Thursday, 4 May 2017

Cowfight at the OK Corral

Thursday night club was on, and although Ian couldn't make it, Joe stepped in and slipped into his seat with ease. He'd brought Gold West with him, but I wasn't mad keen on that. Then he suggested Great Western Trail, and I wasn't mad keen on that either.

"What does Sam want to play?" Andrew wondered aloud, but as I had no agenda/idea, after discussions we returned to the idea of Great Western Trail, and ended up setting it up. Having done so - we were off!

This was my fifth play of GWT and you'd think that might give me some small advantage, but I remain inscrutably bad at it. I decided early on to try and build a hand of good cattle, but doing so costs money, and it's cheaper if you have more cowboys, but cowboys cost money... and so on. I pictured Martin doing some sort of Stewart Lee-style comedy routine based on the diminishing returns of plaintive optimism... although the game experience is far from that. Every turn has the potential to be lucrative, but I found myself making largely sub-optimal moves to a great degree, with the exception of the turn when I hired three (three! count 'em) workers, causing Joe and Andrew to make impressed noises.

The noises were mostly cowboy based though, as Joe started something of an accent theme to the evening. He was taking long enough over his turns that we - or I - felt obliged to rib him about it, but secretly I was worried that he might know what he was doing.

In fact in mid-game I thought it was a battle between me and Joe - Andrew had almost no workers and seemed to be dawdling on a scenic walk rather than driving cattle. But at the game end he sped up, hurtling his train down the track and delivering to the well-monied distant climes of Sante fe and so on... the 24 points he got from cattle delivery delivered him to a very convincing first place.

Andrew 81
Joe 67
Sam 64

Despite my crestfallen and slightly ruddy face come 10.45, I really enjoyed GWT - like Railways of the World, it's game you can have fun losing - and unlike Railways, you can delude yourself you're doing better than you are.


  1. That was my third play and it was very enjoyable. I felt like my early game was quite productive, but towards the end I'd slowed to a crawl. I found myself with a bloated cattle deck and unable to cycle through it fast enough to get to the good stuff, ending up with minus points on the cities.
    I twice passed up the opportunity to buy a station master, and that was probably a mistake - my reasoning was that I didn't want to lose momentum on the railways by losing the engineer - but by the end I think I was at the back on that track.
    It's nice to get into a solid, chewy Euro and I do like repeated plays; as I remarked last night, these sorts of games are never fun on your first game, so you have to play a few times to get the payback in enjoyment.

    What none of us seems to have tried as a strategy, at least in the games I've played, is going for the craftsmen and building high-end buildings. That could be interesting. Anyway I really like it, especially the hand management aspect - thanks for indulging us Sam, and thanks for the write-up.

    And sorry for the accents.

  2. Yes, my early experience of building buildings hadn't been productive so I'd like to try concentrating on it more. I think I concentrated on cattle so much that I neglected other areas. It's a game that seems to suggest specialism but reward diversity...

    The other thing about GWT is that narrative goal is 'take cattle to Kansas City' but doing so gets you money, and money isn't worth much at the end of the game. OK you do get points as well for delivery, but the point I'm making is that the story is very much the journey you make, rather than the destination.

  3. Yeah, psychologically it feels like delivering to Kansas and building up those city markers is the backbone of the game, but they don't really pay out the points that you'd expect.
    It's funny when games do that, it's a bit like a film setting up a plot which it then veers away from.

    The specialism vs diversity thing is interesting - in Russian Railroads you *have* to specialise, and you can't change tack halfway through and expect to win. In GWT you probably, as you say, need to do a bit of everything, although that sort of happens naturally, since the stops along the trail turn all the different dials.

    They're different games, of course - and GWT is stronger for the unknown element of the hand-management. That for me is really where this game shines - it's just *fun* trying to maximise your hand of four cards along each journey - Russian Railroads has no such element. Don't know why I'm comparing them in any case - I like them both.

    1. Me too!

      Though I think I prefer the openness of GWT - at the moment, anyway.

  4. Really enjoyed Great Western Trail. It's true I started slowly, but once I'd bought a building that gave me a chance to swap cards just before Kansas seemed to help a lot. Nice to have that option.

    Plus, avoiding minus points on the railroad was a main focus for me.

    Glad to have given it another go, before it falls out of favour before coming back again in about, ooh, spring next year. Cheers for the evening.