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Great Western Trail: Argentina Preview

great western trail argentina

Are You Ready To Join The Goucho Club?

Great Western Trail is without a doubt a stone-cold Modern Classic and a game that is still riding high in Boardgame Geek’s top 20 best games even now, despite debuting in 2016. But it is far from perfect so when the second edition came out last year, adding a much-needed refresh to the artwork and doing away with a couple of the more problematic elements, eyebrows remained firmly unraised.

What was more surprising, though, was the announcement that it would be the first in a trilogy of games set around the world using the same base mechanics. Great Western Trail: Argentina is the second game in the trilogy and will be showcased at Essen this month. The question is, given the recent release of the second edition, does the world need another “Great Western Trail”? Is Argentina a cynical milking of the cash cow, or a beefed-up version of a classic? Well so far, all indications are that this is thankfully the latter.

Anyone familiar with the original Great Western Trail will feel immediately at home on the Pampas of Argentina. While you may be thousands of miles geographically from America’s mid-western plains, the core mechanics, iconography and overall aesthetic will be very familiar. Like the original, GWT Argentina is part deck builder (your herd deck featuring different coloured cows you can upgrade) and part worker placement. Each player has their own individual board with actions they can upgrade and also different buildings which they can place on the main game board and visit on their way up to Buenos Aires to take their cattle to market. Choosing which buildings to place and where, which workers to hire and where to send your herd- these decisions remain at the heart of the game.

What is added, though, is more variety in the actions you can choose to carry out on your turn, giving more strategic options and flexibility without making it overly complex. For example, there are new workers available, Granjeros (farmers basically) who can produce grain which is a valuable resource needed for transporting cattle overseas. These start on the board like the hazards in the original game, costing money every time players pass them. It is possible to simply try and avoid them, however, you can also choose to take them for bonus points at the end of the game, or pay extra to have them join your player board as workers.

In addition to being really thematic- Gouchos and farmers were very uneasy neighbours in 19th century Argentina- it also adds a new mechanic to the game- exhaustion. In order to help out the Granjeros, players use their cows which now have additional strength values. Every time you do so, however, Exhaustion cards are added to the deck, clogging up your hand and potentially reducing the value of your herd. While “junk” cards are hardly new, it does add an extra dimension to the deck-building element of the game, something which always felt slightly underdeveloped in the original.

This is just one area where Argentina has built on the original gameplay and increased the problems and opportunities for players to manage. Add in foreign ports, shipping, and shortcut shenanigans on the trail and there is plenty here to make Great Western Trail: Argentina stand out from its older brother. It seems to have pulled off the tricky feat of adding more game to the original without increasing the rules and set up by too much and that is always commendable. But make no bones about it, Argentina is marketed as more of a case of evolution rather than revolution and whether that will be enough to encourage die-hard Great Western Trail veterans to rush out and order this remains to be seen.

There is certainly enough here to pique the interest of a relative newbie to the game such as myself. I am definitely eager to try it out with my game group and see which version we prefer. I am also keen to see how the included Solo mode plays as these days, I tend to play games alone as often as with others and a good solo mode is the difference between a must-buy and a maybe.

Great Western Trail: New Zealand will be coming out in 2023 to complete the trilogy. I am intrigued to see whether the final game will be another extension of the original or will bring something completely new to the gaming table when it comes out next year. Other than sheep of course.