Before I begin I was provided a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This is not a paid review. If you would prefer to watch a video of this review, check it out below. If you would like to check out the game yourself, click here.
I have never been huge into euro games. I am not completely sure why. I mean there are a few…one…that I love. Lords of Waterdeep. Other than that I cannot think of any released euro games that I want to play over and over. Maybe it is because of the lack of dice, or the tendency for them to be dryly themed.
However, I have gotten to meet some hard core euro loving folks since I really started doing these reviews. They have started to open my eyes to the possibilities of euro gaming. One of these chaps is Jonny Pac, designer of Sierra West, and developer of Merchants Cove (which I am very excited about). I met him at a local convention and we got to chatting, and he got to explaining his most recent success Sierra West to me. I was pretty intrigued by it. In general, this is not a theme I would pursue, but I like Jonny (please don’t tell him, we gotta make sure his head can fit in that corduroy cowboy hat) , I liked his passion about it, and most importantly I liked the way the game play was described to me. It sounded completely unique.
So I reached out to Board and Dice to see if they were interested in another review. Happily for me, they were! So here we are.
There are two things that players have to keep an eye on when they play. There is the mountain, which players can have their fontiersman/woman climb in order to claim new cards. These cards grant new abilities, and points, as well as being the method to trigger the end game. Additionally, at the bottom there is a track for your wagon to advance on, which is a score multiplier, and space for the module specific cards to be placed. These cards add another layer of scoring and resource gathering to the game.
The second thing is the individual player board. This is the cool part. Each round you will draw three cards and place them in your player board. Depending on how you place them it will result in two different paths that your meeples can follow, a dirt and a grass. Each of these paths has different actions that you take as you cross them. They might allow you to gather food, or stone or wood. They might allow you to collect gold, or the module specific resource. You might get to build a cabin (more about these in a moment), or collect a new card off the mountain if your meeple is high enough up, or you might have to face down a friggin’ bear before it smashes up your town.
The challenge of this is that you are running two paths at once. In fact as you build cabins they give bonuses to the various actions listed above, but ONLY if you have the other meeple chillin’ in the cabin when the first meeple gets there. Then to go along with that you have to choose the best order to move your meeples in, because you can do it however you like, you just cannot go backwards. So if you play your cards right (no there are no cards to play) you can have one meeple collect the resources you need to build the things the other meeple can build, if only it had the resources.
But wait! There is more. You might have noticed that with your cards you have built your own little mountain, with some symbols up top. Once you have completed your path, you get to climb to the top of your own little mountain…a hill really. When you get there you can turn in resources to move up the scoring tracks, or move your wagon, or a myriad of other things. Once the final module specific card is placed at the bottom of the mountain everyone gets a final play and you proceed to scoring.
Yes, I have not even mentioned the mule, the traps, any of the specific modules, or really how the final scoring works. Needless to say there is a lot going on.
So what do I think?
The core gameplay mechanic is delightful. I love creating your own little mountain, and running your meeples along it and collecting resources, especially because you do not ever really feel resource starved. I like that there are just enough options of what do with your resources. You can use them to build things, you can use them to trap animals, move up the tracks, move your wagons and so on. I like the ease with which you can gain new cards, and how the specific modules work so very differently.
Speaking of the modules, I am a big fan. Not only will it allow for some awesome, and inexpensive expansions down the road (I may have had a super secret preview of one :)), but it completely changes the way the game is played. I have only played two of the four more than once, and they are very different.
I also think the solo mode is on point, almost perfect really. I love the way the cards play and how quickly you are able to take the AI (that rat bastard Hastings who always barely beats me) actions. It lets you play, and play quickly.
Finally, I am a big fan of the components, to be fair my player boards were a bit warped, but I do not think that is indicative of the quality of components, rather than just some bad luck, it happens. The cards are colorful, and good quality, the resources are great, and the cardboard tiles are good thickness.
I think the art is fine. There is nothing wrong with it, and it tells the story, but it is not jaw droppingly awesome. Second, I like the idea of the cabins, but in practice I think they slow the game down more than they add benefit. Most of the cabins give a small bonus to you, and it is certainly interesting to try to work out how to get the biggest benefit from them, but I am not sure that the small benefit is worth the amount of time it takes to make that decision. I like them in theory, but in practice, for me, they are just alright. I have played with some people who LOVE them, and some people who HATE them. Unfortunately, you cannot ignore them either, because if you do, you get hit with a decently significant point deduction at the end of the game.
I will also add that the game is FANTASTIC at one or two players. However, at three or four the game does start to feel like it drags a little bit. There simply is not enough to do while you wait for it to come back around to your turn, but in two player the few choices you get to make on the other players turn are enough to keep you engaged.
The rulebook. It is rough. I had a really hard time figuring out how to play the game from the rules. I went to a Meeple University video, and very quickly understood how it worked. I will say that the rules are quite clear when it comes to how the modules play, and how the solo mode works.
Bringing it all together
I think this is an excellent euro game, especially for 1-2 players, at 3-4 the game does slow down a bit. The components are good, the art solid, and the game play is unique and wonderful. The four different modules are so wonderfully distinct, that I am very excited to try more of them. Finally, I will just add that the solo mode is fantastic. The rule book is a struggle to parse, but once you get it, you get it. Maybe I am becoming a euro fan…hmm.
I could take a covered wagon across the country faster than read that
* Unique, fun mechanics
* Lots of options coming from simple rules
* Modules add good replay value
* Wonderful game at 1-2 players, solid game at 3-4
* Good components
* Rule book is a bit rough.