With a slight migratory twist, Great Western Trail is a worker movement game – emphasis on the “moo.”
Instead of having multiple workers, you have one, and your choice of action spaces is limited to relentlessly shifting conveyor belt, the end of which forces you to score or suffer. That aspect may remind you a little of the doomsday harvest times in Agricola. Here’s how to play the game:
Howdy! It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table, and this is Great Western Trail, a deck-building, worker movement game for 2-4 players. And I do rightly vow not to use this phony accent for the entire vidja. Keep yer eyes peeled for the Rules Gremlin, who’s liable to show up whenever stuff gets weird. Let me show you how to play.
You and your friends play cattle wranglers driving your herds from Texas to Kansas City, where you’ll ship your cows off by train and cash in on their value. Along the way, you’ll face environmental obstacles, hire staff, use special buildings, and construct buildings of your own, all in the name of building a better hand of cattle cards by the time you reach the train. Throughout the game, you’ll make several runs up the trail to Kansas City, and each time, you’ll try to finish the trip with the highest-value herd possible. Each time a player ships off their cattle, this token gets pushed farther down the board. When it gets pushed off the board, the end of the game is triggered. Everyone else gets one more turn, and then you count up the points from a variety of sources to see who’s won.
The game uses the word “Indians” to refer to the indigenous people you encounter on the trail. Obviously, that word has issues, but I’m going to be using it throughout this video for clarity, and I apologize in advance if it upsets you. I also tend to call these animals “cows” even if they’re male, because the word “cow”… is funny.
This is your player board. There are a number of perks and powers on the board that you can unlock by removing these discs from it to place on train stations and cities each time you reach Kansas City. (By the way, please excuse the state of my blue engine. A manufacturing error turned it into some sort of… futuristic… hovertrain.) The anatomy of a turn is depicted here, in sections A, B, and C. The first is movement, the second is actions, and the third is replenishing your hand.
All players begin the game with an identical deck of low-value cow cards, which you shuffle and draw 4 cards from. Unless you make any changes to your hand between your starting point and Kansas City, these are the cows you’ll have to ship off by train, cashing in however much your hand is worth. To figure that out, count up these numbers on the cards. Doubles don’t count, so this hand is worth 3 points.
When your cowpoke arrives in Kansas City, you’ll cash your cows in for the money they’re worth – so, 3 points is 3 dollars. These crummy cows don’t go away – they go into your discard pile, and get recycled back into your deck, from where you’ll probably draw them again later. When you deliver your cows, you have to remove a disc of your choice from your board and place it on a city, but… you can only pick a city up to the maximum value of your herd. A 3-value herd puts your disc in either Kansas City or Topeka. If you place it in Kansas city, you get some extra money, but you lose 6 points! If you place in Topeka, and then choose Wichita on a later run, you get docked 3 points. With the exception of Kansas City on the low end and San Francisco on the on the high end, all of these cities are exclusive: each player can only place a single one of their discs in each city. What this all means is that if you keep running up the trail with crappy cows, you’re going to run out of low-value city options, and lose buckets of points. A major component of the game is deck-building your way to fancier cattle. We’ll see how you do that later in the video. Discs with white corners can go anywhere, but spaces with black corners will only take discs with black corners. The black-cornered discs uncover more powerful perks that are challenging to unlock.
The other thing to keep in mind is that the position of your locomotive affects your take when you deliver cows. At first glance, this looks like a score tracker. It isn’t.
The train metaphor actually breaks down a little here, and I find the theme somewhat tacked-on – it’s not as intuitive as it should be. The position of your train engine has nothing to do with how far you’re able to ship your cows. That’s entirely up to the value of the cows in your hand. So if your hand is worth 18 or more dollars, you can place a disc in San Francisco, even if your train is all the way back here. However, for every little red X you see between your delivery city and the nose of your engine, you have to pay an extra dollar to ship your cows. So I GUESS the analogy is that your train only gets your cows so far, and you have to rent time on some other company’s track to get your cows all the way to San Francisco, if you haven’t invested in your own railroad infrastructure. One final thing worth mentioning is that you can increase the value of your hand by moving this cube to spend purple ribbons – each space you move adds a point of value to your hand. We’ll see how you gain these certificates later on.
Uncovering these two spaces on your board increases your movement value by one or two points respectively (or one point each in a 2-player game). Uncovering these spaces will also earn you points and money. At the end of each turn, you draw up to your hand limit of 4 cards. Later in the game, you can spend money to uncover these two spaces, which pump your hand limit up by one card apiece. If you need to draw cards but your deck has run dry, you shuffle your discard pile to make a new draw deck. If you’ve managed to buy better cows at the market, you now have a shot at drawing those cows into your hand on a future turn.
I call Great Western Trail a worker movement game instead of a worker placement game because like a worker placement game, there are a number of action spots where you can place your worker, but unlike the majority of these games, you only have one worker, and you’re not free to just place it wherever you like. Your single worker stays on the board the whole time, and there’s a constant forward momentum you have to maintain along the trail, always in the direction of these arrows; you can never move backwards. On your turn, you can move up to this many spaces, and that number changes depending on player count.
Something only counts as a space along the trail if there’s a tile on it – you just completely ignore the gaps. So from here to here to here is 3 movement points, and the empty stuff in between doesn’t count.
The game board starts off populated with a handful of neutral buildings and some random hazards – rockfalls, droughts, and floods – and potentially, cows. I MEAN INDIANS. These tiles are all spaces where your cattleman can stop. If you land on or move through a space with a black or green hand, you have to pay a certain amount of money listed on your player board, which differs by player count.
Later in the game, players can construct their own buildings; if other players pass through those buildings and they have hands on them, the money goes to the buildings’ owners.
After you’ve moved forward at least one space and up to a maximum of your movement points, you get to take actions. If you’ve stopped on one of your own buildings, or one of the neutral grey buildings, you can take the actions printed on the building – OR one of your auxiliary actions, which we’ll look at in a sec. If you land on one of your opponent’s buildings, or a hazard, or an Indian tepee, you can only perform one of your auxiliary actions. And if you land in Kansas City, you get to cash in your cows and send them off by train, which is its own whole… thing. There’s no limit to the number of cowboys that can park in a single space, and cowboys don’t stop each other’s movement.
Your auxiliary actions are listed here on the side of your board. Most of them are covered up, but these two are available from the beginning of the game. Let’s uncover the rest and I’ll explain what they do, keeping in mind that while I’ll explain them in order from top to bottom, you can unlock these powers in any order that you like.
Take this auxiliary action to get a buck from the bank.
Take this action to draw a card from your deck, and then discard a card from your hand. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be the card you just drew. This gives you the hope of drawing higher-value cows, or maybe discarding doubles, since they do nothing to increase your hand value.
Here, you pay a dollar to move your engine backwards along the track, but you get to move your cube up one space to gain an extra ribbon. Remember that these certificates can help you bolster the value of your hand when you deliver your cows in Kansas City.
Here, you pay one buck to move your engine forward one space. The cool thing about moving your engine is that if other players’ engines are in your way, you just leapfrog them. If you’re here, and you get to move one space forward, you move here. Unfortunately, the same principle applies if you have to move your engine backwards.
Finally, you can take this auxiliary action to move your engine back one space, and then get rid of a card from your hand. You don’t put it in your discard pile – you remove it completely from the game! This is how you pare down your deck to weed out your crummy low-value cows, like these 1-point jerseys.
The reason why each of these auxiliary spaces has two discs is that certain buildings let you choose an auxiliary action and perform it twice. We’ll see how that works soon.
Please excuse the state of my blue engine. A manufacturing error turned it into some sort of futuristic hover-train.
So if you stop on one of your own buildings, or on a neutral building, instead of taking one of your auxiliary actions, you can take that building’s more powerful local actions, which the game represents with a green exclamation mark. You can perform any or all of the actions on a building, which are divided by a vertical line, exactly once each, and in any order you choose. The best way to learn the rest of the game is to just go through these buildings one by one and talk about what each one does.
A few of the buildings have an action that looks like this, which means you can cash in a specific cow from your hand for the reward depicted. GREMLIN This doesn’t mean “2 cows for 2 dollars” – this means you sell one specific cow card – in this case, a single 2-value guernsey cow – for 2 dollars. You put the cow in your discard pile. If you don’t have that particular cow in your hand when you stop on this building, no cow money for you.
This icon means you can hire an employee – either a rancher, a builder, or an engineer. Ranchers help you get high-value cows into your deck. Builders help you construct your own private buildings. Engineers help you move your train engine around. You start the game with one of each of these guys hard-coded on your player board. The hiring market is here. The cost to hire one dude is listed alongside each row. This symbol means you can hire an employee without having to pay any money over and above the hiring price on your chosen row. If you take this action, you have to pay an additional 2 bucks to hire a guy, on top of the price on his row. You can’t hire anyone in the row that has this token in it.
You place the worker you’ve hired in the next available leftmost spot on your player board. If you place a worker on a space with stuff on it, you get some sort of perk. These perks will be easier to understand once we go through the icons on the buildings.
On this building, you can sell one Dutch Belt cow for 2 bucks. You can also take this action construct a private building somewhere along the great western trail. You start with a suite of available buildings, each with an A side and a B side. You decide off the top of the game which side everyone is going to use. Constructed buildings are worth points to you at the end of the game, and some of them have black and green hands on them, so they could earn you money from other players if those players have to pass through or stop on them on their way up the trail.
The cost to construct a building is up here: the icon means that you have to have hired at least this many builder guys to construct it. “But wait,” you say. “There’s only space for 6 builders on my player board, and some of these buildings cost more than 6.” That’s right: you can also upgrade an existing building, as long as you have enough workers to make up the difference. So if you had this 3-worker building on the board already, and you wanted to build this 7-worker building, you would need to have 4 workers on your staff to upgrade it. If you upgrade, the original building gets knocked out of the game and you can’t rebuild it.
When you build, you don’t spend workers, but this local action says you need to spend 2 bucks for each worker involved in the construction. So this building needs 2 builders. You’ve got 2 builders, so you have to pay 4 bucks to construct it. Unless you’re upgrading, you can choose any empty space on the board for your building, but some spaces are better than others. Keep in mind that your opponents can choose alternate routes along the trail to avoid your tolls. And the game says that if you ever have to pay a toll and you have no money, you get to keep moving anyway, so keep that in mind. Some spots on the board even give you extra perks for using your building there, but they’re always in the most dangerous places, just past a hazardous area. Please build responsibly.
Here, you can move your train engine forward for as many spaces as you have engineers. The other action lets you either gain a purple ribbon, or take one of the face-up objective cards.
Everyone starts the game with one of these starting objective cards in effect. At the end of the game, if you have accomplished all of the things on the card, you get the promised points. Taking a objective card works a little differently: the card goes into your discard pile. You may eventually draw it into your hand later in the game.
If the objective card does end up in your hand, then on your turn, If you choose to, you can declare the card: you put it out in front of you, and take the reward in the top left corner. But now, you’re on the hook to deliver what’s on the card. If you pull it off, you get the points depicted. If you don’t, you lose the points shown here.
But what if you take a objective card and you never get to draw it? Well, at the end of the game, you go through your whole personal deck and choose which objective cards you want to put into play. The reason you might declare one during gameplay instead of waiting til the game is over is that you get the immediate reward in the top-left corner in exchange for taking on the risk of having to live up to them. But if you don’t declare them during gameplay, these cards take up valuable hand space that you need for your cows, so you might need to use your auxiliary action to discard an objective if you’re not ready to commit to it.
On this building, you can take a double-auxiliary action. So instead of 1 gold, you can take 2 gold, as long as you have both spaces uncovered. You can’t mix and match between the actions – it has to be double the effect of one action. If you don’t have two spaces uncovered, you can only do the action once.
Here, you can pay 2 bucks to move your engine forward 2 spaces, or trade with the Indians. To trade, you remove one of the blue or green tepees of your choice from the board, and take the reward listed above the tile. Four bucks in exchange for a diseased blanket? What a deal!
This building lets you trade a black angus cow for 2 bucks. You can also visit the cattle market to buy better Indians. I MEAN COWS.
The available cows are randomly dealt at the start of the game. Their prices depend on how many ranchers you employ. With one rancher at your disposal, you can buy any 3-value cow for 6 bucks, or a 4-value cow for 12 bucks. If you have 2 ranchers, the price of a single 3-value cow drops to 3 bucks. Or you can split your two ranchers up, and buy a couple of 3-value cows for 6 bucks, or buy a 3-cow and a 4-cow for 18 bucks total – you’re free to distribute your ranchers however you see fit. You can use any single rancher to add two new cows to the cattle market. The cows you buy go into your discard pile, and hopefully you’ll draw them later. You don’t spend your ranchers after you go shopping – they stay on your board. And you don’t have to use all your ranchers if you don’t want to.
Notice that not all cows are created equal, even within their varieties: this West highland is worth 4 points at the end of the game, and this one is worth 5.
On this building, you can discard a pair of identical cows for 4 bucks. You can also pay 7 dollars to remove any one of these hazard tiles from the board. Some of them are worth more points than others, and some make the way clear so you can reach your own buildings or avoid having to pay tolls to other players for passing through their property. Some objective cards award points for collecting these hazards.
Here, you can perform a double auxiliary action, or move your engine forward one space for every engineer you’ve hired.
Whether you’re moving your engine forwards or backwards, you can optionally move into one of these turnout spaces. If you do, you can pay the price at the station to place one of your discs there – one disc per player, per station, just like most of the cities. Additionally, if you’re the first one there, you can choose to staff the station by spending one of your worker tiles and trading it for the station tile on the space. Station tiles usually get you an immediate perk, or a persistent ability, and some kind of end-game scoring bonus: Get 2 bucks, take a hazard tile or trade with Indians, or get a permanent purple ribbon that you don’t have to spend when you reach Kansas City – it just automatically increases your hand value by 1 on every delivery! As for the bonuses: 1 point for every worker you have at the end of the game, including the hard-coded ones, 3 vp for every pair of objective cards you’ve declared, whether you’ve satisfied their requirements or not, 3 vp for each pair of blue and green tepees you have, 3 vp for every two hazard tiles you have of any kind, and 3 vp for every purple ribbons you have at the end of the game, whether permanent or temporary. If you use a worker to staff the station, and you hire a worker again later to fill that spot, you get to take that spot’s bonus again. With a bonus on every spot, this makes engineers a good choice for staffing stations.
For the most part, the private buildings you can construct use the same iconography as the neutral buildings, so I don’t have to explain them all: suffice it to say, the private buildings tend to be more beneficial than the neutral ones. Plus, only you can use their abilities, and the ones with hands on them make your opponents pay you a toll if they stop on or pass through them. Here are the new icons the player buildings contain:
If you stop here, you get two points for every one of your buildings that is in, or that touches, a forested area.
Buildings like this one, this one, and this one let you take the building’s local action, and then move up to that many more spaces, and take additional actions wherever you stop, further up the trail. So you can think of these as “go again” actions.
This action lets you crank your certificate cube to max. If you have uncovered this space but not this one, you can’t move the cube past the blocked space.
This action lets you perform an “extraordinary delivery.” Move your engine back one or more spaces. Then you get to place a disc on a city that has a value equal to or less than the number of spaces your engine just moved. This allows you to maybe pick up a city that you missed earlier in the game. You can ignore the red x’s when you’re taking this special action. Any time you place a disc in a city where you have already placed a disc in the sister city, you get the reward or suffer the penalty between the green arrows. Same goes for performing an extraordinary delivery. You can even back your engine into a station turnout and claim that station if you don’t already have a disc there.
This building lets you perform the local actions on an adjacent building – whether that building is neutral or it belongs to another player. “Adjacent” means directly adjacent – there can’t be any empty spaces between this building and the one you want to copy.
Finally, this action lets you upgrade a train station anywhere behind your engine, following the usual station rules.
When your cowboy reaches Kansas City, you perform these steps in this order:
Move through each of these first three spaces and decide which tile – top or bottom – to add the board, in the case of a tepee or hazard, or to this hiring grid in the case of a worker. You fill the rows up from whichever space reflects your player count. Each time you place a tile at the end of the row, you push this token down to the next row. When the token passes these two milestones, you refill the cattle market up to the max cows depending on player count – 7, 10, and 13 cows for a 2, 3, and 4 player game. If you place the tile that pushes the token off the board, you keep the token. It’s worth 2 points to you. But this is your last turn – everyone else gets one more turn, and the game ends.
Either way, when you reach this space, everyone at the table has to yell “show me your cows!” This is a necessary and important step, and the entire game is forfeit if you don’t yell this every single time. You reveal your hand, tally up the breeding value, and optionally spend certificates to sweeten the value of your hand. Remember that duplicate cows are dead weight, and don’t add to your hand’s value. Take the value of your cows in coins. Pick a city that is at most as valuable as your hand, and place a disc there. White cornered discs can go anywhere, but black-cornered discs can only go on black-cornered spaces. Count up the red x’s between the nose of your engine and the city you’re delivering to, and pay that number of coins back to the bank. Discard your hand, refill the foresight spaces, draw back up to your hand limit, and then magically warp your cowboy back to Texas. (Witchcraft!) Now, it’s time to make another perilous trek along the great western trail.
Ah. There are a few extra bugaboos that the Rules Gremlin wants to point out:
If you need to draw a card, but you’ve used this action to thin down your deck to the point where it’s smaller than your hand limit, you just don’t get a card. Shoulda thought of that before committing all that cow murder.
If you need to place a disc on a white-cornered space and you only have black-cornered discs left, you can use a black-cornered disc. If you need to place a disc on a city or a station and you don’t have any discs left, you have to give up one of your discs on a station.
If your engine reaches space 39, end of the line, you can upgrade the station if you wish. Then you have to move your engine back at least one, but as many spaces as you like, and collect 3 dollars. You can even move into a train station turnout, which you can then upgrade if you haven’t already, even using the three bucks you just earned.
If you upgrade a building you’re standing on, you don’t get to do its stuff right away. And if you remove a tile with a cowboy on it, the cowboy hangs out on the empty space for a while.
(singing) Mah feet are touchin’ nothin and mah toes are in the void….
Great Western Trail is a points buffet. Use the scoring sheets to tally up your take like this:
You get 1 point for every 5 leftover buckazoids.
Add up the points on your personal buildings.
Score points for the cities where you have discs – in some cases, you need to be in both cities a green arrow is pointing to.
Add up your points for any train stations you upgraded.
Tally the points on the hazard tiles you’ve collected. You also get points for the high-value cows you bought at market, whether they’re in your hand, deck, or discards.
Look through your hand, deck, and discards for any objective cards. Decide which ones you want to put out in play. You have to meet the requirements of your played objective cards, or suffer the point penalty for each one. An important note is that each element only counts towards one objective card. If you have two cards requiring a total of three hazards, and you’ve only collected two hazards, you can only satisfy this objective card, and this one loses you points if you’ve played it. In this situation, you’d want to try to satisfy this objective card, since there’s no point penalty for failing to complete this one.
The station tiles get you end-game points, as I explained earlier. You get 4 victory points for every worker sitting in this column or this column on your board. If you cleared this disc, you get 3 points. If you collected this token, you get 2 points.
Tally it all up using mathemagic to find out who’s won. In the event of a tie, the victory is shared! I wish I could quit you.
To set up the game, shuffle and deal out the station tiles. Place the neutral buildings on the board matching each one’s letter, or shuffle them up for a more advanced game. Flip all the tiles face-down, and deal out seven level-1 tiles. These might be hazards or teepees or both. Deal out the level-2 tiles to fill up two rows of the hiring market. That’ll look different depending on your player count: here’s what it might look like with 4 players, 3 players, or 2 players. Fill up the foresight spaces with level 1, 2, and 3 tiles. Shuffle the cattle market cards and deal out 7, 10, or 13 for a 2, 3, or 4-player game. Sort them by type to make it easier to shop for cows. Shuffle the objective deck and deal out 4 cards to the table. Everyone takes a player board in their colour and covers up this top space, if need be, with a tile that reflects the player count. Then everyone covers all the coloured circles with discs. Put the certificate cube on zero. Everyone takes an identical starting deck in their colour, shuffles it, and draws 4 cow cards for their starting hand. CONSARN IT! Your train engine starts in Kansas City. Decide on side A or side B, and display all your personal buildings face-up in front of you on that side. Experienced players can even coin-toss each building one by one to randomly determine an A or a B side, but the important point is that the chosen side for each numbered building remains consistent for all players. Four of the objective cards have no reward in the top-left, and no end-game penalty points – shuffle those 4 cards and deal one at random to each player. Put that card face-up in front of you. Decide on a starting player – the rules don’t specify how, so we can only assume it’s whoever lasts the longest on the mechanical bull. Take 6 dollars as the starting player, and one additional dollar for each player going clockwise. On your very first turn, you don’t have to start in Texas – you can place your cattleman on any space on the board.
And now you’re ready to play… Indian cows. Great Western Indians. INDIAN COW TRAIL. Indian cow trail.
Leapfrogging an engine forwards and backwards
Missing cu 11 … moving an engine back x spaces for extraordinary delivery and placing a disc in a city of that many spaces’ value
At 3:47, i incorrectly say that only discs from black-cornered spots can be placed on black-cornered cities. You can put your white-cornered discs on black-cornered slots, but generally, you won’t want to. Thanks to YouTube viewer Mark Anderson for pointing this out!
At 4:38, while the rule is explained properly, i missed circling one of the little red x’s on the train track (the one closest to the engine).
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