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SPIEL ’22 Preview: Great Western Trail: Argentina, or Starving for Grain and Strong Cows

by Candice Harris

Back in 2018 when I was dipping my toes into the modern board game pool, primarily playing lighter games such as Splendor and King of Tokyo, a little game called Great Western Trail melted my brain in the best way possible. I had to buy it. I had to figure it out. I eventually made some board game friends and we played it every week for a few months. Spoiler alert, in 2022, I still haven’t figured it out, but I can’t help but love it so much.

I was stoked to receive an advance copy of Great Western Trail: Argentina, a standalone sequel to Great Western Trail (Second Edition) from Alexander Pfister and eggertspiele, which is releasing at SPIEL ’22. With a handful of games under my belt, I’m eager to share what it’s all about and why I think it’s worth checking out whether you’re already a Great Western Trail fan or not.

Great Western Trail: Argentina is a medium-heavy eurogame that sets you in Argentina at the end of the 19th century, where you and up to three other players take on the role of estancia (cattle ranch) owners in the endless plains of the Pampas, where you must deliver your cattle to Buenos Aires to be shipped abroad. As you make your way up the path to Buenos Aires, you’ll maintain your cattle herds, use helpful buildings, and earn money to hire different types of workers to become more efficient.

Each player begins the game with a herd deck of cattle cards and a player board with several wooden discs covering abilities you can unlock throughout the game. In addition, you have 10 private building tiles which you may build on the path to Buenos Aires during the game. The building tiles are double-sided and you can play with them on their A side, B side, or a random mix, similar to Great Western Trail. Whatever you decide applies to all players, so each building is on the same side for each player.

Private buildings and player board

Cattle cards in your starter herd deck

The game board appears very busy-looking upon first sight if you’ve never played Great Western Trail, but if you have, you’ll feel right at home. Well, slightly at home. The trail path and train direction are reversed which is a trip initially for experienced Great Western Trail players. The Great Western Trail: Argentina board also has a glossy finish. I would’ve preferred the same matte finish they used for Great Western Trail (Second Edition), especially since this is part of a trilogy, but at the end of the day, the gameplay is where it’s at, so this is a very minor complaint.

During setup, the board is populated with neutral building and granjero (farmer) tiles along the path, station master tiles on the train stations, and the job market is randomly filled with gaucho (herder), carpintero (carpenter), and maquinista (machinist) worker tiles. There are also ship tiles placed on the side of the board, and 3 double-sided city map boards for Le Havre, Rotterdam, and Liverpool deliveries.

Board setup for a 4-player game

Great Western Trail: Argentina is played over a series of turns in clockwise order until the end of the game is triggered. All victory points are scored at the end of the game from a variety of components and objectives in the game. Then at the end of the game, whoever has the most points wins.

On your turn, you move your estanciero (cattle farmer) forward a number of spaces to another location along the trail, noting on your very first turn of the game, you can start on any location tile. If a location you land on or pass has a green or black hand icon, you have to pay a number of pesos to either your opponent(s) in the case of private buildings, or on the game board above farmer tiles. Then you perform actions at the location you reached, and draw up to your hand limit. If you’re not familiar with Great Western Trail, it’s also worth mentioning that deck-building and hand management are key to the gameplay. Throughout the game, you can add better cattle cards to your deck at the cattle market, and there are plenty of ways to manipulate your deck by cycling through your deck or permanently removing cards to prepare for delivering cattle to Buenos Aires.

At the beginning of the game there are only neutral buildings and farmer tiles on the board, but as the game develops players may build their own private buildings expanding the rondel path. Each building tile typically has an option to discard a particular type of cattle card to gain a couple pesos (money), in addition to actions such as hiring workers, placing private buildings, moving your train forward, performing auxiliary actions unlocked on your player board, or grabbing an objective card. Most of the actions and iconography are the same as Great Western Trail, so I’ll primarily focus on the changes as I delve into details.

Job market with anchor icons (left) & ship tiles (right)When you get to Buenos Aires at the end of the path, you deliver cattle based on the cards in your hand. Depending on how far along your train has advanced, there are also a number of shortcuts that allow you to get to Buenos Aires faster, which is a new concept in Great Western Trail: Argentina. When you make deliveries, you calculate the total breeding value of each different type of cattle card in your hand, gain the corresponding amount of pesos from the bank. Then, you load the cattle you just delivered onto one of the available ships where your breeding value meets or exceeds its loading value, and that doesn’t already have one of your discs.

Off to the side of the board you have a number of ship tiles with a range of loading values from 0 to 18. Some of the ships have grain costs, and some have immediate benefits or endgame victory points. The 0-value and 18-value ships can have any number of discs from the same player, whereas most locations can only have one disc per player. After you deliver cattle, you’ll select farmer and worker tiles from the foresights area above the job market to add them to the job market or to the board if it’s a farmer.

As you you add more worker tiles to the job market, the job market marker will occasionally be pushed down to the next row which will trigger you to refill the cattle market, depart ships, and eventually end the game. Some of the ship tiles have anchor icons with either a yellow, green, or purple background. As the job market marker drops past an anchor icon, the corresponding ships immediately depart to send the cattle you delivered (wooden player discs) abroad. The timing of the ship tiles departing adds a spicy timing crunch to Great Western Trail: Argentina, as players want to have as many of their discs on ship tiles before they depart.

Each ship has an anchor icon corresponding to one of spaces (quays) on the three city map boards. When a particular color anchor departs, all three ships with a matching color depart and head to the corresponding city map according to the anchor color and roman numeral. Le Havre and Liverpool have two different drop spaces, whereas Rotterdam only has one.

Le Havre city mapAfter the various player discs are dropped at the different city spaces, they are available for players to make extra deliveries when they arrive in Buenos Aires. I didn’t mention this above, but the very first step when you arrive in Buenos Aires is to optionally make an extra delivery by moving one of your player discs from a quay on a city board to an empty space on the same city map by spending grain and gaining the bonus that you cover. These spaces all have juicy bonuses — money, victory points, and more. There are even objective cards based on having your discs in particular city quarters that might factor into your placement decision. It always feels like a race to get to the best city bonus spaces, but you have to have grain.

Grain is a new resource introduced in Great Western Trail: Argentina, and while it seems minor, it actually adds a whole new dimension to Great Western Trail. It’s one of those things you can’t ignore if you want to be successful in the game, but you can freely decide how strong you want your grain game to be. You need grain to deliver to the city maps’ bonus spaces, as well as when you deliver to majority of the ships. When you deliver to the ships, you can spend 2 pesos per grain that you don’t have, but you must have grain to claim bonus spaces on the city maps.

Grain is not easy to come by. There are station master tiles and private building tiles that hook you up with access to grain, as well as a neutral building tile that allows you to gain one grain per farmer that you have hired on your player board. By default, you start with one farmer printed on your player board, and you can hire additional farmers via a new “help granjero(s)” action, and by paying the hiring cost on the corresponding spot of your player board. Hiring farmers is key to generating grain. Thankfully, Great Western Trail: Argentina offers players plenty of different options for crafting a variety of strategies. Thus, while it’s beneficial to create a healthy grain engine, you can focus on farmers and grain as much or as little as you’d like.

Orange granjero/farmer tiles

Farmers are a new, fourth type of worker available in Great Western Trail: Argentina. At the beginning of the game, 5 farmer tiles are randomly selected and placed on the appropriate spaces on the game board, similar to the hazard and teepee/outlaw tiles in Great Western Trail. The farmer tiles are double-sided. One side shows the required strength to help them with a background color of green, blue, orange, or yellow, while the other side is used when you hire them and place them on your player board.

Cattle card with a breeding value of only 1, but strength of 7!When you take an action to help one or more granjeros/farmers, you need a total strength that meets or exceeds the combined required strength. You determine your total strength by adding the strength icons on your player board from worker tiles and clearing disc spaces. Additionally, you may reveal and discard up to 4 cattle cards from your hand to add their strength to your total strength. However, using your cattle for strength exhausts them so you have to take 1 or 2 exhaustion cards into your discard pile for using 1 to 2, or 3 to 4 cattle cards, respectively.

Exhaustion cards are another new element in Great Western Trail: Argentina. They are deck cloggers and each one is minus 2 points at the end of the game. There are ways to cull them similar to cattle cards, but you can also get rid of them if you have any in your hand when you make a delivery in Buenos Aires.

After playing Great Western Trail: Argentina five times, I just want to play it more. It feels like Great Western Trail, which I already adore, but it also feels new and very refreshing as a result of all of the changes. There’s so much game to be explored here. In the past, you had strategies based on the 3 different types of workers. Now you have a 4th type of worker, an additional resource to manage, ship tiles, shortcuts for delivering, and city maps. These new elements only add a small amount of new rules compared to their impact on making the game feel different and interesting.

The replay value is off the charts when you consider randomly placing the neutral buildings, double-sided private buildings and city map boards, in addition to a variety of station master tiles that are placed in the beginning of the game. Randomizing the placement of the neutral buildings alone presents a whole different challenge from game to game.

There’s more to balance and think about, and like many great games, it has great player interaction so your opponents’ decisions will often impact your decisions. You could use the same building tile setup for multiple games and play with different players and it won’t feel the same. Then, of course, depending on how deep you go with farmers, or herders/cowboys, or carpenters/builders, or machinists/engineers, you can push and pull so many different strategies out of this game. I find it quite magical.

While I haven’t had a chance to check out the solo mode yet for Great Western Trail: Argentina, I’m happy that they’ve included one as they did for Great Western Trail (Second Edition). I enjoy playing with 3 players most, but I think it’s awesome at all player counts, aside from solo, which I can’t speak to. At 2 players, it felt especially tense from the timing of making deliveries and the ships departing, and also plays quickly, which is another aspect I find appealing in Great Western Trail. It really moves when players know what they’re doing. With experienced players, you can play 3 and 4-player games in about 2 hours or less, and a 2-player game in 60-75 minutes.

If you’ve never played Great Western Trail, you might be better off starting with Great Western Trail (Second Edition), unless you’re used to playing heavier games; Argentina boosts the complexity level a tad compared to Great Western Trail (Second Edition). If you already enjoy Great Western Trail, then Great Western Trail: Argentina is definitely worth checking out. If you’re on my level, then this is a no-brainer. After playing Great Western Trail: Argentina, I cannot wait to see what Mr. Pfister cooks up for us with Great Western Trail: New Zealand, which is targeted to debut in 2023.

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