The Wild West theme never truly dies. In the 1950s this genre was so prevalent that it was essentially that decade’s version of CSI and other crime shows today. Fast forward six decades and the genre is still alive and kicking in almost every form of entertainment with movies like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, and Rockstar games Red Dead Redemption II which just released last year. Now the tabletop arena has a western sandbox game to call its own, with Kolossal Games Western Legends, which tasks its players with trying to become the most famous or infamous name in history. Is this one worth throwing on the spurs for or does it fall off its own horse?
Go West Young Man
A game of Western Legends is played to a number of Legendary Points (LP) that is determined at the start of the game, 15 for a shorter experience, up to 25 for a longer one. Each player receives a play mat to keep track of their health, money, and items. Each player chooses one of the famous characters from the Old West, such as Annie Oakley or Billy the Kid. Then players gain any items, money, and cards that their particular character starts with and places their character on their unique starting space.
The game begins with the player who is highest on the wanted track if there is one. Otherwise, the first player is decided randomly. A round of Western Legends is played over three phases. During the Start-of-Turn Phase, players check if there are any effects they need to resolve, then choose to gain either $20, two poker cards, or $10 and one poker card. Finally, they choose which weapon and mount they want to use that turn, then they move on to the Action Phase.
Players can choose from three actions on their turn and any action can be performed multiple times. The available actions are listed below:
• They can move their mini two spaces per move action, unless they own a mount, such as a horse or a donkey, which allows them to move farther.
• They can perform the action from one of their poker cards. These cards have numerous effects on them, such as gaining LP or even giving the player extra actions.
• They can perform one of the actions from a location space on the board. Locations range from shops where players can spend their hard-earned or ill-gotten money on items, such as better mounts or weapons, a gambling hall where they can try their hand at a round of mini Texas Hold ’em, mining for gold, two ranches for either cattle rustling or wrangling, and the bank where you can deposit your gold, or rob it blind should the mood strike.
• Finally, no Wild West-themed game would be complete without the option of attacking the other players.
When attacking another player, the attacking player can choose to be honorable duel the other player to win 2 LP, or they can be a scoundrel and attempt to rob the victim. If they rob the other player, they gain a wanted point and the choice of stealing either half of that player’s money or gold nuggets, as well as a cattle if the other player has one. If the targeted player is wanted, the final option, for those on the right side of the law, is to try and arrest them. If the arrest is successful the active player gains a Marshall point and sends the criminal to the local sheriff’s office where they’ll lose all their wanted points, cattle, and half their money and gold (rounded up). Regardless of attack type, players then select a poker card and reveal them simultaneously. Then a reaction round occurs, with players having the chance to play other cards to alter the battle in numerous ways. After all, is said and done the player with the highest value card is the winner.
After the active player has performed all three actions they proceed to the End-of -Turn Phase. First they check the story cards to see if they contributed to any of them, if they did they place one of their colored discs on those cards, and story cards containing the required number of discs are flipped over and carried out. These cards add even more flavor to the game by giving bonuses or penalties to the players who contributed to them. After this players discard down to their hand limit which decreases the more wounds they sustain. At this is the point the wanted track truly comes into play. If a player is on the wanted track they gain a number of LP-based on how far along the track they are, potentially netting up to a whopping 3 LP per turn if they avoiding the long arm of the law long enough to advance that far.
If the player reaches enough LP to trigger the end game the current round is played out, then each player plays one final round to try and rack up as much LP as they can. After the last player takes their turn final scoring is determined in the following ways.
• LP gained for upgraded mounts and weapons
• One LP for every $60 they own
• Minus one LP for each wound
• Most wanted player gains three-LP, all other wanted players gain one LP
• Marshal players gain LP based on which row they are currently in
When all points are added together the player with the most LP is declared the winner and the top gun in the Old West.
How the West Was Fun
Western Legends is an Ameri-Trash game in all the best ways possible. You’re not going to be spending a lot of time agonizing over strategic decisions. Instead, you will be diving headfirst into a true sandbox experience, carrying out just about any western fantasy your heart desires. If you want to try and be the most infamous criminal possible, go rob the bank and attack as many players you can! If that’s not your thing, you can do your best Texas Ranger impression, bringing justice using the Big Iron on your hip by arresting either other players or bandit NPC’s on the board. You can even go the neutrality route and simply try and live a normal life, prospecting for gold, gambling, and throwing massive parties at the local saloon to bolster your reputation.
This game is heavy on the theme with everything you do making you feel like you are a cowboy from the old west. I don’t think I’ve ever had a game of it go by without constant use of the phrase “howdy pardner.” I can almost guarantee someone in your group will start whistling the theme to the Good, The Bad and The Ugly without even thinking. Just put on a Spaghetti Western playlist to really turn up the ambiance.
This is one of those games I love because it’s all about the stories that arise from playing. For example, our first play through my wife was an outlaw right from the get-go, the Marshall players and I just could not capture her. She was evading every single arrest attempt and kept racking up huge points. As the game was nearing its end, I was at the bank making a deposit, in strolls my wife and tries to rob the place with me still inside of it. It was so brazen I couldn’t help but laugh. She ended up getting arrested and losing, but she would have won the game had she succeeded.
The game’s components are all really good quality. I especially like the poker cards, which have a very authentic old-timey look to them. The dice used when mining for gold is big, chunky, and easily readable, and the board itself looks like an old beat up map. For the general store, there’s a cardboard holder that displays all the items the shop sells. It’s very easy to put together, stores in the box fully constructed, and adds a nice little touch to the game’s overall feel. The minis are all well-made, though nearly everyone I’ve played with always gives me a confused expression when I explain that they are all generic and aren’t modeled after the available characters.
Though the player count on the box says it plays as few as two people, I wouldn’t recommend playing with less than four. At two players the game adds in an NPC player called the “man in black” who uses his own deck of cards to perform his actions. I’ve never been a fan of dummy characters, and when you have a game such as this where most of the fun revolves around role-playing and storytelling an NPC seems even less appealing. The game is playable with three players, but it can create a two-against-one or a cat-and-mouse situation or make the map feel too large.
I also think the shop could use a few more items. In the base game there are only three weapons, and two mounts, and a few miscellaneous items. Most games I’ve played, I’ve only made one shopping trip near the start of the game and never found much of a reason to go back, unless for some reason I have a major strategy change. This may be alleviated with expansions, but out of the box, I found myself wanting a few more options for my shopping needs.
If you don’t mind some “take that” elements, Western Legends is a game that’s all about style and having a rollicking good time. You’re bound to come away with one or two great stories every session. Any game that lets me stumble into a saloon, punch a rival player in the face, and then ride out of town like a tumbleweed in the wind, is going to get high marks from me. This one is certainly more “good” than “ugly.”
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AKA “The Board Game Mole”
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