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.
The game as such:
Without further due, let’s talk about the game principles for once.
In Best of the West, 2 to 6 player will control a character of the Old Wild West. They will take turns in order to try and reach fame and glory in those difficult lands. Half of the player actually play as a team of bandits that need to cooperate to amass some benefits from the pioneers’ efforts. Pioneers on the other hand are neutral to one another while being enemies of the bandits. Every character has its own personal traits and powers and the team they are in defines different gameplay rules.
And without even knowing more you’d understand how Best of the West put a big A in Asymmetrical.
One after the other, the pioneers will try to earn money and reputation by hoarding the lands for Gold, in rivers or in mines and gathers furs and animals to sell to the Farm. They will be able to help themselves by buying weapons and tricks alike on the road or even by making a detour, loosing time, to get that suit overpowered card.
Bandits on the other hand will need to collect those same resources on the corpses of the pioneers between their collecting point and their selling point. When they have a Pioneer at gunpoint, they are also allowed to take a bribe for the turn and be on their way, effectively splitting the Pioneer’s gathered resources as they see fit but getting away unarmed.
Bandits are also allowed to try and rob the Non-Playable Character on the map, although attacking the bank where pioneers hold their belongings is quite dangerous.
After everybody has taken 25 turns, the game ends and the person with the most prosperity is declared the Best of the West.
Notes on the Asymmetrical Gameplay:
Why ? Because I love digressions as much as I love asymmetry in board games. Most games that encompasses some kind of asymmetry between players have the asymmetry implemented as a player ability. Enhancement of some action or unique ability, it is by far a common way to implement it.
Best of the West also does so, every character comes with a defined ability that will help him in every situation. Although I did not test every character against every other possible character, going through the powers, they seem balanced to me. And that’s the most difficult part for developer in both boardgames and videogames at that point, to balance the character with one another. If a producer fails to do so he may always list some as the “easy” characters and others as the “difficult” characters.
However, nowadays the developer stop at nothing to have the game more and more asymmetrical to their core. That is what they did in Best of the West, having half of the players fighting as a team whereas the others are more individualistic. And I love it but … it also comes with its fair share of inconveniences. Depending of the players’ experience and strength, one needs to think about how they choose to appoint player cautiously. Should you have all experienced player in the bandit team, the team might easily feast upon the weakest player. But put otherwise, a strong player in a team with two weak players will face difficulties not bossing them around or winning.
Other things I need to say:
Alternatively, the bribing mechanism might allow for some favoritism much like all games that allow free open exchanges, if you ever had the habit of playing Catan with your two siblings, you will surely have understood already that some alliances are not made to choose the winner but rather to choose the one that will certainly not win.
Well, assuming from now on that you are playing with equally gifted (combining nature and experience) and not secretly working against one single player, I have many good things to say about Best of the West. The author developed a real feeling of Openwordliness, allowing players to move freely on the map and complete most of their actions in the order they see fit, on a not-so-big-of-a-map. The special abilities of each character and their diversity allows for many different combination of opponents, add to that the amount of pet’s you can tame, object and objects and weapons you can buy as well as the 3 carrier path you can follow and you’ll have more possible outcomes than one might tell.
Noticed something in the above description? Well. I could have written the same about your favourite MMORPG, this would apply as perfectly and that is the feeling I got while playing Best of the West. The feeling of a simplified yet whole Wild West RPG, although character do not level up they buy new weapons and new tools and you chose what to do with them, including collecting resources, fighting and interacting socially.
Another typical VideoGame-like mechanism implemented is the “push your luck against an enemy”. You will always hear player fragging or looting asking their teammate not to be too greedy.
Who never died stupidly out of greed in a MOBA or trying to frag that sweet “annihilate team before they respawn in a FPS ?
If, tonight, instead of raiding you went a spend a few hours playing a board game and somehow get the same feeling out of hit (being joy or despair depending on your score), Best of the West is made for you. And that’s also where it might come as a bumper to some, certainly less experienced players, the game is long (count at least 2h30 playing with 4 people), but never in a boring way. They introduced scenario-zed turn event keep each of them very different from the previous ones.
First of all, allow me to say it : the game really comes with a lot of material, between the amount of reminding tiles, the amount of cards and the amount of token and custom meeples, there is enough material there for everybody to enjoy.
A quick look at the board will directly make you see that you are indeed in the old Wild West. The cards are beautiful and easy to read. The board is detailed and colorful, going easily and with finesse from desert to woody just like nature. But like nature it also misses written indication it took me quite some time to find where the “Bunker” (tip it’s the waterfall), which is the starting point of the bandits, was. Small semi-transparent name would have been appreciated and to the purist that thinks it ruins the art of a board, I would say that one side could be with indication and the other without. :p
Playerboards and punch boards
In one word: many! the tokens are well organized per category easily identifiable by colors and … a reminder of the rule concerning the token is included on the back of the tokens !
Each player has its own player boards, to store both their money and gathered resources. Those are quite standard but the editor was smart enough to include reminders of the rules, especially what you can buy where and how much everything is worth. D&D 5e player are of course not impressed and don’t understand why I need those kind of player aids but let’s be honest, they’d love it if it was 5e compatible: D.
The games come with its load of custom meeples in various smart colors and shapes, from the train that turns around the map, to the judge hammer and including 6 sorts of animals! Differences in colors and shapes make those easily recognizable.
Organizer and Box
The organizer is well designed and all but is pretty basic and lets you put everything where you want to. One problem I faced though is the size of the box or rather its optimization. Lots of stuff and certainly lot of cardboard stuff means that you’ll have a big box, that’s normal and one lead to the other with a direct logical link, but the box sized closed is dimensioned for the game unpunched.
This basically means that with the amount of tokens, the box could have been nearly 4 centimeters smaller and still, after you’d had bought it and unpunched it, the box would have been closed tightly and perfectly. Trade off would have been that when bought it would be a little bigger (from the piled cardboard inside. Of course, if you have a lot of space you do not really care.
Cards are well printed and for best or worst have a plastic feeling finish, they are easy to shuffle and do not get damaged easily by shuffling.
The game comes with blue and red d-8, that are totally standard.
So should I buy it ?
Best of the West is a big box loaded with a ton of stuff and comes with a lot of stuff but it also requires a lot of time to play and is pretty pricey. You may overcome the length by splitting the game though, due to time constrains I cut each of my tests in three sessions of roughly one hour, no problem at all.
So depending on your current collection and the interest you have in owning a great asymmetrical Old West styled game, I’d say the choice is yours and depending on the group you usually play with. As for all “expert” a little long games like Scythe or the big bad old Twilight Imperium (or most 4X out there), you should evaluate it against your usual play group and play lengths, would you rather play 3 different games of 1hour or 1 single game of 3hours?
Find out more at BGG.
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QuelqunQui (literally Someone who in French) is an eclectic who can’t stop doing more than one thing at a time.. Quelqunqui is a harpsichordist and gamer at heart that doesn’t abide by rules he doesn’t believe in. When not playing he’s traveling the world for the Belgian Air force.
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