2-6 players, Competitive, Sandbox Western
Designer: Herve Lemaitre
Artwork: Roland MacDonald
Publisher: Kolossal Games
Release Year: 2018
Western Legends instantly appealed to me when I heard about it due to the sandbox nature of the game. I have always loved the sandbox style of game where players can run amok doing all sorts of different actions to gather points. It gives players an extreme amount of choice to try and make their own way through a game. Currently my favorite sandbox style game is Star Wars: Outer Rim, closely followed by Xia: Legends of a Drift System. Let’s see how Western Legends stacks up to them.
Overview of Gameplay
In Western Legends players will be choosing from a large amount of historic American western people to play as. Then depending on your ideal way to play, you can take up to three actions on your turn doing all sorts of fun little activities trying to attain those luscious Legendary Points. The first player to reach a certain number of points (15 for a short game, 20 for regular and 25 for long) triggers the end game in which players will all get one more round and then calculate final points. Whoever has the most point’s wins!
So on a players turn they will always get to choose to either gain $20, draw 2 poker cards or take $10 and 1 poker card. After that the player gets three actions to spend to their hearts content. The most basic of all these actions is movement. Typically a player can move up to two spaces on the board UNLESS they have a mount (which can be bought at the general store) and then they can move even further depending on which mount they own. So you will be moving around the board doing all kinds of things like collecting cattle to which you can either drive them up to the train on the other end of the board and gain rewards + Marshall points (which gives money/Legendary points) OR you can sell them to the other ranch on the board which gives you rewards + Outlaw points. You can hit up the general store in town and spend your money on new mounts, new guns, hats, holsters, treasure maps, all sorts of things which all give benefits in one way or another. OH! And they can all be upgraded as well to give end game Legendary Points too.
You can play an actual game of poker using those poker cards I mentioned earlier or even head out into the hills and try your luck mining gold. This particular action involves a lot of chance as you roll a couple over-sized dice to see what you find but the payoff can be huge if you find gold since you can bring it back to the bank in town and sell it for money AND Legendary Points. For those who have a ton of money just sitting around and nothing in the general store that you want, you can head over to the cabaret and…employ their services. For every $30 spent you gain 1 Legendary point so this is a quick way to gain a lot of LP’s if you need to round out the end of the game. You can also challenge other players to duels if you are in their same space or even try to arrest players that are on the wanted track due to gaining those devious outlaw points. In some way all these actions will lead to gaining LP’s, it’s up to you to determine which way works the best for your character.
After you use all three of your actions doing any of those things you will check to see if one of the story cards is ready to be resolved. There are two stacks of these cards on the board at all times and only the top two of each stack are active. Once a player has achieved whatever it says on the card, they add one of their colored tokens to it. Once a certain number of tokens are added (depending on player count) then the card is drawn and the opposite side is read aloud. They usually give benefits to the players that had contributed their tokens to the card. You will then discard down to whatever your poker card hand limit is based around how many wounds you have from fights, the more wounds, the less cards you can hold.
Oh yes and these poker cards. So they look like your standard playing cards but they also have abilities on them. Some have extra actions you can take during your turn whereas others have “reaction” abilities that only activate when certain things transpire. They are very handy to have at all times and will be VERY helpful especially during fights. Speaking of fights, there are also a number of Bandit minis all over the board when you start playing. These little guys basically just hang out until a player moves into their location at which time the player next to you draws a fight card and you play one of your poker cards facedown. You both flip the cards at the same time and resolve the effects on the cards, after all the test stuff is finished whoever has the highest suit card wins the fight. Rewards are given if you win against the bandit but either way, the bandit gets removed from the board. Eventually as those story cards are resolved more bandits will be added back to the board.
I love the look of the game board. It really brings out that western vibe and indeed even the components all contribute to that overall western feel as well, especially the poker cards. There are places on the board for most of the decks of cards which I like and even the player boards are designed in a fun way with locations for your item cards and tokens. The over-sized mining dice are hefty and feel nice and the plastic gold pieces are great. The general store display is just awesome, you have to assemble it but it holds all the item cards and really adds to the overall theme of the game even more. The minis are decent, nothing mind blowing with the detail but they work and there are quite a few of them as well with different sculpts. Overall, very impressed with the component quality and board design!
The box is ok. The lid is pretty thin when compared to a lot of my games I’ve reviewed and I could feel that instantly when removing it. There is an insert but it doesn’t go very far in actually keeping the components organized. There is a single separator but for the most part you will want to bag up everything to put in the box and I suspect the insert is mainly in there to give the thin box more stability. That said, it does add to the western theme because of the way it looks, so not all bad.
Visual Appeal /Theme
Super heavy western visuals and theme here which should be pretty obvious based around the name of the game. They did an excellent job all around incorporating the theme into all aspects of the game play which I just adore. Heck even moving around the board you will feel that theme if you have a mount which lets you travel further. If you are an outlaw the NPC Sheriff mini will move around the board when story cards are activated, always chasing you. Other players might get the urge to try and arrest you to gain some money. I mean I am struggling to think of something that DOESN’T feel thematic in this game. Also, the artwork on all the poker cards and the board look really nice with the board itself really standing out as the buildings and areas on the board look excellent with lots of detail to be seen. I would say if you are interested in this particular western style theme, then this is THE western game to have as it incorporates so many details from that time period.
The rulebook is pretty good overall. It gets you up and playing pretty quickly and whenever I needed to reference something or had a question about a particular action, it was easy to locate the answer. There were a couple little things that left me a tad confused that had to do with specific character abilities (since each character has a unique ability) but overall I had little trouble understanding how to play. Additionally, the game comes with some reference sheets that can be given to each player that detail each of the actions and the turn order. I’m always happy to see these in games as they not only make the game run smoother for everyone, but they also make the game much easier to learn.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
As with many sandbox style games, the player interaction is completely dependent on the players. This game doesn’t force you to interact with other players but does give you incentive to. For example let’s say Tom over there is wrangling cattle like a pro, moving up and selling them to the train and you notice he’s gaining a butt load of Legendary points…….well, someone BETTER do something about that or he is going to win!
And that brings me to my biggest, and possibly only gripe about the game. There can be a runaway leader here if other players don’t do anything to prevent it. And the bad thing is that this leader could just do the same thing over and over again to win such as wrangling cattle. Another player could be up at the mine trying to find gold having a grand ol time when they notice this wrangler. Well, now they have to drop what they are doing to try and hinder them with a duel or perhaps even try to wrangle cattle as well to catch up. Honestly it does seem that the cattle action is pretty powerful. And as much as I wanted to try and mine for gold, it just never seemed to pan out…….
Now that being said, I still have a ton of fun playing the game. But when I can see someone a good 10 legendary points ahead of me on the track, it does take some of the wind outta my sails. This is game that you will get better and more efficient at the more you play. So a person that has played multiple times playing against someone that has never played before will have a leg up. For example, a new player may be like, “hmmm I think I’ll use a couple actions playing poker in town” and that’s fine! BUT what they don’t know is that playing poker isn’t NEARLY the point generator as some of the other actions can be whereas the veteran player would.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
The game can run pretty long with the max number of players and downtime between turns can be lengthy as well since each player gets three actions. And since there are so many different action you can possible take, this is not a game you want to play with those that suffer from Analysis Paralysis. The thing is, the more players you have, the more possible interaction you will see. Based on the board size though I would say that four players would be my pick for player count. You will still get that interaction and the turns won’t be unbearable.
Lots of replayability in this game due to the high number of unique characters to choose from starting out. Looking even further past those though and you will find two large decks of story cards that change up the flavor each time, although I felt most of the time players didn’t really work towards those. Rather they just completed normal actions and were like, “oh! I also completed that story aspect!” They still add to the replayability but more for flavor than anything. The biggest amount of replay value comes from the fact that you can do whatever you want, the very essence of a sandbox game. One game you can focus on mining or another you can focus on playing poker and taking your winnings to the cabaret. Yet another game you can become an outlaw and pester players or become a Marshall and try to keep the peace. This is one of the biggest reasons why I love this style of game so much.
The Fuzzy Llama Silver Seal of Distinction
Positive Final Thoughts
As far as western themed games go this is one of the best. It incorporates SO much from that time period and it brings it in so well. The gameplay is fun and the actions are interesting and I really love the components, especially that general store. Also the items are just great and the fact that you can effectively gain more end game points just from leveling up items is awesome.
Negative Final Thoughts
It still doesn’t dethrone my fav sandbox game, Star Wars: Outer Rim however I think it ties Xia: Legends of a Drift System. It still suffers from the lengthy down time between turns like most sandbox style games, especially at higher player counts. I’m worried that some of the actions are not balanced with others and runaway leader can and will happen if players just leave each other alone.