When I first saw the title of this game I got all excited, and then I realised it wasn't about my favourite football team (Tottenham HotSPURS) nor was it a game about the San Antonio Spurs, though I suppose it was closer to the latter, San Antonio being more likely than North London to have had a history of men with six-guns, riding horses and wearing spurs.
The game is about action and adventure in the Wild West and was designed by Ole Steiness and Mr B himself, Sean Brown. The artwork from D'Achille and Jason Carr is archetypal of what we, especially the "we" in Europe, imagine the mid to late 19th Century in America to have been - noting that the majority of our knowledge has been gathered from old television programmes and John Wayne movies. In fact playing a game of SPURS is very much like a segue of all the action sequences from a season of Bonanza.
The components are many and masterfully designed and made. Heavy card counters, quality black draw-string bags, plastic miniatures, specific character cards, Bullet tokens, a Fame track, several Towns, durable playing cards, sturdy folded playing map board and specially designed impact dice are amongst them and together they all made this a very successful Kickstarter project.
The Rules are in a 9" x 7" 12-page booklet which lists all the components and the Setup on its first inside page yet leaves you in suspense as to what the object of the game is until the bottom of Page 10. The text is legible but small against the parchment style background and headers for each section use the freely available Western True-Type font.
Each player has their own character card which gives them information on their chosen character such as the equipment they carry and which bullets to put in their personal black sack. All miniatures are the same, grey plastic and classically posed. Therefore a special coloured base has been designed to slot over the mini's base affording it an ID colour, players also have a Hat token of the same colour as their marker on the Fame Track. These characters are illustrated with artwork unique to the game - they are named simply as The Lawman, the Bandit etc and so I have taken a trip down Western-movie memory lane, to determine who these pictures remind me of. The following is how I view them, you, the readers, will probably have your own ideas, as does the game designer or artists (it would be interesting to hear their thoughts), so here goes: The Cowboy (Will Anderson) The Gunslinger (Man with No Name) The Bandit (Jose Morales), The Lawman (Wyatt Earp) and the Hunter (Josh Randall). None of this has any influence on the game whatsoever, but it's an additional piece of abstract fun you might want to introduce to new players.The characters are fairly well balanced but not exactly the same. This allows, that each time you play, at least the first five games, you can try a different character.
SPURS: A Tale in the Old West, is one of those games where the first player begins with $zero and each player clockwise takes $5 more than the previous player, so that the fourth player would have $15 and the fifth player $20. It always seems a mite unbalanced to begin with $20 less than another player but it actually balances out quite well as long as the first player takes the time to think out their moves carefully.The first player also gets to select their starting territory (the spaces on the board are bordered by brown lines) first, placing their mini figure into it, which is a fair advantage if chosen correctly. Characters can move across the board, adjacent territory to adjacent territory for up to as far as their Horse Speed (Riding skill) allows. Towns are not shown on the main board but are small boards placed next to the main board so that they can be entered from the territory they are adjacent to. Towns don't move in a game but they can be located differently in future games,
On your turn you may first move your character having rolled the necessary number of Movement dice. When you have completed your movement you can do one of the available actions, which may be Duel with another character if you are in the same territory, Visit a Building, if you are in a Town, Rest, or Resolve a Challenge Token if there is one in the territory. Duels are fun. Players hold their bag in one hand with its bullets mixed up and their other hand on the table. They quick-draw and pull out a bullet which is placed face up on the table, immediately drawing a second bullet once the first has been placed (stood up if using Wooden bullets). The first player to draw 2 hits (the correctly coloured bullet for the weapon being fired) shouts "Bang" or slaps the table and wins the duel. If no one has drawn 2 hits continue to draw bullets until a winner is found. Revolvers fire either Grey or White bullets, Rifles fire either Brown or White bullets. Experienced players may go for the draw one bullet only fight as it is more dramatic and movie-like, and of course then only one hit wins.
The results of a shoot-out/duel vary in reward but the loser takes one Red bullet to add to their bag. All bullets fired, except one-shot White bullets, are also placed back in their bags.In future gunfights drawing a Red bullet is like an injury to the character who draws it and although it is only a glancing blow it causes the player to miss - the damage doesn't count as a hit and nor does it cause any more problems for the player/character. Black bullets are duds that misfire and thus miss.The loser also takes a Spur token and may move to another town immediately. At Games Gazette we decided that the word "may" needs to be replaced with the word "must" otherwise it is possible for players to stay in the same town and just keep dueling with each other. If you allow player characters to stay where they are the game then gets silly, even though there can be perfectly good reasons for continuing a duel. It spoils the fun of the game.
On your turn you can also visit Buildings if you are in a Town. You can actually visit more than one Building in your turn. The example given in the rules has the character going into the General Store, visiting the Doctor and then popping into the Saloon for a whiskey. In our first game one of our players visited the Bank, robbed it, killed the Guard, and then went into the General Store to spend their ill-gotten gains. Robbing the Bank gains you Fame if you are successful and a Wanted Token successful or not. As two of the Bonuses at the game end are Most Wanted (tokens) and Most Money thus robbing Banks and other characters can be good tactically. Visiting the Buildings in a Town is not just to rob them though. Amongst the things you can do in Town are: Banking money, healing Red bullets, taking a Gamble in the Saloon or collecting reward money from the Sheriff.
Some territories you enter will present you with a Challenge. If the Challenge token has a Red Bullet icon then it is a Challenge you must face otherwise you can decide to ignore it. The type of challenge generally relates to the territory in which you encounter it.Defeating the challenge gains you the challenge token and its attributes. You can fight Desperados, Round up Cattle, Hunt animals, Hunt outlaws or even Dig for gold. The game ends when one player's counter reaches the end of the Fame track (depending on the number of players or predetermined length for the game), then a final adding up takes place. Count bonuses etc.
Verdict on SPURS: A Tale of the Old West. We found that we enjoyed the fun of the Duels (or gunfights) more than perhaps we should have - they sort of took over the gameplay. The rules are well written and explain the game as they should, our only reservation was discovering the Objective at the back of the rules booklet rather than being one of the first paragraphs.This is not a game of planning, collecting or building, but it is a game for straightforward gut-busting fun. It is a stab your neighbour before they stab you game, though the stabbing is by Revolver or a Rifle not by knife. Yes we had a few hiccups with how we interpreted a couple of the rules on our first play through, but these were easily sorted and we have had many fun games since. We haven't discovered any sure-fire way to win or regular tactics or strategies which is good as it means the game always brings up new challenges. It is a heavy game but not by playing or rules and in the UK it costs around £40.00 online which reflects it's playability, weight and postage.
There is an expansion called GAMBLERS which I have yet to play and so I cannot say anything about it except that it is available. I have seen the wooden bullets and although they make no difference to the game itself - the card bullet tokens work well - they do add that extra bit of fun to the gunfights, especially as you have to ensure they stand up in front of you before you can draw another bullet from the bag - it gives the Duel that player's edginess we all like.