Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Monday 28 May 2018

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Pioneer Days

Game: Pioneer Days

Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games

Designer: Matthew Dunstan, Chris Marling

Year: 2017

I have a confession - I'm a little bit addicted to Tasty Minstrel Games. In particular I'm addicted to their Kickstarter deluxified editions, but in my experience, all of their games have a high production quality that makes me really want them on my shelf. 

In addition to custom printed dice, cow meeples and some odd colour choices for wooden wagon tokens, Pioneer Days drew me in because it is primarily a dice drafting games. Similar games, such as Seasons and Pulsar 2849, earlier this year, have found a place amongst some of our favourite games, so how have I got on with Pioneer Days?

Pioneer Days is a dice drafting game for two to four players, set in the Old West. Each round is a week where you will travel through a number of towns, trying to gain their favours by fulfilling their needs. You'll have wagons, filled with equipment, wood, medicine and golden nuggets tha you acquire along the way, as well as potentially building yourself a heard of cattle and recruiting some townsfolk during the journey. Your journey isn't without peril though. The dice you don't draft will affect the disaster track. If you're badly prepared then certain disasters might be very bad news;

  • During a raid, you lose half of your silver.
  • During a famine, you need to spend 1 silver per cattle or lose the cattle.
  • During a disease, you need 1 medicine per townsfolk or lose the townsfolk.
  • During a storm, you need 1 wood per wagon or suffer damage to your wagons.

The dice draft is core to the game and can hold the games hardest choices because of all the factors that build your decision. Firstly you could draft for yourself, hate draft so your opponents don't get what they need, draft to prevent the advancement of disasters that will be devastating for you, or draft tactically to advance disasters that are bad for the other players at the table. 

Even once you've chosen your dice there are then multiple options for what to do with it. Will you swap it for silver? Use it to recruit townsfolk in the corresponding slot? Or, use it for its action to gain equipment, cattle or similar? We've only played with two players and so the game has moved quickly because neither of us tend to suffer with analysis paralysis, but there are certain players I might avoid playing this game with due to the risks of a very slow dice draft!

The other key aspect I like about the game is the ways you can specialise. Although all of the character boards have a basic side, you'll quickly move onto the unique advance side. There are 8 different characters with quite strong special abilities, which we've found you can't ignore if you want to win the game. In addition, I have particularly favoured the equipment strategy, where you can focus the equipment you buy so that certain dice rolls get you a motherload of resources or abilities. Finally, the townsfolk you recruit will have end-game victory points that also point you in a certain direction. All-in-all it's likely that everyone at the table will have a different strategy, but if you're paying attention, it will also be very obvious what everyone's strategy is, so hate drafting of dice and even townfolk or equipment can come into play.

There's so many positive aspects to Pioneer Days but unfortunately, for me, it falls flat. I like the influence of the disaster track causes a really good tension, but that it's overbearing on the game. I feel less freedom with my strategy because two or three dice I draft are about disaster mitigation rather than building for the future. I often focus on equipment, but that means that when I need some wood or medicine for a disaster, it's really slow going if I haven't boosted these skills. Ultimately I just find the game a little too frustrating. 

I like games to give me positive choices, not negative ones, and that's why, even though I admire a lot of elements of the design, the Yellow Meeple can only give Pioneer Days a 5/10.

Pioneer Days was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available for an RRP of £54.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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