Emanuele Ornella is a respected board game designer, having such titles as: Assyria; Byzanz; Martinique and Il Principe under his belt. From all of his games that I have played I can honestly say / state even, that PIONEERS is by far the best in my opinion. As you would expect QUEEN GAMES have recreated his design into a high quality production with wooden People and roads for each player and a travelling Stagecoach that is affected by and affects player choices and possibilities.
There are colourful coins, gold nuggets, counters and coaches, all in top quality cardboard, but one of the most enjoyable things about the components is that there are no playing/event/mission cards and no dice of regular or special shape, size or results. There is still some luck involved, but that's mainly down to how you and your opponents play and the decisions and choices you make. PIONEERS is indeed a thought-driven game.
Each player has their own Action board and, to begin with, their own Coach - each of these having the same number of Pioneer types, but not necessarily the same ones. One of your Meeples is placed on each of these Pioneer types on your Coach, you can obtain other Coaches during play (these give $1 when completed (all types used) and VPs at the game end, as shown on the face side of each Coach - so you know its value when you get it). Having a couple of these in play at all times, until close to game end, is usually a good tactic as long as you have the meeples to be able to use them.
The board is made up of Cities shown as hexagonals. On each of these are placed randomly drawn, shuffled face down and distributed, Pioneer Type tiles. The Cities are separated by dirt-road lines on which you can place/build your own roads. Travel costs cash, of which you generally don't have a lot, paid to the road owner or the bank, or free if you own the road. Travel is moving the municipal Stage Coach which must stop whenever it reaches a City that still has its Pioneer tile on it.
Pioneer tiles are collected by the first player to lead the Stagecoach to it, but to do so they must have a meeple on a matching type on at least one of their personal Coaches - remove the meeple, place it on the City and take the tile.
There are many aspects of PIONEERS that you may think are similar to other games, but think twice before you say that out loud. For example there are quite a few games where you place roads onto the board between Cities etc but only a very few that allow you to place your roads wherever you want, these roads do not have to join to any previously built roads.
On a Turn players have three distinct things to do in order:
1. Receive Income. This is $3 unless you have one or two Banker tiles - you may only ever have 2 Banker tiles on your Action board - which add $1 each
2. Players have one Shop tile to begin with and this allows them to buy (and place) One or Two road pieces or purchase one of the available Coaches from the supply. If the player has previously obtained a Merchant tile (or two) each of these allows an extra Action. There are only three actions available, as mentioned above, so players may never have more than three actions in a Turn.
3. Move the Stagecoach. This can be moved along built roads or the dirt tracks costing $1 per stretch.
Pioneer tiles have Special Actions which are either Permanent or Immediate.
Permanent Actions are actions where the tiles are placed on your player board. There are two and I have already mentioned them: Banker and Merchant.
Immediate Actions are: Sergeant; Barkeeper; Gold Digger; Farmer and Hotel, each of these activate when you place a meeple on their City and take the tile.
There are times when you upset the plans of other players, such as by moving the Stagecoach to an area where it will cost too much for them to move it to their advantage. There are also other times where you can assist other players, such as when you build a settlement (place a meeple in a city) one other player can pay you $2 to place one of their meeples there as well - you cannot prevent this but you do gain the $2. The other player will not get the tile advantage but they will get another meeple on their road - there is a 'longest road' style scoring; meeples on your largest contiguous road network score 2 VPs each. There are enough options and more than enough playability in PIONEERS to make this a game you would be pleased to have on your shelf, especially for when we can meet up with our family and game-groups again.
The illustrated example on page 8 of the rules booklet - to show how short the rules are page 8 is the back page - shows Red having two road networks. Each game we have played we have ensured that all roads we place either join onto the one network or that we join separate networks to make one whole one. This may be because we have only been able to play 2-player games because of lockdown in the UK. I can see that in 3 or 4 player games this will most difficult to achieve.
You can see on my photo of the board that there are tiles covering 8 spaces on the board's edge. These are there because the board is shortened for two-player games - these tiles may not be visited by the Stagecoach.
It's now February, so we have a lot of games ahead of us to play this year, but PIONEERS has already become a firm favourite between the two of us, and to be fair we are not always so endured with games that say 2-4 players and yet don't work particularly well with just two. PIONEERS plays really well with two players, though as I have said, it will probably play slightly differently with 3 and 4 players.
I searched the internet using Google and found PIONEERS is online at a cost between £37.00 - £50.00. On today's market, especially with postal charges, a total cost of around £40.00 is good. £50.00 seems a bit much of an initial outlay. However, if you play it 5 times in a month, it has cost you £8.00 - £10.00 a game. Play it 5 times in the next month that comes down to £4.00 - £5.00. By the time you've had it for six months the cost per game is negligible. Another way to look at game costs is to use my 'Cup of Coffee' method. The average price of a cup of coffee when you are out is £2.50. I balance whether buying a game or buying a coffee when I am out (used to be out, lockdown sort of screws with my method at the moment) is worth it. A £50.00/£40.00 game means I would have to forego 20/16 cups of coffee, that's quite a hard sell. Having played PIONEERS several times it more than passes my 'coffee test'.
Note: There are 'QUEENIE' expansions available for PIONEERS. I have heard of such expansions but have yet to see any so cannot comment on their value to the games they expand.
LOOKOUT for other QUEEN games: Such as.....
Move the pawns to the correct game boxes by playing cards of the corresponding colors and swapping two pawns. But be careful, time is up when you run out of cards! Playable as a cooperative, competitive, team, or solo game.
Limited Queen Games 30 years anniversary edition!
Wolfgang Dirscherl & Julien Gupta & Patricia Limberger 1 – 5 players aged 7+ game play time 30 minutes