Way Out West
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Players attempt to out point each other by building up towns, herding cattle, and hiring cowboys. If somebody has got something you want then you can fight them for it--gunfight at Dodge City! Banks can be robbed, cattle rustled and farmers shot. Despite the wide range of possible actions the basic rules are very simple. You can be as trigger-happy as you want, just be careful not to make too many enemies.
You would think that the Wild West would be a perfect theme for a game. However, very few games have been made about the western times in America, and even fewer have captured the true flavor of the times (short as those times were). Two game released recently have done the theme justice, and are fun and thematic. One is the great game Bang! and the other is Way out West. (WOW).
So is this western game worth our time? The short answer is yes, its a fun German style game with a lot of dice rolling thrown in.
The obligatory longer answer follows:
First, a short description of the game:
The board has five cities on it, ranging from the small town of San Antonia to the large city of Deadwood. Each city has three to six spaces for buildings, and four to seven corrals for cattle. Each of the three to five players is given two black wooden discs, twenty five dollars (cardboard counters) and a pile of cardboard tokens in their color. The game takes place over 12 rounds. Players bid for the turn order in each round.
Each round players go in turn order, placing one of their wooden discs in an action box at the top of the board, taking the action. As there are a limited number of boxes, some actions can be taken only a few times. A list of actions follows, with the number of action boxes and prices listed.
Buy a cattle token (3 - $1) Purchase one or two cattle tokens in a corral in one town. Cattle have some deployment restrictions.
Buy a cowboy (3 - $1) Put one or two cowboys in any town. Cowboys have no deployment restrictions.
Build a jail (1 - $3) Put a jail in a town, giving the player control of the sheriff of that town. All buildings have a limit of one per town, and each player can only build two buildings in any one town.
Build a store (1 - $5) Put a store in a town, giving that player money for other players cattle in that town.
Build a railroad (1 - $20) Put a railroad in a town, doubling the money value and point value of all cattle there.
Build a bank (1 - $10) Put a bank in a town, giving the owner more money.
Build a hotel (1- $7) Put a hotel in a town, giving that player money for other players cowboys in that town.
Build a stagecoach (1- $3) Put a stagecoach in town, giving that player money whenever a player puts cowboys in that town, or moves cowboys to that town.
Move a cowboy (3) Move an indicated amount of cowboys from towns to other towns.
Gunfight (4) A player can initiate a fight wherever he has cowboys. He can rob a bank, rustle other players cattle, take over another players building, or kill a farmer. The two players cowboys fight a duel. Banks and trains automatically have one defender. The owner of the jail has a sheriff who can also get involved in the fight. Each player rolls a die for each cowboy in the fight. Every 5 or 6 rolled kills a cowboy on the other side. The side with fewer cowboys fires first. If both sides have equal cowboys, combat is simultaneous. Combat continues until one side retreats, or until one side wipes out the other side winning the target (replacing cattle counters or buildings with own color or removing farmer). The winner of each gunfight gets a Wanted counter.
Place a farmer (1) Once a game, each player can put a farmer in a corral, removing the cattle counter there.
Move a cow (1) Move a cow from one town to another.
In a five player game, there are extra spaces to buy a cow, a cowboy, and initiate a fight.
After turns 3, 6, 9, and 12, income is earned. Each player gets $2 for each cattle they own (unless a farmer is in the same town, in which case they only get $1, or if there is a railroad in town, in which case their income is doubled). Each player gets $2 for every other players building in a town where they have a bank, $1 for every other players cattle in town where they have a store, and $1 for every other players cowboys in town where they have a hotel.
At the end of the game (after round 12), points are totaled up. Each player gets one point for each cattle token they own (-1 for a farmer in town, *2 for a railroad). Each building a player owns is worth points equal to the size of the town it resides in. Whoever has the most money gets five points, whoever has the most wanted counters gets four points. Whoever controls each town (most cattle + buildings) gets points equal to the size of the town. The player with the most points wins! Ties remain ties.
Some comments on the game:
1). Components: Way Out West has a very nice, sturdy box. However, there is no place to put all the different counters. Youll have to bag them all up, with different bags for different the different player tokens. The tokens are nice quality, although I would have preferred little plastic cowboys for the cowboys. But Im sure that would have driven the cost of the game up. Using coins for money is always a big plus in my book, especially when they are in different colors and sizes for the different denominations. The board is nice, with a desert background. All the components fit the theme very well.
2). Combat: I have to mention that WOW has some of the most erratic combat in a game, ever. Its very risky to attack anyone, yet the rewards are rather good. Sometimes its better to attack with fewer men, just to get the first shot. Yet Ive seen battles where five cowboys will attack three and roll all misses, while the three cowboys kill 3 of the five, and then go on to win victory. Fighting is so chaotic that you cannot base any solid strategy on it. You have to keep cowboys in any town, and hope that no one attacks you. In our games, the jail was the first building bought in every town, because everyone wanted to control the sheriff in every town as that was a big advantage in fighting. Getting wanted posters is a nice touch, but the four victory points is not that big of a swing in the final point counting, so its rarely an incentive for people to attack.
3). Stab your neighbor: Dont expect to play a peaceful, non-aggressive game here. After some initial placements, things are going to get nasty. Playing a farmer in someones corral can really mess up their strategy and greatly annoy them. Winning an attack can greatly turn the tide, giving you more buildings in towns, and stealing cows. However, like most games of this type, attacks usually invite wild reprisals, and grudges can be made in this game. Also, in games with more players, its fairly easy to pick on the guy who was just shot up by someone else. Its really easy to beat up the guy in last place, and for that player the game can lose a lot of its luster.
4). Buildings: Some buildings, like the jail, are built right away. The others are also built, but two the bank and the railroad are rarely built. This is for two reasons. One, they are both expensive, the railroad ludicrously so. The banks second reason for not being built is that it is such a big target, and if someone robs your bank, you could lose a huge pile of your money. The railroads second reason is that the benefits of a railroad rarely compensate for the cost of the bank. Ive seen both buildings built, but rarely so.
5). Theme: This game just reeks of theme. As the cowboys face each other, shooting each other for no reason, we started really getting into the cowboy spirit. Yes, you can play the game as a serious tile-laying game, but the wacky combat just immerses the game in theme. Everything fits, and the game certainly doesnt feel like the theme was just plastered on. Robbing banks, rustling cattle, crooked sheriffs its all here!
6). Fun Factor: And because of the theme, I have to say that the game is fun. If random, crazy combat turns you off, dont try the game. Because of how erratic the combat was, I stay out of it, or try to get the odds stacked really high in my favor. But if you are looking for a game full of Western flavor, then this is one of the best and youll have a lot of fun. The game itself is full of strategic decisions, so its not all theme.
7). Time: The game plays quicker with 3 players and is actually a very good three-player game. But even with five players, the game should finish within 90 minutes. The game can bog down if a player takes a long time to consider his choices (there are quite a few!) But gentle (or loud) reminders should keep the game running smoothly.
8). Rules: This is my one negative comment on the game. I really dislike the rules. They are written in very small type on a 4 pages, and are very difficult to go through. They arent hard to understand, but because of the difficulty in finding rules meant that we made some crucial mistakes the first time we played. The game is easy to teach, but isnt that easy to learn from the rules without making mistakes. Pictures and colors would have helped a lot in the layout.
But despite the rules, the theme makes this game a real winner in my book! The combat is a stranger to European games, to be sure but this combat is strange to games with combat! So, unless you dont like a good old fashioned spaghetti Western, I highly recommend this game!
Trust me, this game is very addictive. You'll always try to find a new strategy for spending your money and placing your tiles. The game-system is simple but smart. I've played three times. Each play was totally different as starting was. Sometimes it is very aggressive (a lot of duels); sometimes very 'sharky' (money... money...); and sometimes so diplomatic (if you put a farmer there, I'll certainly attack your bank).
Played with my usual group last night, and had a blast with this and Wyatt Earp (western games night!)
I had a good number of cowboys in the game, but due to poor die rolls on my part, I lost EVERY gunfight I started. And that resulted in me scoring the least amount of points in the game and finishing 4th.
My group found some strategy early, like building jails to give you an edge in gunfights (Sheriff!) and building in the larger cities to get VPs at the end. Which resulted in the guy with the most money finishing 3rd.
Very entertaining game.
An unusual theme and a welcome one. There can be few of us who don't respond to America's own piece of mythology. Hollywood has seen to that. However, that same familiarity also makes it a difficult trick to pull off. We all know what sort of atmosphere a cowboy game should be conveying and we aren't going to be tolerant of the usual thin coat of paint job that passes for theming in most of the games we play. This is one that the designer has to get right and the only previous game I know of that succeeds is Richard Hamblen's Gunslinger (Avalon Hill, 1982), and that has a wargame level of complexity that the majority of you would probably find too much. So the first thing that needs to be said about this attempt is that it is a thoroughly honest one. That doesn't necessarily mean that you will enjoy the game, but you won't be able to accuse Martin of thematic fraud.
The attractive board is an abstract depiction of five towns along a cattle trail, with each town consisting of a row of squares representing the main street, a second row representing cattle pens and an area where you can place cowboys. The game lasts nine or twelve turns (depending on the number of players), during which time you will put up buildings, move cattle into town, steal assets from other players and try to stop them stealing assets from you. Your assets in the form of buildings, stagecoaches and cattle will generate income during the game and victory points at its end. Cowboys are there both to protect what's yours and to take what your rivals think is theirs. At the end of the game there are also victory points for being the richest player overall, for being the dominant figure in each of the towns and for being the most notorious gunfighter.
The game begins with a few cowboys scattered round the various towns and with the board otherwise empty. On each turn you will take two actions chosen from a menu: build a store; build a jail; found a stage coach line; bring cattle on board; move cowboys from one town to another, and so on. However, unlike most games where you have this sort of choice, this is a menu where the items are of very restricted availability. For example, only one player per turn may build a bank and only one may move cattle from one town to another. With other actions, such as bringing cowboys on board or starting a gunfight, the supply is greater but still tight. (A display on the board enables you to see at a glance what actions have been taken and what are still available.). Because there is an obvious advantage in being the first to choose, each turn begins with an auction to determine player order. Some careful judgement needs to be exercised here, as this is a game where money is very tight. If you bid high to get a good position in the order, you might well find yourself with insufficient money to do the things you want to do, and to complicate matters a little more you have to do your budgeting for three turns not one. (The bidding takes place at the beginning of every round, but you only receive income at the end of every third one.)
The non-aggressive actions in a turn are fairly straightforward. If you want to bring in cattle or put up a building and have obtained the right to do so, you just pay the money and place your counter(s). There are a few restrictions--such as availability of cattle pens or building plot--but nothing complicated. Bringing in cowboys is even easier, as here there are no restrictions. A town can hold any number of cowboys and so all you need is available counters and money for the hiring fee.
Gunfights come about when one player selects this as their action. They state which of an opponent's belongings (building or cattle) they are going to try and take from him and the two sets of cowboys in the appropriate location then line up and shoot it out--by throwing dice--until one side is either eliminated or leaves town.
The other aggressive action you can take is the placement of a farmer. These, as we all know, are hated by ranchers and their effect is to lower the income from cattle in the town where they are placed. Their arrival, as you can imagine, tends to attract the attention of cowboys with guns.
Apart from the possible transfer of property and the creation of work for the local undertaker, the other consequence of a gunfight is the award of a "Wanted'' counter to the winner. It is a count of these that will determine the recipient of the end of game "gunfighter'' award that I referred to earlier.
On the income turns, cattle earn money for their owners and for the owner of the store; cowboys bring in money to the hotel; and transport counters (stagecoach, train) and other buildings produce income for the bank. This is all fairly natural. Equally natural as a consequence of such a system would be to see players each setting up their own little fiefs, dominating a single town and drawing the bulk of their income from it. This wouldn't make for a particularly interesting game and so there is a neat rule that has been put there to stop it happening. This is that buildings only earn income from other players' cattle, etc--never from your own.
Trains double the income (and later the victory points) from cattle, but they are so expensive relative to the income that you are likely to be drawing that they don't get built until very near the end of the game. More significant during its course is the money from stagecoaches. They earn money from the placement and movement of cowboys. Built early they are good, steady earners, though, as with everything else in this game, if you own one you will need to protect it.