Hello and welcome to the first ever Game Spotlight by Pub Meeple! What is a Spotlight you ask? Great question!
Briefly put (you can read the in-depth version here), when we find a game we love, we don’t want to just review it and move on. We want to spend some quality time with the game to produce some useful content to enhance the game for you. This might include things like foam core insert plans, player aids, and other game resources. We may do a podcast or video about the game. Basically, we just want to interact with games we love which will turn into cool stuff we can share with you, our readers.
We will start each spotlight with a Spotlight Article – where you are now – where we each tell you why we love and recommend the game. So, here we go! Let’s head on down the trail!
As the least euro-ey guy of our group, I feel like I need to be the counter-voice of any game that’s strong in that category. Especially when there are cards and deck management involved. A game like that will need to pass some kind of initiatory ritual to be let in as none of these are my strong suits. But before this sounds like I’m getting all judgemental on your jam, let me say that Great Western Trail is a game I get. This is a milestone for me and I’m pretty excited about it.
Let me start with the deck management aspect. This seems like a category most people enjoy or is at least very popular in many games. If you’re fuzzy on the mechanic, it’s where you have your own deck of cards from where you draw a hand and get the benefit of played cards. Games like Dominion and Star Realms (not to mention Magic the Gathering) is built entirely on this mechanic, and I’m terrible at those games. But Great Western Trail brings this down to a manageable piece among its moving parts. Independent of text, you just have to know your colors and numbers (like in Uno) and work toward a fairly simple goal each run through the trail. You spend each of these runs through the trail working on your hand and improving your deck and from what I could tell the veteran deck-builders at the table were enjoying the challenge as much as I was.
But I said this was a euro and there are certainly many elements of the mid-to-heavy euro you’ve come to know and love. In fact, there’s probably enough in it that I’m unaware of a few of them too. But I will say this, I finally got to play a satisfying worker placement system that had a movement mechanic for the worker instead of a raw placement from a pool of workers – I’ve been waiting for something just like this. Up until this point, Istanbul came the closest but straddles the strategic abstract genre where Great Western Trail keeps it simple and tidy. This is the system on which you build your engine to get just the right combination of actions as you make your trail run and it felt different from any other worker game I’ve played.
So yeah, I’m a big fan of this game if for no other reason it has cast a new light on systems that have been lost on me before while not losing the spirit of a classic euro.
I was excited about this game before Essen, and after hearing the initial wave of good press and positive reviews I felt pretty confident that I’d at least enjoy this game. I’d played a couple Alexander Pfister games previously, Mombasa and Isle of Skye, and had really enjoyed them. In Mombasa in particular, I really liked how he combined so many mechanics into a game that seemed so well integrated and tightly designed. It could have been a trainwreck with everything he packed into that design. Pfister has done the same thing again with Great Western Trail. The way the worker placement mechanism is handled, the deck management and the spatial puzzle of where to place your building tiles all come together and just work well in this game.
The way the worker placement mechanic is employed in this game, each player can set their own pace as they travel the trail to the train yards where they will be sending their hand of cows off to various cities. I really enjoyed this and the way that it allows you to change your pace from run to run. Tied into this element is the ability to place your own buildings on various spots of the forking paths. Something I like about how this was implemented is that everyone has the same buildings, so there are no special buildings that an opponent will have access to that you do not. Using these buildings, you essentially create your own version of the trail, and as an additional bonus, some of your buildings will serve as obstacles to your opponents that require them to pay you as they pass. Let me just say that it’s great fun to make Bryan, err I mean an opponent, pay as his meeple travels down the road.
The deck building and set collection elements of this game turn out to be some of the most strategic aspects of this design. The cattle cards are drawn face up, so like the buildings, their values are known to all players once they are on the table. Unlocking the ability that allows you to cull your deck is crucial, but early on you might just want to concentrate on adding more cows of a higher quality to your deck. Your deck is also where the only real randomness comes into the game as using building actions you might sell some of your cows, placing them into your discard pile, and then draw some more to replace them. If you haven’t managed your deck well you might get something you don’t want or that is less valuable than the cows you just discarded. Finding a good balance will be, I suspect, one of the challenges that will keep me coming back to this game.
If you can’t tell already, I like this game and I would recommend it to anyone looking for the kind of medium weight euro that will keep you thinking about it long after you’ve figured out the winner and packed everything back into the box.
Like many of us, Euros are where I got my start in this modern board game era. Games like (Settlers of) Catan, Powergrid and Puerto Rico are what really got me paying attention to modern games. Since then, I have wandered a bit from those roots to more story driven and dice-rolling types of games. But now I am being drawn back to the heavier Euros by designers like Alexander Phister. Enter: Great Western Trail.
When I first heard about this game I was kind of meh on the theme. Cows? No, I prefer space cows. Or spaceships, anyway. But the more I heard about the game, the more I wanted to try it. And when I did, I actually fell in love with the theme. Cowboys chasing their cattle down a trail to ship them off on trains? It works really well and is a blast!
The first thing to catch my attention about this game was the combination of mechanisms. It has spatial action selection, deck building with an emphasis on hand management and upgrades via moving pieces from a player board to the main board – all things I like. Seeing all of these in action together is a thing of beauty. Really fun!
My favorite of these is probably the spacial actions. As you move down the trail you come to buildings that act as action spaces. You can build some of your own buildings onto the trail as well which allows you to create some interesting combos and synergy between them. The trail forks in several places so picking the right path to move down or place your buildings on is a fun challenge.
Games we spotlight are games we love and I love and recommend Great Western Trail.
When I first heard about this game I was completely uninterested. Westerns are probably my least favorite of any genre: movies, music, board games…this game simply slipped on by as there were just so many others catching my eye.
Enter Brian and Gary. Both of these guys were extremely excited about Great Western Trail. I was still less than interested but after hearing more and more about it from various sources my interest started to grow. The thing that interested me most was when I heard about the deck building aspect. I was curious how a euro would incorporate deck building and all the other elements without being overbearing on the game. Great Western Trail does it with such subtlety that it’s magnificently genius.
The goal here is to have the most diverse and expensive cows possible once you reach the end of the trail. Every time you drive your cattle along the trail you have more and more opportunities to buy up different types of cattle. Once you start getting more of the high-end cows you’ll need to get rid of the generic ones. As per standard deck building fare, culling is essential to comboing properly and it’s no stranger here. I like that in order to cull you must sacrifice your geographical reach (train position) as well as ignore a potentially powerful building action.
Hand management is at the forefront of this game with many actions discarding cards you need to score the maximum amount of points. I like the flexibility you have in taking as much time as you need to manage your hand. Go through trail too slow, however, and you might miss out on some much needed sales.
Overall, I really liked Great Western Trail. It seemed a bit long for what it was but all of the mechanisms worked together nicely, like a well greased axle on a newly covered wagon.
So here we are at the end of this article but this is just the beginning of the Spotlight. We will be covering Great Western Trail all month with resources for the game like foam core insert plans, a player aid and more – something new each week.
PLEASE NOTE: THE DEADLINE TO ENTER THIS GIVEAWAY HAS PASSED.
One more little thing – maybe the reason you came here. We will be giving away a Pub Meeple designed and pre-assembled foam core insert for Great Western Trail shipped anywhere in the continental United States. This does not include a copy of the game – you will need to provide that – but if you have the game you can store your copy in this insert to make set up, play, and tear down a breeze. You can see an image of the insert below.
The only question remaining is how you can enter to win this insert so I’ll tell you. Each way listed below counts as one entry, so you have 5 possible ways to enter. Please note that you must be listed as a subscriber follower or member of the social network at the time of the drawing to be eligible. We will only be shipping this within the continental United States (sorry everyone else, we will try to include you in later giveaways). If you already follow us or are subscribed just follow the rest of the instructions.
3. Follow us on Twitter then retweet our spotlight/giveaway announcement (it will be pinned to our Twitter profile) with the hashtag: #GWTFoamCoreGiveaway
4. Follow us on Instagram then share a picture of your favorite game and tell us why. Include the hashtag: #GWTFoamCoreGiveaway
5. Join our Facebook group then post a picture of your favorite game in the group with the hashtag #GWTFoamCoreGiveaway
You have until the end of Sunday, March 26th to enter this contest. We will announce the winner on Thursday, March 30th so stay tuned.
PLEASE NOTE: THE DEADLINE TO ENTER THIS GIVEAWAY HAS PASSED.