Ye Haw! Grab yer horse, we’re goin’ into town to rob some folks! Alternately, saddle up, some bandits are on their way and we’re going to uphold justice! It’s the Wild West! There ain’t no rules nor regulations, all that matters is who you know and who knows you. Rustle cattle, arrest outlaws, mine for gold and fight bandits. Or, if you’re so inclined, hold up the bank, rob the rich, and duel your way to the top. At the end of it all, only the best will be remembered as Western Legends.
2 – 6 Players | 1-3 Hours | Designed by Hervé Lemaître
Western Legends was brought to Kickstarter in January 2018. Kolossal Games, the publisher, debuted with Western Legends, and while this was their first Kickstarter project under the brand, their team is assembled from several industry veterans. Upon launch, the game generated a lot of buzz. It is highly unique, boasting a sandbox style wild west experience with amazing art by Roland MacDonald. The artistic style really captures and shapes the feel of the world. The game’s diverse characters are based on true historical figures from American history, with each character including a little bit of detail so you can really get into things and play your part.
How does it work?
Western Legends is a sandbox style, almost role play game where players pursue various options for gaining Legendary Points, in an effort to become the most legendary name in the west. Players start the game with a character card which determines starting location and items. Each character has a special ability which can help shape the way you play the game, for example: ‘as an action, steal a card from a player in your space’.
The game takes place on a map of the wild west that contains two towns and several locations. There are several avenues that can lead to gaining points, with the core methods boiling down to being a good guy (marshal), being a bad guy (wanted), or being a delivery guy (either or neither). Being good or bad is formalised by ‘marshal points’ and ‘wanted points’ which are recorded on two tracks. There’s a main deck of ‘poker’ cards that are multi use – they can provide actions, they are used to determine the outcomes of fights, and they are used to play poker.
Players take turns moving around the board and gathering points in different ways. Players can then perform certain actions based on their location on the board. Mines allow players to gather gold nuggets, the General Store lets players buy and upgrade items such as guns and mounts. You can pick up cattle at the ranches and ferry them to various locations for rewards. The Bank allows for the deposit of gold for points, or can be held up for money and wanted points.
There are NPC bandits scattered around the board that players can fight for points, as well as options for player vs player fights. Marshal players can arrest wanted players, players can duel for points, or players can even rob other players! Fights are resolved using the poker cards, so there is no randomness in fighting (apart from drawing from the deck).
Players do their thing until someone reaches a pre-determined point threshold (15 – 25 depending on game length). At this point the game is wrapped up and final scores are determined. Players add bonus points from items and goals to their accumulated points, as well as bonuses from the Marshal and Wanted tracks. Whomever ends up with the most Legendary Points is deemed the greatest Outlaw/Marshal that ever lived!
What do I think?
I’ve played Western Legends three times so far, with 3, 5 and 6 players. Each game was wildly different, with player meta and good/bad pursuits varying massively between games. Western Legends is certainly a game where what players do influences the flow and direction of the game, and it is interesting to see how this pans out over several plays of the game. I’m going to compare the game a bit to Xia: Legends of a Drift System which is a favourite of mine and I think that it shares a similar gameplay and feel to Western Legends.
The Good Stuff
- Western Legends does feel genuinely like a sandbox. Because there is little penalty/sunk cost in pivoting (i.e. from good guy to bad guy), players are free to switch up strategies mid game and play opportunistically. There are so many distinct strategies available for scoring points I’m certain that I’ve not even seen all viable avenues yet.
- Analysis paralysis is rarely an issue, especially for a sandbox game where each turn allows for multiple actions. One of issues with Xia is that when a player finishes an ‘arc’ in the middle of a turn, they sometimes spend ages figuring out what to do next. Western Legends is a more ‘point salad’ game, you don’t invest as much in missions or strategies.
- The game is engaging even when it’s not your turn. Playing a 6 player game, one player commented on the wait between turns, but I didn’t feel it as we were involved in other player’s turns. You regularly get pulled back in to the game for poker, operating NPCs, being involved in fights as well as the story cards.
- You can’t really ‘go wrong’, almost everything you can do leads to gaining points in some way or another. This is great for accommodating all play styles – you can form a longer term strategy but shorter term plans will also pay off well.
- Western Legends is very thematic. The actions blend well with the theme, with each aspect of the game making sense in the context of the wild west. Things like fighting, items and penalties make intuitive sense.
- The game is highly geared to be fun. While some parts of the game don’t seem super balanced or fair, everything is aimed towards being as fun as possible.
- Using cards in hand as a resource for resolving fights is an improvement over the randomness of dice in battles in Xia.
- Once you get past the psychological barrier of living the outlaw life (being mean to your friends), it is quite a fun and rewarding way to play.
- The penalties for being robbed/arrested aren’t wholly debilitating. A bit of a slap on the wrist and you are off again wreaking havoc (or living a reformed life!)
- The poker is such a great addition to the game. It’s just really fun when someone says ‘I’m playing poker’ and everyone in town gets to join in.
- The item system is well done. Items are useful without feeling overpowered, and they are equally available to everyone. I don’t like it when a game *cough Eclipse* has upgrades that only a few or one player can get.
- I really like how the game is a ‘race to x points’ to trigger the endgame, but you aren’t necessarily the winner for getting there first due to bonus points. Compared to Xia this is a great change.
The Bad Stuff
- The character goal cards are disappointing. I was hoping for more customised and thematic (storyish) missions but they are more or less a set of a few very basic goals (e.g. fight someone in a town) that are duplicated across all the characters.
- What you draw from the poker deck can significantly affect your options in the game. In one of the games I played, I was quite keen on being an outlaw but I just kept drawing low cards and wouldn’t of had much luck with heists or fights.
- Being a lone outlaw is very difficult. There is a little scope for this because if all other players are good you will get arrested all the time. Becoming and remaining an outlaw is a lot of effort, and it feels like being good is just generally easier, though this is mediated by the players. Smart outlaws will make it a big effort with little reward to be arrested.
- Adding to the above, I think it’s crucial that some players are outlaws and some are marshals to have a fun game. Having a good mix of outlaws and marshals in a game means everyone always needs to watch their back and there is a great amount of suspense during each player’s turn. Unfortunately this isn’t enforced by the game in any way, and it’s easy to end up with all players being ‘good’ and just doing the pick up and deliver actions to get points which is pretty boring.
- There is a lot of subjectivity in NPC fights. Another player needs to operate NPCs, and the way the cards are designed (you choose to win and do something nice to the player, or lose and do something mean to the player) puts a burden on the decision maker. The decision maker’s interests can factor in heavily to NPC fights. The decision maker might choose what is best for them rather than what is worst for the player fighting the NPC. This just feels really weird to me, and it’s one of the places where dice make more sense.
- The map can be a bit confusing. It does looks nice but usability was sacrificed in its design – there are hard to see borders and the irregular area shapes can lead to confusion or players checking lots of different paths to make sure they way they are going is the shortest.
- Having more available items would be cool, but I think there is already a good amount included.
- Upon opening for the first time, I was initially disappointed with the component quality. Western Legends was an expensive game (USD $75 plus shipping) and what we’ve come to expect from games at this price is amazing quality. Everything works perfectly fine, but the player aids and chits in particular are a bit flimsy. I think the player mats are great and the cards are all superb in quality. After playing the game a few times these issues don’t worry me as the gameplay more than makes up for this.
I was very excited to initially read about Western Legends when the Kickstarter campaign came up. Xia is one of my favourite games, and having another similar style game with a different setting really appealed to me. Western Legends really delivers on the sandbox game experience, and makes several improvements to my criticisms of Xia. I think that something to keep in mind with games that are driven by the players is that they will live or die on how your group of friends approaches the game. If everyone is too conservative, Western Legends is going to be pretty boring for you. I’ve found each subsequent game I’ve played, the meta evolves and players are more willing to take risks and be mean. And that’s really what creates hilarious and incredibly fun moments. If you like the idea of a game that lets you walk in to a bank, arrest some outlaws that are holding it up, deposit your gold, and then hold it up yourself and run off cackling, Western Legends offers all that and more – check it out!