Two years ago, Tasty Minstrel Games released Pioneer Days. It was a card drafting and dice rolling game about traveling the Oregon Trail. This year they released a sequel of sorts, called Old West Empresario. It is by a different designer, but it uses the same artist. (I think of it kind of like when J.J. Abrams took over Star Wars from George Lucas.)
In this game, you are not traveling the Oregon Trail, but instead you are tasked with building a new, thriving town in this western part of the United States that you traveled so arduously to reach. You will attract new settlers and compete to build the best town and become the new state capital. This game plays 2-4 players, age 14+. It takes approximately one hour to play and will be released at GenCon for approximately $60, but can be preordered from other sites for about $40.
- Place the six Die Number Tiles in the middle of the playing area in order from one to six. Then, in a column underneath each tile, place two Building Tiles face-up to create a starting supply of twelve.
- Shuffle the fourteen silver Wanted Cards, and deal three face-up above the Die Number Tiles. These are bonus goals everyone is competing for. Then, find the three gold Wanted Cards that match the silver ones, and place each gold card on top of the silver card.
- Shuffle the remaining Building Tiles and either form face-up stacks near the Die Number Tiles.
- Create a supply of Population Tokens (victory points) equal to fifteen times the number of players.
- Gather dice equal to two times the number of players, plus one, i.e., five in a two-player game.
- Give each player a Town Hall Tile, three coins, and two Character Cards. Players will pick either the Standard Empresario character or one of the unique characters on the opposite side of their card. Each character will also receive three Building Tiles. Choose one, placing it face down next to your Town Hall Tile to indicate it is under construction. The remaining two buildings are discarded.
- Randomly choose a starting player, and you’re ready to start the game!
Game Play – Each round begins by rolling the dice and placing them on their corresponding Die Number Tile. You will then do the following steps in order:
- Choose one die from a Die Number Tile.
- Optionally choose to pay one coin to increase or decrease the die’s pip value.
- According to the final die value, do one of the following:
- Claim a Building Tile from the Die Number Tile column, and build it orthogonally adjacent to a face-up building in your town. Then, immediately replace the Building Tile from the corresponding Die Number Tile column.
- Discard a Building Tile from the Die Number Tile column, and receive three coins. Then, immediately replace the Building Tile from the corresponding Die Number Tile column.
- Activate your town by carrying out all the actions on the face-up Building Tiles matching the pip value of the die you chose. Your Town Hall will always activate, and its ability will allow you to flip a face-down Building Tile face-up.
The game will end at the end of a round when any player has constructed fifteen buildings, the population tokens run out, or the building tiles run out. Tally the score based on the score pad, and highest score wins!
I’m not really sure what I was expecting from this game, as it was billed as a sequel (of sorts) to Pioneer Days. I appreciate the fact that they kept the artist the same, as it tied the two games together even more, and made me create a house-rule of playing the games back-to-back, totaling the score, and degerming the ultimate winner. When it came down to it though, I felt that this game was fine for what it was, but not worth the $60 price tag. The components are nice thick cardboard and the art is very good, but if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I would have even given this game a second look, if it wasn’t a “sequel.”
The variable player powers you can choose to start with are a staple in a lot of games now, especially Tasty Minstrel Games. If you are a regular gamer, you wouldn’t even bother starting with everyone having the same standard side for the first game. The dice rolling and drafting is akin to many other games. However, the choices feel a little less interesting. You either take a new building, get money, or activate buildings that have the same die value. The first two options build your engine, and the second runs it, but I was hoping for more.
The scoring also seemed a bit overly complicated, as so much of it had to do with adjacency or how many of certain building types you had in your town. It seemed like 25% of the game time was spent scoring the game, which was a bit of slog to keep people that time invested after the game ends, when they’d either like to play another game or go home. I know this game is all about tile placement, and positioning your tiles correctly for optimal points, but when there’s about twentyish lines for scoring it’s a bit much. Lastly, I disliked what felt like a race aspect to the game. It tells you in the rules that there are three ways to trigger the end of the game, but is also honest enough to tell you that most of the time, it will be by someone building fifteen buildings. I’d say it’s a game screaming for an expansion, but I’m worried that would just exacerbate the scoring problem.
My recommendation is watch some videos and demo the game if you have a chance. If it looks like your cup of tea, buy it. I personally am at a point in my collection where a game has to blow me away to make the cut in terms of keep it or not, and unfortunately this game is a not for me.
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Copyright 2019 Stuart Dunn
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