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Board Game Review – Great Western Trail

2017 March 29
by Michael Schroeder

I was going to make a vegetarian or vegan joke here but I won’t. Regardless of how you feel about herding cattle into trains, keep reading to see what Great Western Trail is about, an Americana themed game by Alexander Pfsiter and published in the US by Stronghold Games!

Number of players: 2-4

Age: 12+

Playing Time: 75-150 minutes

Great Western Trail

Great Western Trail


What’s the game about: A description from the publisher…

America in the 19th century: You are a rancher and repeatedly herd your cattle from Texas to Kansas City, where you send them off by train. This earns you money and victory points. Needless to say, each time you arrive in Kansas City, you want to have your most valuable cattle in tow. However, the “Great Western Trail” not only requires that you keep your herd in good shape, but also that you wisely use the various buildings along the trail. Also, it might be a good idea to hire capable staff: cowboys to improve your herd, craftsmen to build your very own buildings, or engineers for the important railroad line.

If you cleverly manage your herd and navigate the opportunities and pitfalls of Great Western Trail, you surely will gain the most victory points and win the game.

Basic idea in my own words:

In Great Western Trail (GWT), you are racing from Texas to Kansas City in the hopes of packing the greatest value cattle onto a train that goes across the country in the hopes of getting the highest dollar and most points. GWT is a mix of a board game and to a lesser degree, a deck builder. The cattle are represented by cattle cards that you can buy in the market and the game primarily constitutes moving throughout the board, avoiding pitfalls such as hazards and having to pay your opponents a toll. Throughout the game there’s at least one building tile that enables you to build. When you build a building, players use that as a movement space. If you’ve ever played Martin Wallace’s Toledo, the movement is a tad similar in this regard.

The board will eventually fill up with hazards, Indian camps and buildings. The buildings offer opportunities to resolve different actions, this is the meat of the game. The game in itself is very easy, game play wise. But what makes the game different each time and varied, is the buildings themselves. Each different building does something different. However, all the players have the same buildings they can build but in no way will all of a players buildings get built.

The crux of the game is getting your buildings in the right spots, being able to race ahead and generally make a lot of stops at Kansas City and implementing your strategy the best based on a number of factors, such as objective cards.

How the game plays or, “a turn” (paraphrased):


Each player’s turn is in 3 phases, A,B and C.

A – Move your cattleman to another location along the trail

B – Use the action(s) of your reached location

C – Draw up to your hand limit


A – Each player starts with being able to move their cattleman 3 spaces, as indicted on the player boards (see below). *First turn, each player can move anywhere. The main game board has arrows and paths indicating where you can move. Move your player up to the movement limit. More than one player is allowed on a space, too. This is not like a worker placement game.

B – When you reach the intended action space, and it’s your building, you can either take the actions indicated on the building or perform auxiliary actions. You mostly want to use your main actions if you can but you may find it beneficial to use auxiliary actions. If you look at the player board pictured above (thanks user on BGG), the auxiliary actions are on the left. Two of them are available to use right away, the take 1 coin action and exchange card space. Primary actions are the player or neutral tiles are pictured below.

If you look at the neutral tile with the white cattleman on it, you can do both actions, or either one, if you want. The left side is, discard a green cattle card and get 2 dollars. The right is build 1 building. For each worker you use, you must pay 2 dollars. You can use either these primary actions, or like I said, the auxiliary actions. When you go to use an auxiliary action for a neutral building tile, or one of your own tiles, if you unlocked the double space, you can do the auxiliary action twice in a row, as long as you can pay for it.

C – Draw up to your hand limit. Each player has a hand limit of 4 cattle to start the game off. Throughout many turns, you will churn through cards. You can draw back up to your limit. Eventually, if you unlock the spaces on your player board, you can hold more.

The game continues like this until a player places a worker tile onto the last space of the job market while carrying out the steps and procedures of the Kansas City space. At the end of the game, players will use the scoring sheets to tally their scores in each category and the players with the most points, wins!

The game in itself is simple, but don’t let this fool you, Board Game Geek currently has this game of a weight of 3.73/5 – that’s pretty high. This is a weighty game. Complex? No. A lot of strategy involved? Absolutely!


Component Quality: 5/5

The components in this game are great! The tiles have the right thickness, the box has that nice smell when it’s printed in Germany (I’m weird and this is the first printing). The 2nd printing is printed in China so I can’t vouch for that one.

Theme: 4/5

I love these like this. Semi realistic history with cartoony art – I love it! A great euro game theme that takes in America! But you do know these cows are being sent away for slaughter, right? Vegetarians and Vegans may want to take a hike! Go get yourself a big, juicy burger, done medium-well!

Instruction Manual: 5/5

The rulebook is great. Very easy to read and follow. Great examples and very explicit instructions for setup.

Luck Factor: 2/5

There is some luck involved because this is partially a deck builder. And absolutely, it will effect you but the strategy factor is greater.

Strategy: 5/5

Stupendous, meaty, strategy game! There’s a ton a strategy here from timing to where you’re going to build to what type of worker do you want to focus on, if at all. I can tell you from my last game, I had full cowboy workers and I was visiting the cattle market more than anyone. I didn’t win but I got 35-37 points just from high end cattle cards, alone!

Overall Feelings: 5/5

Great Western Trail is another winner by Alexander Pfsiter. I consider this his masterpiece. Back in the day people would say Tigris and Euphrates was Reiner Knizia’s masterpiece? GWT goes beyond that! I absolutely love this game. It works with 2 players, it moves along pretty quickly, once you get seasoned veterans and I think it can be easy enough for non-veteran gamers.

Michael Schroeder is a board game enthusiast, has written an eBook entitled, “Beyond Monopoly: A Beginner’s Guide to Modern Board Games” (Kindle, Apple iBook), is busy designing games and owns an eCommerce board game store, Meeple Village! He also has a podcast that complements this blog, “Board Game Dialog (also available on other podcast aggregators).” He is mike6423 on BGG.

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