It’s the 1850’s. You are the leader of a new group of settlers headed into the Rocky Mountains to find a fresh start and a new home. There’s talk of abundant resources, wide open fields, rich mines, cows. Montana sets players the task of rushing to settle in the new state. Players recruit workers to their cause, use them to gather resources and send them to the bank for free money (if only it worked this way!)
2-4 Players | 45 Minutes | Designed by Rüdiger Dorn
Montana has largely flown under the radar in terms of widespread media recognition, and the BoardGameGeek page is a bit bare. This could be due to its limited release at Essen 2017, followed closely by a Kickstarter that had a modest but reasonable success (1000+ backers). Its possible that once the Kickstarter is fulfilled the game will begin to find more players and become better known, but for now, I only discovered it via my Boardgame Detective co-author Beth, and one of my local game stores that brought back some copies from Essen.
How does it work?
Montana is a worker placement game at its core, that includes auction mechanics and a sort of light tile placement mechanic. The game doesn’t have rounds (no end of round upkeep!), players take turns until one of them fulfils the victory condition of having placed all their settlements on the board.
On their turn, players have a choice of three actions to perform: get more workers, do a worker placement action (or auction), or build settlements. Gaining workers is done with the spinner, you spin to find out what pair of workers you get, and then you can optionally pay to receive additional workers. Workers are colour coded to be able to perform certain actions. Worker placement actions are taken on a board with options for gathering money, stone, copper, wheat and pumpkins. Alternate to the worker placement, players can start an auction for the right to upgrade goods or gain a few small bonuses. Finally, players can build settlements on the game map, by spending the resource requirements for a space and deploying a settlement to that space.
There are a few interesting quirks to the settlement placement part of the game. Firstly, there are a few locations where building rewards you with two placed settlements. If you build a straight line of 4 in a row, you also get to place a double on the 4th space. You can build anywhere, so long as it’s connected to something else already built – regardless of if it’s yours or not. This means blocking is very easy and as the game goes on, there are more and more places available for everyone to build. It also means there is a trade-off when deciding if you want to ‘unlock’ good areas of the map for other players by building closer to them yourself.
What do I think?
Montana is an interesting game in that it looks and seems like a medium to heavy game but it’s surprisingly light and quick. I love heavy games but Montana fits in this special place where it can satisfy my desire for a heavy game in 45 minutes! I’ve played the game 5-6 times now with 3 and 4 players, with each game having a pretty compelling and surprising end game play.
The Good Stuff
- Having a spinner in a euro game feels SUPER weird, but it does a good job of randomly dealing out workers. If it was a die, the ‘buy the next set’ mechanic wouldn’t work.
- Montana has straightforward, simple rules that are quick to teach. The rulebook is like 6 pages long (2 pages of that are setup).
- The player boards are really useful, a space for everything, and the action reminder at the top is very well articulated.
- The auction mechanic is an interesting addition to the game and makes for a interesting interlude from the worker placement when it is activated.
- Simply collecting lots of stuff and then seeing where you can build seems to work well. I think this is interesting because it partly rewards players for making quick turns rather than agonising over a long term strategy.
- I like the very interesting rule that prevents any one player from hoarding a resource: If the bank has run out of a resource a player needs, everyone must give up one (if they can) until the player that needs it can take what they need. I think this is a hilarious and innovative mechanic to stop hoarding/denial strategies.
Both Good and Bad Stuff
- So many bits! All great quality and quite unique. The drawback of this is that for a quick game, there is a lot of stuff to get out of the box and setup.
- The game is quick. I like this because Montana feels like a big game and you get it done in less than an hour which is satisfying, but you usually wish it went longer. I haven’t tried playing with more settlements yet. This would lengthen the game but maybe the whole thing would feel too samey if it was longer.
The Bad Stuff
- There seems to be no deeper strategy than ‘get stuff, build stuff’. Maybe an occasional block, but that’s not a big hindrance usually.
- Planning can cause a bit of analysis paralysis, especially when figuring out where to build and what you need to do so. There is a lot of information that needs to be kept in the forefront of your mind to execute a pre-planned strategy. On the other hand, as mentioned above, I don’t think this is required to reliably win.
- The worker spots only clear once they are all full. This can force you to have to take sub-optimal moves to get stuff you need, which is frustrating.
- The random map can be a bit loaded. Certain areas can end up being very powerful. This is somewhat balanced by the fact you can build anywhere connected, but the first player able to charge into an area that has a blob of double spaces will usually do well.
- The strategy for getting workers seems rote – get some wheat and then get 8 workers in one go. This costs about 2 actions, It doesn’t seem worth not doing things this way as only getting 2 workers at a time has a massive overhead.
- It doesn’t feel like taking workers in a ratio other evenly across colours is worthwhile. Going ‘heavy’ on one resource doesn’t really make sense, except maybe for pumpkins.
- The canteen (double turn) item is rarely used except to win the game. It feels crucial, but also pigeon-holed into that one use.
- The supplied cardboard ‘insert’ is a bit useless, the tiles don’t even fit in the space it provides. Pretty much has to be thrown out to fit the game back in the box after punching.
- The auction action/mechanic seems underused. Most games I’ve played, unless someone decides to go for ‘pumpkin strategy’, there will only be one or two auctions in the whole game. It would be cool if there were more varied rewards (or more cows available from the auction).
For what it sets out to be and what it provides – a light, entry level worker placement with a bunch of things to do, I think that Montana is a great addition to my collection. I think that a lot of the criticism that I have for the game stems from my love of heavier games and wanting to delve deeper into the framework the game provides. Maybe in the future an expansion that adds some more meat onto the game will come out. For now, Montana is great for a quick but interesting game, or to play with newer players to introduce them to worker placement mechanics.