one of each special building exist in the game, while there are enough of each common building for everyone to build one. One player was able to target the two special buildings before either of us realized what was happening, and were able to score 22 points off the open claims by the end of the game. Totally devastating. More experienced players would have blocked this, but in the first game, I'd recommend checking for any interactions like that, and either warn everyone at the table, or just remove one to have completely unique cards.
I was also surprised at how little we ended up building. The runaway player had built 9 tiles by the end of the game. The other 2 players, including myself, only built 7. And only the runaway player built 2 roofs, and no one got to the outskirts. Not sure why this happened. I was looking forward to building a little western city and stretching out. We didn't really get that.
Regardless, The game was enjoyable, and I assume most of the issues were caused because of naivete in the first game.
It struck me as very much a gateway game. It's simple to explain, very thematic, and there's enough luck and swinginess with the tycoon cards, that it's hard to feel totally out of it. I was down by about 20 points in the middle of the game, but in a single turn, I was able to complete two tiles by chaining actions, and catch up, even taking the lead briefly.
It's also one of the better western themed games I've owned. I don't have a great track record with western themed games, but this one will definitely stick in my collection. Very happy with it overall.
- Last edited Wed Aug 3, 2016 6:51 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Aug 3, 2016 5:18 am
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Admittedly, I enjoy games where there is a little bit of luck involved, but not too much. I look forward to hearing more thoughts as to whether the Tycoon Cards can cause too much of an advantage and/or disadvantage to players.
Thanks for the review!
You said everyone at the tables commented on how great the components were. Nobody said anything about how horrible that score track was? It's one of the two or three worst I have ever seen. You'd be better off using paper and pencil.
Yes, unfortunately, score track meanders a bit too much, and it's printed quite lightly on the background. Definitely bad.
Have you ever tried "Carson City"
I have the Big Box and it is a great western game. Really captures the Wild West theme with all the shoot outs and buildings that you can build. You can also butt in on another players buildings and steal from their income.