Western Legends (Kolossal Games, 2018)

Basic details: 2-6 players; 90-120 minutes; competitive; 2-player variant adds dummy 3rd player

Date played: November 27, 2021

Gist of the game: You take on the identity of an Old West personality. The game allows players to earn the legendary points required for victory through the means of their choice, either becoming an outlaw or a marshal. Outlaws rob banks, rustle cattle, and steal from other players. Marshals fight bandits, wrangle cattle, and arrest wanted players. The player with the most legendary points at the end of the game wins.

To set up the game, the game board is placed in the middle of the play area, and then money cards, item cards, poker cards, cattle tokens, prospecting dice, and gold nuggets are placed in their designated areas. Each player takes a player mat and the scoring cubes, story discs, and ring in their chosen color. Each player draws 2 character cards, chooses 1 and returns the other to the box, and selects a miniature to represent their character. Each player gains all the starting items, money, poker cards, and Marshal or Wanted points indicated on the back of their character card. Their mini is placed on the board on the indicated starting location for their character. The player whose character is most wanted is 1st player. Each player places their wound token on the starting spot on their player mat and places a scoring cube on the Legendary Points track. The story cards are shuffled and divided into two equal piles. Each player puts their story discs in the designated place on the board. A remaining mini is chosen to represent the sheriff and is placed in the Sheriff’s Office on the game board. Six remaining minis are chosen to represent bandits and are placed in the bandit hideouts on the board. The fight cards are shuffled and the deck is placed in the designated area.

Players compete to gain Legendary Points, which are obtained by fighting with other characters, driving cattle, or completing story cards. Players choose the length of the game they want, which determines the number of Legendary Points required to trigger game end. Once game end is triggered, the current round is finished and each player takes one last turn and the game is scored.

Each player’s turn has 3 phases: start of turn, action, and end of turn. During the start of turn phase, players check for start of turn effects; choose between gaining $20, drawing 2 poker cards, or gaining $10 and 1 poker card; and choose a weapon and mount for the turn.

During the action phase, players perform 3 actions. Actions include moving; using an action on a card; fighting another player; and taking a location action.

If a player chooses to move, they can move up to 2 spaces if they don’t have a mount or up to the mount’s maximum if they do. Players can move into locations orthogonally or diagonally adjacent to their current location.

For the option of using an action on a card, players choose the poker, item, or character card whose action they want to use, and carry out the necessary steps. If the action comes from a poker card, that card is then discarded.

To fight another player, which can take the form of an arrest, duel, or robbery, there are 4 steps. Fights can only occur between characters occupying the same space. The active player must declare the target and what kind of fight it is. The active player then chooses a poker card from their hand to fight with and places it face down in front of them. The target player must decide whether to fight or decline. If they fight, they choose a poker card from their hand and place it facedown in front of them. If they decline, they lose the fight automatically and the active player receives the spoils of victory.

If the target player fights, both players simultaneously reveal their cards and resolve any bonus effects. During the 3rd phase of the fight, players, starting with the active player, can use reaction effects on poker cards they have in hand. This continues until neither player wishes to play a reaction.

In the reward phase of the fight, the players receive bonuses and penalties based on the type of fight. The winner is the player with the highest value card after effects are applied. The active player wins ties. The losing player gains 1 wound and 1 poker card.

If the fight is an arrest and the active (marshal) player wins, they gain a Marshal Point. In the arrest, the losing player, in addition to the wound and poker card, is placed in the Sheriff’s Office and loses all Wanted Points, all cattle tokens, and half their money and gold nuggets.

If the fight is a duel, the winning player gains 2 Legendary Points.

If the fight is a robbery, and the active (outlaw) player gains 1 Wanted Point and can steal either half the target player’s money or half their gold nuggets, rounded up.

All poker cards used during the fight are discarded. A fight can only occur between a specific pair of characters once per turn, but the active player can engage in more than one fight by targeting other characters.

The 4th type of action players can take is to take a location action. Depending on their location, players can purchase or upgrade item cards; play poker; prospect for gold; deposit gold nuggets; stage a bank heist; heal wounds; trade money for Legendary Points; acquire cattle; or work.

In the end of turn phase, players resolve all story cards; discard their hand down to 5 poker cards minus 1 poker card for each wound; gain Legendary Points based on their Wanted status; and trigger end game if they have the required number of Legendary Points.

Story cards are resolved if they have the required number of discs, based on player count. If the story disc slots are full for the player count, the discs are removed and all contributing players receive the reward when the card resolves. Players may only place one story disc per turn, and do so when they have met the triggering condition listed on the card.

Players may pursue Marshal or Outlaw points, but never both. An outlaw can never gain Marshal points. If a Marshal gains any Wanted points, they forfeit all their Marshal points and pursue Wanted points for the remainder of the game.

Marshals can gain Marshal points by: defeating a bandit in a fight; wrangling cattle; arresting a Wanted player; using the action on the Living Legend poker card; and through story card rewards. Outlaws can gain Wanted points by: staging a heist (1 Legendary Point if it’s unsuccessful, money and more points if it’s successful); robbing a player; rustling cattle; using the Living Legend poker card; and through story card rewards.

If a player enters a location with a bandit, their movement ends immediately and there is a fight, with the player to the right of the active player drawing cards for the bandits. Unlike in fights with other players, ties favor the bandits, not the active player. Regardless of fight outcome, the bandit is removed from the board at the end of the fight.

The Sheriff is only active if there is a player on the Wanted Track. If the Sheriff enters a location with a Wanted player, the Wanted player immediately discards a poker card and an arrest attempt is initiated by the Sheriff. Similar to the bandits, the Sheriff wins all ties. If the Wanted player wins, they have evaded capture. The Sheriff is returned to the Sheriff’s Office but the player gains no further reward.

At the end of the game, additional scoring takes place. Legendary Points are awarded for each upgraded mount and upgraded weapon they own and for each $60 they have. Players lose 1 point for each wound. The most Wanted player gets 3 points. Marshals gain points based on their row in the Marshal Track. The player with the most points wins.

In a 2-player game, the Man in Black serves as a dummy 3rd player for players to interact with. The Man in Black has a 10 action card deck. Otherwise, game play remains the same.

Color commentary: M had a blowout victory the first game, 18-8, while I adopted his strategy (only stuck to it even more fervently) and won the second game 22-13. I bow to his strategy and the rewards it reaps (although some luck on my part kept him from stealing quite a bit of gold and money during a robbery attempt).

I’m pretty sure this is the first sandbox game I’ve played — where there are a wide variety of actions players can take to work their way to victory — and I’m intrigued by how they work out. I like that there can be limited player interaction, though the Man in Black complicates that in 2-player games because he sometimes directly targets players, and avoiding player interaction really only works if every player does it, as opposed to one player minding their own business and another player constantly fighting them (not that I’m bitter about M’s strategy in the second game or anything. Honest. I’m fine. *sniffle). I think M prefers more player interaction in general, but I’ve also noticed that in games where there is the option, I almost always opt for no player interaction and he opts for high player interaction in the form of messing with me, a la the botched robbery attempt in the second game. I still remember a particular game of Villainous we played where he adopted such a strategy, and how it basically ruined the game for me because he blocked me from taking any meaningful actions. I guess what I’m trying to say is that writing this is making me concerned that he and I are not as compatible as I thought we were, and that to avoid strife, there may need to be discussions before a game about the possible strategies that might be employed and what that will mean for player interaction so that each player can at least be prepared. I don’t think necessarily knowing the strategy ahead of time would make a difference in terms of ability to win the game, but might make it psychologically easier on the player who is probably going to be a constant target (aka me. I think that discussions ahead of time about the fact that I’m going to be harassed would make it psychologically easier on me, as opposed to being surprised by it in the midst of gameplay).

I’m wondering in general about games with these possibilities for asymmetric strategies, though, where one person opts for less player interaction and other players can completely thwart that player. It seems kind of like a design flaw, but I also don’t know how you could fix it without either ratcheting all players’ interactions up or down. So see above the comment about pre-game discussions about how players plan to proceed. Also, perhaps all of this is a broader indication that I should really explore cooperative games with greater vigor. We have multiple shelves of them; perhaps I should start prioritizing them.

Overall, I liked this game, and I think if our strategies (low vs. high player interaction) were synced up it would be more fun. Both have the potential for a fair amount of luck: in low player interaction games, how you do at prospecting or fighting bandits would make a big difference, while in a high interaction game it would come down to what cards you have to work with in fights. We also have all the current expansion content, which includes a playmat that I believe is larger than our table, so we played with just the base game. Some expansion content just adds characters to choose from, while other expansion content seems to involve more changes to how the game is played, and I’m curious as to how those changes impact whether low or high interaction would be more profitable. It is clear that being a Wanted player carries higher rewards, by scoring Legendary Points every turn, but also more risks, as you can be arrested and lose all those points. Being a Marshal seems like a much more plodding strategy, and to avoid direct player interaction you would just be perpetually fighting bandits, which isn’t quite as dynamic as a fight with another player would be.

Thoughts from M: The game certainly looks great. The character cards are really nicely illustrated and provides some immersive details about the characters, all of whom are based in real-life figures. I thought the game was a neat combination of resource management and take-that dynamics. I focused on getting gold and staying out of trouble in the first game. In the second game, I tried to be aggressive in terms of getting into fights. That didn’t work out as well, so it appears the key is to mind gold and stay out of trouble, which would be successful, but also lead to more boring games. Alternatively, you could have friends and play with additional players instead of being limited to your spouse and that Man in Black fellow. As a second alternative, you could also just convince your spouse to fight back so that there’s some real interaction and a more dynamic feeling to the game (in my case, the former may prove to be easier, even in a pandemic).

Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I was once a vicious gunfighter; a gunslinger, if you will. I rode into town and killed who I wanted. Amongst my victims were William Blake, Paladin, and Fievel the mouse. What I’m most proud of is that I was never kind to poor villagers, which is something I guy I never knew the same of can’t say. I did it for the money and the idea that I could have made more money mining gold is deeply offensive to me. Also it makes a duller game than if there are interactions (Petra here: I feel like this is something off a Johnny Cash scrapped songs bootleg. Also, it seems like I’m definitely going to have to look inside myself and get comfortable thwarting other players to make sure M can enjoy games he’s really excited about to the maximum degree).

M rating (with low interactions): 6/10
M presumed rating (with high interactions): 7-8/10
Petra rating (with low interactions): 8/10
Petra presumed rating (with consensual high interactions): 6-7/10

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