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Great Western Trail Argentina Review

GREAT WESTERN TRAIL ARGENTINA

Back in the mists of late 2019 when I decided I’d like to start writing about boardgames, I submitted a small trial piece for Zatu. That piece was a short review about Great Western Trail; an excellent deckbuilding sort of rondell game from Alexander Pfister. It was a game that was hitting my table regularly and was never far from my thoughts. More recently it was announced that not only was that original version getting a new second edition with revised artwork but it would be expanded out into a trilogy. Starting off in the US of A, moving South to Great Western Trail Argentina and finally finishing up in New Zealand.

Grab The Bull By The Horns

All three games are supposed to have the same core mechanisms but with a few nice flourishes to separate them out. As a big fan of the original I leapt at the chance to play a new reimagination of one of my favourite games. But is it just a case of more of the same or is there something special here that takes the game to the next level.

The basics of Great Western Trail are that you are a cowboy or rancher. You’re trying to put together the best gosh dang herd of cattle ever seen to sell them at market. You do this by starting off at one side of the board and making your way to the final market space. On the way you can stop off at various buildings that allow you to modify your herd, hire workers or even build new buildings to add new spaces to stop off at along your journey.

When you reach the destination, Buenos Ares in the Argentinian game, you sell off your cattle. The more they are worth the more options you have on where to send them with the most expensive destinations typically offering the greatest rewards. Each time around the board you will get the chance to uncover new abilities on your board, powering up your existing actions or unlocking something new entirely.

Everything I’ve explained here is common to both games that have been released so far. Now I’ll get on to what makes Great Western Trail Argentina unique.

The most immediate change is that there are now 4 worker types to be hired. You still have the same cowboys, builders, and train engineers. But these are now joined by farmers. Farmers are not hired from the job market in the same way as the other workers. Instead, they are placed out on the trail where you can help them with their farming their fields.

Ploughing Ahead

Each farmer needs a certain amount of help in order to hire them. You’ll provide that help, you’ll let them borrow your cattle. Each cow has an amount of farming prowess that can be used to help the farmer. Play enough cows and you get the choice to hire that farmer and slot them into your player board. There is a catch, however. By using your cattle some of them will become tired. This is represented by adding tired cow cards into your deck, which clog things up and are worth negative points if you don’t manage to get rid of them by the end of the game. Some of your workers can also help here, though you do have to pay a premium for these helper workers.

Each of your employee types give you something you want. More cowboys give you better deals on buying new cattle. Builders allow you to build the better building types. Rail engineers allow you to move your train further down the track. Farmers give you grain. And that may sound a little boring and underwhelming but you will end up obsessed with trying to gather up as much grain as you possibly can.

The reason for that is at Buenos Ares. This time around you aren’t popping your cattle onto your train, you’re loading them onto ships. And because of the longer transit time you need to provide your cattle with grain to eat. So now, not only does the value of your herd count, but also the amount of grain you can muster. The other thing you need grain for happens when those ships get to their destination cities. Once docked, you can take your player disk from the ship and place it onto the port of the city you’ve arrived in.

Now this will be generally worth some points. But each time you arrive at Buenos Ares you get the option of taking one of those disks in a city port and moving them into the city itself. These spaces will allow you to claim points or money, or both! And it is first come first served so getting your disks to the docks early is critically important. Take too long and the best spots may be long gone leaving you with the scraps.

Smooth Sailing

The boats themselves will leave at three points in the game. This is driven by when workers get placed into the market for hiring. When you hit one of these milestones, ships of a certain colour depart. As a rule, he more expensive it is to board a ship the better the city it docks in. Pushing for those better boats early on can sometimes mean you get free reign of placing your disks into the destination city.

With all of this boat business, people familiar with the original game are probably wondering what the train is for here. Well, it still allows you to place workers in stations and grab some end game scoring challenges. But the main thing it does is allows you to shorten the loop to Buenos Ares.

There are several branching points in the path you can take on your travels. Normally, one route is simpler whereas the other route will be where the farmers are placed. These farmers are useful as I’ve covered but they do slow you down. This isn’t the case as you approach the destination. On that last stretch of the journey there are farmers everywhere and you can’t take an alternative route to avoid them. Well, not to start off with anyway. As you move your train further along the track, there are several points where your rancher can hop on board and skip straight to Buenos Ares. This can skip out a good chunk of the board and in a game where speed and efficiency can make all the difference this is a game changer.

There is a solo mode on offer here as well. It works in a very similar way to the one in the second edition of the original Great Western Trail. It sort of gets in your way and offers a decent enough challenge without being a chore to maintain its behaviour. It’s a nice to have but it’s definitely not the main attraction.

Great Western Trail Argentina is an evolution, not revolution. If you could strip it all back to just mechanisms with some plain cardboard and cubes, you’d play it and say, ‘That is a Great Western Trail game’. The differences really do make it though. Even though the majority of the turns you take will be nearly identical to turns you’d take in the original. The considerations you’ll be making during those turns will be different. It’s not just about maximising the value of your hand, you need that grain too.

This encourages you to play into those more difficult forks of the trail to get those farmers. Planning to be on the right ships before they depart also plays an important part. The planning ahead. The tired cows, whilst annoying, also change up the game. You will normally end up with one or two, but you can get rid of them. Do you prioritise that or do you just take the 2 victory point hit per card at the end of the game?

Until The Cows Come Home

Great Western Trail Argentina is definitely a more complicated beast than the original. As such I probably wouldn’t advise this one to somebody who is just a little curious about the game. Go for the original instead. If you enjoy it the Rails to the North Expansion is also excellent and adds a little extra crunch. If you’re a big Alexander Pfister fan and have not yet tried one of these go for Argentina. It’s the better game of the two and the extra pieces to the game really make the system come alive. Tired cows are annoying, but it’s a great mechanism and really makes you strive for that efficiency.

If you already own the original though, what then? If you just want something small to mix things up then in all honesty, I’d probably go Rails to the North first. The added branch line board is a good proxy for the distant ports in Argentina. However, If you want the full experience you could absolutely have Argentina sat on your shelf next to the original. They are both excellent games that have enough differences to warrant the space for both.