When I went to Origins this last time, I happened upon Mr. B Games‘ booth and a young hawker was peddling his fine wares. After a short demo, I thought that it would be a neat little cowboy adventure game, but as it turns out, it was a vast failure of judgement for me to buy it. There’s a couple things that I really love about it, but there are so many stupid choices that were made by the design team that I really can’t even stand to think that I paid for it. To make matters worse, I even spent extra to buy these cool little plastic bullets to replace the cardboard chits, so I literally spent $70.00 on a game that I can’t envision paying more than $20.00 for, in retrospect.
I played it some hardcore game nuts at that same Origins, people I know and trust as people who know how to play games in the right spirit, and also, with one guy I never met who really seemed pretty cool. Afterwards, all of us agreed that the rules were adequately written but had some holes, and we all agreed that it is not a game that we wanted to play again, as a first choice or even a fifth choice. It wasn’t objectively bad, but it has some design choices that seem to defy reason, and slowthe game down while the players wait for the active player to finish playing one of two five minute mini-games, of which are neither fun to play and even less fun to watch.
The game can be characterized quite well as “cowboy Runebound” because it is much like Runebound in a lot of ways. First, you have variable character abilities and stats which actually make a difference. Then, there’s towns that you can buy things at, as well as doctors, banks to rob, and a gambling mechanic that allows you to play something that might be described as a random event card. Next, there’s a board which has little encounter tiles laid out mostly randomly which are the focus of most of the game. There’s even a really bad-ass player vs. player mechanic which I believe is the star of the game, and I’ll get into that in a second. All in all, the core is really quite good. The downside comes in because of the two mini-games.
The first mini-game is initiated when you attempt to do the “Save The Cattle” adventure tile, which has the player taking out a little, hexagonal mini-board that you load with cows. This little, special set of dice are used to give you options on which direction you can move on the board, and the object is to move the cows into a big group as best you can in a set amount of turns. The problem is that it’s very tedious, very random, relatively slow, and it’s pretty much one of the dullest things you can do in any game, ever.
The second mini-game is even worse, because basically you’re trying to ride a horse for a set amount of turns on that same mini-board, trying not to run over any obstacles. This is, arguably, the single worst game I’ve ever played. It’s not even a game, really, as much as an annoyance that you have to do to score a victory point and get a small amount of cash. It straight-up sucks, and its only saving grace is that it’s shorter than the cow game, so the pain is only temporary. It could be argued successfully that you could simply remove those adventure tiles out of the pool, but there are several of them, and taking them out makes the rest of the tiles come up more often, and so it makes the game very stale.
Now, the thing is that the game looks fantastic, with great little plastic cowboys that have little colored base caps you pop on to identify them, it has really nice, fitting art, and it has well-designed iconography which is clear and understandable. I even like the great little paper money which is essentially a replica of old silver certificates from the period. I mean, almost every detail is great. If you drilled down and looked at it objectively, the real flaw in the game is that there’s just not enough varying adventure tiles, so you’re essentially doing the same kinds of things over and over, which just gets old very fast.
The remainder of tiles are all very similar, from shooting a desperado or two, shooting a wild animal, or things of that nature. Thus, after you’ve played it three or four times, as I have, you end up kind of dreading playing it again, because you know how it’s going to be. It’s sad that this is how it is, because if they’d have spent a few more days developing some other adventures, be they pick-up-and-deliver or a multi-part adventure series a’ la Emergence Event, it would be a much better experience in the short- and long-term.
Now, it’s not all bad, and one of the highlights is the shooting mechanic, which sounds lame but in practice is really exciting. To shoot anything, you have to reach into your little black bag of bullet chits, or plastic bullets if you had the luck to get them, and match the type and number of bullets listed on the adventure tile or desperado card. There’s pistol rounds, rifle rounds, and shotgun rounds to choose from, and each character starts with several “miss” bullets, and then a selection of bullet types associated with the character type. It’s actually more tense and fun than it deserves to be, based on how simple a mechanic it is, but I assure you, it is.
The player versus player is even better, because both players have to simultaneously draw the chits or bullets out of their bag as fast as possible, and lay them face up, or in the case of the bullets, stand them up on end. This is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a quick-draw mechanic, and it works incredibly well. It’s worth mentioning that many of the upgrades available in town revolve around gaining more bullets, and when you’re wounded, a dud bullet is put in your bag, making you less effective, sort of like wound cards in deck-building games. It’s really the highlight of the game, and I’d love to see other games take this mechanic and run with it.
It is worth mentioning that the end game mechanic is a victory point system where you gain points by accomplishing those tasks, so the game doesn’t really drag on because of a sense of urgency created by the players racing to gain points fastest. I’m usually not super-keen on the idea of victory points, but in this case, it works surprisingly well, despite being a true adventure game.
In short, I think that there’s probably a lot of people who would love it, and it is really one of the only Western-set games that I’ve played that really does capture the feeling of being in that time period. It has a really smart overall design, but the few things I mentioned really drag it down. I think what irritates me the most about the game is that it has tremendous potential, and without a couple of dumb mechanics would have been a really good game. Sadly, those mini-games are so dumb and repetitious that they literally drag the whole experience down.
Why This Game Is Way More Steer Than Queer:
– The bullet-pull shooting mechanic is really, really fun
– Notwithstanding the mini-games, the rest of the game is compelling
– The art is spot on, and I love the paper money
Why You Should Get A Rope:
– The mini-games flat out suck ass, and stagger the pace of the game too much
– The color for the miniatures’ base caps is questionable due to similarities
– There are too few adventure chits and they’re all too similar as well
I’m really kind of perplexed that such a good game ‘on paper’ would have so many dull points in practice. I mean, I love a lot about this game’s design, but there are just a few choices, many of which could be fixed by an expansion, that kill the game for me. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people who like this game a lot, and there’s a lot to like, but for me, the game just feels incomplete, and I don’t have enough time left on Earth to play half-baked games.
Learn more about Spurs here:
(As an aside, being voted in the top 10 Dice Tower family games is a big deal, and it tells me that 2014 was a poor year for family games)