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I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review

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W Updated January 08, 2020
 
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I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review

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There Will Be Games

 

“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.

thisone

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?

billy

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.

store

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.

doc

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.

Photos

I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review
I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review
I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review
I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review
I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review
I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review
I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review
I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review
I'm your Huckleberry: A Western Legends Board Game Review

Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
5.0
Western Legends has so much of what I look for in a Board Game. 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 is boys, the promised land.
Wade Monnig  (He/Him)
Staff Board Game Reviewer

In west Saint Louis born and raised
Playing video games is where I spent most of my days
Strafing, Dashing, Adventuring and Looting
Writing reviews between all the Shooting
When a couple of guys reminded me what was so good
About playing games with cardboard and Wood,
Collecting Victory Points and those Miniatures with Flair
It’s not as easy as you think to rhyme with Bel Air.

Wade is the former editor in chief for Silicon Magazine and former senior editor for Gamearefun.com. He currently enjoys his games in the non-video variety, where the odds of a 14 year old questioning the legitimacy of your bloodline is drastically reduced.

“I’ll stop playing as Black when they invent a darker color.”

Articles by Wade

Wade Monnig
Staff Board Game Reviewer

Articles by Wade

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #305002 11 Dec 2019 09:44
This is one of *the* games that has such a tremendous difference between how much people on TWBG like it and talk about it and how much it is liked and discussed elsewhere on the internet---this review being another positive TWBG voice on it.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #305011 11 Dec 2019 11:05

Gary Sax wrote: This is one of *the* games that has such a tremendous difference between how much people on TWBG like it and talk about it and how much it is liked and discussed elsewhere on the internet---this review being another positive TWBG voice on it.


Is it taking criticism? I noticed on BGG that it's still ranked pretty highly overall and most of the complaints are aimed at Kolossal's production problems (art and iconography changes/errors between printings, etc.) As I mentioned to Wade in the Playing thread, I liked my first play but wasn't blown away by it, mostly because it seems like a Western Merchants and Marauders. There's nothing wrong with that. I just don't feel driven to play again ASAP because I feel like I've played that game a few dozen times by now.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #305012 11 Dec 2019 11:07
Not at all. The intensity of the love for it on aggregate is much higher here is all I'm saying. I read your comments too, I recognize it's not universal.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #305014 11 Dec 2019 11:48
OK. I was asking because I was genuinely unaware. I thought it had been highly regarded pretty much everywhere. It's kinda rare for something to be hailed here more loudly than elsewhere. It's usually the converse (see: Wingspan.)

Thinking about it, I guess one of the things that bugs me is that there doesn't seem to be anything that you're compelled to do because there's so much to do that all of it, collectively, doesn't seem important. Take cattle wrangling. It doesn't earn you much in the way of points or currency... but just about as much as everything else you could do. On the one hand, that's great for variety and just enjoying what you're doing. OTOH, it seems to sap the urgency from the game. In M&M, for example, there's tension because your moves are so limited. But the payoff when you finally complete your task is pretty huge. You feel a sense of accomplishment because you took the risk and now here's your reward. Most of the rewards in Legends seem smaller, so the feeling of success isn't nearly as great. It's also because the risk seems smaller, so the energy in the game, in general, seems less. (with the obvious caveat that I've had all of one (1) play of Legends.) It didn't seem like I was moving toward any kind of exciting turn. I was just accumulating points doing... stuff. It was generally entertaining stuff, but still just stuff. I didn't see any turns that even approached the Doc Holliday moment that Wade described.

The biggest contrast I noted between what I saw and what Wade mentions are those story cards. I get that they're present to inject some variety in the game (IIRC, you use 3 of the 5 for each character) but variety for its sake is different than variety that serves a purpose. I played Bloody Knife and one of my goals was to wrangle cattle. Why? Bloody Knife was an Arikara scout for the US Army who hated the Sioux. Having a goal of wrangling cattle serves about as much purpose as Wade's cited "Finish your turn in a space outside of town." Why? What does that mean to that character, that story, or that player? I guess that Bloody Knife's special ability- cross mesas in exchange for taking a wound -is useful when it comes to finishing that cattle goal, since you can get to the train faster from the ranch. But you can also get there faster by obtaining a pretty easily acquired horse of some kind and it still doesn't say anything about why a personal goal of Bloody Knife would have anything to do with cattle. It's just a casual reason to do more stuff. It's the equivalent of "Finish your turn in a space outside of town." Why? Because.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #305016 11 Dec 2019 12:13
I don't agree that there's a lack of tension. The tension arises because it's a race. As Legendary Points accumulate there's a definite sense of pressure. If you're behind you get desperate and perhaps even more likely to break the law - which is fitting.

Ultimately the game is a very neat clash of efficiency of actions with sandbox adventure narrative.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #305018 11 Dec 2019 12:26
I agree, the personal story cards are a bit lame. They seem to be the same for everyone, and there is nothing particularly personal about them. The Ante Up expansion has some other things that give you those legendary tokens. I have no idea if this is true, but I feel like the legendary tokens were in the works from day one (the spaces for them are on the original player mats), and the personal story cards were put in as balance, so if a player couldn't snag one of the big payouts in Ante Up that provided a token, they weren't out of the running score wise in the game.

I also agree that you are not compelled to do anything in particular in WL. You really need to assess your character's strengths and choose a path. For the big payouts you have to gear up and specialize. Due to the fact that you can't ditch items once purchased, and you are limited as to how many items you can hold, you need to choose wisely. It's difficult to switch from prospecting for gold to wrangling cattle if your slots are filled up with a map and a mule.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #305019 11 Dec 2019 12:29

charlest wrote: I don't agree that there's a lack of tension. The tension arises because it's a race. As Legendary Points accumulate there's a definite sense of pressure. If you're behind you get desperate and perhaps even more likely to break the law - which is fitting.

Ultimately the game is a very neat clash of efficiency of actions with sandbox adventure narrative.


LOL. I've seen this happen so many times. You get too far behind, and you're like, "Screw it, I'm robbing the train."
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #305028 11 Dec 2019 16:49

charlest wrote: I don't agree that there's a lack of tension. The tension arises because it's a race. As Legendary Points accumulate there's a definite sense of pressure. If you're behind you get desperate and perhaps even more likely to break the law - which is fitting.

Ultimately the game is a very neat clash of efficiency of actions with sandbox adventure narrative.


I guess so. My single play was more a combination of just "doing stuff" than anything else. I started out near one of the mines, so I went in and mined. I did well and then went straight to the bank to cash in and bought a gun and the fastest horse. I ended up upgrading both and dumping money on other stuff(!) that wasn't important, as much as that I just wanted to dump the cash so I wouldn't be a target and so I would gain the LP for earning and spending it. This was another contrast between WL and M&M. In the latter, there's a basic tension between spending and saving. You earn VP on the Caribbean for stashing your loot. But you really want to spend it on ship upgrades and rumors. In WL, you earn points for spending money on stuff that you may not even want and might never use. There's no decision to be made there. It's not the basic life choice of spending or saving. You just spend because that gets you closer to winning. If that means that WL was intended to be faster-paced, so you're not spending turns going all the way across the sea to stash your loot, where it does you no other good but getting you points at the end, I can see that. It just takes away from what is often a crucial choice in M&M (and many other games.)

After being equipped with the best stuff money could buy (I, too, ran right up against that $120 limit rule, which does seem completely arbitrary. Why that amount? Why not $150, given human predilection to centenary and half-centenary numbers? Why have a money limit at all?), I started out on my story cards, hoping to pull enough points from the bag to catch up to the roving lawmen. In the process, I ended up "Get[ting] into a fight outside of town", which was, of course, with bandits, so I ended up moving up the lawman track incidentally and gaining on the leaders. I did the cattle wrangling thing but, like I said in the other thread, the bonuses for advancing on the law track were both so easy and so large that there was no hope of catching up.

One thing I did really like was the card play and how everyone could participate in town if someone started a poker game. I won a couple hands just by being in town (and, uh, understanding poker a bit better than most people at the table...) That decision between using cards for fights or poker or saving them for their abilities is one of those basic choices that I'm missing from the money side of it.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #305032 11 Dec 2019 18:07
You "stash" your loot by buying points at the saloon. Traveling to the Saloon maxed out on money makes you a mark for the outlaws. So you have both the efficiency puzzle of maxing out your $$ and not wasting actions getting to the Saloon, and the threat of being robbed on your way there.

I agree that most of the tension in the game comes from how to use your cards rather than how to use your money. Once you gear up, money is relatively unimportant other than to make that push over to the Saloon to buy points.
WadeMonnig's Avatar
WadeMonnig replied the topic: #305034 11 Dec 2019 21:18
I assume the $120 Limit is a artificial way to stop you from buying too much LP with one action (throwing an epic party/buying LP). We didn't even realize this rule our first few plays and, if I recall, one of the Ante up expansion characters has a "power" that lets you carry more than $120. We've considered just ignoring that rule in our plays but I'm not sure if that would unbalance the game. The risk of carrying that much cash definitely makes you a target and it works well with the Gold Nugget Limit. I'm always the guy at the table who worries about balance and such and everyone else seems to be in the "Free Parking" camp of "Let's just see what happens!"
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #305040 12 Dec 2019 00:37
I'm sympathetic to both viewpoints. Sometimes you just ignore rules because it's more fun to play the other way. No one actually plays Wiz-War without using Big Book of Spells, right? It's not a variant. It's the game! Chaos! And, certainly, I get that the number is probably based on playtesting to certain limits and you're probably exactly right that the limit prevents people from just rolling into the store and finishing the game, Monty Haul-style. It is kind of funny how it contrasts (again) with M&M, though, since the whole point is to win with a flourish when you pick up your chest and the 50 Gs comes spilling out.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #305046 12 Dec 2019 08:49
The difference is money comes much easier in WL. I think the real reason is to keep things more dynamic. Since money caps, it pushes you towards the general store and saloon. This creates movement and reaction.

If you didn't have a cap you could basically gamble until you had enough money to win. It would create degenerative strategies.