- Designers: Matthew Dunstan and Chris Marling
- Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 60-75 minutes
- Times played: 2, with review copy provided by TMG
Pioneer Days is a new release from Tasty Minstrel Games. In this game, players are settlers in the Old West, traveling along the Oregon Trail. The game looks at a portion of the travel, specifically four weeks. As it has been possibly supposed on Wikipedia, those settlers only traveled on weekdays back then, and to echo this supposition, players will take five actions in each round that represents a week – as they travel from town to town along the way.
Each player is given two player boards at the start of the game. Each of these has a different special ability, and each player can choose which of the two they want to play in the game (the other is discarded).
Before we go any further, many of the rules that follow are scaled for the number of players (N) in the game. So, any time you see N, it represents the number of players. The is a black bag which holds the dice for the week. There are five different colors of dice: yellow, green, red, blue and black. Each die has the same distribution of faces: jester, pick, equip, cattle, wood, medicine. (N+1) dice of each color are placed into the bag at the start of the game.
There is a main board which is placed in the center of the table. It has room for town cards at the top and equipment tiles on the left. The bottom of the board has six slots, one for each of the faces found on the dice. The rest of the main board shows the four disaster tracks – blue, red, yellow and green. A marker is placed on the leftmost space of the 4 space track. There is also a scoring track on a separate board.
A deck of townsfolk cards is made. There are 5 different sets in the box and you choose any two sets to shuffle together. Once the deck is made, display six cards face up, one each under the icons at the bottom of the main board. You will also need to make a deck of town cards. Randomly choose 9 cards from those available and shuffle them. Then place 2 cards face up at the top of the main board. Finally, shuffle the equipment tiles and then place (N+1) of them face up in the General Store area of the main board.
Again, the game is played over four rounds. In each of those rounds, players will take five actions. At the end of the round, there will be no more dice left in the bag, so you’ll be sure that you’re in the right place. At the start of a turn, the current start player pulls (N+1) dice randomly out of the bag and the rolls them. Then, each player in clockwise order, will choose a die and take a turn.
When you choose a die, the first thing you do is see whether the face on a chosen die triggers an action on any of your equipment or townsfolk (you will see a matching icon on them). Afterwards, you may then change the die face by paying 3 silver (or leave it the same for free). Now, you take an action based on this face – there are three options:
Income – you can take money based on the chart found at the bottom of the central board
Recruit Townsfolk – take the card in the matching slot found at the bottom of the central board – this card is placed next to your player board. It does not take up space in your wagon.
Action – you take an action based on the face on your die (the color does not matter)
- Mine – draw a gold token from the supply and keep it facedown on your wagon
- Equipment – take an equipment tile and place it on your wagon
- Cattle – Take one cattle and add it to your herd
- Wood – Take a wood and place it in your wagons
- Medicine – Take a medicine chit and place it in your wagon
- Wild – Take any of the above 5 actions
After you have chosen a die and taken your choice of action with it, the die is discarded. The next player in clockwise order then chooses a die and does the same. When all players have taken an action for the day, there will be one die remaining. There will be a disaster in this color, move the marker of the matching color one space forward on the corresponding disaster track. If the marker reaches the end of the track, the actual disaster occurs. Note that if a black die was the one left remaining at the end of the turn, ALL disaster tracks move forward one space.
The different disasters are:
- Blue – Storms – you must pay one wood for each of your wagons; else the wagon is destroyed
- Red – Raid – Discard half of your silver rounded up
- Yellow – Famine – Pay one silver per cow; else the cow is discarded
- Green – Disease – Use on medicine per townsfolk; else the person dies and is discarded
If multiple disasters are triggered on the same turn, they are done in top-to-bottom order on the track. When the day is over, the start player marker passes to the next player and the next day happens… unless you’ve reached the end of the week. You will know when this occurs as there will be no dice left in the bag. At this point, you arrive at a town and there is a phase here in the town to end the round.
First, you resolve any cards which trigger at the end of the week
Next, you score your cattle – 1 VP per cattle
Then, look at the face up town cards and if you can, you may discard things to meet the requirements to score favor tokens. They can be done in any order, and all players may satisfy all that they wish to.
At this point, if there are still rounds in the game, reset the board by discarding all unchosen equipment and townsfolk and dealing out new ones from the supply. Place all the dice back in the bag. Discard the 2 two town cards and deal out 2 new ones. If this is the fourth and final week, display all three cards which remain. Then continue to follow the protocol outlined above.
At the end of the fourth week, there is one change. After you have taken the single remaining die and moved the corresponding marker(s) ahead on the disaster track, you then advance all the disaster tracks by one space. If this triggers any disasters, they are resolved prior to visiting the town. The town visit then occurs as normal with the exception that there are three possible cards to be scored here instead of the usual two.
There is a bit of endgame scoring:
- 1 VP per gold nugget seen on your tokens
- 2 VP per favor
- 5 VP if you have the most favors collected in the game
- Each of your townsfolk may award you VP if you meet their criteria
- Lose 2 VP for each wagon damage token
The player with the most points wins. Ties go to the player with the most money remaining at the end of the game.
My thoughts on the game
Pioneer Days is an interesting dice drafting / resource management game. There is a nice combination of planning and luck in the game. As you go through the four weeks, you are challenged to both meet interim goals (scoring at the towns at the end of each week) as well as working towards endgame scoring goals on your townsfolk cards.
The choices are sometimes made easy for you based on the dice pool that you have to choose from – but there are also plenty of times when you’re really stuck between a couple of equally good choices. Do you get a particularly nice piece of equipment? Or maybe you should choose to add one of the townsfolk to your caravan…. Sure, you can always pay money to change the die face, but silver doesn’t come easily, and you may have to spend an entire turn gaining silver – so it’s not something to do all the time…
You should also make sure to keep an eye on the disaster tracks. First, is a disaster is getting close, you may want to make sure that you’re protected from it OR make sure that you’re not gaining things which will be affected by it. Second, if you’re later in turn order, you might choose a particular die in order to try to cause one of the disasters to happen. This is one of the benefits of having fewer choices at the end of turn order.
So, you end up balancing your turns trying to collect the stuff that you need while trying to increase your wagons, herd size, gold collection, etc. With the special abilities of the townsfolk, Pioneer Days is a cleverly disguised engine building game. You will want to find equipment and Townsfolk that help meet your needs as well as finding Townsfolk with scoring criteria that you can meet. You can’t wait too long to make up your mind though as the supply of equipment and townsfolk are only replenished at the start of each of the four rounds!
While there are plenty of choices, the game does seem to continue to move along at a good pace – with only a couple of decisions each game really needing extra time to figure out. Our games have definitely been closer to the 60 minute mark. It would definitely outstay its welcome past 75 minutes, but again, our games have not reached that threshold.
Our group prefers to play with the advanced rules where each player gets a different character on their board which gives them a slightly asymmetrical start and a unique special ability. This helps keep the game fresh, and gives you a bit more direction in each game.
The rules could be better. In one way, it is concise and appears to be well organized. But in our first few games, there are things which could be explained better or perhaps defined more clearly. There are a lot of rules on the townsfolk cards which could have used an extra sentence or two to better. Also, the rotation of the turn order was not easy for us to find (eventually found it at the bottom of page 5!).
The graphics are fine for me. The people are a bit cartoony, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The theme is carried out well through the game, and the icons are easy to see. The cardboard bits are quite thick and were easy to punch out – something that always pleases me.
So far, Pioneer Days has been a pleasant trip back down the Oregon Trail. We’ve had a few rules questions along the way, but some group agreement as well as reference to questions on BGG have allowed us to enjoy the game so far. I’m looking forward to exploring the advanced game more throughout the rest of the summer.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Not for me…