By July 1, 2008

Cowboys: The Way of the Gun game review

Two thin men face each other in a dusty street. Residents peer from around corners, atop overturned carts, and through thick window glass. A lone tumbleweed hops down the thoroughfare. No sounds can be heard except for a slight desert breeze. The Arizona sun glares directly overhead, forcing both men to narrow their eyes into slits.

Draw.”

I rolled two six-sided dice, hoping to earn an advantage over The Accountant™ by scoring a hit before he had a chance to return fire. Unfortunately, I am playing the role of a young cowboy, full of guts but low on experience. I miss.

The Accountant™’s grizzled gunslinging veteran unholsters his Peacemaker and cracks off a shot. He gets a +2 on his combat roll, which allows him to score a hit. I slide my health meter down by one. Three more hits like that and I’m dead.

I don’t know if I should move or keep shooting — the rules don’t allow me to do both — and if I make a break for it and get shot again I’ll definitely be too wounded to win. What would a gunslinger do? I think, rolling the dice in my hand. Stand and fight.

Roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll … I’m dead. But I died with my boots on, and that is what Cowboys: The Way of the Gun is all about.

Cowboys is a board game with twenty-six historical and “cinematic” shoot-out scenarios, from the Gunfight at the OK Corral to a jail break scenario. There are six double-sided game boards that can be oriented and arranged for different scenarios. There are ten cowboys with three copies of each. The copies have “0,” “+1,” or “+2″ bonuses to combat rolls, which represent each cowboy’s level of experience. Different scenarios dictate the experience level of the cowboys.

Game play is fairly fast. Each cowboy may move or do an action, but not both. There is no shooting on the run. Actions include shooting a weapon, reloading a weapon, mounting a horse, etc. Moving through windows incurs a penalty. I always make a “crrsssh!!!!” sound when my pieces bust through a window.

The three weapons (pistol, shotgun, rifle) have different range and damage tables. Shotguns are short-range but do a lot of damage, rifles are good for long ranges, and pistols are between the two. You always roll 2D6 to hit. The further away you are, the higher you need to roll to be successful. There are advanced rules for hand-to-hand combat, but I’ve never played the game long enough with a group of people to move on past the basics.

So, is Cowboys fun to play? I have been wrestling with this question ever since I got this game. There are lots of good points about the game. It is pretty simple; non-gamers to grasp it easily. You can play this game with up to ten people, and the mechanics are light enough that the game moves quickly. No one is bored waiting for their turn. The theme is great, and we always have a lot of fun making sound effects as we play. There is definitely a lot of juvenile escapism going on during the games. :)

Unfortunately the game may be too simple. Or too bland. Or something. Maybe I just own so many other medium- to large-group games that people are underwhelmed by Cowboys. We normally play one round of Cowboys and then shelve it to play something else. I don’t think this is the fault of the game, but I can’t really put my finger on it.

Cowboys: Way of the Gun is available from FunAgain Games for $40 or your local gaming store. I wouldn’t rate it as a “must-buy,” but it is fun and a worthy addition to any mid-sized game collection. If you already own a lot of games, particularly group games, Cowboys may not see a lot of play. If the game were $10 less I’d definitely recommend it. At $40, however, it’s just “recommended.”

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