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Matt
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That's my perp! Futsie, all right - crazy as a coot! He's got to be stopped!
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Despite the stubble-chinned dude with a mean glint in his eye on the box cover there are no gun-fights in Great Western Trail (GWT) and the only killing to be made is by selling your herd of cattle to the Kansas market.

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore

Starting in Texas the trail in GWT forks off down several paths but players always end up heading towards Kansas in the North-West corner in order to sell cattle. To complicate matters some of the less well-trodden paths may be blocked by hazards such as rock-falls and floods which cost money to pass. Each turn a player can move his cattleman along a pathway by up to three steps, each step being a building or hazard that has been placed on the board. The player can then carry out actions related to their current location. When a player reaches Kansas he sells his cattle, returns to Texas and begins the journey once again.

So, in essence the map is a roundel that is being continuously modified by players adding extra buildings and hazards. One criticism that could be aimed at GWT is that once you have developed a good route you spend the rest of the game pretty much doing the same thing. Starting at the bottom of the map you try and improve your cattle cards before reaching the market, selling them returning to the bottom and repeating. GWT feels a bit like a race game as you are constantly balancing the need to get to Kansas quickly against stopping on the way to make use of the buildings. Progress can slow down as more and more buildings are placed on the map, although some buildings do actually allow you to move again, plus base movement can be increased by up to two spaces. It can be really frustrating if on your last turn you have a great hand of cards but no way to reach Kansas


Do not pass go

There are seven neutral buildings that are placed randomly on the neutral building spaces at the start of the game. In addition each player has a set of ten personal building tiles, which have an A and a B side. It is suggested that for the first game you use the A sides but after this you can choose the sides randomly for one player and then ensure that all other players have the same set available. This ensures a nice level of variety between games.

The buildings themselves allow special actions but you can only use them when your cattleman visits either a neutral building or one that you placed yourself. End you turn on an opponent’s building and you only get to do a single auxiliary action. Some buildings allow you to collect money from you opponents when they pass through, that is as long as they have money. It feels a bit strange that if you have no money you can travel around unhindered but if you do have money then you may need to pay, although this can be incorporated into your plans by ensuring you are stony-broke before passing through such locations.

There is a lot to consider when placing buildings. You can try and place the ones that charge a toll on major routes to ensure that you opponents have to cough-up to pass through. You can place them in such a way as they provide decent combos when you pass through. You can take a risk and place them on less well-trodden paths next to hazards, these harder to get to spaces offer benefits in addition to the building’s main powers.

Have a Cow

The other key aspect of GWT is managing you deck of cows, excuse my ignorance but I’ve never heard of half of these- before playing this I would have said that a Dutch Belt was some sort of contraceptive device. Anyway, I have never been a big fan of these deckbuilding style games, they always seem to be about unfathomable card combos and endless shuffling. Thankfully, GWT takes a much simpler approach with the cards being either cattle or end game scoring cards. The combos in GWT come from building placement not deck-building.

To obtain extra cattle cards you need to visit a building that has a market action. Here, depending on your money and amount of cowboys employed you will be able to improve your deck. The cattle cards come in various colours and values from one to five and some also award additional victory points. Since you can only sell one cow of each type when you reach Kansas the focus when travelling up the board tends to be to get rid of duplicate cards and to get higher value cards into you hand.

You can also cattle trade cards at some buildings, most often for cash rewards. This has the added bonus of helping you play through your deck to reach more valuable cards. You start the game with a hand limit of just four cards that can be increased to six as the game progresses. There are also other deck management options made possible through auxiliary actions, these let you draw and discard cards and remove those hand clogging low value cards that soon begin to clog your hand quicker than a half-ponder and fries clogs your arteries.

The deckbuilding works as a game-mechanic, but thematically feels a bit weird, I sell my cattle to market only for them to magically reappear in my hand on later turns. Obviously, there is going to be an element of luck here that will annoy some people, but even for someone not a fan of this mechanic I found that improving my card deck to score increased points felt very satisfying.


Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair


When you eventually reach Kansas you add up the value of cattle in your hand, ignoring duplicates and gain the equivalent amount of money. Not only does the value of your cattle cards determine how much money you will earn but it also determines how far along the rail route to San Francisco you can send them. Cities along the route demand ever increasing values of cattle and you can only make a delivery to each city once so you cannot simply rush along the trail delivering the same lowly herd you start with, you need to be constantly improving them to ensure that you visit as many cities as possible, hopefully getting as far as San Francisco itself.

When you visit a city for the first time you are allowed to remove a counter from your player board and place it on the city space. As well as potentially scoring points the vacated space will also reveal an upgraded ability, providing extra movement, hand limit, spaces for certificates or enhanced auxiliary actions.

Finally, some buildings allow you to move your train along the track one space for each engineer that you have. The further you move the less you will have to pay when you deliver to a city, plus you can stop at a station, and upgrade it by paying cash and releasing one of your workers to work there. Cattleman to stationmaster sounds like a big career change but considering how crowded my local station gets a bit of experience in herding up cattle wouldn’t go amiss.


Do you want salad with that?

At the end of the game there are many ways of scoring. You score points for remaining money, buildings built, cities delivered to, stations upgraded, hazards removed, objective and cattle cards acquired and employed workers. The station master cards also provide scoring bonuses. So, yes that overused term points salad does definitely apply here. There are lots of ways to score but this reflects the fact that there are lots of different strategies to try and since all scoring is not worked out until the end you are never quite sure what the end result is going to be. To me the scoring does feel a bit too arduous. I don’t really want a thirty minute maths lesson at the end of a game and the weird way that the cities score just adds to the confusion.


When the trail goes cold

GWT is an intriguing and well produced game with a lot to offer, but it is not perfect. There seems to be quite a few different paths to victory and although there is a lot going on the basics are pretty easy to understand from the outset. The graphic design works will, and although the icons are a bit too small they are quite intuitive, apart from the money ones which I found confusing, to me -$2 means that I am buying something for 2 dollars less not as it turns out for $2 more. Turns are fast and fluid, and the variety of buildings helps keep things interesting.

The rulebook looks great and does a good job of teaching the game, but when it comes to actually referring back to check rules it is a bit of nightmare. With so much to remember the game really does need a summary sheet. People may criticise the game for offering nothing really new, but the interlocking tried and tested mechanics work in a clever way, although all of these easy to overlook rules do make the game feel rather inelegant. By far my biggest gripe with the game is its length, at about 45 minutes per player it tends to drag. This problem is magnified by the fact that the later turns tend to have you doing pretty much the same things again and again and for me all that intrigue and excitement that the game does such a wonderful job to build up sadly peters out as the game draws to a close.

Here is a list of all my reviews, some with puns that I really should be ashamed of.
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Darrell Goodridge
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Windsor Locks
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I don't want it, I don't need it, but I can't stop myself. - Stabbing Westward
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Nice review. It definitely could have used a couple more proofreading passes, but overall was concise and well-thought out.
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Rasmus Helms
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I really like the game. Only played it once so I don't know it well enough to really comment on much of your thought. However,

Futsie wrote:
By far my biggest gripe with the game is its length, at about 45 minutes per player it tends to drag.


I think this is really all about the players. Like I said, I've only played it once, but we played three players (one which is very prone to AP) all new to the game and we did it in 96 minutes. This could of course be a rare case, but I don't see how it could take 45 minutes a player.
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Phil Hendrickson
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Thanks for sharing your reactions to this game. I've played seven complete games of GWT so far. I won't argue too much with the estimate of 45 minutes per player when at least one person is playing for the first time. It does move quicker when all of the players have played it before.

However, I respectfully disagree with the statement that it drags at the end. On the contrary, once everyone is familiar with the mechanisms, the game greatly picks up speed. Turns go by very quickly once each player has decided on a strategy and has a plan in mind. After choosing whether to pursue cattle, train stations, buildings, or other ways to score, players want to see how well their intentions work out. The game takes two to three hours to play, yet the time seems to fly by without notice. For our groups, the thematic nature of the game has kept players interested and engaged throughout.

Perhaps theme and game tastes are the determining factor here. Some folks won't like the Western theme, but GWT keeps me focused and having fun the whole time. I find it challenging and very entertaining.
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Robert
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Repetitiveness is in the eye of the beholder...

Show me an interesting game where you DON'T do the same things several times. In most games you have X rounds with the same choice of actions to do (e.g. by placing workers in a worker placement game, by playing cards, by placing tiles, ...).
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Sergio Perez
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RHelms wrote:
I really like the game. Only played it once so I don't know it well enough to really comment on much of your thought. However,

Futsie wrote:
By far my biggest gripe with the game is its length, at about 45 minutes per player it tends to drag.


I think this is really all about the players. Like I said, I've only played it once, but we played three players (one which is very prone to AP) all new to the game and we did it in 96 minutes. This could of course be a rare case, but I don't see how it could take 45 minutes a player.


Second play with 4 players who knew how to play the game (each with one previous play) finished in just under 2 hours. With seasoned players, I could see 90 minutes as a possibility.

Also, I found that the game doesn't slow down but, on the contrary, picks up in speed as the game moves along toward the mid to end game.
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Ian Kissell
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Surge1000 wrote:
RHelms wrote:
I really like the game. Only played it once so I don't know it well enough to really comment on much of your thought. However,

Futsie wrote:
By far my biggest gripe with the game is its length, at about 45 minutes per player it tends to drag.


I think this is really all about the players. Like I said, I've only played it once, but we played three players (one which is very prone to AP) all new to the game and we did it in 96 minutes. This could of course be a rare case, but I don't see how it could take 45 minutes a player.


Second play with 4 players who knew how to play the game (each with one previous play) finished in just under 2 hours. With seasoned players, I could see 90 minutes as a possibility.

Also, I found that the game doesn't slow down but, on the contrary, picks up in speed as the game moves along toward the mid to end game.


Imo, great games have an arc to them. The way you take actions might be the same, but what is important early in the game is not as important later, and vice versa. Doing the same actions and the same type of actions for 2.5-3 hours can be repetitive.

Any thoughts on theme? I was initially attracted to this game because of the theme (I'm from Texas), but realized from the manual that it seems that theme has informed very little of the design. Why do you want different types of cattle on your drive? Why does it take longer later in the game to travel the trail? Why do you have to have better cattle to ship farther? Theme seems to be thin at best.
 
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Matt
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That's my perp! Futsie, all right - crazy as a coot! He's got to be stopped!
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Your point about the arc is the one I was trying to make. For me the last couple of rounds felt like a bit of a drag because I wasn't really making any fresh decisions. I realise that every game can be boiled down into a repetitive core, of actions, but in the best games these actions feel like you have meaningful choices and are progressing

This is just my opinion, and loads of people will disagree. I actually like the game quite a bit but like I said, for me, it is not a classic.

You can kind of fill in the gaps to make the theme make more sense. Such as assuming your deck reflects the overall quality of your breeding stock and so the cards that magically reappear are newly bred stock. Maybe you need the diversity to improve overall quality of you cattle? I guess that towns further along the line are more picky so request better quality herds.

I struggle to make sense of the building tolls unless you have no money when you can pass for free

I would say that overall it is nice to see a different theme but it doesn't feel like it was the driving force behind the design- again just my opinion
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