Old West Empresario (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Stan Kordonskiy
  • Artists: Sergi Marcet
  • Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 45-60
  • Times Played: 2 (at 2 & 3 players)

“Out of all this, the most important knowledge I have now is what exactly an empresario is.” -Me

In Old West Empresario, you are an empresario, tasked with building a new town in the Western Territories of the United States. Through some tile placement and dice drafting, you will attempt to gain the most victory points and be credited with building the new state capital. 

A player’s turn is fairly easy. There are three things you do each turn, in this specific order. 

  1. Choose a die from the dice that are remaining. At the start of a round, a number of dice equal to the player count plus one are rolled and assigned to their spots. There are six die number tiles out in the player area, numbered one through six, and when you roll the dice, you place the rolled dice on their correct number. Under each of these die number tiles there will be two building tiles.
  2. You may alter the number of the die you claim by plus or minus one by paying one coin. This does “roll over”, so a six can become a one and vice versa. 
  3. According to the die value that you have chosen, you will do one of three things:
  • You can claim a tile from under the die number tile that you are using. Simply choose one of the two available tiles under that tile and add it to your town. Most buildings will go into your town in black and white. This symbolizes that you are constructing that building, but it is not quite completed. Rules for placing this newly acquired tile are quite simple, it just needs to be orthogonally adjacent to a completed building. Luckily, everyone in the game starts with one completed building, the Town Hall, and one uncompleted building. After claiming a tile, replenish the now empty spot in the offering. 
  • You can discard one of the tiles from under the die number tile and gain three coins. Immediately replace the discarded tile with a new one from the draw pile. 
  • You can activate your town. Instead of taking a tile from the offering, you can take a die and then activate all the completed buildings that share that die number. You may do this in any order, and you may choose not to activate certain buildings — but most of the time you will want to activate everything. There are tile actions that can allow you to build a building, i.e. flip it to its color side and making it a completed building, and yes, if it has a number corresponding with the die you are using to activate your buildings, you can activate the newly-flipped building as well. There are buildings that will allow you to claim tiles from the offer, or to gain victory points, or coins. Most of these activations have a cost involved, which is usually a coin or a victory point token, sometimes both.

Players will do this until there is only one die left on the die tiles. At this point, everyone may use this last die to activate any buildings in their town that are completed and share the number of that die. There is no adjustment allowed on this final die. The Town Hall can be activated with any die, so there is always at least one thing that a player can do at this point. In future turns, there will hopefully be more. 

After everyone has taken their final actions, the round is reset. All of the dice are rolled again and placed on the corresponding die tiles, and players continue this way until either someone has fifteen completed buildings in their town at the end of a round, all the Population Tokens (Victory Point Tokens) are depleted, or the tile offer is depleted. After the round when one of those three things happens, scoring will begin. 

Understanding how scoring works in Old West Empresario is important. Yes, I realize that is important in every other game we play for the most part, but of all the things going on in the game, this feels like it will be the most difficult thing to grasp. On the upper right corner of the tiles are usually the scoring methods for that specific tile, so in the photo above, the Church will score one victory point for every adjacent empty space, orthogonally adjacent. Plus, it will score a point for every brown building that is next to it. Most buildings will have scoring like that, but there are others. For instance, the green Native Settlement tiles want to be in groups, orthogonally contiguous groups, whomever has the largest settlement will gain four points, ties are always friendly. These Native Settlements also have immediate, one time actions that will happen when you place them, there is no construction necessary. 

Then there are the Civic Buildings, these buildings when constructed have no in game actions, they are strictly for end game scoring. They will give you varying points based on what they require. Tiles may also show one of three Stock Icons in the upper left of the tile. At the end of the game you will score points based on your longest contiguous Railroad and your largest contiguous Cotton Field. Oil Fields are scored a bit differently, they don’t have to be contiguous and whomever has the most will score one victory point per Oil Field, everyone else will score one victory point per two Oil Fields. Coins are worth a victory point per three coins and goal cards are worth their stated value. Most points is THE Empresario. 

Old West Empresario is a spiritual successor/sequel to the previously released Pioneer Days, which I have played once. Both titles share that Old West feel, and dice, but apart from those two things, the games play distinctly different. Old West Empresario is a much more straightforward dice allocation, tableau builder. There is very little negative interaction within the game, whereas if memory serves me correctly, there is a bit more in Pioneer Days, with disasters possibly happening. That isn’t to say there is no way to negatively impact your opponents in Old West Empresario, there is. The Undertaker tile can be in play and when activated, your opponents will lose a coin, but the Undertaker is worth negative points at the end of the game for every adjacent building, so there is a trade off. In our couple of plays so far, the Undertaker tiles have largely been ignored, or discarded for coins. That’s not to say they are useless, I think they definitely can have a large impact on the game if played correctly, but they didn’t seem as useful to us at first. Future plays may be different. 

The tableau building is pretty obvious, you want to be able to activate as many of your buildings as possible when you choose to do so, so you want to be drafting tiles that have the same value for activation so as to be more efficient. There are some fun engines to be put to use here to gain victory points via Population Tokens or to gain more tiles than your allocated choices. You will need money to do that though, so you have to have a bit of a coin generating engine as well. Your Town Hall can always be activated to gain one coin, but you will be doing that instead of being able to complete construction of other buildings in your town. Right off the bat you are met with the age old problem in most quality Euro design titles, you just don’t have enough time to do everything that you need to do, so prioritizing and setting up an engine to help you along the way as quickly and efficiently as possible, is essential.  

At the beginning of a game, three goals will be set out for everyone to work towards during play. At any time during the game that you satisfy one of the conditions on one of those three goals, you take the topmost available card, these are only available to the first two players to claim them, so be aware of them and work towards them as they are big points. The first person of course will gain a couple points more than the second person. But these cards, along with the Character Cards that everyone has, will create a lot of the variability in play and keep the game fresh and feeling different. The Character Cards will be dealt at the beginning of the game as well, and that card will give each person a different “ability”, or way to bend the rules a bit, giving you some more of that needed flexibility in play. 

Old West Empresario feels well balanced to me. I don’t know that there is a surefire way to win. In our last game, my opponent rushed the end game fairly quickly, creating an engine that would allow him to draft extra tiles and essentially get to fifteen buildings really quickly, which was a good thing to do when looking at the goal cards that were in our game. By the time he had fifteen finished buildings, I was only at twelve, but yet, due to building planning, I ended up winning by two points. Placement of the tiles is of utmost importance, especially in a game where points are going to be tight. 

I feel like in every Tasty Minstrel Games’ title that I review, I can say the same thing about the quality of components, they are top notch. Everything is well designed, and iconography, while kind of difficult to understand at first, makes complete sense fairly quickly. You will find yourself looking at the book quite a bit though at first. So it’s a good thing there is a well done chart on the back that specifically spells out every tile action in the game and how those tiles score points at the end. It could have been a complete mess, but it isn’t, it’s all there and spelled out perfectly for you. I think how end game scoring works could have been explained a bit clearer in the rules, rather, what exactly is scored instead of relying on a score pad to do that, but needless to say, we figured it out. 

I don’t know that Old West Empresario is going to set the gaming world on fire, but I also don’t know that it needs to. There will be gamers who are really drawn to the theme, to the mechanisms and just to the game itself. Personally, I think it’s a pretty good game, and one that I would be tempted to keep in my collection for the long haul. But I’ve only gotten two plays of it in right now, who knows if that longevity will hold up. Have I seen all that is to be seen in Old West Empresario? No, I don’t think I have, but I do wonder if there is anything else there that is going to keep my attention and make it a game that I want to play over and over again. 

It’s interesting, I normally try to play a game a handful of times before commenting on it, but I wanted to get this out and in front of folks’ eyes while Old West Empresario is being showcased at Gen Con. I think it deserves a look, this is the perfect example of a game that I would 100% say don’t take my word for it, go demo it and try it out, I don’t think you will be disappointed. 

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