- Designer: J. Alex Kevern
- Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 45-60 minutes
- Times played: 2, with review copy provided by TMG
Gold West arrived literally the day before I left for Essen – and while I was excited to get it to the table, it has taken a while given the glut of games that comes each October. When I first read about the game, I was interested in seeing how the combination of resource management and area control would play out.
In this game, players are gold prospectors in the gold rush of 1849. The board is a modular affair that uses 8 different terrain sections in a different arrangement each game. Each space gets a facedown mining token of matching color placed on it, and then the hexes which border the central lake have their token flipped over. There are 5 different resources in the game – 3 metals (copper, silver, gold) and 2 building materials (wood and stone). Each colored tile has a preponderance of the matching color resource, but there will occasionally be different colored resources on the backside.
The bottom left corner of the board also has a 3×3 grid for the Boomtown office. Four Boomtown tiles (1×2) are randomly drawn out of the supply of 12 and then arranged so that they all fit within the 3×3 grid. The unused spot is covered with a 4VP marker. 8 investment cards are drawn (out of 20) and placed next to the board. Each player is given a board which has a large area for keeping collected Mining tokens. There is also a supply track on the left where resources are stored as well as an area for keeping your unused wooden bits.
The game is played over a number of rounds until players have placed all their wooden bits. Each round follows the same three phases
Phase 1 – Activate your supply track
In this phase, you move things up your supply track in a Mancala-like method. The vertical track has 4 spaces in it. You choose any one of these spaces, collect all the resources in that space, and then move upwards, dropping off exactly one resource in each space until you reach the top of the track. Any resources still left in your hand once you have gone up the path are then placed in your active “usage area”.
Phase 2 – Use your metals
Now, you look at the metals in your usage area, and you get the chance to use them in three different ways. Once a turn, you can make an investment by turning in matching cubes to that shown on one of the cards next to the board. You get a bonus token worth VP (if there are any left) from the card and then you get a special ability from that card. You can also exert your influence once each turn over the Boomtown offices. You spend resources matching the row and column of any unoccupied office space and then place your influence marker on the office at the intersection. This will get you some end game bonus scoring. Finally, you can ship any number of metals on the shipping track. Move your stagecoach piece along the shipping track. Score points as you pass the VP icons on the track. You should use all the metals you have as any unused metals in your usage area are discarded back to the supply.
Phase 3: Build and Loot
Now, you use your building materials to hopefully build a Camp Piece. Each turn, you must place a camp piece on the board. As with the metal phase, there are three different options available to you. You could build a Camp with a wood OR stone. You place your Camp on any face up mining token on the board and take the resources pictured on that piece. The collected mining token is placed on the corresponding track on your player board. You could build a Settlement if you have both a stone and a wood. You place your camp piece on any face up mining token with an influence piece underneath it. You still collect the mining token and the resources printed on it. However, on the player board, you skip a space on the corresponding track before putting down the token because your settlement is worth 2 influence. If you do not have any building material, you are forced to Loot – a Camp piece is placed in the “Wanted” area of the board (and you lose 1VP). You still choose a faceup Mining token and get the resources pictured on it, but you do not place the token on your player board – it is instead discarded.
Regardless of the way you placed your piece, you have to finish the building action. First, you flip over all the facedown Mining tokens which are adjacent to the space where you chose your Mining token. These spaces will be available from this point on. Then, you place the resources you collected this turn and place them all in any of the four spaces on your supply track – depending on where you place them, you could score VP for each resource placed. The further down the line they are placed, the more VPs that you score.
Play continues around the board until all players have placed all of their Camp pieces. This triggers a final turn where players get a chance to do the first 2 phases (Activate the Supply Track and Use Metals). Once each player has done this, there is a final scoring.
- Groups: 2 points per camp piece in your largest contiguous group on the board
- Boomtown: score the bonuses for each Influence marker in the Boomtown section of the board
- Looting Penalty: the player with the most pieces in the Wanted area loses an additional 1 VP per piece in the area, the player with the second most loses one VP per 2 pieces.
- Terrain Bonus: VPs are awarded to the player with the most and 2nd most influence in each of the terrains.
The winner is the player with the most points. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the least number of pieces in the wanted area.
My thoughts on the game
In short, Gold West exceeded my expectations. The game is very engaging, and the intertwining mechanisms have you constantly watching the game unfold so that you can plan your next move. The resource track is a nice twist, using a somewhat familiar Mancala system, and I’ll admit that it took me the better part of two games to figure out how to position my resources correctly to get them out in the right time/resource combination. You’re always having to balance out needing resources on a current turn (possibly just to avoid having to Loot) with having a glut of resources on a later turn in order to buy investment cards, etc.
I like the variable setup – there are a lot of different ways to set up the board between the terrain hexes, the Boomtown tiles (and their orientation) and the influence cards. It seems a bit fiddly on the first go-round, but once you understand how the different components work together, it’s not bad at all. The different Boomtown tiles in play in a particular game will certainly change the relative values of some of the hexes or cards. This variety should help keep the game fresh after multiple plays.
There are many options on how to use your resources on a given turn, and again, the relative value of the choices might vary depending on which Boomtown offices you happen to be in. The Investment cards have the highest single payoff for VPs, but it does take a lot of planning (and possible looting sacrifice) in order to get enough cubes on a particular turn. The resource sales tracks are much lower yield, though the stepwise bonuses as you move forward on the track can still be a big enough factor to convince someone to commit to that strategy. Looking ahead into the third phase of the turn, you may also have to decide between the location of a hex on the board versus the actual cubes printed on it (which you will then get to use in later turns).
One thing to watch for in your first playing(s) of the game is that the end-game bonuses can be fairly influential – it is very important to consider which hexes you are choosing to build in… This choice will factor into two of the bonuses at the end of the game, the scoring for contiguous hexes as well for the majority in each of the terrains.
Overall, there is a very nice balance between the number and complexity of decisions in the game, all of which are compressed into less than 60 minutes of game time. It’s hit the table twice here so far since Essen, and it’s already been requested to make it back to the table soon. Right now, I know that I like the game, but it could move into the “love it” area if it remains fresh after a few more plays.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Jonathan F.: This was one of my favorite ‘super-fillers’ of the year. If you like the hearty 60 minute game, this one will be for you. I really liked the implementation of the mancala mechanism and some of the spatial aspects. I’ve only played it once, but felt that it is a game that will likely show its stripes over multiple plays as you gain comfort with the game and get a better handle on how to look at the board at Turn Zero and come up with a broader plan. Nice job!
Joe Huber (1 play): This is a well constructed game – everything works together smoothly. But – it fell flat for me, as the theme is essentially missing from the game, once you get beyond the admittedly nicely done wooden carriages. For such a game to hit home for me, it really needs to have more innovative mechanisms than Gold West offers. I also found it far too easy to manipulate the simplified mancala mechanism to do whatever I pleased – for me, there was no tension between equally compelling options, but instead simply waiting for my turn to carry out my plan. Because of its solid design, I’d have no issue with playing again – but I can’t say I’m motivated to do so.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Jonathan F, Nathan Beeler, Craig V.
- Neutral. Joe H.
- Not for me…