Review of Gold West, A gold rush board game using a unique mancala based action system

Gold West the boardgame does something new and interesting with the classic mancala mechanic. 

Experience the gold rush in 1849 in this surprisingly quick abstract hidden gem.

Disclosure: Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. I received a review copy of Gold West from Tasty Minstrel Games. No other compensation was provided. 

What do you get in the board game Gold West?

Gold West was designed by J. Alex Kevern and features art by Adam P. McIver. It was published in 2015 by Tasty Minstrel Games. It plays two to four players in under 60 minutes. 

If you want to see what you get in a copy of Gold West be sure to check out our Gold West unboxing video.

Gold West comes with a nice big rulebook. It’s only fifteen pages long, with the last few pages just being a reference for the various investment cards included in the game. The actual rules are only eleven pages. The text is nice and large and easy to read and includes plenty of examples and graphics.

The game also includes four very thin player boards. These are nothing more than thick cardstock. All four player boards are identical. I am very much reminded of the boards from Terraforming Mars.

Under the player boards are some of the thickest cardboard punch boards I’ve ever seen. These are a stark contrast to the player boards. The main board for Gold West is just as thick, if not just a bit thicker. It’s comprised of a four piece puzzle fit border and a bunch of hex-based map tiles. Interestingly these all came pre-punched. 

Along with the board tiles, I also found a bunch of plastic baggies. I always appreciate when companies include baggies in their games. All of these were on one side of a pretty plain but serviceable cardboard insert. It basically just divides the box into two sections. Nothing fancy, but it works well enough. 

On the other side of the insert was a bigger baggie filled with wooden components and a small pack of hobbit-sized cards. These came in one of those resealable packages, which is great as I can just keep that and use it to store the cards. These are the investment cards that have very clear iconography on them.

The wooden components include a miner shaped meeple in each player colour. Also in each colour are a set of discs, small triangles for representing camps and settlements and three wagons. The wagons have a bit of silk screening on them.

There are also two bags of wooden resources. One with cylinders in copper, gold and silver and another bag with cubes in green and black.

It’s worth noting that a lot of work has been done to make this game colour blind and poor vision friendly. The player colours are in colour blind friendly colours as are the resource cubes. For the metal cylinders, each has a different number of sides so that you can tell them apart by touch as well as colour.  

Playing Gold West from TMG

To start a game of Gold West you first have to build the board. You assemble the frame and then randomly build the map out of the river tile and other hex-based tiles. If you are playing with two players, two of the tiles are flipped over and not used that game. On this map, you randomly place terrain tiles on each map spot and flip over the ones next to the river. 

Eight investment cards are drawn and Boomtown is made up of random end game scoring tiles. Investment and shipping bonus tiles are placed on the board in the appropriate spots. 

Players each take a player board which has a spot to hold all of their camp and settlement markers. They also place a miner on the scoring track and a wagon on each of the shipping tracks. 

The 100 point tokens are randomly given out to players. Whoever has the one that has 1st player marked on the back will be first and the rest get redistributed so that play will be clockwise. These tokens also set everyone’s starting resources, which are placed into the resource bins on each player’s personal board.

Each round, players will be taking all of the resources out of one bin on their player board. They will then move up their board dropping one of those resources in every bin above the first until they get to the top of the board where they will have a pile of whatever resources are left. Those leftover resources will determine which actions the player will take. 

First, the player must spend any metals they have. Metals can be used to fulfil investment orders, place an influence token in Boomtown, or move up on the shipping tracks. 

Each investment card has a list of required metals and a reward for providing those metals. Players just need to trade in the appropriate metals to get the reward. In addition, when filling an investment, players also get to take the highest numbered investment bonus tile. 

Boomtown is represented by a 3×3 grid of tiles. Each of these includes an end game scoring bonus which is randomized at the start of the game. By paying a pair of metal resources to the bank a player can place a token here, making them eligible for that end game scoring bonus. Only one player can be on each spot. 

The player can also spend metal on shipping, moving their wagon up the appropriate track. Passing certain spots on the track earns players points and there are some bonus tokens claimed by the first and second person to pass over them.

After spending metals, players must attempt to expand their territory. They do this by spending wood and/or brick. If a player has only wood or brick they build a camp, if they have both a wood and a brick they build a settlement. If they have neither they instead need to loot a claim.

When building a camp or settlement players select one face-up resource tile off the board and replace it with their playing pieces, laying out a triangle for a camp or a triangle on a disc for a settlement. They then get the resources shown on the tile, which they need to put into one of their supply bins.

Which bin a player places their new resources in will give them some small amount of points, with bins near the bottom of the player board being worth more. 

Finally, the player places the tile on their player board under the proper type of terrain. If they placed a settlement this turn they get to skip a spot. These tracks are part of an area majority scoring system at the end of the game. 

If a player is forced to loot, they still select a tile and get resources but do not get to keep the terrain tile. In addition, their camp piece is placed on the wanted poster on the main board. At the end of the game, the player with the most camps on the wanted poster will lose one point per camp there. The player with the second most camps will lose one point per two camps.

Play continues until every player has placed all of their triangle camp tokens, after which players get one more action round in which they can only spend metals. 

Scoring includes all of the points collected through investments, bonus tiles and going up on the shipping track, all of which are scored during the game. Influence tiles on Boomtown give end game points for a wide number of things. These include things like having camps and settlements next to the river, the number of terrain majorities you win or come in second on, how many of your camps or settlements are next to other players, etc. 

Each of the four types of terrain is also scored, with the player owning the most, or the second most, tiles of each type scoring points. Players also get end game points for their longest continuous chain of camps and settlements. 

Final thoughts on the board game Gold West from Tasty Minstrel Games

I really didn’t know what to expect with Gold West. It wasn’t a game that was on my radar. I don’t remember a lot of hype for this game when it came out, nor have I heard much about it since, which is a shame because I think this is a very solid game.

I’m always impressed when I can find a heavier game that plays quickly. While I wouldn’t call Gold West heavy (it’s a weight of 2.46 on BGG), it’s heavier than many games that play in under an hour. To me, Gold West hits a sweet spot, a spot not many other games hit. 

Gold West is pretty easy to teach, though I do think it takes two plays to really see how things interact and work, and for players to really get the game. This is especially true of the final scoring round at the end of the game. I find that first time players often underestimate the number of points awarded at the end of the game for things like having majority control of the various terrain types or just how some of the Boomtown bonuses work. 

I’ve played Gold West at all player counts and I’m pleased to say that it plays just as well at all of them. It’s not often you find a game that plays great at both two players and four players. 

While I really enjoy this game, and my wife loves it, we have taught a couple of gamers who didn’t enjoy it as much as us. I think this is mostly tied to the abstract Euro nature of the game. There nothing here that really says The Wild West. You don’t feel like a miner or really get into any form of gold rush mindset while playing Gold West. It’s all very mechanical.  

My only personal complaint is the thinness of the player boards. While they are functional I would have prefered something a bit thicker, or even better a nice two-layered board with slots for holding all of the player components. 

Overall I really dig Gold West. It does something cool and new with the mancala mechanic and I love how lightning quick it is for a rather thinky game. To me, it hits a sweet spot but some players are going to be turned off by the rather dry mechanical nature of the game.

If you are looking for a game that gives you the feel of being on the frontier in the Old West, this isn’t it. But if you dig abstract strategy games that are quick to learn and offer a lot of replayability I strongly suggest checking out Gold West. 

I really do think that this game got overlooked when it came out and has fallen under the radar for most people, and that’s a shame. I’m hoping by talking about it here I bring this great hidden game to the attention of more people. 

Have you tried Gold West? What did you think? How about other games that use a mancala based mechanic? What’s your favourite? Let us know in the comments!

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