Game Buzz: Sierra West

Today, I wanted to take a look at a game being released soon called

image by BGG user Filipozo

Sierra West is a game from designer Jonathan Pac Cantin, that should be published soon by Board&Dice. It’s a 1-4 player game set in the American West, where players are taking on the role of pioneers heading over the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the late 1840s.

Sierra West comes with four modes of play – Apple Hill, Boats & Banjos, Gold Rush, and Outlaws & Outposts. Each mode has different components to add into the basic gameplay. For the purposes of this overview, I’ll be mostly focusing on Apple Hill, which is the suggested first game. But I will try to talk about the other modes a little as well.

Each player gets a board, a deck of nine starting cards (including one that is mode specific), five animals (including one that is mode specific), a frontiersman, a wagon, and two pioneers. The frontiersman will go at the base of a mountain that will be made of cards. The wagon goes at the head of a wagon trail. The pioneers go on your player board. The mountain will be created out of 15 basic mountain cards and 5 special mode-specific cards. A sixth mode-specific card goes under the wagon trail. The mountain is basically a big pyramid with 6 cards at its base and 2 at its peak. Players start the game with a hand of three cards.

image by BGG user Filipozo

On your turn, you will perform three steps – Planning, Pioneering, and Passing.

PLANNING: You’ll take the three cards you drew and tuck them behind your player board. The board is designed with several gaps that will serve as windows, only revealing a some of the five icons on the bottom. These will be arranged in a sort of mountain formation, with two on the bottom (revealing four icons each) and one on top (revealing one icon). The three cards will form a mountain picture in the art as well, so you’ll have that as a kind of guide.

image by BGG user el_crosso

PIONEERING: There are three general actions available here – Assigning to Cabins, Path Actions, and Summit Actions. If you have any Pioneers in your camp that haven’t started down a path yet, you can assign them to cabins you may have picked up. These will give you certain abilities, like gaining resources.

For Path Actions, you have two paths – green and tan. You can move a Pioneer from camp, a cabin, a tracker or a trapper space to start down the path. One will go down each path, moving left to right. You can move them in any order, and you don’t have to start another path before even finishing the first if you don’t want to. Each icon you stop at will give you an action you can do. Some you don’t have to stop at, some you do. Two of the actions on the tan path will cost resources if you want to use them. You could:

  • Gain Resources. Wood, stone, food, or gold.
  • Boots. Spend boots to move your Frontiersman up the mountain to an adjacent card. Alternately, you could move your wagon. This costs resources, but gives you access to the special cards below its position. For Apple Hill, it adds apples to a common pool that anyone can use.
  • Shovel. If you’re Frontiersman is standing on a face up card on the mountain, you can use a shovel to claim it. This sends your Frontiersman to the base of the mountain, and you can put the card on top of your deck or in your discard pile. This action will uncover 1-2 more cards, which are now flipped face up. A shovel can also be used to build a cabin, which may cost you some resources.
  • Mule. Gain the Mule token. This gives you access to the gray cabin in your area, which is preprinted on the board and can only be used by the Mule. Or you can use it to do a summit action (explained later).
  • Fur Trade. Gain resources based on your face up animals.
  • Bear Hazard. This is mandatory. You either pay the indicated resources, or take damage, or just don’t move that Pioneer for the rest of the round.
  • Pair of Boots Token. Gain one, which can be spent at your leisure (normally, boots need to be spend right away).
  • Mode Specific Actions. In Apple Hill, this involves increasing apples.

If it’s not your turn, you can assign your Pioneers to the Tracker space (which gains you a resource when a player moves up the Homestead track) or the Trapper space (which allows you to flip an animal that you see on that player’s cards face up).

When a Pioneer reaches the end of its path, it can do a Summit Action. These are on the tops of the action cards you placed earlier. The Pioneer is placed there, which means you can’t take the action again this round, and the Pioneer can no longer move. You could:

  • Homestead: Spend resources to move up a homestead track. This also gives you a reward based on which track you use.
  • Advance Wagon. As explained before.

PASSING: When you’ve done as many actions as you’re going to, return your Pioneers to camp. Discard your three cards, and draw three new ones, reshuffling the discard pile if you need to. If you got a cabin, refill the market.

The game is almost when the sixth special card gets added underneath the wagon trail. Keep playing until everyone has had the same number of turns, then play one more round. You get points for cards claimed from the mountain, leftover gold, boots tokens left, and your homestead positions times your wagon position. You’ll also lose points for facedown animals and empty cabin spaces. The high score wins.

The different modes all have different things going on. Apple Hill has a community pool of apples that can be used for different things. In Boats & Banjos, fish are a limited resource, and you also have a canoe to use while traveling down the river. Gold Rush has a mining action, as well as mine carts to carry your gold. Outlaws & Outposts adds shootouts with outlaws.

image by BGG user adamredwoods

What looks cool to me about this game is the action selection method. You program your moves out before the turn, then enact your plan. This isn’t a traditional programming game, because that usually implies that other people’s programs have the chance to interfere with your own. This is a straight turn-based game, and there’s a LOT of stuff you can do on a turn. Because of that, this has the potential to lead to a ton of downtime. There’s not a lot you can do off-turn, other than the Track and Trap actions. But once you’ve done two off-turn actions, there’s nothing else to do, and if the person on turn has any amount of AP, they could take forever. That’s the biggest concern I have – otherwise, everything looks really clever, and it’s a game I’d want to check out. I like that there are different ways to play it, and I like that there’s a specially designed solo mode with it (AP shouldn’t be a problem with that one).

That’s it for today – thanks for reading!

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