A to Z Gaming: Old West Empresario

We built our lands up into thriving towns in Old West Empresario, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Old West Empresario
Players: 2-4
Time: 45-60 Minutes
Designers: Stan Kordonskiy
Artists: Sergi Marcet
Publisher: Tasty Minstrel Games

Old West Empresario is a dice drafting and tableau building game where players use dice to claim new buildings for their fledgling town or to activate their town’s shiny new buildings. At the same time, players are trying to maximize their railroad presence, dig for as much oil as possible, and spin up their cotton industry. The player who best manages these competing needs of their town to amass the largest populations wins.

The game is set up by spreading out the six dice label tiles in the middle of the play area. The silver wanted posters are shuffled and three chosen at random. The corresponding gold wanted posters are placed on top of the silver posters and placed where all players can see. The building tiles are shuffled and placed those near the play area, either in the box lid or in a stack. Two buildings are dealt beneath each of the numbered dice label tiles. The money is placed nearby A number of population tokens are placed in a pool on the table, the number depends on the player-count. Two dice per player plus one, are used for the game.

Each player receives a town hall tile, three starting coins, and two character cards. Once each player has chosen one of their characters — they can always choose the “Standard Empresario” side as well — each player is dealt three building tiles. They chose one of those building tiles to place in their town, gray side up (the building is “under construction” and not ready to use yet). Unused tiles are discarded. A starting player for the first round is chosen at random.

The game is played in rounds, and each round each player gets two turns to draft a die. The start player rolls all the dice and places them on the corresponding dice label tiles. On their turn, the player choses one of the available dice. Optionally, the player may pay one coin once to add or subtract one from the die they are drafting, with the dice values wrapping from six to one. The player can then either claim a tile under the corresponding number or activate their town. If they claim a tile, they can either place the tile in their town on the gray, under construction, side or they can discard it to collect three coins. If they chose to activate their town, they get to activate all built buildings (i.e., those not under construction) that show the same die face. The buildings can be activated in any order, so rewards from one building can be used to pay the cost of activating another. Each building type activates differently — the Carpenter builds a building (i.e. turning it from the gray side to the color side), the Saloon gains the player money, while the Distillery allows the player to spend a coin to take two population tokens, and so forth.

Once all players have drafted two dice for the round, there will be one remaining die. All players can use that die to activate one building in their town. At any time, if a player satisfies one of the wanted posters, they claim it.

Finally, players check to see if anyone has constructed 15 buildings, the population token supply is empty, or the supply of buildings has been exhausted. If any of these are the case, the game end is triggered.

At the end of the round where one of the game end conditions is triggered, players tally up their points using the included score sheet. Points include those from buildings, wanted posters, stocks (oil, cotton, railroads), leftover coins (one point per three coins), and population tokens collected throughout the game. Each building has a different way of scoring, and I won’t go over all of those here, but most buildings score by having a specific type of building adjacent to them. There are also buildings that have end-game scoring like points for leftover income and for constructing a specific type of building. In addition, most building tiles also have one of three different stock symbols (oil, cotton, railroad) — these three each score differently. The player with the most oil gets 1 point per oil symbol; all other players get 1 point per 2 oil symbols. The railroad scores based on the player’s largest group of contiguous railroad buildings — one point each. Finally, cotton scores for each separate group of cotton buildings.

The player with the most points wins.

I heard about this game from Rahdo’s Runthrough of it and it immediately struck me as a game I would probably like. I really enjoy “point salad” type games, games with dice rolling and drafting, and town building. It took a while before I saw it on the shelves, however, and it seems like it may be hard to find again (Tasty Minstrel Games doesn’t even list it on their website as one of their games).

We’ve only been able to play this as a two-player game so far, so I’m very curious to see how it scales at larger player-counts. However, as a two-player game, I really enjoy it. I love trying to decide which die to draft first, puzzling out which one I think my spouse will take, so maybe I can get two dice that I really want. But then having to re-work my strategy on the fly when he surprises me. One part of the game I love is when I get to draft a die that lets me activate a number of buildings in my town, then working out which order to activate them so that I get the most out of it. The game feels like it’s just about the right length — neither over-staying its welcome, nor ending before I get one or two satisfying activations of my town.

How is it as a 2-player game? It works well as a two-player game. So far, we haven’t been able to get this to the table with more players, and we’ve enjoyed all of our plays of it. The available buildings will move a bit more once we add more players, and I could see that being both a blessing and a curse, depending on how many buildings were out that I really wanted.

How about the art and component quality? I really like the art of this, and I appreciate that some care was taken to show a diversity of characters in the available Empresarios. On the other hand, I do wonder about the depiction of Native Americans in the game, and it always gives me pause as I’m playing. The tiles and tokens are good quality cardboard, and I have no complaints about the cards. The only thing is that I wish there were individual player helper cards showing the various scoring conditions — we always end up looking those up in the rules and score sheet several times during the game.

Will this stay in my collection? Definitely! I love point-salady games, dice drafting in games and town building. It’s almost like the game was made for me.

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