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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Tuesday 22 May 2018


Game: Pioneer Days

Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games

Designer: Matthew Dunstan, Chris Marling

Year: 2017

Pioneer Days is a 2-4 player dice game in which you lead a wagon train across the Oregon Trail. You will roll dice into a common pool to determine which actions are available then draft these dice to select which action you do. However the remaining dice will determine which of the 4 disaster tracks rise, so sometimes preventing disaster can be more important than furthering your goals. If you can manage to prepare for disasters and have a little left over you can trade in your goods for favours, and in the wild west someone owing you a favour is worth it's weight in gold! Or you could simply mine gold. Gold is also happens to be worth it's weight in gold!

Pioneer Days is a dice drafting game, at the start of each round the dice bag will be filled with 1 set of the 5 dice, plus one additional set for every player. Each turn the active player will draw a number of dice from the bag equal to the number of players +1. Players will then take turns picking one of these dice until only 1 die is left. The colour of this die dictates which disaster track raises (black being especially bad, raising all 4 tracks!). Each die you take gives you 3 possible actions, you can sell the die for money, with each face being worth a different amount, you can collect the townsfolk associated with the die's face, or you can collect the associated resource.

The 6 main collectable things in the game are townsfolk, equipment, gold, medicine, wood and cattle. Townsfolk cards give you either instant or ongoing effects, give you end game scoring bonuses, and don't even take up space in your wagons! Equipment allows you to build engines easier, some of them give you ongoing effects, but many give rewards when you pick certain die faces! Gold is drawn at random from the bag, each token giving 1-3 nuggets and therefore 1-3 victory points should you manage to hold onto it until the game ends. Medicine protects your villager cards from dying of dysentery, always an important thing on the Oregon Trail! Wood allows you to patch up your wagons during storms, failing to have enough wood will net you negative victory points and, as your wagons get damaged they can hold less goods! Finally Cattle will net you points every time you stop at a town (everyone loves milk!), although the pesky things do demand feeding!

Pioneer Days during a 2-player game, the player colours are 4 tones of beige/brown. Very thematic, but not so easy to remember who is what colour.

As you play the 4 disaster tracks will likely fill up multiple times, you can suffer raids where half your money gets stolen, famines where you have to pay for food for your cattle rather than letting them graze, diseases where you have to give all your townsfolk medicine and storms that damage your wagons. A large part of the game is ensuring that you have enough resources to keep yourself on the road when these disaster's strike, or forcing these disasters to happen when your opponents will suffer the most!

Pioneer Days has a lot going on for a dice game, the drafting can get extremely tactical and the variety of townsfolk and equipment leads to a lot of customization, It's very possible that one player can seek victory through amassing a herd of cattle, while another spends their time panning for gold. Add in the variable player powers and the 5 varying villager decks (pick 2) and you have a game that is different every time. Unfortunately for a dice game I feel this serves to slow the gameplay down as much as anything. Townsfolk often have a small paragraph explaining their effects and reading through them causes the game's pacing top stutter.

Each Character has a different starting resource set and a different power, of course over the course of the game you can expand on these by buying more wagons, recruiting townsfolk and rustling? cattle.

The concept of the disasters is a great one, but I found that most of the time I simply prepared for them well in advance, it rarely seemed difficult to avoid the penalties unless you really overstretched yourself. And therein lies a fun-killer, going for a focused strategy is often limited by a resource, you can't go too cattle heavy because you need too much money during famines, you can't collect an army of townsfolk because you won't be able to get enough medicine etc. This drives everyone towards a more middle of the line approach, which is sound from a tactical point of view, but a little boring when everyone does it.

There is certainly an issue with the two-player option too. A large part of the game involves picking which of the dice suits you best. In a two player game you use 3 dice, so on your turn you pick one of the 3, or one of 2 if you are the second player. If you compare to a 4 player game, the first 2 players are gifted with a  choice of 5/4 dice respectively, making it far more likely for a face they want to be rolled! When equipment tiles are as powerful as doubling the effect of a die roll getting the right face can be extremely critical, and having this limited choice is punishing for no benefit. Ultimately Pioneer Days is a concept that I love, that has resulted in a game that I tolerate. It ends up being too clunky and slow to be the game it should have been, and while certainly better at a higher player count it falls down at two players.


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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