Several years have passed since Great Western Trail was released and I had managed to not play it since then, partly because I have been playing other things, but also partly because I had tried to avoid it a little bit lame, especially with the box art. I thought that this was some sort of rating anomaly, how could a game about moving cows possibly be exciting, then I realised that I was wrong, that some of my most recent favourites have been games that trade camels, place trains or even make a mural from multi coloured tiles. Games don’t need to be big and brash and full of conflict like Gloomhaven, in fact games with conflict are probably less likely to be the games that draw people to the hobby. People like Stefan Feld and Uwe Rosenburg certainly didn’t make a living off designing games full of theme and conflict.
So it was with these realisations that I purchased Great Western Trail especially given the constant praise that I see it getting from outlets all over, not just on BGG.
What is it all about?
Essentially you are a cow person who is taking your cows to market in Kansas City, along the trail there are hazards (like floods and rockfalls) and buildings to stop at. At these buildings you can take a range of actions, depending on the building – swap cards in your hand, purchase new workers, purchase better cows, build a building – among others. What you want is to be able to have the best hand of cows by the time that you have reached Kansas so that you can sell them for the most money and reap the rewards of this.
There is relatively low interaction in the game, essentially your buildings can become an annoyance to other players by making them use up moves by crossing them (for no benefit) and at times having to pay you a few dollars for the benefit of landing or passing your buildings.
Points are essentially a point salad, and that’s part of the reason why this game is so good – there are so many strategies to winning and building points that it is hard to cut off your opponents from their points, meaning that there is usually no runaway leader, because everyone has the opportunity to gain points in several places. You can:
- Work on getting the best cattle and therefore get points and money for this;
- Work on building – meaning that you can get better benefits along the trail and slow down others;
- Work on recruiting engineers – meaning that you have a better chance at buying train stations and getting the subsequent benefits.
There are even more strategies to win after this, like removing obstacles on the Trail which also lead to points, but the main point is making sure that you focus on doing just a few of these well, because then with your efficiency at high you can essentially be banking points every time that you go around.
Look and feel
I think that the thing that put me off this game is the cover – the staring faces of those workers is really disconcerting, but when you open the box it is a different story…well nope – when you open the box the rules guide is there with the same picture…After that, however, it is a different story – the board has a Great Wild West look and feel to it, and the tokens are that thick, stiff cardboard that clank when you drop and place them. While you will spend most of your time holding, and looking at, a handful of cattle cards, it is still a captivating experience – which will you drip for a few dollars now, and which will you take to Kansas for trading? On top of all of this, Great Western Trail is a Euro game, and that means that it’s strength lay in it’s game play and not in the beauty of it’s art – can you imagine a Feld or Rosenberg being criticised for art? I don’t think so.
After having reservations about this game and why it is on the Top 10 list, I have been really taken by the game play – this is a game that has something new to give every time that you play, at several player counts. I have played primarily at 2 players and it has never felt as though anything is missing at all and has always been a tight game. If you are a fan of immersive, Euro game play I would definitely recommend this as a must buy, however if you are entering the Euro genre and looking for a game that will help you learn to love it, this is also your game. In terms of deep game play and mechanics, I really can’t recommend many Euros above this one, so saddle up cow person!