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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Thursday 22 August 2019

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Old West Empresario

Game: Old West Empresario

Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games

Designer: Stan Kordonskiy

Year: 2019

Old West Empresario is a sequel to Pioneer Days from Tasty Minstrel Games. The two games have different designers but a fair few other elements in common. The games are both set in the Wild West, they have a common art style and one of their cores mechanisms is dice drafting. Pioneer Days didn’t shine for me and a year later, it’s accurate to say it was forgettable, however, dice drafting in general is still a favourite mechanism of mine.

Old West Empresario is a dice drafting and tile laying game for 2-4 players in which each player is competing to build the most valuable town that attracts the most settlers through its range of amenities and the convenience with which those amenities are laid out in the town.

The game is played over the course of a number of rounds until any of the end game triggers are hit. In each round the pool of dice will be rolled and assigned to the corresponding column on the central market. Then, in turn, players will take a single dice, either to take a tile from that column in the market, or to activate all tiles in their town that match the number on the dice face. When all players have taken two dice, one die will remain which activates one building for every player matching the dice value.
Each tile has a few attributes. A tile's colour matches its type, for example churches are purple, saloons are blue. Each building type includes some iconography to explain what scoring benefits there are for being placed adjacent to other buildings in your town. All except the green and white tiles show a dice face which denotes what dice is needed to activate it. Green tiles give you an immediate bonus when built and white tiles are all some kind of end game scoring for meeting certain objectives in your town.

There is no shortage of ways to score points in Old West Empresario. Just looking at the end game scoring sheet is a clue to how many different opportunities there are and the way that building's score is explained in a player aid that takes up the back of the whole A4 instruction book! During the game you are likely to collect some settlers, which in themselves are points. You'll also gain money, which can be worth points. Most building types score points for their adjacencies. White buildings have their own end game scoring. There are bonus points for meeting the objectives of wanted cards. There's an oil drop, cotton or railroad symbol on each tile that also score, each in a different way. For a game that's mechanically really rather simple, that's a whole lot of stuff and there's certainly games where I get close to the end and realise I've totally forgotten about some aspect or another or failed to observe someone overtaking me on a specific competitive objective. For myself and Amy playing together, as two experienced and familiar gamers, it's not so bad, but I can imagine teaching the game to someone new and causing a lot of frustration as I run through the score sheet and people get disappointed at the things they forgot.

The game offers more complexity than its rules in a number of other ways too. Every decision is a trade-off. Would you prefer to collect places that all activate on one dice face or do you want to diversify? Which tile should you draft? One that has the right number, or is good for an end game bonus or has great benefits in a certain position in your city for adjacencies. I can see how players who want to optimise might really suffer from some analysis paralysis here, but if you are willing to play with some gut instinct then it's really satisfying to explore the many different available options. There's not even been a hint of a dominant strategy so far in our games and every scoresheet is an example of a totally different strategy at play, scoring points in all different ways.

If that's not enough variety then there's variable player powers too. If you want to, then every player can play with the basic, matching power, which still feels very powerful, but the unique powers are more interesting and really effective in the game. With so much going on, we have noticed a couple of pitfalls that you can fall into. I've already mentioned forgetting certain scoring opportunities, but it's also possible to trap yourself in a bit of a hole if you look down and realise that all buildings in your town activate with the same resource eg. they all need money or settlers. The Town Hall that all players start with can generate one money, which helps your game not to completely fall apart, but this can be a big mistake. The other area where things can get a bit tricky is if you have a town with lots of a single number - it would be great to have some cubes or tokens to use to keep track of while building's you've activated, since each only activates once.

Overall, I find Old West Empresario to be an excellent game. The wanted cards, variable player powers and sheer variety of ways to score points make the game super replayable. I want to play the game more and more just to find new ways to play, and every game we're not only looking at who has won, but also comparing our scores to previous games to see if we've beaten our high score. Old West Empresario is such a great blend of dice drafting and tile laying that works really seamlessly and it's well worth the effort to get to know the game and make the iconography and scoring complexity become second nature. For the Yellow Meeple it's an 8/10.

Old West Empresario was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available at your friendly local game store for an RRP of £57.99 or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk

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