“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” The old west looks like an infinite expanse until you have a lawman hot on your tail, then it becomes a small world with no place to hide. And like the old west, Western Legends is a game of perspective. It is a pick-up and deliver game...where you don't have to pick-up and deliver. It is also a game of outlaws where you don't have to break the law. It is a game of bringing someone to justice...until it's not convenient to do so. At it's heart it is an adventure game, one that allows you to (mostly) do what you want, when you want while trying to become the most legendary character in the old west. And if you do that by becoming filthy rich prospecting or you climb to the top on a pile of bodies of the “just not quite quick enough” foes, so be it.
At first blush, it looks like the role of the Outlaw is the most dominant role to victory. You earn Legendary Points EVERY turn depending on their location on the Wanted Track (Unlike the lawman, who earns them only at end game). You can rob the bank to get a super boost of Wanted Points and even a failed attempt gains you some notoriety (along with a bullet in the belly). Or you can rob other players to gain both wanted points and half of their loot. But the A.I. Sheriff is always looking to round you up, knock you off the wanted track, and steer your boots in a nice god-fearing (or noose-fearing) direction. And that is to say nothing of the other players who could be climbing the straight and narrow of the Marshall Track and are just itching to put you in your place...behind bars.
And, like any good game, after a few plays you'll decide that isn't quite right. You're likely to say “Wow, you can really rack up some points if you focus solely on Mining Gold!” And, assuming the dice don't hate you, you can. And, HELLO, now THESE are some large and chunky dice! So, you ride into town with a mule that you nicknamed Sister Sara loaded down with nuggets, only to come across a no good, dirty scoundrel who wants to make off with your bounty.
The Alpha gamer in me really wants to lay down some “rules” to the other players in Western Legends. “We need a Lawman to keep all of these Outlaws in check!” or “We need more outlaws! Everyone can't just be a gun and a badge!” But that is the crux of Western Legends, the players define the experience. You can't tell everyone what to do, you just have to be the leaf in the stream, adapting to what is going on...or just say the hell with it and try to define what everyone is going to do by setting a bad example.
Counting Cards may get you kicked out of Vegas but in it will gain you a significant advantage in Dark Rock. The Deck of cards that is the linchpin of Western Legends is (in part) a typical 52 card poker deck. Call it elegant, call it smooth. But whatever you call it, you can't deny that almost every aspect of the game is handled by your hand of poker cards and handled in a near perfect way. Keep your eye on both this deck and the smaller deck that controls the sheriff/guard/bandits. When you know all of the aces are out of play in the discard pile, Cowboys really are the king. High card wins in the typical showdown, so tossing down an Ace is always a smirking moment, but do you have the guts to rob the bank with the only an 8 in your hand?
The story cards are really a huge asset in my eyes, one of the things that makes Western Legends really stand out. Some of them seem to be a bit subjective, like “Spend $80.00 in one trip to town” or “End your turn on a space outside of town.” But, as you unlock them (by placing one of your tokens on the cards each time you manage to reach one of these goals until the proper number of spaces are filled, depending on the number of players.), you flip them over and read the flavor text...and things happen. It could be an ambush that you must defend against. Or a windfall of Gold Nuggets landing in the lap of the bandits on the board. Always thematic, slightly chaotic, and a damn good reason for bandits to re-spawn on the board instead of just randomly appearing because you have reached turn “X.”
The hard cap of 120 dollars you can carry is Western Legends “I always get one rule wrong™” entry. And, stick with me here, I'm going to blame this on the player aids being TOO good. After an initial introduction to the game, you can literally play from the Player Aids...expect it doesn't include a couple of small details like the aforementioned cap on money and the limit of Gold Nuggets you can haul around. I usually only have to get the rule book out a single time per game and that is just to double check the various bonus LP you can gain at end game.
Western Legends does have a few unusual quirks to it. While you can play as Jesse James or Bass Reeves or any number of other famous western characters, there are not special minis to represent those specific characters. Instead, you just choose from the handful of generic, yet cool looking, minis. I may , or may not, have slipped in a few minis from the Firefly Adventure Game into Western Legends and a homebrew Malcolm Reynolds card could be in the works. Wait, are there Mandalorian minis out yet? One player's quirk is another players opportunity. One rule that I didn't particularly care for in that you are supposed to hand out two character cards to every player, let them pick one and that is who they play during the game. Instead, we house ruled this and I hand the newest player all the cards and let them pick who they wish to play as and pass them clockwise around the table while the game is being set-up. Who you start the game as can really define what route you initially take. Instead of saddling (pun intended) a player with the possible choice between Bloody Knife and Jesse James, I let them choose from all of the players, so if they wish to start on the right side of the law, that is open to them. Or you can simply divide them into The Good, The Bad and the Others and let players select from a smaller subsection of legends.
I think truly great games have those special “moments” that just stand out. I now present one of those moments from my Western Legends gaming sessions to you. Billy the Kid has just robbed the bank in Dark Rock. However, it was the last action of his turn, so he was left standing in the bank, waiting until his next turn to leap on his stallion to make his escape. Suddenly, the player controlling Doc Holiday steps into Bank with his gun drawn. “Billy, I'm gonna need you to place that shootin' iron on the ground and step away.” He drawled. “Because this...”He said, cocking his gun and pointing it at the teller “Is a hold up.” One of the most unexpected turns lead Doc Holiday to jump onto the Wanted Track, play a couple of cards to net him 2 LP from the heist, add an additional action to allow him to ride hell bent for leather to Red Falls and throw a party of epic proportions to net another 4 LP. It was absolutely one of the best end game triggers that I can recall.
This is a review of the base game (without the kickstarter extras or expansions). Now, maybe this will be controversial but I picked up Western Legends for $64.00 at Miniature Market (Side Note: I'm surprised I found it there since the much publicized “Kolossal won't be selling this at discount online stores” statement). Is it a “incomplete” game without the kickstarter extras and/or expansions? The answer is absolutely not. I purposely avoided even looking at the Fistful of Extras and The Good, The Bad, and the Handsome expansions before playing my first few games. If WL had included the two KS expansions, that would have pushed it to over $100.00. Would I have taken that $100 risk on a game I wasn't even sure I would like? Probably not. Personally, I'd rather pick up a base game and then snag the expansions once I have decided I enjoyed it. That being said, the Fistful of Extras expansion is currently out of stock at Kolossal, which is disappointing, as I would have ordered it immediately if it was available.
I know I'm going on like Louis L'Amour waxing poetic about a partially beautiful sunset but Western Legends has so much of what I look for in a Board Game. It has the asymmetrical hotness via different starting powers and additional powers that you unlock once you reach 5 LP. It has randomness via LP chips you can pick up for completing personal objectives. It's diverse enough that I have no problem getting it to the table. Everyone I have played with has found something that they particularly enjoy about the game, be it the pick up and deliver aspect or just dueling with other players for bragging rights...and some of them there legendary points. At the risk of going well beyond my allotted Western cliches: This is it boys - The Promised Land.