Can you imagine heading into the West? Untamed and unmarked land as far as the eye can see. Endless opportunity. Dangers! Well, as we’ll see in today’s review of Old West Empresario, it’s your chance to tame that land! You’re setting up a city, and looking to run it better than your opponents. So is this the 24 karat nugget you’re looking for, or is it just fool’s gold? Let’s find out!
14 each of Silver Wanted cards and Gold Wanted cards—the two sets of cards have identical goals but are worth different VPs.
62 Building tiles
6 Die Number tiles
36 Money tokens
66 VP tokens (60 1 VP tokens and six 5 VP tokens)
9 6-sided dice
1 Start Player marker
4 Town Hall tiles
12 Character cards
1 score pad
Shuffle the 14 Silver Wanted cards and deal out three of them faceup on the table. Then find the matching cards from the Gold Wanted cards and place those on top of the Silver cards.
Set the Die Number tiles out in a line on the table, and then randomly place two Building tiles faceup under each Die Number tile. Then shuffle the rest of the Building tiles and put them in piles or in the box top.
Give each player $3, and a Town Hall tile, which they place in front of them to start their towns.
Count out 15 VP tokens per player and make a pile—placing the rest out of the game. Keep 2 dice, plus 1, for each player in the game—placing the rest out of the game.
Deal two Character cards to each player, and have them choose one to use during the game—placing the others back in the box. (These have a Standard side, and a side with differing player powers. There’s no reason to use the generic side, even for newbies, IMO.)
Finally, give each player 3 random Building tiles. Players choose one to place facedown next to their Town Hall, shuffling the unused ones back into the draw pile.
Pick a random Start Player and you’re ready to go!
The gameplay is straight-forward. The Start Player rolls all the dice and places them each on the corresponding Die Number tile.
Then, starting with the Start Player, each player takes turns taking one die and either activates his or her Town, or takes one of the two available Building tiles underneath that Die Number tile. The Building tile is immediately replaced, and the next player does the same. At the end of the round, each player will have taken two dice, and then one will be left over. Let’s look at this with a bit more detail.
When a player takes one of the Building tiles, he or she has two options.
Option 1 is to just discard that tile and take $3 from the bank. The discarded tile is then shuffled back into the pile.
Option 2 is to place the tile facedown into your town, orthogonally adjacent to one of your faceup buildings. It’s “under construction” and you’ll need to take an action to later build it (turn it faceup). There are a few Buildings (namely Native Settlements) that are built when you place them, but generally you’re placing facedown.
Players can also opt not to take Building tile at all, and use the value on the chosen die to activate any constructed Buildings in their town that have that same number die on them. You can activate the Buildings in any order you’d like, and the Town Hall is a “wild” and will activate with any die. Buildings will let you do various things, including activate a constructed Building of your choice, get some $, build a Building, and so forth.
Players can pay $1 to change the value of a chose die up or down one (and only one)—and you can wrap from 1 to 6 and vice versa.
Once each player has taken two dice, there will be one left over. Starting with the Start Player, each player can now use that leftover die to activate one constructed Building—but you can’t +/- the die.
If at any time a player satisfies the condition of one of the Wanted cards, that player may claim the card and get the VPs at final scoring. The Gold card is worth more VPs than the Silver. If they’re both gone, you’re outta luck.
The game ends at the end of a round where:
a player has 15 constructed Buildings in their town.
the supply of VP tokens is exhausted.
the Building tile supply runs out.
Then you break out the scoring pad and run down the list. Many Buildings will score X points if they’re adjacent to Y other Building. Then many Buildings have some sort of end game scoring mechanism. There’s a small stock addition, where if you get certain icons on certain Buildings, then you can score more points.
And that’s it!
I really enjoyed the puzzle of how to draft to make my town grow, and then work together, and then activate together. And all of this is dependent on the dice rolls, and what Buildings are under those numbers, so it’s a mix of planning and then adapting, which I quite like.
The theme and the art style are great. They match the “sister game” Pioneer Days, which I haven’t played yet, so can’t comment on.
You’re gonna want to make a few color copies of the back cover. For the last couple of games, we spent the ENTIRE game passing them around to other players as we tried to figure out the iconography. It’s not that it’s unintuitive, it’s just that there are a bunch of different ones. We got it down by the third game, or so, but you’ll want it for the first few. Trust me.
I’ve played this at 2, 3, and 4 players, and 3 is the sweet spot. It plays fine at the other numbers, but as is often the case when you’re looking at turning up tiles turn over turn, then 3 is the best balance. I also played this with my 11-year-old, and he did just fine. In fact, he won the first game we played. So it’s a great weight for families.
There’s a smallish elephant in the room here, though, and that’s that the Character cards aren’t equal. Some are obviously worse than others, so even if the game didn’t let us choose from 2, I would add that as a house rule. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s still disappointing.
Firestone’s Final Verdict—Old West Empresario is a solid tile-drafting and tableau-building game with a fun theme and tense gameplay. It’s got enough depth to please gamers, but is still light enough to play with family. That’s a tough niche to pull off, but Tasty Minstrel’s done it.
Theology of Games would like to thank Tasty Minstrel Games for providing a review copy of Old West Empresario; this in no way affected my opinion of the game.
Thanks so much for reading!