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Players establish the small town of Silverado in the Old West. Players compete for resources in auctions and must contend with bandits and Indians.
H.-Georg Rausch is known for producing long, complicated, 1970's-American-Style games in DTP format under his own label, New Millennium Games (NMG). He is ambitiously producing a eight-set series covering the history of the United States, with three titles already released. Silverado is a small-box game released at Essen 2001 and its fast play gives those without the stomach for his longer things to give Rausch a spin with a lot less effort.
The theme is not new but the game is not a re-make; players build a town in the Old West, have shootouts, deal with warring Indians and can have their stagecoaches robbed by bandits. The game begins with five buildings in the town already there, the game is played in rounds and, interestingly, the game has several ways to end, much like some Martin Wallace games.
The phases are simple but it helps to keep a cheat-sheet close by to cover each step. The general idea of the game is to own buildings in order to get income and then to use this income to bid in an attempt to move up the victory point track. But, Rausch fills this game with seemingly dozens of small niches that can cause many odd things to happen. The first mechanic of the game is for players to choose cards and reveal them simultaneously. These cards can be buildings (which get added to the town), a "Special Card" which can cause plenty of havoc, or one of three Action Cards.
The Special Cards are acted on first and they can destroy buildings, change the flow of money, make the victory points come faster, or negate the effect of one of the upcoming Action Cards. After the Special Cards, if any, the Action Cards become live. Indians are used to attack the town and can attempt to destroy buildings. Bandits can try to rob the money held on a building and the Stage Coach lets players collect money currently held on buildings they own. Rausch's life is never simple, though, so each Action Card also bears a number on it and if common numbers are played then "encounters" occur between the matching cards and in a rock-paper-scissors type format their effects are either neutralized or modified. Then, if the same type of card was played, players swap the cards in order to exchange the numbers. This is clever but it is one of many little things that must be remembered to play the game properly.
If left standing with a building, now it gets built in the town. Erecting a building gets a player a victory point immediately and he can then pay to put a marker showing he owns the building on the card. This allows him to collect the income on the card when the Stage Coach is played. After cards are refilled, the next major action takes place: Thanksgiving Day. Players secretly bid money in an attempt to advance on the victory point track and the ratio of money bid determines how far you advance. The high bidder moves as many spaces as there are players, the next moves one space less, and so on, but if there are ties then movement is knocked down to the lower level. Players move back one space if they bid zero. This would be a simple bluff and guess contest, except for the fact that the victory point is not just that (of course). It also contains action spaces which can be good or bad, such as moving you forward or backward on the chart, forcing a shootout, switching places with someone else, giving you a Special card, etc. So the double-think on Thanksgiving Day is crazy in that you are trying not only to move forward but to move a specific number of spaces forward, though the number of spaces you move is a function of everyone else's bid.
After Thanksgiving Day, assuming no one has won yet, any buildings that weren't purchased when placed are auctioned off to the highest bidder in another blind bid. This is often a much cheaper way to buy the buildings, but it of course is riskier as well. In a funny end phase that I'm guessing was added during playtesting, any player who is in a well defined bad position gets a "charity meal", meaning a few extra dollars for the next round.
This already probably sounds a bit complicated for a one-hour building game, but it gets better. First of all, the game can end at almost any time. It seems that the logical ending is to reach the end of the victory point track, but it probably will end long before that. The most likely option is that two consecutive rounds will go by where no one builds a building. If this happens, the game ends immediately. Since money is tight and the other options are usually more lucrative, it is a bit of a prisoner's dilemma to see who will build the building on the second round after one wasn't played. The game also ends if the bank ever can't pay, or if someone places all of their marker chits on buildings. The other crazy thing is that each and every building has a special feature that can cause tweaks to literally every other part of the game. Some affect individual earnings, others general earnings; some affect victory points, others influence actions, etc. This makes for an interesting but somewhat overwhelming set of things to look at and consider, giving Silverado the feel of multiple mechanics that don't quite fit together but keep you on your toes.
The game is published in DTP format like all of NMG's output and the cards must be cut in advance. The text on the building cards is in German and it would be helpful to have a set of the card files in English to download but these do not exist. Marcus Koch translates rules to Rausch's games and these are available on the NMG website, which is a nice feature to offer since it is likely these would not show up in any other forum. It is no small effort, either, as the Silverado rules alone are 14 pages long and this is one of his shortest games!
You get the feeling that you need some Ritalin after a game of Silverado, since it seems that Rausch insisted on putting every idea he could think of in the game with no edits. I've not played Rausch's bigger games, but reading the rules gives you the sense that this characteristic follows through those games as well. He clearly has an active and creative mind, but like a writer who must resist the urge to use ten words where four will do, Silverado comes off as more chaotic than elegant. The game probably works better without the special building functions and it is a shame that the whole is less than the sum of its parts since some of the parts are nicely done.