Genre: Cowboy/Bandit Sandbox
Player Count: 2 – 6
Play Count as of Review: 15
- Western Legends is a sandbox action-point game set in the American Wild West. While players are playing historical figures, they can play them how they like (as bandits or lawmen perhaps). Basically, there’s little to no limitation on players and they are able to do whatever they want in the game world. For Western Legends, it means that players could be peaceful and spend their time mining or they could rob other players and act as bandits or they may be the lawmen who hunt down those bandits. The options are available to players and it’s up to them to forge their own path. I personally feel that these types of games are benefited by players that adopt their role and play up to it but that certainly is not necessary.
- In another sandbox game that I reviewed, Merchants and Marauders, I noted that there was a clear advantage to being a merchant instead of a marauder. I don’t feel like there is a clear better choice in Western Legends. Being an Outlaw will definitely reward players with better incentives but the risk is much higher than playing as a Marshall. The Marshall’s rewards, while safer, pale in comparison to what an Outlaw can bring in. With all this being said, I think Western Legends only works when there is a healthy balance of both of these roles. Having one Outlaw against a gang of Marshall’s will result in a bad time for the Outlaw. Having a decent mix of the two will add more suspense and drama to each turn and promote more interaction among players. With this freedom to play the way you want is an overhanging question: Is there a penalty for switching sides? The penalty is minimal and shouldn’t keep players from doing what they want. Players should feel free to jump from good to bad to delivery person and back again if the opportunity presents itself. The game truly feels like a sandbox in that sense.
- Western Legends is 80 to 85% theme. Yes, there is a game here but your experience will be greatly enhanced if you like and embrace the Western theme. I would not play this if I wasn’t interested in the Wild West. The locations match those of the Old West and the story cards build on the world that you’re playing in. The theme can hurt itself in one way; a player could choose to be Wyatt Earp and then spend the entire game robbing people and some people won’t like that historical fiction taking place in front of their eyes.
- I found Western Legends pretty simple in its implementation. Players have three actions each turn to do something. They could move (on foot or by horse), take an action at one of the locations on the map (such as the general store which allows purchasing or the mine for well, mining) or interact with another player (by either arresting, dueling or robbing them). That’s the basics. This is probably as close to a pick-up-and-play sandbox game as you will find. The goal is to collect Legendary Points (LP), which are just victory points named differently and doing different actions will grant you these LP’s.
- For the most part, the components are good to great. The included miniatures are well done, the art is easy to digest and incredibly thematic and the cardboard and cards are quality material. That being said, there is not a miniature for each character. The random mini will not align with the character that you are playing. In addition, the insert feels incredibly shortsighted. Ignoring the several expansions that have been released for Western Legends, the base game should be able to be stored much better than what the base box currently offers. As I don’t want to end on a negative, I want to give a shoutout to the cardboard store as it really helps keep the table organized and looks great on the table. Western Legends is a pretty sizable game. Besides the large board, there is also the general store for cards, the player boards and the tokens that need to be easily reachable. It will take up a good portion of your table.
- The game plays two to six players. At two-players, there is an AI character that helps create additional interaction on the board. While I like the game at two-players, I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend it at two. Three- to five-players is the best as there’s much more interaction. Six just seems to be too crowded and makes the game drag as you wait for your turn to come around. I think four and five is the ideal sweet spot, particularly if you have a group that likes this sort of game and is fine with the robber/lawmen mechanics. There is no official solo mode either. There are variants on BGG from supporters of the game but there is no official solo variant and the Kickstarter FAQ even makes mention that the game doesn’t work as well without at least one other player acting as an antagonist.
- The game offers short, medium and long victory conditions that will change the length of the game. I would estimate the game to take about thirty-five minutes a person until you’re very experienced. I found the sweet spot to be around the medium length game because games have typically run longer than the playtime found on the box. This is probably because we read each word of text on the cards and speak with a drawl but I wouldn’t call this a quick game. In addition, the medium length game feels ‘right’ as it’s long enough to get up and running without overstaying its welcome. The short game is too short to do anything worthwhile and the long game can drag on as there just isn’t enough to do (action and objective wise). While the game wasn’t complex, it did take us a game or two to really find our footing as to what we should be doing, which is true for most sandbox-style games. Being able to do anything doesn’t mean that you are on the path to doing the correct thing. Some actions, such as mining, will be random as they’re dice rolls but most randomness is mitigated by the hand of cards a player uses for fights. Players will feel in control of the outcomes of fights as they get to choose their cards (as opposed to rolling dice). That being said, a bad draw can really hamper your prospects. I know I’ve wanted to do my best Billy the Kid impression but couldn’t as the cards I were drawing were too low to justify instigating other players.
- Western Legends is as interactive as you make it. Players could easily spend their time doing side quests and mining, never interacting with one another but that’s not the spirit of the game. If you’re playing to best others and have a thematic time, you will have to directly engage with other players. This can be tough as some players do not want to be mean to their friends and table mates but this game calls for it and honestly, it feels rather tame compared to other games that have this sort of conflict. I’ve never felt back-stabbed or betrayed. It has a Mario Party-style feel where sometimes you know your time is up and it’s not a matter of when someone comes to take you down but who.
- In the games I’ve played, we rarely encountered any long moments of downtime as the game is not so deep that you’re planning three or four turns in advance. Most turns happen in the moment and are due to opportunity. You may have a plan to traverse the map and do some mining but on your way, something else will pop up that will grab your interest. With more players, you’ll obviously sit and wait for your turn but with the light gameplay, it allows players the opportunity to chat with other players or explore the possibilities offered to them from the general store. With the amount of interaction, you always feel like you’re involved in a turn because either you are targeted or the object of your affection was. This is, in my opinion, an excellent game to play socially because you can clearly talk about other things while the game is progressing but also pause your conversation if something interesting comes up (like a duel).
- While I adore Western Legends, that doesn’t mean it exists without faults. One area that disappointed me was that each character has goal cards that help them earn LP’s. Unfortunately, these are incredibly generic and basically shared across each character. I felt disappointed that a game with such strong theme fumbled it here. In addition, the NPC fights are fine but it’s weird that the person in charge of them is allowed to make decisions. For instance, a player controlling an NPC in a fight can choose to try and win or throw the fight as it will benefit their character more than anyone actively engaged in the current fight. It’s hard to find someone neutral or even make a neutral decision. Besides the goal cards, the Story Deck feels like a misuse of a mechanic as there are forty cards but only four different objectives found about those cards. My other two complaints revolve around mining. I found it much too easy to mine and having a lower chance that could be improved with equipment seems like something that would go hand-in-hand with this game. My bigger gripe with mining is that the mine is too close to the bank. It can be incredibly difficult to try to rob a player since they can easily deposit the gold before you get to them.