Howdy partner! Hitch your horse to the post outside and come have a seat. I’m here to tell you a tale; a tale of riches, adventure, and gold. This here’s the story of how the West was won. And how I lost everything winning it.
Western Legends is a new sandbox-style game from Kolossal Games. If you’ve heard this one before, yes, we previously told you about how it works and showed you how to play on Game the Game. Now we’re here to tell you why Western Legends is one of our favorite games of the year.
Sandbox games can be tricky to nail. Designed well they provide each player the opportunity to master their own destiny and tell their own story. Done poorly they can go off the rails as players avoid interaction and simply farm victory points until someone is declared victor. Western Legends is the former. The game centers around the town of Darkrock and the action forces players into and around its dusty streets. The aim of the game isn’t to win, but to become a legend and legends live front and center.
There’s gold in them hills and Western Legends lets you mine the cliffsides for gold. Obtain enough nuggets and you can earn legendary points by becoming the wealthiest cowgirl in town. Bandits roam the outskirts of this frontier town, offering ample opportunity to write your name into the history books by protecting the good citizens of Darkrock. In fact, tracking down these lawless scoundrels earns you Marshall Points. Those players that walk on the right side of the law can push themselves forward along the Marshall Track , earning end game bonuses in the process. These “good guy points” can be earned in a number of different ways. Fighting bandits obviously, but also wrangling cattle. There are two cattle farms on the board and delivering their cattle to the railway in an honorable-legal-way will also push you up the Marshall Track.
Of course, the western genre isn’t just known for heroes. In fact, it’s possible that the scoundrels have built bigger legends for themselves. Western Legends gives players the opportunity to walk on the wrong side of the law as well. That cattle the goody-two-shoes Sheriff wannabes are driving towards the rail? You can steal cattle from one farm and rustle it to the other one for cash and Wanted Points. The bank in town is just asking to be robbed, and is an option for the rapid accumulation of money. Of course, the most tempting option may just be your opponents. Duels and cries of “stick ’em up” will fly across the table if someone has decided they’ll take their chances with the wanted track.
This sort of interaction isn’t one-way. Being Wanted puts a large target on your back and the erstwhile deputies at the table may decide to try and haul you off to jail. The threat of arrest or theft hangs over the table. The board is relatively small, and everyone is fighting over the same few spaces. Eventually Billy the Kid and his posse are going to roll into town. The question is if you’ll be there to make him pay for his transgressions, or if you’ll look at your hand of poker cards and let him mosey on by. You can always pretend the sun was in your eyes and you didn’t see who it was.
The freedom to choose your path exemplifies what makes Western Legends so much fun. The board presents this vista of the west that was. I’ve played games where my legend is writ in gold and a few high stakes poker games. I’ve also watched friends battle bandits and build their own empire of ill-gotten cattle fortunes. The game feels bound without being constrained. Without ever cutting into the sense of freedom, you’re pushed to inhabit a tense vicinity with your fellow cowpokes. The interaction feels both inevitable and natural.
Even the combat resolution feels thematic. Each player has a hand of cards they’ll manage throughout the game, each having a dual purpose. Combat-and the built in poker game mechanism-play out like modified games of Texas Hold ‘Em. We’ve all seen the movies where lives hang in the balance over a barroom game of poker, and Western Legends brings that sort of heads up bluffing to your tabletop. Each of these cards has a special power that can give you an advantage just when you need it most. Playing them comes with its own tough choice. Play it for extra movement? Or save it for battle?
We’ve enjoyed Western Legends this year and it deserves a place among the best of 2018. It’s not often that a sandbox game manages to give you as much freedom as this one does, while still managing to pack your 2 hours of play with this much interaction and tension. Nothing drags, but you feel invested and like there’s time to find your place and explore it. I have a feeling we’ll be talking about it into 2019 as well. It’s the kind of game that feels imminently expandable and I’ll be first in line to find out what new adventure I can strike out on.
Image Credits: Raf Cordero