(2016 – Stronghold Games, eggertspiele)
Beginning in 2015 with Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling’s Porta Nigra, Stronghold Games has been publishing a number of games by notable game designers, produced under the tag, The Great Designer Series. Kramer (El Grande) & Kiesling (Vikings, Tikal), Friedemann Friese (Power Grid), Matthias Cramer (Rococo, Glen More), Stefan Fled (Trajan, Castles of Burgundy), Christian Leonhard (1960: The Making of the President), Jason Matthews (Twilight Struggle), and the Engelstein Family (Space Cadets) have all had entries in the series. The newest addition to the series is Great Western Trail, created by another noteworthy designer, Alexander Pfister. Particularly active over the last couple years, Pfister has released Port Royal, Oh My Goods!, Mombasa, the reimplementation of Witches Brew (Broom Service), and Isle of Skye, all of which are highly ranked within the board game community.
In Great Western Trail, Pfister focuses on packing together a wide range of elements, including set collection, deckbuilding, hand management, area/route building, and action selection. But does so in a way that is both fluid and polished. In the game, players take the role of cattle ranchers, traversing their herd through the various routes and trails from Texas to Kansas City, where they’ll sell and deliver their cattle on a train to be transported to numerous surrounding cities. Players then return to Texas and start another trip. When player first begin the game, the trails are fairly clear, unimpeded by nothing more than open fields and blue skies. However, as the game progresses, players will begin to construct small towns of their own, and hazards such as floods and falling rocks will begin to scour the land. The locations in the game will include a majority of the actions available to players, and each location is unique. When a player ends his turn on one of his own locations, he’ll get to use the special action listed there, however the player can’t use another player’s location, and passing through or ending his turn on that player’s location may mean he’ll need to pay him a fee. There’s a wealth of ways to score victory points in the game (a scorepad is included to keep up with all of them), and while players aren’t necessarily forced to focus on everything, they’ll need to use their turns carefully, as with most Euro-style games. At the end of the game, the player with the most victory points is the one that’s overseen their cattle operation the most efficiently.
– Great Western Trail game board
– Player boards
– Player board tiles (for 3 & 4-player games)
– Public Building tiles
– Private Building tiles (a set for each player color)
– Player Cattle cards (a set for each player color)
– Market Cattle cards
– Objective cards
– Worker tiles and Job Market token (cowboys, craftsmen, and engineers)
– Hazard tiles (drought, flood, and rockfall)
– Teepee tiles
– Player markers (cattleman, train engine, discs, and certificate marker)
– Station master tiles
– Score Pad
While there may be a lot going on with the various sections of the game board, each of the sections serve a purpose and comfortably integrates with one another. During the game, players will travel from the bottom right-corner space of their homestead in Texas, and traverse the numerous trails of the Old West, eventually ending their trip in Kansas City. Players will take a number of these treks during the game, and can choose which trails and directions they go as they travel. The main section of the game board includes a map of the various trail routes, containing many vacant spaces that players can construct their own buildings on.
At the beginning of the game, a set of Public Buildings are placed on the map. These are buildings that players can move to and take the listed actions on during their turn. Each of the Public Buildings are lettered “A” through “G”, and corresponds to a vacant public building space on the board. It’s best to use the designated spaces for them during your first couple of plays, as positioning of certain buildings can matter in the game. However, once you’re comfortable, you can randomly distribute these buildings amongst the vacant public spaces.
In addition to the building spaces, there are also three hazard areas and an Indian tribe area on the map. At the beginning of the game, all Worker (cowboys, craftsmen, and engineers), Hazard, and Tepee tiles are shuffled together facedown. Each of these tiles has a number, 1, 2, or 3 on its back. Players will separate these into groups that correspond to their number, placing them next to the board.
Moving through hazards and the Indian tribe’s area can impede a player’s progress, as they’ll need to pay a fee to move through them. There’s also actions that will allow a player to remove tiles from these areas, which may award the player immediate funds (in the case of the Indian tribe area) and may also be worth some Victory Points at the end of the game. During initial setup, seven of the #1 tiles are drawn and placed on the board, according to their corresponding area.
Each of these areas contains spaces with a value listed. Any time one of the Hazard or Tepee tiles is placed onto the map, they are placed on the lowest valued space available. For instance, when placing the first Hazard tile in the Flood area (seen above), it will go in the 1-valued space, next 2, then 3, then 4. When placing a Tepee tile in the Indian’s tribe area (seen below), the first tiles go on the -3, -2, and -1 spaces, then will begin covering the nearby trail spaces valued 1-10.
After seven of the #1 tiles are placed on the map, players will move to the Job Market section of the game board. This is where new workers will be available for players to hire. At the beginning of the game, the Job Market token is placed on the right-most space of the 2nd row. Next, a #2 tile is drawn and this worker is placed face-up on the leftmost space of the 1st row that corresponds to the number of players in the game. Then moving right, more #2 tiles are drawn one at a time and placed onto the remaining spaces to fill the row.
Beginning with the 2nd row, the first #2 tile is placed in the leftmost space that matches the player count, then this 2nd row is filled with Worker tiles, until there are no available spaces next to the Job Market token. As players add more workers to the Job Market during the game, the Job Market token will begin to move down its column. Once it has moved far enough that it’s moved off the Job Market area altogether, the end of the game is triggered.
When players reach Kansas City, one of the first things they’ll do is add more workers, hazards, and/or tepees to the game board. Players will always have a choice in which tiles they can add according to the first section in Kansas City. At the beginning of the game, tiles are drawn to fill these areas and you’ll notice that each set of spaces corresponds to the number on the back of the tiles. Therefore, two #1 tiles are placed face-up in the right-most column, two #2 tiles in the center column, and two #3 tiles in the left-most column. When a player moves through here, he’ll be able to choose one tile from each column to place out.
Hiring Engineers during the game will allow you to move your Engine along the train tracks when taking certain actions. This lowers the amount of transport fees you may need to pay when delivering cattle from Kansas City to a nearby city, as well as upgrading train stations along the way. Doing either of these things will help to unlock the various covered actions and upgrades on your personal player board (which we’ll see in a bit). Some sections of the track contain Station master tiles. When a player upgrades a train station, if there’s a Station master tile present, he can send one of his hired workers there permanently to manage the station. This rewards the player with the Station master tile, which provides an immediate, as well as some end-game bonuses. At the beginning of the game, all Station master tiles are randomly placed in these fives spaces along the track.
Hiring Cowboys will assist when purchasing cattle from the marketplace. Purchased Cattle cards are added to the player’s discard pile, and could be added to the player’s hand once the discard pile needs to be reshuffled (deckbuilding mechanic). It is in the best interest of the player to enter Kansas City with unique Cattle cards, not having any two of the same type. Players start with the same set of Cattle cards in their deck, full of mostly low-end cattle of similar types. Players can purchase more unique Cattle at the market based on how many Cowboys they’ve hired and how much money they have. At the beginning of the game, all of the Market Cattle cards are shuffled to create a draw pile, and a number of Cattle cards are drawn and added to the market depending on the number of players in the game (7 in 2-player game, 10 in a 3-player game, and 13 in a 4-player game). There are different requirements for purchasing yellow, red, and blue Cattle cards than there are for brown or purple. These requirements are referenced on the bottom of the game board from left to right. As such, to make it easier on players when purchasing Cattle cards in the market, it’s important to organize them so that they correspond with the board, with yellow, red, and blue Cattle cards on the left side, and brown and purple on the right.
Certain actions will allow players to obtain Objective cards. These are cards that go into a player’s discard pile, included with the Cattle cards. Once drawn into their hand, players can play these Objective cards in order to activate the objective, taking the immediate bonus action listed on the card. The objective listed on the card (once activated) is a task that the player will need to complete by the end of the game. Players will gain Victory Points if it’s completed, or lose points if it’s not completed. At the beginning of the game, these Objective cards are shuffled together to create a draw deck, and 4 cards are drawn and placed near the game board.
After setup of the main game board is complete, each player will receive a player board, set of player markers (cattleman, train engine, discs, and certificate marker), a set of private building tiles, and starting Cattle cards, all matching their player color. The player discs are set on the board as seen above in order to cover certain actions and bonuses from being available at the beginning of the game. If you’ll remember, there are actions such as delivering cattle and upgrading train stations that will allow players to remove these discs from their board, unlocking more sections for them. After the start player is determined, that player receives 6 coins from the bank, the 2nd player 7 coins, the 3rd player 8, and 4th player 9.
There are 4 starting Objective cards that players will deal out at the beginning of the game. These Objectives are separate from those placed near the game board earlier. Each player will receive one of these cards randomly, setting it beneath his player board. Unlike the regular Objective cards, each Starting Objective card only contains a Victory Point reward if completed. Players will not lose points if these starting objectives are not completed.
Finally, each player will place his Train Engine marker on the red building space in Kansas City on the game board. This is considered the starting space for the train track. Remaining Coins are placed in a supply area near the game board. After all setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
While there are numerous actions that a player can end up doing on his turn, a turn is really broken up into three simple steps; move the cattleman, take the actions at the cattleman’s current location, and draw cattle cards. This is conveniently referenced at the top of the player’s board (as seen above). The left box corresponds to movement, the central box shows what actions a player can take depending on whether he’s on a public or private building, or in Kansas City, and the box to the right references his current hand size (how many cattle cards he can draw up to at the end of his turn). Two of the boxes contain covered disc that can be removed to upgrade aspects of these steps, for instance being able to move further on a turn or having a larger hand size. A majority of the different actions a player performs on his turn come from the building locations that reside along the trail. While I won’t cover every single building in the game, I’ll try to take a look at most of the different types of actions and how they work. First however, let’s take at look at the 1st step of a player’s turn; movement:
I. Move the Cattleman:
On his very first turn of the game, a player may place his Cattleman on any public building location on the map, then take the actions listed on that location. From then on however, the 1st step of a players turn is to move to a new location (locations are considered public/private buildings, hazard/tepee tiles, and Kansas City). When moving, the player will reference the first box on the top of his player board which shows the number of movement points available to him. Players can move any number of times forward, up to this maximum limit before stopping. When a player moves his Cattleman, he’ll follow along the various trail paths on the map, but will only count the locations he comes across as movement points. Areas vacant of tiles do not count. Therefore, as the game moves along and more locations are placed out, it will take longer for players to maneuver their way to Kansas City.
While moving, some locations contain a green and/or black hand icon on the tile. This means that when moving on or through this location, the player will need to pay a fee. The fee required is listed on the player board, in the movement box. For instance, in a 4-player game, if it’s a green hand, the player will need to pay 1 Coin, whereas a black hand will cost him 2 Coins. If the player is out of Coins altogether, he can ignore the fee (wish my mortgage used the same rules!). If the player is moving on or through an opponent’s private building location that contains the hand icon, the fee is paid to that player. If it is listed on a tepee or hazard tile, the fee is paid to the bank. Obviously, if it’s the player’s own private building, he doesn’t have to pay anything.
For instance, the Blue player checks his player board and sees that he currently has 4 movement points. He’d like to travel to the northern location which will allow him to discard some cattle cards for 4 coins, along with removing a hazard tile. He has two different paths he can take, as he is currently at a fork in the trail. He could move three spaces through the forest path, which would take him through one of the Yellow player’s locations.
In doing so, he’d have to pay the Yellow player 2 Coins (black hand icon). He could instead take the route through the rockfall hazard along the right side of the board, which would also cost him 2 Coins (1 for each hazard; green hand icons). Either way, he’ll end up at the same location. He decides to take the hazard route, paying the 2 Coins to the bank as opposed to having to give them to the Yellow Player.
II. Take Actions:
Each building location contains a set of actions that the player can perform when ending their movement there. Note that a player can only take the actions at public buildings as well as at private buildings that they themselves own. Players can not perform actions listed on an opponent’s private building. Instead however, they can perform one of the actions on their personal player board. Some of the actions on a building tile contains some sort of cost requirement, either by discarding certain cattle cards and/or paying a fee in coins. Players can take either, both, or none of the actions listed on the building tile. If they choose to take none of the actions, they can instead take a single action listed on their player board. Let’s take a look at a few of these actions and how they work:
Public/Private Building Actions
When ending his movement at this public building, the player will be able to discard a white cattle card from his hand to gain 2 Coins. He may also hire a worker at the current cost listed at the Job Market. After hiring the 1st worker, he can choose to hire an additional worker, but must pay 2 coins in addition to its normal hiring cost. Each row of the Job Market contains a cost amount on the far right side. These amounts fluctuate row by row. When a player takes an action that allows him to hire a worker, he’ll be able to select any workers that are in rows above the row containing the Job Market token.
So for instance, taking a look above, the player can select any worker in the top two rows, but not any in the 3rd row, since that row is the same row that the Job Market token is currently located. When a player takes a worker from the market, he’ll pay the cost associated to its row and place the worker on his player board.
The player board contains a row for each type of worker (cowboy, craftsman, and engineer). When hiring a new worker, that worker is always placed in the furthest leftmost space of the worker’s corresponding row. Some of these spaces will have immediate bonus actions the players can take when covering them. Players that are able to fill their rows full enough will receive bonus Victory Points at the end of the game as well. Having multiple amounts of each worker type will assist players in performing other actions, which I’ll explain in a bit.
This is a private building that the owning player can use to discard a white cattle card from his hand to gain 4 Coins. He may also perform an action to buy new cattle cards at the Cattle Market. The number and types of cattle cards you can purchase depend on the amount of cowboy workers on your player board, as well as the amount of coins you currently have. This is referenced at the Cattle Market section of the game board. According to the Cattle Market, the player has 8 different buying options when taking an action here. Let’s take a look at them moving from left to right:
– With 2 cowboys, you can purchase a yellow, red, or blue cattle card for 3 coins.
– With 3 cowboys, you can purchase any combination of 2 yellow, red, or blue cattle cards for 5 coins.
– With 3 cowboys, you can purchase a brown cattle card for 6 coins.
– With 5 cowboys, you can purchase 2 brown cattle cards for 8 coins.
– With 4 cowboys, you can purchase a purple cattle card for 6 coins.
Players can make multiple purchases and may even make the same type of purchase more than once, as long as they only use each of their cowboys once. If a player doesn’t use all of his cowboys as part of a purchase, he may draw and add two Cattle cards to the market for each cowboy he didn’t use. There are only two times during the game that the market will be automatically refilled back to its full capacity, so this is an optional way to get more cattle into the market before that occurs. Any cattle cards purchased at the market are placed in the player’s discard pile and will eventually get shuffled back into their draw pile. As mentioned before, it’s important to have higher-valued, unique cattle when delivering to Kansas City.
For instance, the Red player currently has 3 cowboys on his player board and 10 coins. He would have the option of purchasing any yellow, red, or blue cattle card for 3 coins. Oh he could purchase any combination of 2 yellow, red, and/or blue cattle cards for 5 coins. Or he could purchase a brown cattle card for 6 coins. More cowboys and coins would allow him to make multiple of these purchases together, or may allow him to purchase a purple cattle card.
This is a public building that allows a player to discard a green cattle card from his hand to gain 2 coins. It also allows the player to place one of his private buildings onto a vacant trail space, provided that he has enough craftsman and coins to pay for it. In this particular building’s case, he’ll need to pay 2 coins per craftsmen required to construct it. Each private building contains a craftsman cost in the top left corner of the tile. For instance, taking a look at the Blue player’s private building below, we can see that it has a craftsman cost of 2. Therefore, if the Blue player was placing this tile out using this action, he’d be required to have 2 craftsmen on his player board, and the construction would cost him 4 coins (2 coins per craftsmen needed).
As buildings fill up the various paths of the trail, players may find that they’d rather replace their older buildings with new ones. When taking this building action, the player can replace one of his previously placed private buildings with a different one of a higher cost. The player will only need to pay the difference in craftsmen (thematically he’s upgrading the building, so a portion of it has already been built). So, if the Blue player was replacing the building above with one that would normally require 4 craftsmen, he’d only need 2 craftsmen on his board along with 4 coins. Normally he’d need 4 craftsmen and 8 coins. You’ll notice that a couple of the buildings cost more craftsman (7 and 9) than a player has room for on his player board (only 6 craftsmen). Therefore, the only way to build these more powerful private buildings is to upgrade a previously built one.
The placement of buildings is quite important, as taking certain actions in order can create a great combo effect, benefiting the player. For instance, placing a building that generates a good amount of income in front of a cattle market building will always allow you to go to the cattle market with money to spend. There are some vacant spaces that also provide bonus actions that will attach to the building when they are placed. These spaces mostly appear after the hazard and Indian tribe areas. Therefore, players will need to navigate through hazards and the Indian tribe (possibly paying a number of fees along the way), but are rewarded with additional actions they can take when resolving the normal actions listed on their private building there.
Some buildings have “either/or” actions noted by a “/” mark. Taking a look at this public building, one of the actions available is that the player can either move the Certificate marker on his player board down one space, or take a new Objective card from those face-up near the game board. In addition to one of these actions, the building also allows the player to move his train engine a number of spaces on the track.
Certificates on the player’s board are temporary items that the player can use to boost his cattle’s value when selling them into Kansas City and delivering them to another city. Think of them as awards you won at the Texas State Fair for your prized cattle. Each certificate spent will increase your overall cattle value by 1. As we’ll see in a bit, a cattle’s value will earn the player income during one of the steps while in Kansas City.
When a player takes this train engine action above, he’ll advance his Train Engine marker on the track up to a number of spaces equal to the number of Engineer workers on his player board. When a player advances his train, he’ll skip any spaces containing his opponents trains. As discussed before, there are also a number of train stations along the track. In order to enter these areas, the player will need to move his marker an additional space into the station between the normal route spaces.
For instance, if the White player was currently on space #4, he could move to the station space between #4 and #5, or he could move straight from #4 to #5. If he moved into the train station, his next movement would be to the #5 space.
When ending your movement at a train station, players can choose to upgrade the station by paying its corresponding upgrade cost. Players will want to do this in order to remove discs off of their player board, unlocking more actions and bonuses for themselves. Each station space is either bordered white or a combination of white and black. This relates to the type of discs you can remove from your player board and place here. The player board also contains white and black borders around the disc. If a train station space contains a white border, only a disc on a white-bordered space on the player board can be removed and placed here, but if it contains a combination of both colors, either a white or black disc can be placed there.
Any number of players can upgrade a particular train station, though each station can only contain one disc of each color. There can however only be one station master per train station. When a player pays the upgrade cost and places one of his discs on a train station, he’ll check to see if the Station Master tile is present. If so, he can remove a worker from his player board (either a cowboy, craftsman, or engineer) and replace it with the Station Master tile. He’s basically appointing on of his workers to run this train station. He’ll no longer count this worker as one on his player board, but he does receive the Station Master tile, which gives him an immediate or permanent effect, as well as contains some end-game victory point bonuses.
For instance, if the White player was the 1st player to place his disc at the current train station, he could choose to place one of his workers here to gain the Station Master tile. This tile rewards him with a permanent certificate for the rest of the game (temporary certificates on the player board are spent when used), and the player will receive 3 victory points at the end of the game for every pair of green and blue Tepee tiles he’s collected.
Finally, the last building we’ll take a look at is this private building. This contains another “either/or” action in which the owning player can either make a trade with the Indians, or can take single or double action on his player board. The building will also allow the player to move his Train Engine marker 2 spaces along the track. When making a trade with the Indians, the player will take a look at the Indian tribe section of the map and can choose to take any 1 Tepee tile from the area, placing it in front of his player area. When doing so, he’ll also gain (or lose) the amount of coins listed above the space that the tile was taken from.
At the beginning of the game, the first 3 Tepee tiles are placed on the “-1”, “-2”, and “-3” spaces. So players will need to pay coins to remove these tiles. However, as more Tepee tiles come out, they’ll start to cover the spaces that will earn players coins when taking them.
Player Board Actions
If a player ends his turn on another player’s private building, he won’t be able to take the listed action there. Nor are actions available while on Hazard or Tepee tile spaces. However, while on these 3 location types he can take a “single” action from his player board. He may even choose to take this action if he lands on a public building or a private building that he himself owns, but chooses not to take their listed actions for some reason. Players start the game with only two different “single” player board actions available to them; gaining 1 coin, and drawing 1 card from the cattle card deck and then discarding a card. More of these actions can be unlocked as the player is able to remove discs from his board.
You’ll notice that there are two columns amongst the listed actions. The left column contains a “x1”, meaning that the player can take that particular action one time. If players are able to unlock spaces on the right column, they’ll have an opportunity to take a double action (“x2”) when allowed. Players can only take double actions if an action would specifically allow them to do so, (for instance, the last private building we took a look at above) and they have also unlocked both spaces tied to that action on their player board. So if the Blue player had chosen to take a player board action instead of making a trade with the Indians, and he had previously unlocked the 1st and 2nd action spaces in the column, he’d be allowed to draw 2 cards from the cattle deck, then discard 2 cards.
Kansas City Actions
Once a player reaches Kansas City, he must immediately resolve five steps in order. These are easily referenced on the Kansas City area of the game board, and the player will advance his Cattleman marker through the city as he resolves each step. The first 3 of these steps are resolved at what is considered, the “foresight spaces”. This is where new hazard, worker, and tepee tiles will be added to the game board. While at the 1st space, the player will choose amongst the two available tiles to place out, removing it and placing it in its corresponding area, the same way we discussed during setup. He’ll then move to the 2nd and 3rd spaces, resolving them in the same way.
As workers are added to the Job Market, the Job Market token will move down over time. Eventually it will move over one of two lines with a cattle icon. When this happens, the cattle market is refilled depending on the number of players in the game. However, once the market cattle draw pile is empty, no more cards can be added. Once the Job Market token has been moved off of the last space of the Job Market, the game will end.
After the player has resolved the steps at the foresight spaces, he’ll next move to the 4th space in Kansas City. At this location, he’ll sell his cattle by revealing his current hand of cards calculating their total value. Note that only cattle cards of different types count toward the total value. So if a player had 2 green cattle cards in hand, 1 white, and 1 blue, he’d only combine the values of one of the green cattle, the white and blue cattle.
Remember that players can also spend accumulated certificates on their player board to increase their total value. The player will then receive coins equal to the total value. In the example above, this player would receive 7 coins as income (2+2+3), unless he was able to spend certificates to increase it. After the player collects his income, all cards in his hand are placed in his discard pile.
The final step of his time in Kansas City is spent delivering the cattle to a nearby city. Above the train route along the game board are a number of city spaces, each with increasing values listed on them as they go along the track. The player is allowed to deliver to any city up to the value of the cattle he sold, as long as he hasn’t previously placed a disc on that city’s space. The only exceptions are the Kansas City (furthest left-most city) and San Francisco (furthest right-most city) spaces.
Players can deliver to these cities as many times as they want to in the game. However, players need to keep from delivering to Kansas City. While doing so earns the player an immediate 6 coins, it also forces the player to lose 6 victory points at the end of the game. When delivering to a city, the player will remove a disc from his player board and places it on the city’s space. Note that the same rules regarding white and black borders with upgrading train stations are the same for delivering to cities. Only discs from white-bordered spaces on the player board can be placed on city spaces with matching white-bordered spaces, and the same for black-bordered spaces and cities.
You’ll notice that many of the cities contain “green” arrows pointing towards them. Each set of arrows between the cities contain an action in between. Players are allowed to take the corresponding action, if when placing a disc on a city, they have also another disc in the adjacent city that the other arrow is pointing from. For instance, if the Yellow player already had a disc in Santa Fe, and he later places one in Albuquerque, as soon as he places the one in Albuquerque, he’ll meet the requirements needed to immediately draw a new Objective card and place it in your discard pile.
While players can deliver as far as a city that matches the amount of income he received from selling his cattle this turn, he may also need to pay some transport fees depending on how far along the track his Train Engine is. On the track are a series of red crossing signs. After players have made a delivery, they’ll need to count the number of crossings between the city they delivered to and the current position of their Train Engine. For every crossing in between, the player will need to spend 1 Coin to the bank as a transport fee. Since players always receive income before this step of the turn, and can only deliver to a city up to the amount they earned, they’ll always have the available funds needed to pay for these fees. Of course, a player doesn’t have to deliver to a city even if it matches the income he made this trip. He could instead deliver to a city lower on the track to save from having to pay these fees until he can move his Train Engine further.
For instance, the Blue player previously sold his cattle for 7 coins. Therefore he could deliver all the way up to Colorado Springs. Since his Train Engine marker is currently on the 4th space, delivering here would require him to spend 2 coins for transport fees (there are 2 crossings between his Engine and Colorado Springs). He could instead choose to deliver to Wichita, which would cost him no coins, as there aren’t any crossings between this city and his Train Engine.
After the player has resolved all five steps in Kansas City, he’ll need to refill the three empty foresight spaces in Kansas City, drawing from the “1”, “2”, and “3” facedown tiles, as well as place his Cattleman back on the start space of the trail (bottom left corner of the map). At the end of the player’s turn, whether they went to Kansas City or took an action at a map location, they’ll need to draw a number of cattle cards to refill their hand back up to their hand limit. This will normally be 4 cards, unless the player has removed discs from his player board to increase this amount to 5 or 6.
Once the Job Market token leaves the Job Market, the current player will take the token and place it in front of themselves, then resolve the remainder of his turn in Kansas City. Each other player is then given one final turn. After all turns have been resolved, the game ends.
There’s quite a bit of final scoring that goes in determining the winner. Uno, this is not. Luckily, the designer has been kind enough to provide a scoring pad, organized by the various ways a player will calculate his points. Let’s follow the section of the scoring pad in order:
– Players will take a look at all of the private buildings they’ve constructed on the map. Each private building contains an amount of Victory Points in the top right corner of the tile. Players will add these points together.
– Some of the city spaces along the train track contain end-game victory points as the bonus if players have met the disc requirements (in some cases negative points). Players will total these points together. Remember, if a player does not have discs in both cities on either side of the reward (if arrows are pointing from both sides), he won’t gain that victory point reward.
– Players will gain a certain amount of victory points at each of the train stations they’ve upgraded, whether they had the Station Master there or not.
– If you remember, some actions allow players to remove Hazard tiles from the map. Each of these tiles contains victory points that are scored at the end of the game.
– The higher-end cattle cards that player were able to purchase from the cattle market contain a number of victory points. Players will gather all of their cattle cards together (those in their hand, draw pile, and discard pile) and total these points together.
– If you’ll remember, players who obtained Objective cards during the game placed them in their discard pile. During their turn, players could play these cards from their hand in order to activate them. At the end of the game, players will look through their entire deck for any unplayed Objective cards. They now have one final chance of either activating these or discarding them for good.
Players will then check all of their active Objective cards in play. If they’ve been able to meet the listed objective, they score the positive points on the card, but if they’ve failed to meet the objective, they’ll lose the listed negative points on the card. Players will then score the difference between these positive and negative point totals.
– Players who were able to become a Station Master at a particular train station are awarded victory points according that station’s bonus. For instance, one of the Station Master location’s award 3 victory points for every 2 certificates the player ends with.
– If you’ll remember, the last two columns where workers are placed on the player board contain end-game victory points if the player has covered those spaces with workers by the end of the game. Each of these covered spaces is worth 4 end-game points.
– One of the disc-covered movement spaces on the player board contains 3 end-game victory points if the player was able to remove his disc from that space by the end of the game.
– Finally, since the player that triggered the end-game (the player that received the Job Market token) didn’t get to take an additional turn, he will receive a bonus 2 victory points from the Job Market token.
After all victory points on the scoring sheet are totaled, the player with the most victory points is declared the winner. And has finally beat the Oregon Trail! I mean Great Western Trail.
Great Western Trail is an amazingly impressive Euro-design that extends beyond its deserved spot in the Great Designer Series. There are so many interesting pieces to this game. The core concept of a player’s turn is kept incredibly simple; move your cattleman, take an action at your location, and draw cattle cards back to your hand limit (if needed). But the wealth of actions available at the numerous locations provides players with an abundance of things to do. That may sound familiar to those that have played games such as Trajan (of which I adore), yet there seems to be a distinct difference in the approach here. In Great Western Trail, it seems that a player can completely ignore a particular point-awarding aspect to the game and still fair well. Players can focus on the deckbulding portion of the game, hiring a full workload of cowboys and buying as many different high-valued cattle cards as they can, while not necessarily focus on advancing their train engine, and still win the game. Players could choose to do a little of everything, or focus mainly on one thing, and both are viable strategies. It really comes down to doing what you’re doing more efficiently and managing it in a better way that your opponent. It rewards players that take advantage of their opportunities, and wins don’t feel random or heavy-handed.
There’s also a neat balancing element in regards to how players move amongst the various paths and routes of the map. Player must always move forward, towards Kansas City, yet they can do so as quickly or slowly as they choose. Moving more quickly will allow you more opportunities to sell your cattle, though you’ll limit the amount of other actions you can take in the game. Moving slower will give you a chance to resolve a great number of actions in between your trips, but a lot of these actions require cattle cards as payment, so you’ll not only limit your number of sales in Kansas City during the game, but may also not have the most ideal hand of cattle when you get there. Like I said, the game rewards the opportunist, taking advantage of when it’s best to move quickly and when it’s best to resolve building actions.
Placement of your buildings is also a matter of importance. The numerous trails consists of forks on the map, and being able to place a building at these forks can limit the movement of opponent’s forcing them to have to possible pay a fee if they wish to pass through them. Also, players will need to prioritize which of their own buildings they want to locate near the beginning of the trail versus the latter portion of the trail. In doing so, the player can attempt to create some neat action combinations, resolving them in the order that works best for their strategy.
If there’s anything lacking in the game, it’s an organized reference sheet. There’s a good amount of iconography here, and it’ll take a few plays or so to remember all of it. While I’m sure there will be great user-created files to download on BGG to assist with this, it would have been nice to see something included in the game. At least a chart referencing the icons for each player to have at their disposal. The first playthrough may suffer through a bit of analysis paralysis, as players will need to look up what many of the icons mean, but the icons themselves are intuitive once you learn them. I also want to note on the game length. Depending on the number of players, a game of Great Western Trail can reach in the 2-3 hour range, but the game never drags. Even when players aren’t on their active turn, there’s always something to plan or pay attention to. There’s a great pace to the game and the Job Market fills up a lot faster than you’d think.
For a Euro-style game there’s a sufficient amount of theme. If your strategy is to focus on hiring and using craftsmen, you’ll start to see your buildings emerge around the map. Placement of these buildings aren’t random, and there’s importance based on the surrounding area and routes into that location as to whether it would be a good spot to build on. A wealth of cowboys will assist with having a larger, more varied herd of cattle. Engineers on the other hand will help you build up your shipping network, allowing your product to reach the furthest cities on the track. As the population and development of towns on the map grows, it will take longer for ranchers to make their way from Texas to Kansas City. Players will start with a limited number of options, but as the game grows, so do these options increase, whether it’s related to actions on their personal player board, or as the result of building actions. There’s a great sense of advancement, going from an almost empty landscape to one with lots of buildings, an advanced train system, and an ever increasing job market. By the end of the game, there’s a true sense of turning your small, cattle ranching business into a large-scale operation.
There’s so much to say about this game, and I’m sure others will impart a lot of things I’ve left out. It is a heavier Euro, but that mostly comes in the management of various strategies and not in how hard it is to understand the rules of the game itself. A successful game for me is one that I tend to think about long after I’ve finished the game. Should I have focused more on another strategy in the game, focused more on purchasing cattle cards than constructing buildings? What strategy will I try next? I find that Great Western Trail does exactly that. There’s so much replayability because there’s such a variety of options and valid strategies to begin with. Pfister has taken a large collection of enjoyable mechanics and melded them together in a such a smooth, integrated way.
If you enjoyed this review and would like to read other Radio Reviews, click here to see the geeklist. And if you’re near the Wilmington, NC area, feel free to check this game out and more at our community’s FLGS, Cape Fear Games.