Saloon Tycoon, Van Ryder Game, Review

Theme and What is it?

There’s an old west town that needs building. In this tile placement game it will be between you and the other players to see who can build the largest empire around the modest beginnings of a single saloon. Can you build the best properties, hire the best people, and avoid the worst outlaws as you settle this small corner of the west.

Gameplay Mechanics

Saloon tycoon is a tile placement game. Each player starts with a small amount of money and a single saloon tile. Every round you may take one action to gain gold, draw cards, play cards, purchase a new building for your town, or bribe a citizen to move from one person to another. The most important of these actions is purchasing a new building. Purchasing buildings increases your income, gives you access to special one-time actions that you can take when completing a building, and some buildings give you access to citizens who are worth victory points at the end of the game.

The game has a selection of claim cards that players can strive towards for extra victory points. There are Open Claim cards which are public goals available from the beginning of the game and to all players. The first person to score one gets the card, preventing anyone else for being able to score it. Each player also gets a number of Secret Claims that only they can score. Secret Claims must be saved until the end of the game, making some of them more challenging to achieve.

One of the features for the game are the buildings themselves. Each building plan has a number of spaces marked on it. To complete the building you need to have purchased supplies and placed them on those spaces. Once a building is complete you can place a new plan on top of the previous ones. This gives the towns a very nice tactile and visual appearance as your town grows up on the board. 

Initial Impressions

I’d seen a little bit about the game before hand and was pretty interested in how it all came together. I liked the look of the game with the stacking mechanic that made the buildings pop on the table. I was excited about how this game could play.

Game Build Quality

The quality here is very good. The game comes with small gold nuggets that look amazing. The wooden supply cubes that are used as supports for the buildings are well done. The cards have a linen finish but are a little thin for my taste. I would have liked something a bit thicker. The main player boards on my copy also warped right out of the box. This is particularly problematic since you’re trying to balance your buildings. While still fairly easy the warping did cause some of the buildings to shift and need to be pushed and bumped back into position.

 

The rules are well written and answered most of our questions. We did have one or two edge cases where we needed to look something up on line. We didn’t find an FAQ but were able to figure out the answers. 

Artistic Direction

The art is good. I really like the visuals on the citizen and outlaw cards. The images on the player cards were okay. While not thrilling they were functional. I’d love both, but function beats form on this one for me. The building tiles were nice and clear while being colorful enough to express the details that gave each location some nice character.

Fun Factor

This is a nice engine builder. You want to get the right buildings and cards into play to give yourself a good turn where you get to take two or three actions. Balancing that against when to go after the claims cards for the victory points makes this game a bit thinky. You will spend some time waiting for other players as they try to figure out how to maximize the one action they get.

 

There is a small amount of take that in the game. It’s not too bad. It’s the lighter end of take that so I didn’t find it too rough.

Age Range & Weight

The box says 13+ and I think that’s a good range. The mechanics are pretty easy to follow. The strategy might be a bit rough for younger kids. There is a small amount of take that to the game that might frustrate some.

There is one thing I will say about the age regarding younger players. One of the buildings that you can build is a brothel. While I don’t think it’s too bad it might be a bit much for some parents.  

Conclusions

I had a lot of fun with Saloon Tycoon.  There’s a certain pleasure in building an engine and seeing it play out successfully. There’s also a lot of satisfaction in seeing your town grow. The stacking of the tiles to create your buildings feels good and gives the game a sense of accomplishment when you get things finished.

There’s nice choices built into the game as well. When to build, when to play cards, or when to boost your resources are all tough decisions. I will say there is a lot of timing in when you go for the Open Claims. They come out randomly and it’s possible for a couple of them to be completed at once. This can give one player an advantage. In one game a player managed to complete three of the Open Claims with one action and it set them well ahead of the rest of us and we were never able to catch up. However, I think that situation might be an outlier and not a regular occurrence. I’ll need to play more to know for certain.

 

Beyond that I think the game is quite good. It’s simple enough that you don’t get bogged down in rules but there is a depth there to how you should build and when you need to do it. If you like building games this is one you might want to try out. I’d recommend giving it a try at a convention or other such place. I reckon you’ll have a mighty fine time.

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