Game Design: Jonathan Pac Cantin Solo Game: Designer + Dávid Turczi Art: Michal Dtugaj Cover Art: Jakub Fajanowski
Game Published by: Board & Dice 2019 1-4 Players Aged 14+ 40-60 Minutes
UK Prices found online with Free Postage: Lowest found £32.95 (Total Cards) Highest found £48.99 (Spirit Games) plus Amazon USA: $39.99
Loosely speaking SIERRA WEST is a Worker Placement, Man Management and a Deck-Builder. It is closer to the latter than either of the two former genres, but even so it cannot be compared to DBs such as Dominion, Legendary, Mystic Vale or Thunderstone as its decks do not necessarily build up each round as in a regular deck-building game, nor do they grow to hold that many cards. Only three cards are used each player's turn and these are positioned in the top slots of the player's boards to create two straight single-colour paths, one sandy (tan) and one grassy (green). Each space on these paths is a step for one of the player's two Pioneers, the Meeple looking one takes the Tan track whilst the Cowboy rides the Range.
There are four modes (their word) of play: Apple Hill (icon: Apple. colour: Red), Boats & Banjos (icon: Canoe. colour: Turquoise), Gold Rush (icon: Mine Cart. colour: Yellow), and Outlaws & Outposts (icon: Cross Pistols. colour: Beige), and it is suggested that APPLE HILL be your first game or two as it eases you into the basic playing whilst still being more than a tutorial. In many cases this would have been the complete game. The other three modes aren't enough singularly to quantify being separate expansions and together, due to component and packaging costs etcetera, they would most likely have a shelf cost very similar to that of the rrp of the boxed game itself. Including all three additional modes in with the main game and having all the rules printed in the same booklet, for ALL 4 modes, rather than having separate booklets for each mode, keeps it all nice and compact and allows for the excellent shop/online price - BOARD & DICE have really done their homework to bring this to the table at a very reasonable cost to the player - even at the highest price I have found online it is still good value.
There are specific components for each Mode, meaning that the components from the others are left in the box. These 'specific' components are shown in colour coded boxes on page 5 of the rules booklet. These boxes clearly depict the 'main' specific pieces, such as the Fish tokens and Fish Market board for Boats & Banjos or the Sheriff card and the Outlaw tokens for Outlaws & Outposts, what they don't include or even mention are the various Animal tiles or the Special cards that are also specific for the different modes - these also require being omitted from the setting up.
The box indicates that a game should last 40-60 minutes and maybe if you have a group of players who absolutely know every one of the rules and effects, and/or have found a way of using their hand-cards (3 dealt and used per turn) to the very best of their possibilities, this is a very loose assumption; I would give good players nearer 75-90 minutes. In the beginning you look at the cards in a somewhat blinkered fashion. You know you want Boots for Movement and Shovels for Buildings and so you see those as immediately necessary for you without looking at the bigger picture. The same goes for the Red-Rimmed hazard spaces, you look at them and see they can hurt you and so you juggle your cards so these spaces don't come into play. However by doing this you could well be covering over spaces that would overall be better for you even by taking the hazard penalty. The positioning of these cards is the most important portion of the player's turn.
It is the way you load these cards into the slots on your player board that determine your actions for the turn. Each card has three columns, the lower parts make up the Green and Tan tracks - always positioned to create a straight path of a single colour. When you place the central card, it will sit a little higher than the sides, the cards on either side will each cover one of the columns on the central card, thus only using the track effects of its centre column, and utilising just the side columns of the left and right cards. As already mentioned, but worth noting again, is that your two Pioneers, the Meeple looking one only moves on the Tan track whilst the Cowboy only rides the Range (Green).
Each mode has its own identification colour, with specific rules and additions in the rules book set into boxes of their colour (noted above). In each mode the players set up a pyramid of overlapping cards, using Mountain cards from the base game shuffled in with special cards from the mode chosen. The number of rows in the pyramid is the same no with 2, 3 or 4 players; 4 rows plus two face-up cards as the summit. Only face-up cards can be claimed by players, and as each card is removed from the pyramid it leaves cards that were beneath it unsupported (not over-lapped by other cards, though it may be overlapping one or two others) and these are turned face-up.
There are four basic resources, Wood, Stone, Food and Gold, plus Apples and Fish; the latter are only used in their relevent scenarios and never spent as basic resources.Resources are gathered by moving along the tracks, simply landing on the space showing a resource gains you that commodity. You can spend resources to build Cabins. These are built on the spaces on your Player Board, three Green and one Brown - there is also a Grey Cabin that is always available and doesn't need a Cabin tile on the space to be active; all other Cabin spaces require a Cabin to be built on them. Cabins are obtained from the Market (open when you have a Pioneer standing on a Shovel icon) by spending the required resources. Once you place a Cabin it remains active all the game but its effects can only be used if you have a Pioneer on it, in fact most Actions can only be taken when there is a Pioneer on the necessary space.
Placing your Pioneers: You can sometimes do this in an opponent's turn. When an opponent has their cards in place and one of their Pioneers steps onto a Path then if there are any animals showing on the cards the other player/s can pay a cost (in resources) and flip over one of their Animal tiles - each player begins with the basic four animal tiles: Rabbit, Bear, Fox and Beaver plus one animal specific to the mode, identified by the icon on it - Stag (Apple) Raccoon (Boats & Banjos) Prairie Dog (Gold Rush) and Badger (Outlaws & Outposts), thus 5 Animal cards.
Throughout the game, whichever mode you select, there are decisions to be made. Due to the Lockdown, apart from a couple of 3-player games, we have played only 2-player, both of us considered to be experienced gamers if not members of the 'core elite'. We have tried each mode, they all add something slightly different to keep the players interested. Each mode offers you different options to think about, though always using the basic rules whereby Trappers (players other Meeples) climb up the Mountain to gain cards to build up their decks. Resources can also be used to move Wagons which add multipliers to players scores on the Homestead scoring board
Pioneers can be positioned in the Campsite thus allowing them to move into reserving actions in Cabins or on Trapping and Tracking spaces. This is another area where thought is required. If you score an animal from another player's board you must have a Pioneer on the Trapper space, Pioneers on the Tracker space score a resource; these are positioned in an opponent's turn. On your turn any Pioneer on a Trapper/Tracker space can be moved to its track, Green or Tan, but cannot be moved to a Cabin. Pioneers in Cabins cannot be moved to the Trapper/Tracker spaces but they can be moved to the Tan or Green tracks (remember that each shaped Pioneer is only allowed on its associated track). When moving Pioneers on their tracks you move them one space at a time and can move one continuously, or they can alternate in whatever sequence is best at the time. You can use the power of the Cabin to interact with the Green or Tan track as long as you keep a man (or Mule) on the Cabin - yes I did say Mule, there is only one in the game and that can only be claimed from the supply or from another player by selecting to reveal a Mule icon on a track. The Mule gives you an extra beneficial pair of hands, err paws, hooves, end bits of legs.
SIERRA WEST is enjoyable, thoughtful, tactical and strategic (to a point) plus it is a fine mash-up of worker-placement, planned-building, deck-building, and man-management etcetera, all with an added slice of Luck. There are one-player rules at the back of the rulesbook which places you in opposition against a game interactive player named Lansford Hastings, and let me tell you he means business. In fact, to be honest (why do I say that? It makes it sound like the rest of my text is a lie) playing it solo is the only time I felt like I was playing 'against' someone. When I had one or two actual human opponents it felt like we were all playing our own game and just trying to score the most points by the time the game reaches its climax - when the sixth game-specific card is removed from the Mountain and added to the Wagon Trail (below the Mountain and creating the waterway for the Canoes). Cards gained from the Mountain that are not special cards are added to the player's deck, but unlike most DBs these can be added to either the Discards or the top of the Draw pile.
Each of the modes adds enough to the base game to ensure a freshness and to keep players on their toes every time you bring SIERRA WEST to the table; until you all come to a decision you never know which of the four modes will be today's game. All you can be sure of it's going to be a fun time. Time is my last point. As noted the game box states 40-60 minutes but we reckon 75-90 minutes at best; there are far too many options and choices where time can be used up in thought. Good value in game play and components for the noted costings, and a good game for players who like the non-interactive adventure.