What is Great Western Trail?
Great Western Trail is one of the most popular hobby board games in recent memory. Being a hobby board game, it’s more complex and evolved than the mainstream board games everyone is familiar with. In Great Western Trail, players are Texan ranchers driving their herd of cattle north to Kansas City for sale.
"Great Western Trail (Second Edition)" first time in the number 10 on "THE HOTNESS" list from Board Game Geek - "Wrangle your herd of cows across the Midwest prairie and deliver it to Kansas City." #boardgames https://t.co/W8sJgd12gT— Board Games Hype (@BoardGamesHype) August 28, 2021
In this historic frontier setting, players must maintain their herd, breeding more valuable cattle, while moving up the eponymous Trail. Along the trail, players stop at action spaces to get better cattle cards, hire workers, and even build new action spaces.
Why are people excited about Great Western Trail?
To begin with, it’s a good game. The first edition of Great Western Trail has been highly reviewed and rated by the hobby game community, as demonstrated by the game’s scores and activity on BoardGameGeek.
The second edition comes with not only improvements to the game’s strategic balance, but a bunch of other goodies to add variety to repeated plays.
As for the game itself, it’s an interesting mix of two existing game systems, using deckbuilding and rondel mechanics. These game systems are pretty obscure to non-hobbyists, but it’s an attention-grabbing combination to board game fans, and Great Western Trail executes the mix adroitly.
Another central reason for Great Western Trail’s popularity is its designer. Alexander Pfister has designed several other games that have become popular in the scene, such as Maracaibo, Isle of Skye, and Blackout: Hong Kong. Pfister has become a bit of a celebrity in the scene, garnering his own throng of fans.
When does Great Western Trail second edition come out?
The slated release date for the second edition of Great Western Trail is Oct 22, 2021. There isn’t a lot of time left to reserve a copy!
What’s different between the first and second editions of Great Western Trail?
Quite a lot, actually. Firstly, the second edition features a rework of the game's graphics and illustrations. The main board, as well as the box and rulebook, now feature art by one Chris Quillams, one of the most popular and prolific board game artists. Additionally, the player boards all have been improved by a dual-layer design, that holds each tile and token and piece in place in their own little pockets and slots.
Secondly, there are numerous small gameplay tweaks. The aim and result of these little changes is to speed up gameplay and provide more resources and options to players; this simultaneously results in a deeper strategic experience as players can pivot and dabble in multiple strategies in one game.
Lastly, but probably most attractively, are new rules and variants. The second edition includes a new breed of cow, the Simmental, that “ages” over the course of the game. Simmental cows are initially expensive but score a small number of points; Later on, though, they mature and earn players much more points, rewarding the players’ patience. Then, there’s Sam. Sam is an “automa” - a set of rules that pretends to be another player at the table. By following some logic guidelines, Sam gives players the ability to play Great Western Trail in solo mode. Sam is based on rules for Garth, an automa developed by Steve Schlepphorst, a fan of the first edition. Great Western Trail is now available to the growing community of solo board game players, as well as providing new and interesting challenges for any Great Western Trail fan.
What comes next for Great Western Trail?
Along with the announcement of a second edition, Great Western Trail’s publisher also revealed plans for two standalone sequels. Great Western Trail: Argentina comes out sometime in 2022, and Great Western Trail: New Zealand is expected to arrive in 2023.
With the upswell in popularity that Great Western Trail has seen in 2021, it may be a lot of players’ first foray into the heavier side of hobby board gaming. The second edition builds on that popularity and reinforces Great Western Trail’s status as a hobby classic.
Even with the two new editions of his magnum opus, Alexander Pfister’s track record for designing deep, strategic and challenging games seems to promise that more excellent games are on the horizon too.