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This is the Wild West! The newly settled prairie where cowboys and Indians have frequent run-ins, where vigilante justice is the only kind of justice, where bank robberies are a daily occurrence, where the riches of hidden gold draw fortune hunters from near and far, where the saloons are populated by a motley crew of card sharks, con men, and everyday cheats. In short, this is a world ruled by the laws of the frontier, and even those are made to be broken. It is here, in this pitiless land, where you must try to make your ranch the biggest, most successful spread in the whole, wild, West, and earn yourself the respect a tough hombre like yourself deserves.
In order to build your ranch (and your reputation) you must take over the largest number of ranges, round up the most herds, assemble the largest number of cowboys and amass the most money possible. To reach this goal, you can act wisely, or call upon slightly more unsavory methods... in this environment, the ends ALWAYS justify the means. Just don't attract the attention of The Law....
- 117 Lawless Cards
- 1 Six-sided Die
- 60 Gold Pieces
- 1 Game Board
- 1 Rule Book
Average Rating: 3.8 in 4 reviews
This is an enjoyable mixture of card games like Bohnanza and Witch Trial. The overall gameplay is easy to figure out (although there are several nuances in the rules to remember). It is a great game that involves ruthlessly selling out every one of your friends.
The scoring system in the game made it difficult to focus on who was winning at any given point. This actually made it quite nice because everyone enjoyed playing without worrying about who was in first.
As someone who plays many games, I found this to be one of the most enjoyable games I have played.
I played this game last night for the first time. I had never heard of it before but the group I was with at a recent Magic draft that never happened due to lack of participants, had it and the 5 of us decided to play.
The game took around an hour or so and was VERY enjoyable. Lots of fun learning a new card game, and entertaining. I didn't win, but had a great time. This is a game I will definately purchase for myself.
As a fan of the Old West and from a state with rodeos, I always enjoy playing a Western card game or boardgame. From previous review reading, I discovered this game was better than most. The game lived up to its advertising.
The object of the game seemed to be the accumulation of ranches with prestige points being the governing factor. The game was played with the two-player version (up to six can play) of each player controlling two different ranches.
You receive three cards at the beginning. Five cards are turned over and kept replenished by moving the previous cards down to new and lower numbers on the game board labeled from 1 to 6. Each player can spend up to six action points on any one turn. After a thorough shuffling of the cards, it became apparent too many Scrub ranges were available from the point values of 1-6. If a player cannot afford a card from the game board of six rectangular spaces, the individual can draw the rest of the action points as cards. Let's say the individual cowhand spent three action points and prefers the rest in card draw. That is a legitimate move.
Along comes the nasty part of the game, the Surveillance Difficulty Index. Once the range cards are placed for the two different ranches of each player, cowboys have to maintain the herd. Usually, I drew greenhorn cowboys and was thankful for that draw. My partner drew and bought more experienced hands and veterans to maintain his herds. It is quite amusing to see the clever drawings of 'Poor Quality Herd,' reminding one of a cow out in the desert too long and ready for the buzzards. One prefers in the game the prize winning herds. However, as I discovered, if one does not have enough cowhands, the prize winning herd cannot be placed on the range. The Surveillance Difficulty requires the player to roll a die and compare that roll to the number of cowboys and fences already placed on the table. The number of herd cards and the die roll creates the surveillance index. If the player's result of the cowboys present is greater than the surveillance difficulty index, the herds are safe for that turn. Would you believe my partner (who always rolls for me in the game rules) created four sixes and my greenhorns did not have enough saavy to maintain the herds? I kept losing herds every one of those turns? To me, that is a slight flaw of the game when the die rolls so wreck the ability to build herds.
Anyhow, the first game (two were played)proceeded to a new level with my partner and me buying sneaky trick cards to even the playing ground. If one can afford the action points on the sneaky trick, your opponent may have difficulty maintaining certain herds. By this time, my opponent had successfully acquired veteran cowhands and substantial range holdings.
Therefore, we now ventured into saloon, railroad, cattle raid, and working girls cards, to name a few. For example, for five action points you can steal a herd from your opponent. For five action points and a saloon card you can cause your opponent to lose one of his cowboys. These cards and their cleverly drawn symbolism add to the momentum of the game.
The game ended mercilessly with my opponent scoring 20 points and my measly 5. I thought more points could be scored, but my gold mine card came too late in the game. As you probably guessed, the scoring values are arrived at with the largest number of ranges, herds, cowboys, and the wealth (gold coins) of the player. With players at the mercy of die rolls and ranges available on the game board, the game lost a little luster.
Still, I would play the game again, if, for no other reason, than improving the herds and finding better ranges. My partner did comment that he thought a secret to better play would be to pay more action points in each round to acquire better cowboys to manage those herds. In my own case, I bitterly looked at a hand with two prize winning herds that had no cowboys. Again, I was reminded of that famous saying from the television production, Rawhide, Head 'Em Up. . .
I have a soft spot for Blue Box games, as Ive found them very fun, and good to play with a larger group of players. Im also a sucker for Western themes, as they arent extremely common, and thus found Lawless (Eurogames, 2003 Bruno Cathala) intriguing. I liked Brunos other games (Queens Necklace, Drake & Drake) and so was looking forward to try out the first game he ever designed.
So, my opinion? Although I love the theme and much of the game-play, it didnt really strike a chord with my group. The game is a good one, but has so much randomness and backstabbing that it can literally be impossible to win. That being said, the game is very fun to play. This seems like a contradictory opinion, but let me explain a bit more.
A thin, long board is set out in front of the players, with six spots to place cards, each numbered from one to six. (This is known as the Line. A deck of 117 cards is shuffled, and three cards are dealt to each player. Six cards are turned over and placed on the Line, one in each spot. The rest of the cards are placed face-down to form a draw pile. A pile of gold pieces is formed in the middle of the board (depending on the amount of the players). One player then takes the first turn, with the rest following in a clockwise order.
During the game, a player will play cards in front of him, indicating that players ranch. Cards include cattle herds (poor, good, and prize-winning) which graze on ranges and can be sold for money; ranges (scrub, good, and excellent) which support cattle; cowboys (greenhorns, experienced hands, and veterans) which watch over the cattle; and other special cards that accomplish a variety of things.
On their turn, a player completes four phases. The first phase is the manage livestock phase. First, a player must check to see if any of his cattle have run away. The player to their left counts up the amount of cattle herds they have on the table and adds that number to the roll of one die. The player who owns the cattle adds up the bonuses on the cowboys they have on the table, and adds that to the roll of a die that they make. The two rolls are compared, and if the player who owns the cattle rolls lower, one herd runs away. Otherwise, nothing happens. The player who owns cattle may then sell each cattle herd or let it graze. Each cattle is worth an initial amount of gold. Every time it is not sold, but left to graze, the card is rotated (up to four times). The amount of times rotated is multiplied by the base value to get a total value when the herd is finally sold.
The next phase is collecting other incomes. During this phase, any player who owns a gold mine collects money for it. After that, a player has six action points to spend. They may do four different things with their action points (which should be spent and cannot be saved from turn to turn).
- Take a card from the Line (the cost in action points is the number that corresponds to the space the card is in.
- Take a card from the pile (the cost is 3 action points)
- Play herd, range, or cowboy cards in front of them. (The cost is 1 action point per card, and herd cards cannot be played unless they are supported by range cards each range supports a certain amount of cattle.)
- Play special cards. (The cost is indicated in the top left corner of the card.)
During the last phase, the player discards down to his maximum hand size (10 cards), and moves the cards on the line. Each card moves down to fill gaps in the Line, and the top cards of the deck are drawn to replenish the Line.
There are many special cards in the game. These include:
- Indian raid: This card can be played on an opponents range, locking it up, and preventing it from scoring any points.
- Cavalry: Cancels Indian raid
- Stampede: This card increases the chances of cattle running away from the player on whom the card is played.
- Rodeo Champion: Cancels Stampede
- Hold Up: Allows you to rob the bank or another player of some of their gold.
- Gold Mine: Puts a gold mine on a range, giving that player additional income.
- Hired Guns: Can be used to attack opponents cowboys
- Sheriff: Helps defend against Hired Guns
- And many more.
After the last card is drawn from the deck, or the last coin taken from the bank the game is over. Each player then scores up their total points. Each player totals up their ranges, herds, cowboys, and gold. The player who has the most in each category scores five points, with the second getting three points, the third getting two points, and the fourth scoring one point. Fifth and sixth get nothing! The player with the highest amount of points is the winner!
Some comments on the game:
1.) Components: The components for this game are typical of Eurogames Blue Box series. The cards are of decent quality, while the artwork on them is superb comic book style, and very Western. The money is gold-colored Tiddly Winks, and functions well as commerce although it would be nice if they had included chips that were worth five coins. The (typical) die, cards, and coins all fit easily in the box, which is the same size as all other Blue Box games and has some good artwork on it.
2.) Rules: This is my personal biggest complaint about the game. The rules are fairly clear (although the organization leaves something to be desired), and printed in an eight page booklet. The booklet is colorful and includes examples and many pictures. The problem lies in the card interactions. There are many things that come up in the game that are just not covered in the rules. Some cards are downright confusing to play (hired guns). Other cards bring up questions like can cattle be moved from range to range? These questions are not in the rules, and it seems like play-testing would have brought them out. We finally had to make some house rules and spur of the moment decisions, but it would have been nicer if the rules had covered these things.
3.) Backstabbing: Im a huge fan of stabbing players in the backs. However, its extremely easy to gang up on one player and practically eliminate them from the game. While this may be fun for everyone, its not fun for that one player. And the backstabbing cards are immensely powerful.
4.) Powerful cards: And this brings us to my next criticism of the game the cards. Some cards are just too powerful, and can really change the game. Hired guns seem excessively powerful, as are mines and several other cards. Im also not a big fan of cards that can only be canceled by one card. I love the variety that the cards provide, and the chaos that is included. But its just too easy for one player to draw better cards than the next player and win based on that alone.
5.) Theme and Fun Factor: The theme is a good point, however. The wild, wild west is simulated well through the game. Players will find themselves talking in a western draw and making sound effects as they shoot each others cowboys, rustle cattle, and rob banks. The game is a lot of fun to play, as things move fairly quickly, and players are involved in much of the game.
6.) Strategy: I havent decided on strategy yet. It seems that if you get a card, its usually pretty obvious where to play it (and thats usually the player who is in the lead). Should a player try to get the most cattle, ranges, cowboys, or gold or all of them? That sounds like a lot of strategy, but a player is fairly limited by the amount of cards in their hands. Strategy and tactics are here, but the randomness of die rolls and card selection can drown them out. The Line is a very unique idea (its a little similar to Queens Necklace card costs), and I like it a lot, but it doesnt work as well in this game.
So I will recommend the game, but only to people who like the Western theme and a LOT of chaos in their games. I probably wont play the game again until a good FAQ is posted, and even then not often. Its a sad thing, as I love the Blue Box line and Bruno Cathalas games, but this one isnt that great. Its a mediocre game, but if you want a true, fun Wild Western game, play Way out West.
(First posted in Game Notes #16, at www.bouldergames.com)
The latest blue box game is a card game about the Wild West - or perhaps a Frenchman's view of it. It feels like a relative of da Vinci's Bang! card game, which I suppose it is given the subject matter.
Rather than focus on individual roles as in Bang!, Lawless shifts the attention to the generic feel of the old west.
The aim is to gain victory points, which are scored for having the most ranges (farms), cowboys, most gold and number of herds on these ranges. This sort of feels almost incidental to the game, as the game has more flavour than direction. The best feature about Lawless is that it has lots of Wild West things to do. The central feature is cowboys who are required to marshal the cow herds. Their presence helps to stop the herd dispersing, and they are not upset if there's a gunfight to take part in. All of this game is set in a deck of 117 cards.
Players are dealt a hand of three cards, and then have 6 card buying/action points on their turn. Six cards are laid out on a track, with the most expensive being 6 points to buy and the least 1 point. So you could buy the three cheapest for 6 points (1+2+3). This would leave you with no action points, as the points not used for buying can be used to play cards. Each card has it own action point cost.
After the cards have been bought, the rest slide down the track to occupy the cheapest positions and are replenished at the most expensive end. So one obvious issue is that by buying cards for yourself, you also bring the price down of the current set of cards and your neighbour will get a better price on the remaining cards.
The main actions include laying out a range, putting herds of cows on the range and then securing them with cowboys. Since this is the central theme, it deserves a more thorough assessment.
There are three types of range, herds and cowboys. The ranges differ in the number of herds they can support (from 1 to 3) and there are more cards at the lower end than at the higher. The herds also vary from 1 to 3 points and when multiplied by the number of turns a herd has spent on the range (from 1 to 4) can be sold for this amount of gold. So the top value herd can reach 12 gold after 4 turns (which seems like a long time in Lawless). The distribution of herds is weighted towards the middle type of herd (Good) so you are most likely to pick up a 2 point value herd. The cowboys also cover a 1 to 3 point scale, but this time there are very few veterans (the 3 point value cards) and many more of the other two types. The points are used in determining how secure the herds are at the beginning of a player's turn. The cowboys cover all ranges, and the player compares their dice roll modified by the positive points from all cowboys to one from another player modified by the number of herds. If the cowboy's roll matches or equals the livestock surveillance check, then no herds leave. On failure the most expensive herd leaves the range.
Then you need to consider whether to sell existing herds or retain them. The longer that you keep them, the more valuable they become, but the more surveillance tests they will need to face. And other players may spot this and play cards on you to reduce your number of cowboys, such as through the saloon, which attracts a random cowboy from each player. Alternatively the railroad may come and some vicious 18XX player may destroy one of your good looking ranges. Of course, that will cost points to acquire those cards and then play them, so you need to keep a sharp lookout for such cards being picked up. For 3 action points a sneaky player may risk getting a card from the top of the pack just to keep you in the dark.
Collecting other income comes next and players with gold mines may rake the gold in unless they use too much dynamite and destroy it. (This happened on my second game, when with a roll of 10, the mine imploded and my whole strategy went with it.) Otherwise the gold flows in with the number thrown as your earnings for that turn.
The game ends when all the gold is exhausted or there are no more cards to draw and the victory points are then totalled. This seems almost secondary to the game which has more to do with fun and flavour than adding up points. The special cards add so much variety, whether through Indian raids, the sheriff, cattle raids, card sharks and the undertaker (who cleans up when the hired gun starts the shooting). Hired guns are a great way of adding money in the pot and reducing the number of cowboys in the game. They only cost 3 action points to play and get a +4 bonus on a die roll to shoot their victim, who rolls a die and adds their own bonus. So the odds are usually in their favour unless the sheriff is around. He has to be killed first and he has a +5 bonus. Successful reductions in the population of cowboys result in a small fee being paid to the controller of the hired gun, who can use him next time as he goes back into the player's hand.
Since ranges, cow herds and cowboys only cost one action point to play, they are the bread and butter of Lawless's view of the Wild West. Sooner or later though someone will do something different and players will have to react to the situation. Usually that someone is the person who hasn't got much of a range or whose herd of cows vamoose at the earliest opportunity.
Lawless provides lots of laughs, some frustrations and many ways of enjoying the game. The cards are of a high quality, the English rules are in full colour and clearly illustrated, and the game is destined to be a fun one to begin or end your evening of games. While 2 to 6 can play, I think it is better with about 4 players as you want your turn to come around quickly and follow your plans. The time between turns can be amusing though especially if someone starts a gunfight. If your game crowd can enter into the spirit of Lawless, then go and get this game. But bear in mind the luck of the draw.