In Way Out West (I do wonder, was the name of this game chosen because of its acronym, WOW?), players battle for control over several towns in western style. They have economic means at their disposal (cattle, buildings, transportation) but of course the gunfighters (cowboys and sheriffs) also play an important role. (Since the function of buildings and transportation for game play are identical, I will refer to both as buildings from now on.) Each player starts with some money and three cowboys in play, then it's time to see how the West is won.
Each round starts with bidding money for turn order. When the turn order is resolved, the action phase begins. The first player (the one with the highest bid) chooses one action from those available, then performs that action. Then the second player gets one action, etc. When everyone has performed one action, a second action round is played with the same turn order. Then the round is over and bidding starts for turn order in the new round. After every third round, players earn money based on their holdings on the board (more on that later). After nine rounds (twelve in case of three players) the game ends and the final scoring takes place.
The actions which are available are depicted in several boxes at the top of the board. When a player chooses an action, he places an action marker in the corresponding box. That box is now unavailable to the other players for the remainder of the current round. Some actions occur more than once, meaning several players can do the same thing in a round (buy cattle, hire cowboys, start a gunfight). Others (like placing buildings) occur just once. For example, if one player builds a hotel, no one else can (in that round).
Buildings and cowboys can be placed in any town, but cattle must expand slowly from town 1 through to town 5. Only when more than half of the corrals at a town are filled, may cattle be placed in the next town. Placing buildings is also bound by some rules: only one building of each type may exist in a town, and a player may not build in a town if he/she already controls two buildings there.
Actions to put markers on the board (either cattle, cowboys or buildings) cost money to perform, several others (move cattle or cowboys, start gunfights, place a farmer) are free. To expand your power, you will therefore have to keep en eye on your cash flow.
Cattle and buildings generate the much needed cash for you. Cowboys do not make money, but they are needed to protect your valuable belongings against the greedy hands of other players. Of course cowboys can also be used to get something into your own greedy hands...
Although gunfights seem to be actions like any other, they are the heart of the game. A player can try to take over control of a building or cattle from another player, rob a bank (a succesful robbery means you steal money from the bank's controller) or shoot a sheriff (destroying his office in the process) or a farmer. If the attacking player controls the sheriff in the town where the attack takes place, the sheriff will join the cowboys. Otherwise, the sheriff may or may not join the defending side. The gunfight is then resolved by dice-rolling and ends when one side either has no gunslingers left, or decides to run away (literally, because the cowboys must then move to another town). If the sheriff is shot, a new sheriff is elected and will obey the same player as the previous one, unless the jail (aka sheriff's office) itself was the target of the attack, in which case it is destroyed and the town is left without a sheriff.
Another option to annoy your opponents is to place a farmer in a town. The farmer will reduce the land available to cattle, and therefore also their economic and victory point value. Of course, you can move in your cowboys to kill this nuisance (the farmer defends as a single cowboy and may only be helped by the sheriff, not by any cowboys from other players).
After nine or twelve rounds of buying, building and lots of shooting the game ends and victory points are counted. Points are awarded for cattle and buildings, with bonuses for the player with the most money and the player who won most gunfights. Buildings seem to be the biggest influence on the outcome of the game, but I'll have to play this game more to be sure about that.
So, is this the good, the bad or the ugly? It's not bad, it's not ugly so that leaves good. Yes, I think it's good. I'll explain why.
All in all, I find this a very enjoyable game. Because the actions are short and simple you never have to wait long for your turn. The only exception to this are the gunfights, but they pack enough amusement for those sitting in the saloon and watching. There are plenty of options to choose from, and therefore different strategies to employ. I've only played the game once, so I don't know about good or bad strategies yet. I'm pretty sure I'll play this game enough times to find out. Anyway, I don't think it will become predictable very soon.
Our first game took about two hours with three players. More players may slow it down a little (but the number of rounds is reduced so total playing time will not be affected that much), but I think more experience with the game can speed it up to be played just inside 90 minutes.
Because the scoring of victory points only takes place at the end of the game, it's difficult to tell if you're doing well when you are unfamiliar with this game. In our first game, I think we focused on economic value too much. In economy, cattle are more important than in victory points so we may have developed too much in that direction. It might be a good idea to have one or two dummy scoring rounds during the game if you're new to it. This will help you get an idea of the relative importance of the different factors.
So far, the game play seems very good to me. The amount of money going round might be a bit too little (it's tough to get the more expensive buildings in play) but maybe I should just play better... it's hard to tell after one game. I also feel the train is too expensive for what it does, but again it's hard to tell. We only had one train in our game and it was built in the final round so it couldn't show its full economic potential.
I think the game does very well in creating a Wild West atmosphere. Both the artwork and the game play fit the theme perfectly. Most of the markers are made of cardboard. Decent quality but perhaps a bit small. This makes it a bit difficult to tell the different buildings apart, but that's only a minor problem in my opinion.
Of course the dice-rolling to resolve combat may put some people off, but good planning is certainly a more important factor in this game. Some gunfights may have an unexpected outcome, but isn't that the way it's supposed to be? In western movies the good guys are always outnumbered but they always win... so take your chance to give the bad guys a break in this game.
This (English) game shares with the "German" games short playing time, quality components, relatively simple rules and challenging game-play. The game is different from most of the "German" games in the fact that you can directly harm your opponents. Not everyone will like that, but I think for most gamers it will be a welcome change. For our group it certainly is.
Rating: at the moment, an 8. Not yet a whole-hearted WOW! but it may still become one.