Between the years 1865 – 1895 the American frontier was a vast landscape of sand, dust, rock and wooden constructions with very little or simple ways of entertainment. Little did anyone realize back then that the future would capture their surroundings, culture, characters and way of living, give it a title and some rules of play and box it as one of the many wild west board games released. Folk of that era after a busy day scouting the land for settling purposes, mining or panning for gold and silver, or even tending to their cattle and ranching chores had to unwind in some way as we do now. Exciting pastimes like amateur theater, prizefighting, throwing horseshoes, music and medicine shows were amusements that brought in the crowds and were common in the old west away from the dramas, duels and Indians.
The good old saloon is where I want to take you at this time and with the content of this article, not the upstairs balcony and bedroom areas but at the tables where other choices of entertainment were common. At the time as we all know there weren’t any wild west board games around but cards, dominoes, drinking games and dice have stood the test of time. In this article we’ll put our game faces on, shuffle the cards, deal out the chips and look at some western themed tabletop games out there and asking, are they winning hand titles or table flippers?
Great Western Trail
In this game you take on the role of a simple rancher who makes his living, money and victory points in this case by repeatedly tending to his cattle, keeping them healthy and in excellent condition in order to sell them for the big bucks over in Kansas City, transported there by train. Obviously this isn’t a one man job, so cowboys can be hired to look after and improve your herd, craftsmen will need to be hired in order to build and construct your own buildings that will aid you in the transporting of the cattle across the trail, and as steam train was the transport of choice for long distances, engineers can be hired too to keep an eye on the all important railway line.
Different cattle types from “Jersey” to “Texas Longhorn” can be acquired and so it’s important in the game to maximize on points, arriving at Kansas City with a valuable load of four legged beef in tow. The game wouldn’t be interesting without various pitfalls and challenges along the way that each player must make strategical decisions around. There’s a lot to keep an eye on and players are controlling both a cowboy/rancher and train meeple counter. Like with the familiar board game title, “Agricola” there are countless ways to earn points in this and a balance of play and strategy to be found.
I bet you’ve realized from the title, Colt Express is another western themed family board game that features a steam train once again as the game listed previously. It does away with a traditional board as the play arena and instead uses what is known as a modular board and so the game takes place on and around a 3D train with as many passenger cars as there are players. The way this works is with heavy cardboard stock and a tab and slot assembly for the engine, passenger cars and scenery and makes Colt Express a unique game to see, play and experience because of this interesting factor.
The game was designed by Christophe Raimbault and was released in 2014 scooping up various awards like for example the ‘2014 Golden Geek Award – Best Innovative Board Game Nominee’, the ‘2015 Lys Grand Public Winner’ and not to mention the ‘2015 Spiel des Jahres Winner.’
A general plot and theme behind Colt Express is set in the year July 1899 and pulling out on the dot from a station in Folsom, New Mexico is the Union Pacific Express and its forty-seven passengers on board. Each player takes on the role of a bandit with eyes on this train and the various bags of loot, suitcases and gems which are settled in the passenger cars at the start of play. Each bandit player is trying to successfully rob the train at the same time as other bandits and become the richest outlaw in the west. Players may even be tempted to go after a suitcase full of money, a coal company’s weekly pay, but will they succeed as it is under the supervision of and guarded by the Marshal, Samuel Ford?
The game takes place on the 3D constructed steam train where the bandit players have the luxury of moving through the train cars horizontally, climbing to and from the roof in a vertical move, robbing the passengers, fighting other bandits, using guns and firepower and diverting the Marshals’ attentions elsewhere. All these actions are done through card play in two phases, “schemin” and “stealin” and played over five rounds. When the rounds all come to a halt, whichever bandit has the most money at the end, is declared the winner.
There have been more than five expansion packs created to accompany the base game since the original release. “Indians and Cavalry” is still in development with no release date as yet. One of the expansions that I found amusing when finding out about it was “The Time Traveling Car”, a mini expansion released in 2015 that features a totally constructable Delorean time machine, as featured in the ‘Back to the Future’ movies trilogy. Being a big fan of these movies I found this expansion idea quite appealing. “Great Scott!”
Western Legends was originally a creative project for Kolossal Games and started out on the ‘Kickstarter’ campaign ladder. In case, you are unfamiliar with this term or the website, Kickstarter is known as the world’s largest project funding platform for various creative ideas and projects. The way it works is that, every month, tens of thousands of people who are known as “backers” pledge millions to creative projects that interest them and in dozens of different categories. I bet you’ve realized from the title can guess the process of freely giving money to these projects is the “pledge.” For pledging more money you gain better rewards once the project has become funded and released, these are known as “stretch goals”, small treasures and rewards that tie in with the project. So regarding Western Legends, it was better quality components, card stock and finish and more characters to name but a few.
So Western Legends eventually came to life and was released in 2018 by Kolossal Games. This launch title for the company was their first and so it was important to them to dedicate time and quality to the design, development, and components and make an explosive impression to the masses. Western Legends is what’s known as a “sandbox” type of game, a game that allows each player to explore different options of play, multiple paths to victory, a diverse set of characters and dictate what they want to do in the game. With this in mind no two games of Western Legends will be identical.
Only one player can be legendary by the end of the adventure, each player becomes a character like Billy the Kid, Calamity Jane, “Doc” Holiday, Bill Hickok or other historical characters from the American old west. Players will immerse themselves in a narrative and interactive experience and is represented on the board by a detailed miniature figure, custom sculpted by Pure Arts Studios. Each player can switch between being a wanted character, evading the law and having a life of crime or keeping the peace and fighting for justice as a Marshal. Players can choose to rob banks, take on cattle rustling, mine for gold, hunt down bandits and hold up other players.
Completing objectives and jobs as well as reacting to random events throughout play is a reason to equip your character with weapons, provisions, a horse and other necessary items in order to survive. Each players actions in the game will determine how they are viewed in the eye of the law and other players.
- The Good, The Bad & The Handsome Expansion Pack
This expansion set to the base game features three new legendary characters and accompanying goal cards. Including; Marshal Judge Roy Bean, Butch Cassidy and Joaquin Murrieta. There are also sixteen new story cards that feature a new game condition. Lastly there are twelve unique legendary items.
- Fistful of Extras Expansion Pack
This expansion set to the base game features unlocked content from twenty Kickstarter campaign stretch goals, held back in January 2018 during the Kickstarter campaign for Western Legends. Also, included for more role variability are new characters, new miniature figures and new goal cards for each. More General Store items to choose from and new story cards for you to explore and expand on.
Lewis & Clark – The Expedition
How about a story for starters or more precisely, a history lesson before delving into the features and theme behind the Lewis & Clark game? So who or what was Lewis and Clark? Captain Meriwether Lewis and close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark were a part of a selected group called, “The Corps of Discovery” which was made up of US Army volunteers. It was also known as “The Lewis and Clark Expedition” and was a vast expedition starting from May 1804 to September 1806 and was the very first American expedition to cross through the western portion of the United States.
Shortly after the purchase of Louisiana from Napoleon in November 1803, before the expedition got underway it was the President Thomas Jefferson himself who commissioned the expedition with great interest as he wanted the territory to be mapped, explored and not to mention, giving the area an American presence. Finding and securing a safe and feasible route across the western half of the continent was also a part of the primary objective, the secondary objectives were ones of science, nature and economic purposes. Valuable information and findings on the geography of the land, its animal life, fauna and local Indian tribes were all to be reported once the expedition returned. On 23rd September 1806 The Lewis and Clark Expedition returned to St. Louis equipped with various maps, sketches and journals in hand ready to show the President and give a detailed account of the journey, their findings and treasures.
I bet you’ve realized from the title and can now imagine and visualize, the Lewis & Clark game is based entirely on that expedition crossing the North American continent, with players managing and progressing their own adventure on the river, past the various villages, into the mountains and onto the goal of the game, reaching the Pacific coast. Each player will have their own Corps of Discovery and accompanying them will be the various trappers and Native Americans met along the way. Keeping with the historical theme the characters in this game are actual characters of the time including a dog that traveled with them. A brief insight to the history of each character can be found in the rule book.
Lewis & Clark features a vibrant, colorful themed board and components, using a western style art and font. The game mechanics include strategic “hand building”, village worker placement, resource gathering and a double-sided dual use card system where one card doesn’t work too well without another which it relies on to determine the strength of its original action. This is also a game where you can benefit from what other players cards show, so its crucial that you’re mindful what you play on your turn and when to play certain cards. Camping down for a while to recharge also has to be planned well, especially the larger expeditions. As well as the scenic river race between players there are various other things to do on the expedition with the help and assistance from your characters and locals, a player can trade and recruit within the villages found, gather pelts, lumber, go hunting, make equipment, acquire horses, canoes, upgrades and more.
There have been and are so many themes to play around with under the umbrella of a wild west board game. Some publishers and brands have gone for the serious element to the American frontier, some have gone for the fun. Steam trains, railways and transport of the era play a strong role in many titles as does resource gathering and colonization, heists and robberies, sheriffs, outlaws and cowboys or gold prospecting. Some works have a fictional element to them and others a more realistic and historical theme. There are so many trials and tribulations of board, card or dice game out there, some more successful than others. Some titles will have a standalone game platform whereas others may have opted for expansions and variations to the game play.
Its comes down to the player or playing group what they prefer, what kind of theme suits them or gaming mechanic, what price can they afford and how long of a game they want to play as some titles will be more suited to quick fire rounds and others a detailed set-up and longer time frame that could fill a good deal of a Sunday, taking you up to high noon. In summary though, the amount of options and choices as with other game categories and themes are vast.