Longhorn (Blue Orange, 2013)

Basic details: 2 players; 20 minutes; competitive

Dates played: October 4 and 10, 2020

Gist of the game: Two competing cattle rustlers try to outdo one another to be the cattle-stealing champion with the most money.

Nine location tiles are placed at random in a 3×3 grid. Each tile receives a specified number of cattle, placed at random (in terms of color) and an action token (also chosen at random, except the sheriff must be placed at Nugget Hill if that token is drawn). A flip of the oversized outlaw token determines which player goes first. The 2nd player chooses the 1st player’s starting position from among the locations with 4 cattle.

On each turn, the outlaw steals cattle and moves the outlaw token to a new location for their opponent to begin their turn.

To steal cattle, the player chooses a color and must steal all the cattle of that color at that location. If the location contains no more cattle at the end of their raid, they must apply the effect of the action token.

Action tokens may be gold nuggets with varying values to be applied at the end of the game; a branding iron, which prompts the player to take all the cattle of the same color on one of the orthogonally adjacent tiles; an epidemic, which removes all cows of a particular color from the board, making them valueless at the end of the game; the sheriff, which causes the player to immediately lose the game; snake oil, which gives the player a second immediate turn; an ambush, which allows the player to steal a random gold nugget or 2 cows of the same color from they other player; or a rattlesnake, which forces a player to take a cattle of each color in their possession and place them in any configuration on the orthogonally adjacent tiles.

To move the token, the player moves the token to a location a number of squares away from the current location equal to the number of cattle just stolen. If all the locations at that distance are empty, the game is over. If at least one location at this distance still has cattle, the player must move the token to this location.

The game ends when: 1) a player activates the sheriff token; 1) a player accumulates all 9 cattle of the same color; or 3) all locations at the necessary distance are empty. Cattle are scored with each cattle worth $100 for each cattle of the same color still on the board. So a cattle whose color still has 4 cattle on the board is worth $400.

Color commentary: This game was part of a recent round of Western-themed acquisitions, and may be just about the shortest period of time we’ve owned a game before playing, at just a couple weeks. If we return to themed months, there will probably be another Old West month on the horizon.

Either I’m unquestionably losing my edge or I’m becoming better at teaching board games to people and M and I are therefore starting on more equal footing, in which case I’m just not very good at games and my previous 24-hour advantage needs to be ascribed to inadequate instruction to M on how to play the game. I’ll probably stop actively thinking about this at some point, but for now it just seems like such a sharp contrast. Talking with M earlier today after reeling from yet another loss, I was reminded of repeated victories in reflex-based games like Loonacy and Frog Pig Pug. I’m not sure if I should feel good about winning games that are less-skill and more-speed, but I suppose if nothing else, I can rest assured that my anxiety makes me twitchy enough to do well at speed games.

In any case, despite my repeated losses, this was a fun game, and surprisingly thinky for a game that can be played so quickly. There’s definitely strategy involved, which is probably the actual cause of my poor performance, because despite studying politics for ages, I’m pretty lousy at being strategic. Is it any wonder game theory was such a challenging class?!

After playing with the sheriff for a couple rounds, we decided on a house rule to never use that token, at it takes some of the fun out of the game to force a loss that way rather than by truly outcompeting the other in terms of cattle stealing.

Thoughts from M: First of all, today’s modern cattle could really benefit from an image upgrade, investing in some Carhartt’s instead of relying on their Rustler jeans to see them through a hard day’s work.

This game is based in part on maximizing scenarios where there are three groupings: 1) denominations (Petra here to translate, at this stopped me in my tracks for several moments while typing this up: quantities of cows of each color) you have; 2) how much each denomination is worth; and 3) denominations the other person has (essentially negative denominations). This is then multiplied by 4 for each color cowple (heh: a cow meeple). When combined with considerations of maneuvering, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer.

The sheriff token acts as a kill switch and I can’t decide if that increases the fun or just makes it too easy to win if your opponent isn’t working to avoid it, as there is no end-of-game cattle counting if the sheriff token is activated. Also, the art is great, and reminds me of my youth spend with Rowdy Yates. (M here pre-empting Petra: Rowdy Yates was Clint Eastwood’s character in the classic Western TV show Rawhide. Petra felt it was necessary to clarify this, but I, on the other hand, do not underestimate the cultured nature of our readership and am confident everyone reading this already knew that, especially since the character was referenced in that big screen classic, The Blues Brothers).

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