Great Western Trail: the review of the second edition

Great Western Trail: the review of the second edition

Great Western Trail

It was 2016 when Alexander Pfister's successful games such as Scythe, Star Wars: Rebellion and SeaFall arrived on the market for the first time, but also and above all Great Western Trail which became famous not only for the numerous sector awards received, but also for having always been considered a board game that made substance the real strength over a rather frugal aesthetic.

It was not, in its original version, a bad game but the innovative gameplay and intelligent mechanics of the product would certainly have deserved greater aesthetic care by the always elegant Austrian designer. After six years of waiting, the second edition of Great Western Trail finally arrives in Italian, by Ghenos Games, characterized by a totally revisited design and even more fun gameplay.

Great Western Trail: unboxing and materials

Some tiles and cards now have light backgrounds instead of dark, which makes their icons easier to distinguish. The colors on the board are brighter and more attractive and are in stark contrast to the tiles of the private buildings which have more muted colors. By far the best artistic change, however, is the elimination of the White Men vs Native American sub-theme featured in the first edition. Now the main problems are no longer the teepees, but the bandits (who are clearly white) and the workers who are hired during the game have gone from just white men to a white man, a white woman and a black man. Representation is important, and even this small visual diversity, combined with the elimination of the notion of Native Americans as an enemy, is a welcome update. It goes without saying that the game components have quite refined invoices both for the materials used, such as wood, and for the attention to detail.

Are you ready to become the great entrepreneurs of the 19th century?

Great Western Trail sees the players, from 1 to 4 and over the age of 12, take on the role of 19th century cattle owners. They compete to construct buildings, purchase livestock, hire staff and deliver in Kansas City. The goal of the game is to collect the most victory points, which can be done in various ways throughout the game. The most important part of traveling as a livestock farmer is your own play area. The personal dashboard shows a series of auxiliary actions, the actions to be performed in one's turn, the certificates received and one's work team.

The herd is represented by a small deck of cards that is the same for each player since start of the game. As in any deck building game, each player will optimize the cards in their hand by buying higher value cows from the markets and adding them to their deck. Cow cards come in nine different colors, with gray Jersey cows being the least valuable and purple Texas Longhorns being the most expensive. The problem is that at the time of sale each player will only profit from the single cow in their hand and this forces players to pre-sell any duplicates in exchange for a small amount of money and the opportunity to buy more cows. >

Cattle can be delivered to any space along the tracks that has a value equal to or less than the total, but one of the most important things to do during the game is to place buildings on the board. To place a building, you must move your cowboy to one of the spaces that allow you to build new buildings along the path. These buildings, indicated by the player's color, only provide the latter with special actions and force opponents to pay a toll when they pass through. Each building requires a certain number of workers and a construction cost. Once built, buildings can also be upgraded following the same procedure as building, but paying only one difference: for example, if you want to build a level 6 building by upgrading the level 4 building, you will have to take 2 workers and pay 4 coins. Each building also has two sides, and all players choose which sides of the buildings to use for the entire game.

Three impressive new features

Mechanically speaking, the second edition introduces three important changes to the original version. It adds two new private buildings to each player's set (so each player has 12 buildings to choose from), a solo mode and a mini-expansion with cows that grow and improve by rewarding players for holding them.

The solo mode was developed by Steve Schlepphorst and works more like a timer than a real opponent. The "dummy" player, Sam, has a deck of 15 movement / action cards that you will need to shuffle and swipe between turns. Sam will quickly move his train along the tracks, take the most valuable cards, remove workers from the job market, occasionally buy a cow or two, and take lots of objective cards, all of which marks as if they have been completed at the end of the game. At the same time it won't get in the way of the real player making this mode more fun, but at the same time totally different from the experience with other players.

Sam moves the game, but placing a sort time limit that allows you not to have infinite rounds and sets a score to beat. The mini-expansion, on the other hand, introduces the Simmental Cow cards to the market. These are sold as calves, with a value of one, and if you have them in your hand when you reach Kansas City, they can be replaced with a Simmental card of value two. The same goes for cards of value two, updating them to value three, which is their maximum peak. After that you are forced to send them to the slaughter, but with their value tripled. In a nutshell: those who decide not to sell their livestock immediately are rewarded.

The ugly duckling becomes a beautiful swan

Great Western Trail is a game that must be learned thoroughly and unfortunately the regulation does not help because it is long, rich in detail and difficult to dissect. It is also not even a short game, having an average length of between 75 and 150 minutes, but it is incredibly fun and dynamic. The various rounds are short, but require good reasoning from the players and therefore this leads to a somewhat variable downtime. Upkeep is just as smooth and only occurs when a player reaches Kansas and requires only a quick placement of tiles and tokens. First glimpses at the game's dense iconography and richness of components might suggest a ruthless and heavy game. However, while it is certainly not a light game, the simple turn-by-turn process makes it easy for players to make the winding journey, releasing key information along the way and ensuring a good understanding of how the game works on early journeys. >

This elegant flow of information along the journey allows players to feel a sense of satisfaction with their mastery of the interlocking mechanisms and their own strategies, creating an extremely rewarding experience that you will want to try again More and more times. The excellent mix of deck building, tile placement, action management and point-to-point movement never becomes too complex. Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed by choices, but ultimately every action makes sense. Great Western Trail mimics the freedom and vastness of the old west, allowing players to choose their own path to victory. You may be happy with your humble herd and choose to make a living by installing train stations, employing your workers as stationmasters to wait for the various end-game bonuses. Or you could move into the construction sector, capitalizing and making your opponents pay just passing through your buildings or entirely in the land trying to have as many high-quality cows as possible. The progress of the game is largely left in the hands of the players. Do you want more interaction with the players? Build more buildings. Do you want to finish the game quickly before someone else does? Get to Kansas ASAP!


Great Western Trail is a truly excellent game worthy of a place in any one's collection. If you are looking for a fresh, full-bodied, non-trivial board game that cleverly stands out from the competition, you certainly can't go wrong with this top-notch tickler. The latter feature has been known since 2016, but the new year has allowed us to enjoy new graphics, better quality components, a mini-expansion and a solo mode. What more could you want? It is now perfect for both fans of the original title and anyone who has heard of it but didn't know yet whether to buy it or not.

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