It is the late 1840s, wealth and opportunity is calling. Thousands of rough and ready pioneers headed out west, bravely travelling in wagons, over the Sierra Nevada mountain range. You are a expedition leader forging a path through the mountains to gain the elusive wealth and fortune.
Sierra West is a one to four player, deck building, hand management, action creation (This is my take on it) game from designer Jonny Pac Cantin and published by Board&Dice. Players take on the role of an expedition leader who must use strategy and tactics to guide their team of pioneers.
The game comes with four modules which can be combined with the game’s basic components. This offers a different game play experience with every game.
In Sierra West there is a “mountain” of basic and mode specific cards laid out that pioneers can ascend to acquire any of the exposed cards. At the start of a players turn they will arrange and overlap three cards drawn from their deck to create two distinct action paths. Depending on how the players arrange their cards they will reveal and conceal different icons/actions and thus create a unique action path. As players gain more cards the action path created will become more powerful and more varied.
Players will then move their two pioneers along these paths performing actions. Actions include claiming cards from the mountain, building cabins, gaining resources and advancing your wagon. Once the pioneers have completed their paths they can perform the actions displayed on top of the cards (called Summit actions) which allow them to exchange resources to advance up on the homestead tracks or to activate mode specific abilities/actions/tracks.
As cards are removed from the top of the mountain other cards will be uncovered and flipped. ready to be claimed on future rounds. (similar to 7 Wonders: Duel if you are familiar with this game).
The game ends when a certain number of mode specific cards have been revealed. They are placed at the bottom of the mountain.
Cabins can give you special abilities/bonuses when a pioneer is placed on them. You can also use your pioneers to trap animals which, when activating the “fur trade” action you gain a bonus from all the animals captured.
At the end of the game all players gain points for their position on the homestead track multiplied by the position of their wagon, number of cards claimed from the mountain, a point for every gold and a point for every “boot” token. Players also three points for every facedown animal tile and empty cabin spaces. The player with the most points is the winner.
One thing that can be said about Sierra West is that it has amazing table presence. The facedown cards are arranged in such a way that it looks the backdrop of a mountain. The player boards have recesses and spaces to slot in your arranged cards. The whole presentation of the game is impressive. The artwork is rich and vibrant and really pops when it is on the table. The iconography is clear and easy to understand.
But behind the shiny and gorgeous presentation there is some quality gameplay to back it up. Sierra West, for the most part, is a solitaire game. The puzzle of arranging your cards in such a way to gain maximum resources. I love the way you arrange the cards to create your own set of actions each turn. Interaction in a game is all well and good. Sometimes I just want to be left alone with a puzzle. I then see if I can do it better than my opponent. Sierra West offers this up.
The buildings are a bit hit and miss and are very situational. Some of them are amazing and some of them are just OK. Depending on when these buildings come out and turn order, it might result in them being gone before you can have a chance to get them. I often found myself either ignoring them and taking the negative points or just getting the cheapest/easiest to fill up the space. Having said that I have used the buildings on some occasions to get double resources or to gain a bonus that really helped me achieve what I wanted to do that turn. So I guess they have some value and do add to the game, just not in a huge way.
The “mountain” of cards offers a nice race element in to the game as players are trying to reach the top of the mountain to gain the exposed card. If there is a particular good card then both players will be racing to reach the top. But to ascend the mountain requires boots which are also used to move your wagon (or other comparable piece in different modules) along the scoring multiplier track. So there is a compromise and hard choice to be made.
There is a small degree of interaction with your opponents with respect to the trapping of animals. Depending on what animal is visible on your opponents cards you may be able to trap an animal for future resources. You can also piggy back off your opponents movement up the homestead track to gain a resource of a specific type. The “Apple Hill” module has a shared resource which provides some competition/interaction in using this resource.
The modules are essential to give the game staying power and replay-ability. Without these I think the game might feel a bit repetitive. However, you are still doing very similar things for the most part, but there are some subtle differences introduced with each module that make it feel different enough. Each module presents the players with a different puzzle to figure out and includes new resources/cards or ways to score victory points.
All in all I am really enjoying Sierra West at the moment. I think it shines at two players as it keeps the downtime between turns to a minimum. At higher player counts and with people prone to analysis paralysis the game can go on a bit long so I would play two player or three as a max. But this is just my personal preference. The gameplay and resources are tight. You have to be super effective to maximise your turns. Artwork is gorgeous and there are some interesting decisions to be made. Jonny Pac Cantin & Board&Dice have got done a fantastic job with this game.