Quick Look: Best of the West
Designers: Eric Smith, Pat Wetherbee
Artist: Javier Charro
Publisher: Wily Beast Games
Best of the West is an asymmetrical open-world Western board game for 2-6 players. Play on your own as an intrepid Pioneer or join up with the dastardly Bandit Gang for co-op action. Each character has multiple unique abilities. Load up with Weapons, Items, Pets, and Power Cards to outwit and defeat your enemies.
I am a fan of asymmetric game play; so when the Publisher’s description stated this game is an open-world asymmetric game, I was intrigued. I also liked that you could play as a Pioneer (good guy in my mind) or a Bandit (bad guy in my mind), which meant there was definite re-playability because you could chose a different character each time; however, I missed the co-op play of the Bandits in the description, and I’m not a big fan of co-op games. The long play time, at 2-3 hours, worried me though. Many games with this long of a play time are highly complex with lots of fiddly bits; real brain-burners. Thankfully Best of the West is long because you need enough turns to perform actions (you’re not going to score every round). As a grand adventure game, Best of the West delivers.
The rule book is laid out such that it walks you through the rules and actions of the game. You will want to keep the rule book handy for each encounter until you are fairly familiar with the game. There are a number of encounters / actions possible in the game, and each encounter / action is explained in the rule book. It isn’t hard to know what encounter / action you may want to choose, but players may need to walk through the rule book on each play until players are comfortable with what happens when during an encounter / action.
The set up may take some time, particularly with players who have not played the game before. The game requires fairly equal numbers of Pioneers and Bandits, so players will need to decide who will play as Pioneers and who will play as Bandits. Players will then need to take the time to read each of the character abilities for their group to choose which character they will play.
The remainder of the setup is fairly straightforward and takes about 20 minutes. The main board is placed in the middle (orientation doesn’t necessarily matter) with the associated cards and tokens around the outside of the board. Each player takes their character boards, any specialized tokens for their character, and a starting income (and cards for the Bandits).
Theme and Mechanics:
In Best of the West you are either a Pioneer trying to make a name for yourself in animals or gold, or you are a Bandit trying to take the animals or gold away from the Pioneers.
As a Pioneer you must choose between gathering animals and bringing them back to the ranch or panning and mining for gold. Since each of these choices takes unique tools to accomplish, you can only do one at a time.
As a Bandit you are working with all the other Bandits to steal what the Pioneers have to take back to your hideout. In addition, Bandits can also rob the Bank, the Train, or the Saloon.
Best of the West is played over 25 rounds. Each round the Pioneers take their turns and then the Bandits take their turns. The Pioneers have a first player marker that gets passed each turn and Pioneers play in order each round. When it’s their turn, the Bandits can play in any order and work together to choose who plays when each round.
On their turn, Players have an unlimited number of Free Actions (Buy and Exchange items, Turn In gold/animals/etc. for money, Use items, and Reload), Once per Turn Actions (Bandits can gain an Ambush card, Movement, Mining/Panning/Herding/etc., Use a Power card, and Ride the Train), and a limited number of actions following winning a battle (Reload, Use consumables, and Bandits may move). Each player performs all of their actions before play moves on to the next player, this is especially important for the Bandits. There are a few other rules to remember, such as no area on the board can have more than 2 players in it, other players can pass through but cannot stop, and Bandits cannot reenter hiding on the same turn they came out of hiding.
The aim of each Pioneer is to maximize their earning potential each round, since the player with the highest Rep at the end of the game is the winner. Money and Rep is earned through Mining/Panning or Herding Livestock, and Trapping. A Pioneer must equip the correct tool for the task they want to accomplish, and have the bag capacity to do/hold more Gold/Animals. The aim of the Bandits is to strike the Pioneers at the right time before they reach their destination and steal their Gold/Animals. Bandits earn Money and Rep by returning Gold and Animals to their hideout. Bandits can also gain Money and Rep by robbing the Bank, Train, or Saloon. All of the Bandits win together if they can get the Bandit Rep marker highest on the Rep track.
At the end of each round, the Train moves to the next station; if the Round Marker is on one of the Poker Tournament spaces, the Poker Tournament occurs; the Starting Player marker is passed; and the Round Marker is moved up. At the start of the round, beginning with round 2, there are some round startup actions, Bandits in hiding gain +1 to the movement when coming out of hiding; Dead players in the Graveyard return to their starting locations, or Jail for the Bandits; Bandits who were already in Jail move up one, or return to their starting location if freed; Bank Interest is paid to the Pioneers; and if the Round Marker is on Round 9 or 16, the last place player receives a Revolver or Bag upgrade.
At the end of the game, all Gold, Livestock, and Furs are converted into Rep (half rounded up) and then every 10 dollars is a Rep. The player with the highest Rep wins. In the case of a tie, the tied players have a duel. Last player standing is the winner.
What is done well:
I wanted the game to give me the feeling of struggling to make it in the Old West, and the game delivered. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do everything, but trying to do the most I could each turn was my aim. There were times, however, where it seemed like a good thing to just do something simple in order to set myself up for better success later. It is definitely a game you will have to play several times to try everything. There are certainly plenty of things to do during the game.
The Bandits seemed to work well together sometimes and not well others. I could tell that if you had a group playing the Bandits that were in sync, they could be a very formidable force. It seems to be about timing with the Bandits, but if they time it right, their turns can be quite lucrative.
The gun/knife fights seem fairly balanced. No one player can equip something that will always win them the fight. Sure, there are things that can tip it in your favor, but the other player may have it as well. Also, when you lose a fight, you aren’t completely out of the game or reset to starting over. You keep some things and spend some time at the Graveyard, but then you are right back in the next round.
It’s going on my list of games to play when my game groups are looking for a longer or grand adventure game.
What some may find issue with:
The game will take up some room, so you will need a fairly large table at which to play. I set it up on a 48” round table and the game took almost all of the playing area, leaving very little room for the players and their boards. You might be able to do a little space saving with some strategic placement of tokens, but if you are playing with 6 players, you will definitely need the room … or be very cozy with the players next to you.
Playing as a Bandit takes a bit of patience. While Pioneers typically have something to do each round, Bandits may not. For example, at the start of the game, until Pioneers have something to steal, Bandits are primarily just preparing for future encounters. And during the game, there are times when a Bandit will essentially not be able to do anything, such as while a Bandit is hiding, that’s all the Bandit will do for their turn, unless they come out of hiding, and when they are in jail, they can’t do anything until they are let out or broken out of jail. Finally, each NPC can only be attacked once, so if there isn’t cooperation between the Bandits, an NPC may be attacked at inopportune times.
The rules are not clear about the Poker Tournaments. At first I was very confused with the rules and what happens. I was expecting there to be a game of some sort and a winner declared. Turns out the Poker Tournament is a way to get additional Power Cards. Everyone who enters a Poker Tournament is likely to gain 1 or 2 Power Cards depending on the result of their die roll. There isn’t a comparison of cards or just one winner; everyone can win something.
The Rule Book does not include any additional explanation for the cards and tokens in the game, and there are no reference sheets for players to look at. Players must read each card or token and follow what is on it. The Rule Book does state that cards and tokens take precedent over the Rule Book, so if there is an issue with what is on the card or token, house rules will need to be applied.
The Character abilities are not included in the Rule Book, so while you can have new players read the rules ahead of time to shorten the setup, you can’t have them come ready to pick a team and/or character. If you want new players to look at the Character abilities, you will need to supply that information yourself.
I grew up in the Western U.S. and identified with being a cowboy when I was younger. I enjoy western movies and music, so this game seemed well suited to me. This game includes all the things good westerns should have, ranching, panning and mining for gold, meetings with Native Americans, gun fights, traps, ambushes, and the list goes on. The game doesn’t try to do everything or try to make you think you have to do everything from the Old West, but it will keep those who like western themed games interested. This is definitely not an ice-breaker game, you will want to play with friends or a good gaming group, and unless you usually play longer games, you will need to set aside time to play. If you enjoy games with lots of possible actions and outcomes, you will like Best of the West.
Players Who Like:
Grand Adventure games, asymmetric and/or cooperative game play, risk vs reward, Western themed games in general
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Thomas Shepherd- Reviewer
I grew up loving to solve puzzles, play games, and have fun. In my younger years I had fun playing pencil games, enjoyed the creativity of playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, and generally hanging out with others. My favorite thing to do was to make puzzles of all kinds, mazes, word games, picture games, etc.
Sadly my career took me in a different direction, solving computer problems rather than gaming problems.
Gaming came back into my life, though, in a big way about 15 years ago, and I have held onto it since. I still enjoy designing games and have 9 published titles, which I did through my own game publishing company, Toresh Games, prior to the Covid pandemic. Sadly I was not able to sustain the company through the pandemic.
I highly encourage people to play games, make friends, and have fun. As a game enthusiast, I would love to see a return to games as the best social media platform for the masses.
All of Thomas Shepherd’s reviews can be found HERE.