Saloon Doors Open
Y’all look new around these here parts. You lookin’ for trouble? You came to the right place. There are some right varmints round here. Unkindly folks who be lookin’ to take some revenge or plunder from fine working folks. Course, there’s legitimate folks too, just trying to make their way through life.
If you think this is the place for you, then saddle up and mosey on down to Cactus Town! Yeehaw!
Cactus Town is a light programming game set in the Wild Wild West. Players take on the role of either the Sheriff and his deputies, a trio of outlaws, a pair of bounty hunters or the can-can dancer. Each of these characters has their own objectives and action cards and who you can take on depends on the player count. For two players, it’s a straight shoot-out between the outlaws and the sheriffs, and four players uses… well, all four. Three players, however, have three possible combinations: sheriff, outlaws and bounty hunters; sheriff, outlaws and can-can dancer or; outlaws, bounty hunter and can-can dancer. Before you choose, let’s talk about their separate goals.
The sheriff and deputies want to capture the outlaws and win when two outlaws are in jail.
The outlaws want to steal plunder from their hidden target buildings and escape into the wilderness.
The bounty hunters want to capture an outlaw and steal two horses.
Finally the can-can dancer wants revenge for those who wronged her. She needs to pay off her debts in two target buildings and win three duels.
Once the character configuration has been chosen, place the sheriff’s office in the middle of the play area then deal all the basic building cards out facedown in a five-by-five grid around the sheriff’s office. Place your character standees on their respective starting spots and flip over the facedown cards where they land to reveal their location. Shuffle the red backed location cards to form the target building deck. Then the outlaws and can-can dancer will take four target buildings to either gain plunder or repay debts, and the bounty hunters draw one to steal horses from.
This is just the basic set-up but the base game includes a cactus variant and gunslinger mode for you to try out at your leisure.
Now to begin playing Cactus Town. Players will choose three of their action cards and place them face down in a row, with the fourth card being placed at right angles at the end of the row. In order shown on the set-up card, players will reveal one of their three action cards from left to right and do one of the actions shown. These range from movement, duelling, dancing and capturing, and each character has their own special actions they can take. After all three cards have been played, the cards are drawn back into their hands and play continues until one player completes their objective, at which point, the game ends immediately.
Something that you should be aware of is that in the box, there is a set-up card for the base game but it includes the set-up for expansions and likewise for the victory conditions. It’s good that Second Gate Games have prepared for the expansions and not creating excess printing but it can catch some people out if you see the components and miss the small paragraph in the rules which says “ignore these unless you have them.”
The variations of Cactus Town seem like an interesting way of upping the replayability. Pioneer’s mode has players placing action cards down one at a time in a shared deck then drawing them in reverse order. I’m not convinced that this is that much of a challenge but I’d give it a go. The Cactus variant includes a little cactus which gets in the way. I can see this being annoying for players for whom it blocks but does extend the game as they scramble to find a way to move it and still complete their objectives. I’m most intrigued by the Gunslinger Mode which comes with all sorts of different tokens and a screen for players to hide those tokens and choose secretly what aces they have up their sleeves.
If the final measure of a game is “do you want to play this again?” then the answer to that is a tentative yes. I want to explore the different roles and win conditions, but because the ease in which some of the characters can win or lose due to a lucky deal at the beginning, I think it wouldn’t get too many plays after that with the same people. Certainly in the game we played, where I happened to get three of my four locations within easy reach of my starting spots, the mood wasn’t great. Part of that was because of a misplay by the sheriff, so not as much the game itself. The other part was the can-can dancer feeling like they had a lot more to do compared to the rest of us.
I think it’s fair to say this game isn’t necessarily made for me and my interests. Programming isn’t a game mechanism that I’ve ever thought about exploring, however what Cactus Town does achieve though is being a light programming game, with a ton of variety and is well suited for younger players. I can see my nephew playing this when he’s a bit older, it would very much appeal to him and I’ll probably introduce it to him in a year or two. I think there’s also enough strategy to keep older players involved too, particularly if you want to have a step up to other programming games like Colt Express or Quirky Circuits later.
Overall, for what the game is, Cactus Town hits the mark. There’s more to explore beyond the first play and there’s a lot of variability to keep things interesting. If it sounds like it’ll appeal to you, give it a go. But don’t miss your shot.