Game: Pioneer Days
Designer: Matthew Dunstan, Chris Marling
Published: Tasty Minstrel Games
Players: 2-4 players
Playtime: 45-60 Minutes
Play Type: Dice Drafting/ Resource Management
Time to load up your wagon and travel the Oregon Trail. Choose those you travel with carefully, pack smart, and be prepared for the worst. If you plan accordingly you could make it big as a cattle herder or a gold miner, but choose poorly and you might end up with a dead crew and broken wagons.
Pioneer Days is a dice drafting game in which players will be gaining resources dependent on the dice they choose each round. During set-up each player will pick their player mat, each one having different special abilities and starting equipment. If players are not comfortable with asymmetric game play, they also have the option of the standard pioneer which gives each player a set starting equipment and special ability.
Then one player will add sets of five colored dice equal to the number of players plus one to the black bag. Players will select two of the lettered card decks and shuffle them together, setting one card out under each of the symbols at the bottom of the center board. Players will then mix the equipment tiles together and a number of tiles that is equal to the number of players plus one out into the store. Then the players will shuffle the 22 town cards, pick 9 and put the rest in the box. Finally place the two face up. Players will put the circular colored tokens into their respective colored column in the first space. Finally players will put their wagons on the scoreboard on zero.
Players will play four “weeks” of game play. In each week players will have five days. The player with the first player token will draw a number of dice equal to the number of players plus one out of the bag. They then choose a dice from the pool. They check to see if the symbol on the dice matches any of the symbols on their equipment or the townsfolk. If there is a matching symbol, players will either do the action associated with the townsfolk or reference their player board and take the appropriate equipment action.
Once that player has checked for matching symbols, they then have the option to pay three dollars to change the dice face to any one of their choosing. If they choose to pay, they do not get their equipment benefit based on that dice face. They do get to choose to do one of three actions based on that dice face: income, action, or recruit. Income allows players to take silver based on the symbol, action allows players to take an action associated with that symbol or recruit the townsfolk underneath that symbol. Actions are as followed from left to right on the board:
- Jester- Wild card can be used as any other action
- Pick Axe- Take a gold from the bag
- Equip- Take one equipment from the upturned supply
- Cow Head- Take one cattle from the supply
- Plank of Wood- Take one wood from the supply
- Medicine Bottle- Take one medicine from the supply
After this player takes the two actions, the next player is able to pick a dice and so on and so forth until one dice is left. The dice that is left is placed on the color tracker beneath the scoreboard. Then the matching disaster track is moved forward one space. If the dice left is black, all tracks move forward one space. If this causes the colored disc to reach the last space, a disaster is triggered. Here is what happens on those disasters:
- Storms (Blue)- You must pay one wood per wagon you own. If you cannot you must put a destroyed token on each wagon you cannot pay for.
- Raid (Red)- You must discard half of your silver rounded up
- Famine (Yellow)- You must pay one silver per cow, if you cannot discard each cow you cannot pay for.
- Disease (Green)- You must discard one medicine for each townsfolk you have. If you cannot, you must discard any townsfolk that you do not have medicine for.
After this the first player token shifts, and the next player draws dice. This continues until the bag is empty. Once the bag is empty players will go into the end of the week phase. During this phase players will first check to see if they have any townsfolk who have an ability that triggers at the end of the week. Then, players will gain one point per cow they have. Finally, players check the town cards and may fulfill the requirements to gain favor. Favor will give two points per token at the end of the game.
Players will then discard any leftover cards and equipment and replenish the supplies. Then replace the two town cards. After all supplies are replenished, the players will repeat the process three more times. During the final week two things change: there are three town cards, and at the end of the week all four disaster tracks move up.
After the end of the last week and the town phase has been completed the end of game scoring will occur. Players will get one point per gold nugget in their cart, two victory points per favor, the player with the most favor gains an additional five points, players will get points according to their townsfolk, and then players will lose two points for each destroyed token in their wagons. This will give players their final score. If there is a tie, silver is the tie breaker.
Pioneer Days comes with a variety of components, all of which are very high quality. I was especially impressed with the cardboard chits, which were thick and easy to punch. None of them tore even slightly when punching, and they are easy to pick up because they have some thickness to them. Besides the cardboard chits, all the player boards and carts are made from the same cardboard. The custom dice have clear symbols and are easy to read. The game comes with two nice dice bags, to hold the dice and gold. The cards are nice quality and the art style is clean and well done. Finally, there are cow meeples. They are wonderful and stand out on the board, and a great addition overall to the game.
The only thing I would have liked to see was an insert of sort inside the game, or more bags to hold pieces. There are not enough bags included to keep everything separate, and there is no insert included. Additionally, due to the disaster tracks color is very important to determining the outcome. Some people who are color blind may struggle with these tracks.
- Great Components
- Mixture Between Luck and Strategy
- Replayability (Townsfolk Decks, Town Cards)
- Variety of Mechanics (Dice Drafting, Dice Rolling, Resource Management, Engine Building)
- Balancing Benefit and Consquences
- Plays Well at All Player Counts
- Asymmetric Play
- Multiple Strategies to Win
- Not Colorblind Friendly
- No Insert
- Some Confusion on Two Dice Phases
- Four Players Max
As someone who was very disappointed by the Oregon Trail Card Game, I was excited and hesitant about Pioneer Days. I loved the idea of the theme but was nervous that it would not be implemented well. I was very pleasantly surprised. Pioneer Days stands out as a game that has great quality, variety of mechanics, and replayability. After playing multiple times, I was happy to find that the game plays just as well at two players as it does at four players. However, with a large family I would have liked to see it be playable at up for five players.
The mechanics of the game are a good balance of strategy with a slight touch of luck. While the dice introduce an aspect of luck, the dice drafting gives players an interesting decision between the benefit of the dice they choose and the consequences of the dice they leave. No matter what dice they players choose, there are strategic benefits to every dice face. Players have plenty of options and may form different strategies in each game due to the dice options. As players form different strategies with the dice and equipment they are able to obtain, they may also choose to develop different strategies with the asymmetric player mats as well. That being said, some of the player mats can cause confusion with when abilities trigger. For instance the Gambler allows players to re-roll dice, but it does not specify whether the rolling happens before players determine equipment benefits or after.
Overall Pioneer Days is a very strong game, and will likely appeal to many eurogamers who are seeking a strong dice drafting game. I would suggest it to players who may have also been disappointed by the Oregon Trail Card Game, who enjoy resource management games like Energy Empire, and Homesteaders or dice drafting games like Sagrada or Grand Austria Hotel.