Great Western Trail (first edition) is one of the most played games I own. I have played it so much that a lot of the components have worn out almost to the point of being unreadable. I have always loved the idea of the ‘roundel’ gameplay combined with deck building, and the western theme really sold it for me. There has now been a second edition version of Great Western Trail as well as an official sequel, Argentina, but this review is for the latest game in the trilogy, New Zealand.
In this version you are moving sheep around New Zealand, trying to update your flock, shear wool for money, hire new workers, sail around the seas to open up new trade routes, and sell sheep at various locations.
Before I start the review, I would like to point out that this will not include a fully detailed how to play as there are so many moving parts to the game, instead I will give a general gameplay overview.
One last caveat before the review starts. This game is a monster. It takes up a lot of space not only on the table but also in your brain. This is not the game I would recommend to brand new players to the franchise, instead I would direct you to the second edition base game. New Zealand is definitely for experienced players of Great Western Trail who want more.
Does this make it a game I can recommend? Please read on to find out.
In Great Western Trail you move around a map stopping at various locations to hopefully improve your hand of cards, upgrade your player board so your actions become better, place new buildings on the board, buy new stock (cows in the original and sheep in this version) and then continue moving until you reach the final space on the board where you ‘sell’ your stock. You then go back to the beginning of the board to start this process again.
In Great Western Trail New Zealand, it appears that every part of the original gameplay has been analysed and then improved upon with either slightly modified rules or whole new sections of gameplay intended to make your experience more fun.
Now the deck building is easier (especially with the deck building cards), money is so much easier to obtain (especially with the new Shearer employee you can hire), there are more locations you can deliver your stock to (especially with the boats that you can sail to new ports), certificates are now unlocked quicker, there are more places to buy stock, more places to hire staff, there are staff that can work in any of the four specialities, hazards now provide additional benefits rather than just points. The list goes on and on of improvements they have made over the original game.
I do wonder if any of the developers ever stopped to wonder if they were adding too much but I am glad they included everything that they did as the game now moves along at a lovely pace with next to no bad moves so you always feel as though your turns were worthwhile. In the original game you could have two or three turns which were rather boring but would lead up to a great turn, in New Zealand every turn feels like that.
There is a whole additional rule book and components set aside for the Solo gameplay and just like the rest of Great Western Trail New Zealand, they didn’t hold back anything whilst designing it. I have enjoyed my plays of the Solo mode but I would always prefer to be playing against a player I can look in the eye as they take that precious sheep card I so badly needed.
Components / Art
When you first open the box, you will be blown away not only by the amount of components but also by the quality. Everything provided in Great Western Trail New Zealand feels luxurious from the triple layered player boards, the cotton bags for keeping tiles in, the cowboy hat topped meeples, and the custom box insert which significantly improves the set up and tear down time. Although I would like to point out that like very much everything else in the game the set up / tear down time is still overwhelming the first few times you do it.
Most of the art and components are absolutely amazing and the colour choices work a treat, but there are a few missteps along the way. Some of the sheep card colours look very similar to each other, and some of the bonus cards can be confused for the objective cards (especially when packing away). Also why do the coins only have their value printed on one side, the other side really doesn’t need to advertise the fact that you are playing GWT on it. The additional map for sailing feels way too big for what it is. I am sure the same effect could have been achieved on a board half the size.
This very nicely leads me to the game’s biggest problem and that is the size of the table required to even play a solo game. I have a decent sized table that normally seats 4 people very comfortably with most games. With Great Western Trail New Zealand, I have to extend this table to even play a game with one other person. Not everyone has a table that can be extended or the room to do so.
Because so much has been thrown at this game you really do need a lot of space. This also leads to one other problem which is you will need to keep on standing up to look at the other side of the board or at least ask other players to pass you cards / components to read as from where you are they will be very difficult to do so unless you have binoculars on you.
So, it takes up too much space, it can be incredibly difficult to teach to new players, the gameplay feels like the designer had a hundred new ideas and no one wanted to stop them so they chucked it all in. Surely, I can’t be recommending this game, can I?
Yes, I can, yes I can 97%. This is one of the best games I own in my collection. It has taken all of the slightly negative points from the original game and improved upon every one of them. No longer are there one or two different strategies almost guaranteed to win, instead you can go for a multitude of different strategies such as building a ton of buildings, shearing sheep at every opportunity, sailing around the seas improving your trading locations, going for a sheep heavy game, reducing your deck to just a core troupe of sheep so that every shuffle produces a great hand, and so many more different strategies.
Now so many of the hardest things to do in the original game are so much easier, such as unlocking the 5th and 6th cards for your hand can be achieved in the very earliest stages of the game. The deck building cards allow you to cycle through your cards at breakneck speed. Moving around the map is now a lot easier, even if a player populates every space with one of their buildings. Talking of buildings, I love the fact that some of the neutral buildings now get flipped half way through the game, meaning your strategy has to change with it.
I love Great Western Trail New Zealand, so much so that I don’t think I will ever go back to the original again. Would I be happy to teach this game to new players to the franchise? Nope, but I would give it a go and hope they had some headache tablets on standby.
This is the game fans of the original dream about.