Great Western Trail – Shut Up & Sit Down Review


[music] All right, two things before we begin First off, no, I have no idea
what’s going on with this cover which looks like a document you’d be handed
by a Jehovah’s witness. Second of all, don’t let these sad dudes pass you by Great Western Trail, I think,
is one of the greatest board games that came out in all of 2016 In this game two to four players
control competing ranchers herding their cattle from Texas to Kansas City Where you’ll be selling them and shuttling them by train to live contented lives as family cows
in homes across America. Sleeping in sunbeams, playing fetch
and being taken for cow walks. The game lasts about two hours
during which your cattle man will complete this journey and sell
your literal hot property about six or seven times, and then you’ll pop out this scoring pad made of fun-repellant paper to calculate who has won. Now, you’re probably looking at this board that seems like Satan’s own version
of snakes and ladders and thinking “ooh, it looks complicated” and you’d be right, but the important question is
whether you’re looking at it and going: “Maybe I could be the kind of person who plays complicated games” because in the case of Great Western Trail
you definitely definitely could. Yes, the board is a dense hay bale of iconography but only because this game wants to remind you of how to play everywhere you look. The manual is incredibly dense and intimidating but only because it accompanies every single rule with an example of play. And for all of this game’s cowbells and high-pitched cow whistles that make it quite nuanced and tricky to win playing is actually quite easy. You just simply decide where you’re going to
stop for a rest. This is almost a relaxing game. So just pop a matchstick in your mouth and get to moseyin’ down that damn trail while maybe thinking about your cows and… and maybe just also worrying about your money and your employees and your property and your railway infrastructure. You know what? Maybe let’s just get a move on.
There’s lots to do. Oh my god! Blue’s already left! That great moseying bastard! We’ve got to beat him. Let’s go! Because… you know, otherwise we’ll be less relaxed if we… if we lose On your turn, all you do is travel
one, two, or three spaces But when the game begins the only spaces are these neutral buildings
that anyone can use and hazards like rock falls and droughts So you could go one… two… three and then you’re already halfway to Kansas! Then finally you get to use the ability
of the building you stopped at Maybe trading cows for money or buying new cows. So let’s talk about cows. Do we have to Quinns? Yes! These are the cows every player starts the game with and the technical cowboy terminology for them is s**t cows But to represent the vagaries of breeding they aren’t in front of every player like this, but instead they are in a deck. A deck that is shuffled. And then each player is always going to draw
four cards from this deck and these are the cows you have available So if you pass a building and have the opportunity to sell a green cow for money you do that and it goes in your discard and you immediately draw another. Same goes for if you buy a cow, it doesn’t go into your hand It goes into your discard, and then when you’ve played and discarded
all of your cows they all go in a big discard And then you’re going to shuffle it and draw again which means the bad cows you don’t want or the good cows you do you have no idea when they’re going to show up and so a lot of Great Western Trail is buying good cows and going “Where are they? Oh God! Where are they?” “Please god, cows, where are you?” “my shareholders are going to kill me with pipes” But what players are really doing is they visit all these locations selling cows, letting them draw again or just drawing cows and then discarding
what they don’t want is spinning and nudging a bovine slot machine. Because… when you get to Kansas you reveal your hand of cows. You discard any duplicates. But look! I don’t have any duplicate colors! and then the total value one two three four five six seven that’s how many bucks cold hard American bucks you just made and it shows how far along this track that you can deliver to. And look! When you start delivering to locations in a line you get additional victory points That’s what that shield means. It means victory points. So. Huh. That must mean that the way to play Great Western Trail is to travel slowly down the trail stopping in almost every location until you have a glittering perfect cow fantasy to deliver. Well no, because those disks you’re putting down on cities each time you finish the route they’re coming from your personal player board unlocking permanent upgrades to how you play letting you move faster or hold more cows or unlocking new actions like thinning out your deck Goodbye cow nobody likes you! So that means that the way to play this game is to race down the trail and just spit out these disks and gain multipliers with your crap hands of cows. Well no, because these low cities down the chain give you negative victory points and plus, delivering poor loads of cows means you won’t be making money, and you need money for employees Let’s talk about employees. Every time anyone gets to Kansas more employees pop onto this job market Gradually nudging along this game end marker like a ping pong ball floating in a bath of sour men until it pops off the board and the game’s over. Now you only get to hire these people when you pass one building on the board, this mysterious cowboy hookup zone, and they’re expensive so choosing who you hire is huge! Going for a cowboy heavy strategy means that whenever you walk past a cattle market you get better and better deals on cows until eventually you just walk past and they leap out of the paddock like dolphins leaping out of the ocean desperate to get involved in your deck and potentially even emptying out the market. so there’s nothing for anyone else to buy. This is a straightforward strategy for men and women who don’t take no b.s. The more train operators you have,
the more you can move your little train bypassing the exorbitant delivery fees when you start wanting to deliver to faraway cities And then eventually you just leave the board and kind of go round this corner into a world that I don’t understand where basically you can build train stations and translate money directly into victory points. It’s… it’s weird. It’s a weird way to play. Are you weird? Go and play with your train. Or, if you’re a great western twat, like me, you can invest in labourers and start building buildings! And while the cow system in Great Western Trail is good this, I think, is great! This is where the game completely won me over. So if you get labourers and then stop on a place that lets you build buildings and then pay you can put a building on the board That only you can use and to everyone else it still counts as a stop so you just made the Great Western Trail… longer. And not only that, if it has a hand your friends have to pay you every time they even step over it! Mmm!
[singing] The sweetest taboo And this is where we get into hazard spaces because this is where players start going, “Okay. You know what? Screw that.” “That is insanely tedious.” “I’m going to start paying to clear hazards” “And I’m going to pay to go through hazards…” and yet the spaces directly after hazards have extra bonuses to anyone who builds there. Welcome to the game of snakes and hazards and you lot are the snakes. [Hiss!] So those are the basics. You deliver cows. You build buildings. You move your train. You hire employees And you try not to panic because there’s no time! There are other systems in Great Western Trail, but they’re all sickeningly consistent and clever. So delivering to certain locations on the trail gets you a choice of victory point cards. Something you want to try and
achieve at the end of the game and if you fail to do it you get negative victory points But you don’t have to commit to this you can say, “Oh, I don’t know if I’ll achieve that”. That’s an option That’s a choice you can make and it’s a great little choice because where does this card get stored if you don’t commit to it? Oh yeah… it goes in your deck. Making your deck that much less efficient. And then there are rare rosettes An incredibly valuable resource that you can collect and deciding when to use them is so so hard because each one can optionally be spent when you arrive in Kansas increasing the value of your cows because obviously, who can resist a rosette? QUINNS: [calling] Leigh? LEIGH: Yeah? QUINNS: Can you get me a cornetto? LEIGH: No, I have to work. QUINNS: …what if, er… What if I gave you? [dramatic music] LEIGH: Rosette! QUINNS: No! No no!
LEIGH: No give it to me! I want it! QUINNS: No, you can’t have it!
LEIGH: Please please please QUINNS: I need an ice-cream!
LEIGH: Give it to me. Give it to me. Please please please QUINNS: I’m hungry!
LEIGH: [shreiks] But I’m not going to be talking about all these other tiny little systems in this review because they’re like a side salad They’re crunchy and tasty and necessary, but what really makes this game good is the meat. Because when you accept a cow as a pet and take them into your home it’s very important to meet it politely. So what the core systems of
cows, buildings, and employees all have in common is a frankly implausible balance where no decision you ever make is easy and yet no decision is slow because your options are so narrow the game only ever asks you “Do you want to go to this space or this one?” “Do you want to hire an expensive cowboy
or a cheap labourer?” When you arrive at Kansas, “Which of these two tiles do you want
to put on the board?” then “Which of these two?” “Which of these two?” Even that intimidating stack of buildings you’ve got you don’t decide between building all of them because they have a cost in labourers in the top left, which means if you’ve got five labourers you’re going to decide between placing probably the four labourer building or the five labourer building. All the decisions in this game because they’re only between one of two things just see players going “hmm…” It’s that nice kind of “hmm…” You think! You submerge yourself into
a warm bath of possibility. It avoids entirely the bad decisions that dog loads of games where something isn’t really a decision because you just immediately know what you want and then you have no agency or alternatively, decisions with
too much possibility space where players either can’t calculate the best solution or don’t care. Great Western Trail is just people going
“hmmm”, “hmmmm”, “hmmm” and suddenly, it’s your turn again Bam! Which of these two things do you want? It’s almost… Well, I don’t want to say perfect because this game isn’t for everyone but it is… ridiculously balanced none of which is to say that this is some breezy or unexciting experience. The start of the game is massively exciting as you’re getting your first hands of cows and earning your first few dollars placing your first disks and deciding on your strategy But then it becomes apparent that there’s just no time at all! which is something of a hallmark
of Alexander Pfister’s work And as that victory P goes skirting down the edge of the employee track you’re going to start having to cut corners if you want to get your trains to the end of the track or build the best buildings or buy the best cows And then you start getting into the deeply silly and satisfying problems that we love in board games Which is where all of your difficulties and hardships are your fault. You’ve got no money because you were passing the employee shop And you went “Oh, I should definitely buy employees while I’m here” and now you’re broke. Or you’re paying exorbitant train fees because you thought you could get away with just not moving your train at all and now that seems to be a terrible idea and again you’ve got no money And that is cowboy magic! That’s not a thing. I’m… yeah, let’s pretend I never said that. How have we never done this shot before? So traditionally the problem with these involved management games is that interaction between players is deeply half arsed but this is yet another area that Great Western Trail can exhibit that phenomenal balance it has because everything any player does is of interest to you whether they’re clogging up the trail with their buildings or buying up the cheap employees or just delivering the world’s worst
herd of cattle to Kansas City resembling radiators wearing coats and you’re going to laugh at that. And yet, while everything your friends do tweaks the game’s variables, or otherwise fiddles with Great Western Trail’s
number udders Nothing your friends do is ever go to ruin your plans. Your friends never make a play… and that thing you’re planning on doing? Can’t do it anymore. And that’s great because that is rubbish. No, Great Western Trail has you playing together and yet not interfering with one another. It’s all to do with this magnificent central board. And for fans of tricky puzzles that means Great Western Trail is as slippery and loveable as a newborn calf. And for fans of, you know… friends you spend more of this game looking up from the board and your plans, looking each other in the eyes calling each other rude names. But maybe what makes me want to play Great Western Trail again the most is that within this strata of decision-making that you have in the game some of those decisions are simply: What do you want to do? Do you want to hone your deck for two hours? Do you want to play with your train? Do you want to cover the board in your buildings? Because all of these strategies are viable. It’s a game that offers, fittingly, freedom in the truly American sense of the word. Which is to say that your, you know, net worth is entirely based on your financial situation
at the end of the game and you’re going to die from a stress-related heart attack at age 45 But how you do that under this great Texan sky. It’s all up to you! You lucky dog. Finally, as a cherry on the cow, once you finish this game and you think you might have a better idea of how to play Great Western Trail randomizes itself with random starting locations randomized player buildings and a randomized victory point card for you to start the game with and yet none of this stuff interferes with
that exquisite balance, So that’s good. Although if you do have cherries on your cows you should probably go and get them checked out. And then when you’re really really done with
Great Western Trail You can flip the board over for a double sized version of those sad dudes! Why not hang it on your wall as a ghostly reminder of all those happy times you shared. In conclusion, if you’re looking for something taciturn and calculated, Shut Up And Sit Down absolutely recommends
Great Western Trail. This game is… it’s as taciturn and calculated and beautiful as a church and you could set it up on your table like an altar and just worship it as something that …is quite good… and made by a clever man. But if you are looking for something new and management-y that’s really strong Before buying this, I would say go and check out our Feast of Odin review Row your viking longboat over to that one and take a peek that that’s not
the game you want instead Because while it’s more expensive it might be
more exciting to you. Interestingly, both Feast of Odin
and the Great Western Trail are tied on Board Game Geek’s user rating at eight point three out of ten. But hey we wish Great Western Trail designer Alexander Pfister, best of luck in that clash of titans. I tell you what. Do you remember that 1990’s sitcom, Sister-Sister? [music] PFISTER 1: Alexander?
PFISTER 2: Ja, Alexander? PFISTER 1: I have come up with an idea for a new board game about National Parks! PFISTER 2: But Alexander’s zat is crazy! I also have an idea about a new board game about running a national park. PFISTER 1: Zat is so crazy! What do you think playtest robot? Are we on to a winner? Be honest. ROBOT: Oh no! Is it playtesting again? I hate playtesting! PFISTER 1: Do you vant to make out? PFISTER 2: Ja!

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