Updated: Feb 11
Player Count: 2-6
Published by: Kolossal Games
Designed by: Hervé Lemaître
I like sandboxes, in fact, aside from some moody teenager called Anakin, who doesn’t like them? they’re a lot of fun and unless you leave the lid off them overnight and let the rain and the neighbours cat get at them then they can provide countless hours of fun and options. Unfortunately my kids wouldn’t let me play in theirs when they were younger but thankfully Herve Lemaitre has created a sandbox that us adults can play in, and it’s arguably more fun!
So you wanna be a cowboy?
In Western Legends players will be competing to be the most legendary player. Whether or not that title extends to real life rather than just the game is entirely down to you. Players will pick a character and a mini to represent their player and take their starting items. All other unused minis will be used as the sheriff and the bandits. On a player's turn they have three actions to perform and it’s here that I’m going to give the vaguest of vague rules summaries just because there’s so much to do here.
First you have a choice of taking two poker cards, $20 or a combination of one card and $10. Then you can take your three actions. You have a choice of moving three spaces, taking a work action which will net you $10, playing a card with an action on it or performing an action on one of the action spaces. Just on the action spaces alone you have a load of options which I’ll just list. Mining, buying goods at a trading post that include new mounts, weapons and provisions, playing poker, healing at the doctors, entertaining yourself at the Cabaret, wrangling or rustling cattle and depositing gold nuggets at the bank or even robbing it. Throw in the fact that you can, duel, rob or even arrest opposing players gives you a ranch full of options.
Just in case you think there’s not enough choices you then have one more choice. Do you become a Marshall or an Outlaw? Certain actions will give you a marshall or a wanted point and you will move you up on the respective track. But you can only move up on one of these.
The wanted track will only give you rewards on every other space but will give you victory points at the end of your turn, the number being dependent on where you are on the track. The Marshall track will give you rewards on every space, even victory points but it will also give you VPs at the end of the game depending on where you are on the track.
Don’t fret too much about which track to climb up as it’s possible to switch tracks. To switch from the Marshall to the wanted track just do something naughty. To switch the other way you first need to get yourself arrested, you lose a lot of your stuff but it does take that target off your back.
I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride!
I want to start with the big question. The question that everyone always asks at the start of this game, whether you're new to the game or you’ve got loads of plays under your gun belt. “What do I do first?” Western Legends gives you so many choices that picking a starting path is just as daunting as learning the game itself. There are two ways to answer that question. One, throw in the goals variant. They are easy to add in and give players a little bit of a direction to start for. Second, choose your track. Half the fun of this game is deciding if you want to be a goody two shoes Marshall or if you want to be an outlaw. Both have their pros and cons which I’ll get to but they both also give you some guidance on how you maybe want to play the game. If you decide to be a Marshall for example then robbing the bank probably isn’t the best move (although it is arguably the most fun)
The answer you’ll most likely get from the game though is “what do YOU want to do? Even though it’s a big decision, once you do get into the flow and carve out a path for yourself it’s fantastic and I find the idea that a game can give you that many paths to victory and that freedom is fascinating.
One of my favourite things in games is multi use cards and all the tough and interesting choices they give you. Western Legends has this in spades….and hearts, clubs and diamonds as well. I’m pretty sure Western Legends has the most multi use cards that I’ve seen in a game and they are all encompassed in a standard 52 card deck. You can use them in fights (high card wins), as regular cards for poker, for the actions, and for their reactions. Deciding whether or not to keep your high cards for its action or if it’s going to be more beneficial in a fight or poker is always a tricky decision. Especially when you realise that everyone else will see you play that Ace and now they know that you’re probably easier pickings in a fight. It’s such a simple way to get so much gameplay out of what, by modern gaming standards anyway, can be a small deck of cards. If that isn’t enough then there’s always the chance to get that Uber turn. Some of the cards give you extra actions and movement. If you manage to get a few of these in hand then you can string them together to create a big turn and that feels great.
Ride cowboy ride
Where this game shines though is how well that entire sandbox of options knits together so well with the theme. It manages to incorporate most of the things you associate with the Wild West and pour them all into one game, much like sand in a sandbox. None of it ever feels forced or too overblown though (unlike the previous metaphor) The theme runs through everything you do, just look at the list of things you can do to see proof of that. But it’s the extra touches. The story cards that players can complete each have their own unique flavour text on them that just screams to be read out with a cowboy drawl (points should be deducted if you don’t). Each of the characters are based on real people and their special abilities are themed towards each of them.
Even with the vast amount of choices in the game you don’t need to do all of it to win. Don’t fancy mining for gold? then don’t do it. Do you like the idea of hanging around town playing poker and going shopping? Then fill your cowboy boots. Unlike a lot of games, not doing the things you don’t like won’t lose you the game. Equally, doing more of the things you love will still keep you in the running. Western Legends let’s you make your own fun but never to the detriment of being competitive.
Let’s talk about tracks. I mentioned the theme earlier and one of the things that helps bring that theme to life is the Marshall and the Wanted tracks. I’ve already said why I think these are a great way to help decide a path but they’re also a great way to bring some character to the game. The minute you start up on one of those tracks you can’t help but take on an air of a character. No doubt outlaws will turn to any Marshall’s and start taunting them to come and arrest them. In fact one of my favourite things to do as an outlaw is mine for gold nuggets, deposit them into the bank then immediately rob it. There's nothing like robbing a bank whilst waving at the sheriff in the office nearby whilst you're doing it. Being as though the bank is right near the sheriffs office though you’d best be prepared to make a run for it. If you want to get into character then Western Legends gives you everything you need.
Going out in a blaze of glory
I really like how this game scales. I’ve not played it at two but at the other player counts it works well. However the game can change depending on that count. At the lower counts there tends to be less interaction on the board and unless anyone starts rocketing you the wanted track, people tend to leave each other to their own devices. As the player count creeps up then the beautiful chaos ensues. There can be more of a mix of people on the separate tracks and with all the more people on the board you may find yourself next to a Marshall/Outlaw a lot more frequently and because you don’t have to go out of your way and upset your plans to chase a player down, there tends to me more attempts at arrests and it injects more tension into the game, specially if your an outlaw trying to avoid the marshalls.
With those higher player counts though it can bring with it a touch of down time. If the players before you get into some fights or some poker games that you're not able to be a part of then you can find yourself twiddling your six shooter. Luckily it’s not every round that happens but like with most games, more players can come with more down time.
Another thing with the larger player counts is that anyone on the wanted track will have a massive target painted on their back and I usually find it best to let new players know this just as a friendly warning. If they still choose that path then they’re fair game for any posse.
Yoohoo, I'll make you famous!
Now I know that this open world style of game won’t appeal to everyone. For some there may be just too much choice, but if this sounds like something that appeals to you, then Western Legends will give you such a fun thematic experience, a ton of interaction with your friends, some brilliant decisions and will make you want to saddle up your horse and ditch your car for the ride home.
Western Legends. Best played to any cowboy based Bon Jovi song.