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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.

Board Game Review – Empires: Galactic Rebellion

2016 October 21

A long time ago, in a galaxy…hold on wrong IP. But based off this game, you’d think it was a Star Wars game! We’re actually talking about Glenn Drover’s Empires: Galactic Rebellion! A sequel, or in my mind, a spiritual successor to Glenn Drovers Empires … oh hell, I’m talking about Age of Empires III.

Number of players: 2-5 (6 with expansion)

Age: 14+

Playing Time: 90-180 minutes +

Empires: Galactic Rebellion


What’s the game about: A description from Eagle-Gryphon’s, web site…

Empires: Galactic Rebellion hands you the reins in an interstellar clash for control of the Galaxy. Take ownership over one of five factions and assert your supremacy in this exciting new board game from designer Glenn Drover.

As the leader of a rebel front, you must manage your personnel wisely to discredit the Empire, lobby the Senate, build up your military strength, and develop new technology all while maintaining relations with your civilian supporters.

Take care, however, as the Galactic Empire’s elite Sentinel units will be watching for any chance to destroy you, and at any time another faction could stab you in the back. When all is said and done only victors take the spoils. Will historians name your battle a failed rebellion, or will it be the start of a new and better empire?

Topple the empire, join the Galactic Rebellion today!

Basic idea in my own words:


Empires: Galactic Rebellion pits you, one of the factions of the rebellion, against the Galactic Empire across the galaxy. I can’t help but compare this game to Age of Empires III – it is almost the same thing. And I think that’s OK. It’s more actually, and that’s a good thing! The marketing behind this game blatantly tells you that this game is the sequel to AoE III. Instead of taking place during the Imperial colonization of the Americas back during the Age of Discovery, this game takes you up in space.

Empires: Galactic Rebellion

In the game, you choose 1 of 5 factions, represented by a specific color. You get cubes in this color and tons and tons of miniatures! The game board is a good size and has planets on the left and the player actions on the right. And the board has lots and lots of gold in it (a bit too much if you ask me though). What I like about Eagle’s games is that there is a ton of stuff in them. Eagle-Gyrphon thinks big and with this game, you can tell. When the box arrived, it felt like 30 pounds! The component quality is the first thing you’ll notice. The box is extremely thick and huge, the components are all very thick and the miniatures – all the miniatures!


The flow of the game is pretty simple to understand after you get used to it. The game is moderately complex. I love games with this complexity weight though. You really have to know the order of the game sequence and make sure you have your resources lined up make sure that you don’t screw yourself over. After you get used to the game though, the flow is easy to pick up. The game takes place over 3 epochs. Epoch I and II has 3 rounds and epoch III has 2 rounds, then what’s new is a big war at the end. For those of you that are familiar with AoE III, you’ll feel right at home with Empires: Galactic Rebellion.

Differences between Age of Empires III / Glenn Drovers: Age of Discovery and Empires: Galactic Rebellion…

  1. The Obvious – the theme. The themes of these games are completely different. If you like space themed games, this game may be right up your alley
  2. The Sentinels and space ships – There are sentinels placed on planets at the beginning of the game. These sentinels won’t bother you right away, but as soon as you explore a planet, the player that’s leading on that planet, will be in conflict with these sentinels. There are also imperial ships on a couple planets – if these are on a planet, you can’t explore said planet.
  3. Battles – You can battle other players, just like AoE III but you can also battle sentinels and when I played this game, I found myself only battling the sentinels and not other players. What’s different about battles is, you pull cubes out of bag or whatever you may have. And whatever first two cubes in a specific color show up, that color player wins. Sentinels are black.
  4. Trade Routes – these are trader goods worth 2
  5. Galactic Senate – a large space at the bottom of the board to be able to bid on special cards or get points

To a large degree that’s it about the differences of the games. Now there’s plenty of small, nuanced differences, but those are the main differences in my opinion. The two games are functionally the same.



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

The game takes place over 8 rounds in 3 epochs. During epoch I technologies cost least, in epoch II, they cost more and in III, they cost even more but are more powerful, and are typically for points. Much else doesn’t change during the epochs except for at the end of epoch III, there’s a huge war that takes place between the remaining sentinels and the rebels (you).

Each round, all players have 5 standard rebels to play, and as soon as all players have placed their 5 rebels (you must place all), it’s time to resolve the actions. As the game progresses however, you’ll have more than 5 rebels to play with – there are ways to obtain scientists, heroes, troopers, smugglers, diplomats and more rebels. These different types of characters can give the player advantages when playing them in certain areas of the board. The game is about playing these characters and playing the action spaces most effectively and most efficiently out of all your opponents.

On your turn, you simply place one of your figures on the board – well, what are these action spaces we’re talking about? *These actions don’t resolve until all players have placed their characters on the board.

  • Initiative: There are empty spaces 1-6 on this area, if you want to ensure you’re first player next turn, make sure you place one of your characters on the 1 space. However, this always doesn’t work out the way you want it to, so it’s up to you to race to the earlier spaces on these spaces. The good thing of being farther behind on the initiative track is, the more far back you are, the more points you get.
  • Planetary Influence: This is the primary way you get your figures on to the planets. Place a figure you want to be on a planet on one of these available spaces. Certain characters will give you benefits. For instance, if you place a smuggler here, if your smuggler lands on a planet where a trade route is (a large trade good), you get that trade route; a diplomat allows you to bring a rebel from the general supply over with you; troopers can be used for defending against sentinels
  • Trade Goods: 4 spaces here are available for taking the randomly shuffled trade goods available each turn. The smuggler gets to take two and you work in order from left to right
  • Covert Missions: In covert missions, if you have the most players in this box, you can go on these covert missions, which is really just doing battles against cards which will give you points/rewards, etc.
  • Research Technology: If you research tech. you pay the required credits and get a technology. Typically techs will enable such features as, “each turn you get a hero,” or some other benefit. Using the scientist gives you a 5 credit reduction cost
  • Warfare: There are 4 available spaces here; if you wish to wage war against another player or a sentinel, you must place a trooper or hero here. Hero’s gives you a benefit of having 2 more cubes to draw
  • Specialists: if you place a figure on a specialist, on the next turn you get to play with that newly acquired specialist (smuggler, scientist, etc.)
  • Galactic Senate: If you commit figures in this space, they remain for the rest of the game, unless you use them to bid on 1-4 faces cards that may give you a benefit or effect all players; at the end of the the epochs whomever has the most figures here (diplomats worth 2), you’ll be awarded with 7 points

Empires: Galactic Rebellion

Coming back to what I said earlier, once all players place all of their figures, the actions are resolved in the order I described above. This happens 8 times and at the end of the game, points are awarded. At the end of each epoch, players get income by having sets of trade goods; benefits from tech tiles and the player order changes based on the new initiative. That sums up the game play. It’s essentially the same as AoE III but with some more added to it. But all these things are good additions. I especially like the war; the war is handled with the cubes.

Component Quality: 5/5

The components are top notch! The chitboard pieces are extremely thick, the cards don’t feel, “special” but at least it appears they have the linen finish. The board is nice and thick, the box is awesome! I love the number of compartments in the box. My only complaint, and I hate having to say this but, I’m not a fan of the art or the graphic design. I feel the colors on the board clash a bit. There’s just way too much gold. And if you know me personally, I’m not a fan of gold. The art is so-so to me (I’m sorry Paul). I preferred the art is AoE III. The art and theme is the only thing that makes me like AoE III a tad more…but that’s it!

Theme: 3/5

The space theme is a theme that’s always of interest to me, but not immensely. I’m not huge on space themed games. I really prefer games of history, or more cartoony pseudo historic games but regardless, the game is cool. But ultimately I prefer the theme of AeE III better.

Instruction Manual: 5/5

Eagle-Gryphons game rules are albs good, nice stock and well thought out, in my opinion. No complaints here.

Luck Factor: 2/5

This is a complex strategy game. There’s not a lot of luck here. Sure, there is but not a lot. The luck involved is drawing the cubes and the cards that come up for your turn.

Strategy: 5/5

This game is as strategic as they come. I love this level of strategy. It’s easy to pick up and get the flow after it gets going and doesn’t bog down in my opinion. It’s certainly a thinky game but not exhaustingly thinky like a stock/train game.

Overall Feelings: 5/5


I knew I was going to love this game. It’s a sequel to Age of Empires III – one of my absolute favorite games. I absolutely love this game and series, Glenn Drover’s: Empires. I highly recommend this game. If you’re a seasoned gamer, if you like space themed games, or you liked AoE III – get this game!

Review copy kindly provided by Eagle-Gryphon Games.

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.

Board Game Review – Mystic Vale

2016 September 7
by Michael Schroeder

Who knew the druids were into deck building? Here’s my latest review of AEG’s latest deck builder, Mystic Vale.

Number of players: 4

Age: 14+

Playing Time: 45 minutes +

Mystic Vale

What’s the game about: A description from AEG’s, web site…

In Mystic Vale, 2 to 4 players take on the role of druidic clans trying to cleanse the curse upon the land. Each turn, you play cards into your field to gain powerful advancements and useful vale cards. Use your power wisely, or decay will end your turn prematurely. Score the most victory points to win the game!

  • Innovative Card Crafting System creates a game experience like you’ve never played before!
  • Beautiful artwork and graphics that bring the game to life.
  • Concise rules offer a deep gaming experience with meaningful decisions.
  • Tremendous replay value that will increase with future expansions.

Basic idea in my own words:

To put it somewhat bluntly, in Mystic Vale, you are a nondescript druid that’s trying to get the most victory points by obtaining these translucent cards that have victory points on them, in the form of a grey stone icon with values on them as well as victory point counters and points through other special effects. Mystic Vale is a deck builder all the way. The game brings back memories of my Dominion playing days, for sure. But in Mystic Vale, the mechanism and presentation is more unique.

The big schtick with Mystic Vale is that each player has a set of, 20 larger cards – like starter cards. And the players can grow the abilities of these cards by inserting these equally sized plastic, translucent “sheets,” into the card sleeve that encloses all of your starter cards. Yes, card sleeves – lamination for cards. The game supplies the sleeves, and you just have to sleeve all the druid clan’s starter cards before you start playing.

Basic Card

Basic Card

Take the card in the above image; all it gives the player is 1 “dollar” to be able to spend in the “marketplace.” I say market place and dollar as I’m not entirely sure what the terms are, but for this game it really doesn’t matter. What’s appealing about this game is, the mechanisms, presentation and especially artwork. These starter cards, consider them like coppers in Dominion. Or if you have never played Dominion, consider them to be a basic or starter – meaning, they give you just what you need to get going, say, 1 dollar.

I took this from AEG's site

I took this from AEG’s site

The game has a flow similar to Dominion or any other deck builder, but in this game, there’s also large enough differences. For one, you can see in the image above, one of those sheets being inserted into the card sleeve on one of your basic cards, this is how you upgrade. When you buy a card, you’re buying a sheet, or a bonus long-term effect card. The sheets get inserted into your sleeve into one of the cards you used as your current hand, any one…and then they all get discarded. In most deck builders, when you buy a card, it usually just gets slapped into your discard pile, well you have a little different, “work” to do here.

Then if you can see the image below, you’ll see how things finish up when you buy a card. this process is the, “Card Crafting System.”

Setup (paraphrased):

During setup, a market place, or “commons,” of cards will be laid out for everyone according to different levels. The levels are nicely represented by small dots. Then below that, we had fertile soil cards laid out. The card layout was in a 4 x 3 grid (high level at the top, then 2’s, then 1’s, then fertile soils). the number of cards actually depends on the number of players. Place the VP tokens in a pile; shuffle the Vale card decks, we had 2 when we played and draw 4 cards from each deck. give each player their player deck (represented by a consistent color on the backs of the cards, red, green, etc.). Each player receives a large token that’s colorfully blue on one side, and grey on the other. This is an extra dollar to spend when you bust. One of these has a starting player indicator on it. Give one of the players this starting player token. You’re about ready to start.

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

  1. Planting Phase – During the planting phase, you must decide if you wish to push or pass. If you pass, that means you’re content with the cards in front of you, or you’re afraid you’re going to bust. If you push, you take that top face up card thats on your deck and splay it down on the other cards, and flip over the next card on top of your draw deck. Each time you flip this card over, see if you’ve met the spoils limit (3 spoils, red markers) or higher. If you met the spoils limit, you bust! you’ve just wasted your turn and your turn is done, you don’t get to do a thing (special cards can break this rule). If you passed, you don’t need to worry about busting. See, this game has a huge element of push your luck. You have only 3 dollars showing amongst your cards, did you want to try and push your luck to see if you can get more?
  2. Harvest – The harvest is essentially the buy phase. Count up the dollar markers on your cards in your hand, or lineup, then you can buy any amount of cards from the commons, that you can afford. When you buy these sheets, you slip them into any card you used in your hand that is legal. Legal means its not blocking another image, essentially. You can have up to 3 sections on a card. also, you can buy Vale cards, these give long lasting effects and points often. They are represented by a varying array of symbols. You can buy up to 2 on a turn.
  3. Discard – During this phase, you will put all cards laid out in front of you into your discard deck, simple as that. However, do NOT place the single card that is flipped over that’s showing, which is part of your draw deck.
  4. Prep – Take the top card that’s showing on your draw deck and place it face up as your hand on the table, then turn over the top card of the draw deck, look at it, make sure you have not met your spoils limit, and if you haven’t, add that card splayed on top of the right most card in your, “hand.” When I say hand, I really mean the cards splayed down in front of you, which is next to your draw deck. Keep doing this until you’ve shown a total of 3 spoils tokens, between your hand and the single card face-up on top of your draw deck. Then stop…start planning your next move and wait till the turn gets back to you, your turn is done.

The game continues like this until all the VP tokens are gone. Then at the end of the game, you count up all the grey VP’s on your cards, plus your tokens and any effects.

Example of a Vale Card

Example of a Vale Card

Component Quality: 4/5

The two glaring things about this game is the use of the sheets inserted into sleeves and the artwork. The sleeve idea is really neat. While it does make it a bit of a pain to cleanup, isn’t cleaning up every deck builder annoying? And the artwork is incredible! I give props to the publisher for finding these artists and the artists for their fine work. You’ll be amazed! However, I should note, I saw an image on twitter with a ton of the cards and sheets just completely melted! And after looking around Alder’s site, I saw a warning not to leave the game in a hot car!

Theme: 3/5

While I’m not huge on the theme – it integrates with the game very well. This game is about druids cleaning up their land. I’ve never been a fan of druids, even while playing a game like Hearthstone: Hero’s of Warcraft. But it should satisfy most gamers.

Instruction Manual: 4/5

AEG’s rulebooks always seem to work well for me. This one included. Nice examples and use of imagery.

Luck Factor: 4/5

This game, like all deck builders is heavily reliant on shuffling cards, so there’s a ton of luck. But ultimately its you who decides what goes in your deck.

Strategy: 4/5

There’s a lot of strategy in this game; while it’s not a perfect non-luck game, it has plenty of strategy. How well you do depends on you; don’t blame your shuffling. The cards have special text and bonuses and other effects, you must maximize your abilities in this game to win.

Overall Feelings: 4/5

I was pleasantly surprised when I played this game. I enjoyed it a lot. I give it high rankings up there with Dominion and Thunderstone. I’m looking forward to playing it again. The game moved along pretty quick once I understood it. The Card Crafting System is quite unique, great job AEG for doing this. I encourage everyone to give the game a try, I think you’ll enjoy it!

If you’re interested in purchasing this title, visit my store at Meeple Village! We throw in an extra goody in each order and the more you purchase, the more discounts you’ll receive!

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