Most board games can be divided into two genres, ameritrash and euro-games. Ameritrash games usually place theme at the forefront, often have heavy luck elements, such as dice rolling, and are usually directly competitive, placing players at each others throats from the very first turn. Euro-games generally focus on mechanics first and foremost, usually involve a victory points race, often have very little player interaction, and generally only have a very thin veneer of theme.
Gold West is a euro-game through and through. The mining prospector theme is thin and the board isn't very exciting to look at. The game's mechanics are excellent though, combining area control, mancala-style resource movement, and just enough randomization to keep the game interesting.
The heart of the game revolves around each player's Supply Track. As players expand their territory and acquire resources, they must decide where on their track to place the gathered resources. Players are incentivized to plan ahead and are rewarded with points for placing their resources further down the track. Proper planning is key for players who choose to pursue those points though, as one resource must be dropped in each of the higher boxes as the resources are moved, with only those moving off the top of the player board available for use each turn. Savvy players can make great use of this mechanic, scoring many points in the process of planning out and executing their strategy. It can be equally tempting to rush gathered resources out and grab as much land as possible though, especially when your opponents are pursuing that strategy and gobbling up prime territory.
Thankfully, Gold West's interesting decisions don't end with the Supply Track. The choice of whether to loot or build settlements, which contracts to pursue, which offices to influence in Boomtown, and which precious metals to ship away on your stagecoach are ever present, and it is important to plan around the strategies and moves of your opponents.
As with many euro-games, experienced players are going to be at a great advantage over newer players, but Gold West keeps things interesting by randomizing many of the key elements of the game during setup. Because of this, there doesn't seem to be a single strategy that is the most effective across all playthroughs of the game. During one play, the offices in Boomtown and the various contracts on offer may lend weight to a land-grab strategy, while in the next play it may be more beneficial to ship as many metals as quickly as possible.
Gold West provides the satisfying strategic crunch that makes euro-games appealing, and does so in a very reasonable time-frame. I don't often draw direct comparisons to other games in reviews, but each time I play Gold West I can't help but feel like it is Terra Mystica-lite. It's not nearly as deep as Terra Mystica, but satisfies the same parts of my brain that enjoy area control and resource management while playing in a much shorter time with smoother mechanics that are more easily understood. My 9 year old son really enjoys Gold West, as do other people who I've played it with who won't go near Terra Mystica, meaning it will hit the table far more often, and may even replace Terra Mystica completely in my collection.
A note on player count: Gold West plays well with 2, 3 and 4 players. Effective strategies can vary heavily based on player count, but the decisions remain crunchy and satisfying throughout. The game is certainly most interesting with 4 players, as there are more opponents to keep track of, but it works very well with lower player counts. Two players familiar with the game could easily play a full game in 30 minutes, which is an excellent option for players who want a meaty euro-game experience in a short time frame.
A note on “chrome”: Gold West has excellent components made of thick cardboard and chunky wood. A few of the components, including the stage coaches and the miner meeples, are actually a little too big for multiple pieces to fit on the same space during gameplay although that really only causes problems on the Shipment Track in 3 and 4 player games. The rulebook is well written and easy to understand, and, although the art is a bit washed out, it fits with the game's old-timey theme.
The bottom line:
Gold West is slick and elegant. The mancala mechanic rewards careful planning and strategy, and provides a wonderful sense of satisfaction when a plan successfully comes together. There is just enough interplay between players to keep things interesting, and the randomized tiles in Boomtown, the contract cards, and the board layout keep the game fresh across multiple plays. Gold West provides an excellent euro-game crunch in a very reasonable time-frame while having mechanics and rules that are easily understood by a wide variety and age range of players.
Get this game if:
You enjoy euro-style games like Terra Mystica, yet want something lighter with a shorter playtime.
You enjoy games that let you plan many moves in advance.
You like games where strategy is key.
Avoid this game if:
You prefer games that are directly confrontational.
You prefer dice driven games.
The copy of Gold West used for this review was provided by Tasty Minstrel Games.
Gold West can be purchased via Amazon here.
Don't take my word for it. Get a second opinion from Zinger over at Chalkboard Game Reviews here.
Gold West is slick and elegant. The rules are easy to understand and it plays rather quickly, yet it provides a great amount of crunch, replayability and depth.