I am a little late to the party on Gold West. It was first printed in 2015. While it was well-received, it mostly flew under the radar. Those who heard rumblings of its greatness often couldn’t easily find it as it spent some time between printings.
But now it’s been reprinted and is available on the shelf of your local game store. So let’s dig in and see if Gold West is worth the investment.
The gameplay of Gold West is centered around the management of your supply tracks. You’ll have four spaces on your supply track in which you can store goods. Each turn you’ll start by picking up all of the resources on a particular space and moving up, dropping one resource in each space, a la Mancala. Everything that you still have once you’ve reached the top of the board is available for you to spend that turn.
There are five different resources—gold, silver, copper, wood, and stone. After you’ve activated your supply track, you’ll spend the metals you have available and this is one of the primary ways to score victory points. Metal can be used in a variety of ways:
- Investments: Publicly available contracts that you can fulfill.
- Boomtown: Provides additional options for end game victory points.
- Shipping: Move along the shipping track, scoring points as you reach particular milestones.
Finally, you’ll either build a camp, build a settlement, or loot one of the locations on the board. If you have a wood or a stone, you can build a camp. You place a camp token on one of the face-up hexes on the map. The resources shown on the mining token for that hex are added to the supply track in the space of your choice. The farther down you place them you’ll score additional victory points. You also place the mining token on your player board which will provide end game majorities for each different type of terrain. If you have a wood and a stone, you’ll place a settlement instead. It works the same, but you’ll skip a space on the terrain track of your player board when placing the mining token.
It’s possible you don’t have wood or stone, in which case you’ll go looting. Instead of placing your camp on the board, you put it on the looting area and then you can take the resources from any revealed mining tokens and place them on your supply track. You immediately lose a point and potentially lose more at the end of the game if you have looted the most.
The camps also act as the game timer. Since you place one every turn—even if you loot—when all your camps are gone you take one additional turn where you can spend metals and then the game is over. You’ll score points for boomtown offices you’ve acquired, terrain track majorities, and two points per building in your largest group of connected buildings. The player with the most points wins.
Gold West hits a lot of sweet spots for me when it comes to mid-weight euro games. There are multiple paths to score points. There will be some items that will focus a long term strategy—trying to find the right metals for investment cards or getting majorities for various terrain types, for instance. But, you’ll need to be flexible as there is a good amount of player interaction forcing you to adjust as other players get in your way as they are staking out their claims.
The game itself is pretty abstracted. While I’m a sucker for the Old West setting, the theme isn’t particularly well-integrated for the game’s mechanisms. It’s unclear how exactly two copper makes an office somewhere. You’ll feel more like an accountant than a cowboy.
None of the parts of Gold West are revolutionary. The camp and settlement portion, taken by itself, is just an exercise in area control. The key is that there are so many factors to consider when placing a camp. Most immediately you’ll want to make sure the camp you place has a mining token that will get you the right mix of resources for future turns. You’ll also need to think about what type of terrain it is and if you can earn points at the end of the game for the majority. Of course, if you build next to your other buildings you’ll earn additional points for having a large contiguous group.
These are the types of decisions that I love in games. There is no right answer. It depends largely on the situation, the other resources you have, and what you are hoping to accomplish in the next couple of turns. Sometimes you don’t necessarily care as much about the resources you are going to get so you’re better off building nearby. Other times you’ll need a mining token with at least two gold so you’ll just build somewhere you can get it. And for the more cutthroat folks out there you may just spitefully cut off your opponent’s route to connecting some of their camps even if there is a potentially more profitable move for you.
Your metals are easier to think through the options. If you have the right mix to fulfill an investment card, it’s likely the best decision. Otherwise, you’ll either unlock a boomtown office or just send them down the shipping track.
The mancala element does a good job of facilitating all of these actions. It, in the words of the Dude, really ties the room together. It makes Gold West more than just the sum of its parts. Careful consideration has to be played every turn on how your next few turns are going to go. Generally, it seems most important to make sure you get at least one wood or stone off your board every turn. From there, you can try to form your strategy a few turns ahead. If you can get lots of supply spaces with wood and stone, you’ll place settlements rather than camps and shoot up the terrain tracks. Or careful planning with your medals to fulfill the lucrative investment contracts.
Gold West is one of the best mid-weight euro games I’ve played in a long time. The design is simple and the game plays out quickly. The random setup of mining tiles, investment cards, and boomtown office bonuses insure that no game will feel exactly like the previous one.
The theme isn’t particularly strong, to be sure. And each mechanism feels familiar in a way that makes it not particularly exciting; a reason I think it perhaps hasn’t taken off as much as it potentially deserves. Taken as a whole though, Gold West is a great game. The area control and resource management reward careful decision making and a great mix of long term strategy and ruthless tactical shifts.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A classic feeling euro with lots of different routes to victory all tied together with a mancala action system.
• Lots of interesting trade-offs to be made every turn.
• It plays well at all player counts.
• Easy to learn and can be played in under an hour.
• The theme is quite abstracted.
• None of the mechanisms feel unique.