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Great Western Trail: New Zealand, or Sheep, Ships, and Gold, Oh My!

by Candice Harris

Great Western Trail: Argentina was an exciting release for many, including myself, in 2022. It introduced some really cool, fresh new twists to Alexander Pfister‘s fan favorite Great Western Trail, which I covered in detail in a SPIEL ’22 Preview post. Playing and loving Argentina had me beyond excited and very curious about what to expect with Great Western Trail: New Zealand, the final release in Pfister’s Great Western Trail trilogy, which Eric originally announced in February 2021.

In February 2023, my face lit up with a big smile when I read that Plan B Games (eggertspiele) “shared a smidge of detail” about Great Western Trail: New Zealand in one of Eric’s posts. I was on vacation at the time, but as soon as I returned, I jumped at the opportunity to chat with Isabelle from Plan B Games to get a rundown of what to expect in Great Western Trail: New Zealand, one of my most anticipated releases of 2023.

Coming in at a similar complexity level to GWT: Argentina, GWT: New Zealand adds even more new twists than we saw in Argentina, but still retains the essence of Great Western Trail. In GWT: New Zealand, you and up to three other players take on the role of runholders (owners of sheep stations) on the South Island of New Zealand. You’ll move your runholder along a trail up to the top of the board to Wellington. Along the way, you’ll perform actions that give you various ways to earn victory points. Each time your runholder reaches Wellington, you deliver sheep to a local or foreign trading post, which may also be worth victory points. Then your runholder continues movement back at the start of the trail at the bottom of the board. At the end of the game, you’ll score victory points from a variety of components you acquired during the game and any points marked with your color on the game board and the sea routes board. The player with the most victory points wins the game. If you’re already familiar with GWT, all of this should sound very familiar, aside from the sheep and lack of cattle, so allow me to highlight some of the new elements you’ll experience in GWT: New Zealand.

Since deck-building is a core mechanism in GWT, let’s start with the new cards. In addition to sheep cards, which function similarly to cattle cards in the previous versions, you’ll have a supply with new deck-building cards in GWT: New Zealand. In this special deck-building supply you’ll have Romney sheep cards, Sheepdog cards, Ferry cards, and Kōtare bird cards, which you can gain in different ways throughout the game. You can play these cards from your hand on your turn to take a special action on your turn. Plus, there are also ten sets of bonus cards and you’ll randomly choose four to include in each game. You can spend gold, which is a new type of resource, to buy these bonus cards and add them to your deck as well. These new types of cards add a lot of variety and will open up new strategic options for how you build your deck and choose to use the cards in it as you play.

Great Western Trail: New Zealand has four types of workers you can hire in the game. You have shepherds to help you acquire better sheep cards, craftsmen to help you build those glorious private buildings, sailors to move your ship on the sea routes board, and sheep shearers which help you shear your sheep and earn money based on their wool value. This is basically a second delivery option you’ll have since the sheep cards not only have a breeding value, but they also have a wool value. Now you’re probably wondering where the engineer is in all this. Surprise! There are no engineers, trains, or train stations in GWT: New Zealand. I’ll let that sink in for a minute…

Above the main game board, there’s a new sea routes board, reminiscent of the additional board in the Rails to the North expansion. Now you can sail your ship around on the sea routes board with the help of your sailors. Along the routes, there are several harbours, each of which either allows you to place a storehouse or one of your player discs if your ship is on its associated water space. As always, when you place one of your discs, you unlock some cool treat. Storehouses are also on your player board and can be unlocked in any order, but you only unlock storehouse bonuses when you’ve removed two storehouses next to each other on your player board.

Delivery in Wellington seems to be more streamlined in GWT: New Zealand compared to Kansas City and Buenos Aires. As usual, you’ll gain income and place one of your discs onto a trading post based on the breeding value of your unique types of sheep cards, but when it’s time to choose tiles from the foresight area, things are a little different. There are only four foresight tiles: two “A” tiles which will either be workers or hazards (rockfalls or floods), and two “B” tiles, which are new bonus tiles.

Speaking of bonus tiles, another big change in GWT: New Zealand is the way the game ends. It’s no longer triggered by the worker market filling up. Instead, the end of the game is triggered when you place a bonus tile onto the last space of the bonus tiles market during a delivery in Wellington.

Another interesting new twist is that mid-way through each game, you’ll flip half of the neutral building tiles over and they’ll have a different action/effect. Plus, there’s a new pathfinder track you can work your way up to unlock beneficial bonus abilities. For example, you can increase your movement one step, which is helpful because you’ll only be able to unlock one additional step of movement on your player board in this version. Also, if you hit a certain level on the pathfinder track, you ignore paying black/green hand fees on hazard tiles and your opponent’s private buildings.

These are just some of the exciting new changes you can expect in Great Western Trail: New Zealand, in addition to the adorable sheep cards, and lush green game board. I haven’t played it yet, so I can’t comment on how it feels and plays out, but I am loving the sound of all of these changes and I can’t wait to play it!

The adorable sheep cards


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