Old West Empresario Review

The perilous trip into the West has ended and now it’s time to set down roots. In Old West Empresario, players are building out their western town to attract settlers. This is the follow up to Pioneer Days, a TMG release from 2018 that we absolutely loved.

Players will draft dice and tiles while they build their town in a style that is reminiscent of Between Two Cities or Alhambra. Fans of tile placement and drafting games will find a lot to love in this release by designer Stan Kordonskiy. The player who builds the greatest town will become the state capital and win the game.

Location, Location, Location

Everyone begins Old West Empresario with 3 coins in hand, a Town Hall building and an additional building of your choice from three that are randomly distributed to each player. Your Town Hall gives you the ability to “construct” new buildings by using any drafted die face in the game.

Players draft dice from 6 different columns that contain 2 building tiles each. Drafting a die will allow you to claim a building from the column or trigger building effects that match the die face. The quicker players build these new buildings, the sooner they can use their abilities. New buildings are added to your town “unconstructed”. This is represented by the grey side of the tile.

Placing your buildings in Old West Empresario matters a lot. You’ll need to pay attention to all the icons on the tile to understand how they will score at the end of the game. Some tiles require you to monitor how others are building their towns. For instance, native settlements will score for the player with the largest contiguous group of settlements. The saloon and distillery will both score points off one another when they’re adjacent.

A well planned city will score lots of points at the end of the game.

Attracting New Settlers

The goal of Old West Empresario is to attract new settlers to your town. These very cute settler tiles will count as victory points at the end of the game. You may notice these settlers look quite a bit like the lab workers from Manhattan Project: Energy Empire. We assume that’s because they are time travelers who are researching Old West technologies. Or maybe the same artist worked on both projects.

While these settlers are important, we definitely found that the majority of your points will come from tile placement. It can be deceiving to look at an opponent with 5 or 6 settlers when their town is generating 40 victory points.

Being a Pioneer Can be Rough

Players are also working to complete Wanted cards that are on the table. These are goals in the game that give victory points for reaching specific goals. These will net you a couple points and could give you a slight edge against the other players. I really like this variable setup. The game comes with so many Wanted cards and you only play with 3 during the game. This can make each game slightly different each time.

Similar to Pioneer Days, we were really impressed with the quality of the components, the artwork and the way the game played. The player interaction in minimal but definitely present. At the end of a round, a single die will be left on the table. Every player gets to activate this die for a building in their town. Competitive players will usually survey the towns to make sure they don’t give an opponent the die that they need.

I do have to point out an area where Old West Empresario struggles. I think the rulebook has some real issues. Since this game relies so heavily on iconography and tile placement rules, players will be going back to this over and over during the first few games.

During our first play through, we struggled to find the information we needed in the rulebook. In fact, we had three game reviewers passing around the rulebook for 20 minutes trying to find the info we needed in our first game. This rulebook would have benefited tremendously from a quick diagram breaking down the building tile. The back page of the rulebook essentially has a spreadsheet explaining each tile type and how they score.

While our first game was frustrating, subsequent games have been a breeze. My concern is that some people will get frustrated trying to learn this game for the first time. If you have a person who loves reading rulebooks, maybe slip them $5 and tell them to teach the game. Or just find a rules video online.

Welcome to the Old West

Old West Empresario is an excellent release from TMG. Each time we play the game, we get a better grasp on the depth and combos available in the game. The game is slightly heavier than Pioneer Days and a fantastic follow-up. I’m really impressed how building a great town can set you up for some powerful combos. With lots of ways to score points, you’ll come back to the game trying new strategies each time.

You can purchase Old West Empresario at GenCon 2019, at your local game store after its release.

Tasty Minstrel Games provided us with a retail copy of Old West Empresario for this review. This in no way influenced our opinion of the game.

Highs

  • Lots of scoring opportunities in each game
  • Wanted cards and different player abilities add to the variable setup
  • Dice and tile drafting mechanic is very well thought out
  • Loved the diversity among the player cards and settler token
  • Great illustration style that ties back into its predecessor

Lows

  • The rulebook lacks clarity
  • New players may get overwhelmed keeping track of scoring