Yeehaw — I haven’t reviewed a game with a Western theme since, like BANG! The Dice game, and that was a while ago. Still gotta get around to the expansion and Tiny Epic Western, both of which are super fun.
Anyways. In Saloon Tycoon, you play one of a few local proprietors opening up a saloon in town. Sure, it starts a bit modestly, but you’ll be expanding outwards and upwards to develop your property. Just … watch out for the less-than-savory customers. Will you be able to take your newest venture to new heights?
There’s not that much setup, but it’s a bit involved, so stick with me. The first thing you should do is give each player a player board and two of the cowpeople meeples in that color:
Cowpeople meeples is actually pretty fun to say. Anyways, have them each put one of the meeples on the “1” on their player board’s Income spot. Put the Score Track board down, too:
Next, grab a bunch of brown Supply Cubes and some gold nuggets:
Give each player 3 gold nuggets (the big ones are worth 5). You should use a certain number of Supply Cubes for each player:
- 2 players: 40 cubes
- 3 players: 60 cubes
- 4 players: 80 cubes
Set the rest aside. Now, give each player a Saloon:
And set the rest of the tiles out:
There are a few different types and some uniques. Generally, this is how I lay them out:
You’ll note there are even roofs, which is great. Now, give each player 3 of the Tycoon cards:
Next, give out the Claim Cards:
You’ll want to set Open Claim cards out like this:
- 2 players: 3 Open Claims
- 3 players: 4 Open Claims
- 4 players: 5 Open Claims
And give every player 4 Secret Claims. They’ll keep 2.
Add the Citizen and Outlaw Cards somewhere on the table:
Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
Saloon Tycoon is played over several turns, ending when the Supply Cubes pile has been depleted. On your turn, you first start by gaining your Income, and then you may take one Tycoon Action:
- Earn 2 Gold
- Draw 2 Tycoon Cards
- Play 1 Tycoon Card
- Build A Tile
- Bribe a Character
You may also take as many Free Actions as you want:
- Stake an Open Claim
- Buy Supply Cubes
I’ll explain each in order.
Earn 2 Gold
You take 2 Gold from the gold supply.
Draw 2 Tycoon Cards
You may draw two Tycoon Cards from the deck. If you have 4 or 5 cards in your hand before drawing, you must discard to three cards before you draw. Them’s the breaks.
Play 1 Tycoon Card
You may play a Tycoon Card from your hand. These will provide benefits like being able to ignore requirements for a Special Tile; gaining Gold, Supply Cubes, extra Actions or some combination of those; or even drawing additional cards from the deck or other players’ hands. There’re a lot of options.
Build a Tile
So you want to ostensibly build a great saloon (hence the name of the game), so you’ll be buying a few tiles.
When you buy a tile, you spend the gold required on the tile and then add it somewhere on your player board. If you place it on a spot that has a points symbol, you will need to pay extra money, but you collect those points immediately. Some tiles also have prerequisites (the Schoolroom, for instance, cannot be built if your saloon has a Poker Room; you can, however, build Poker Rooms after you’ve built the Schoolroom, you jerk) As you might suspect, you need to place it adjacent to another tile, but if you have a finished tile, you can also potentially place it on top of the finished tile. Cool, right? Note that you can only really do that by placing a Large Tile on a Large Tile or a Large Tile on two Small Tiles. You can’t place a Small Tile on a Large Tile, ever.
When you place a tile, immediately gain one Income. Nice!
Bribe a Character
So you might want to attract certain characters to town to fulfill certain parts of your Open / Secret Claims or get rid of some … less savory types. If you find that this fits your needs, you can spend 6 Gold as a Tycoon Action to move a character from anyone’s saloon area to anyone else’s saloon area. There are two caveats:
- You cannot move characters in the final round.
- You cannot move characters that haven’t arrived in town, yet. If nobody has completed the Schoolroom, for instance, you cannot Bribe Miss Watson to come to your town.
Stake an Open Claim
The Open Claim cards are essentially Objective cards, similar to BrilliAnts. As soon as you meet the requirements (usually having certain Citizens or Outlaws or certain numbers of characters), you immediately can take the Open Claim and score that many points.
Buy Supply Cubes
Supply Cubes are a major currency in Saloon Tycoon. You use them to “complete” tiles by placing either 3 on a Small Tile or 4 on a Large Tile. Once you do, that tile is considered “complete” and you gain points for completing it:
- Large Tiles: 7 points
- Small Tiles: 5 points
You also gain a Tile Bonus, which is usually an extra action, Tycoon Card, gold, or some other effect shown on the tile itself. The Special Tiles will all give you Citizens, which are characters that can be used for Open or Secret Claims and are worth 5 points at the end of the game.
If you ever complete a third floor tile, you immediately gain a Roof Tile, placing it on the tile and gaining 4 points. The roof also counts as a tile being placed, so you gain an extra Income as well. It’s handy!
Taking A Citizen / Outlaw
This isn’t technically a Free Action, but it happens all the same. Generally, as I mentioned earlier, if you complete a Special Room you take a Citizen that matches that room. However, if you are the first player to fulfill certain … objectives, let’s call them, you’ll also attract some seedier types to your saloon, namely, Outlaws:
- Sidney Smythe: “Awarded” to the first player to take a Citizen, Sidney Smythe is worth -5 points at the end of the game. Rough.
- Flatfoot Flemming: “Awarded” to the first player to have 10 gold, Flatfoot Flemming steals 1 Gold from you every turn (effectively reducing your income by 1).
- Phineaus Pillbottom: “Awarded” to the first player to have 5 Supply Cubes, Phineaus Pillbottom sells you his Deluxe Supply Cubes, but they cost 3 Gold rather than 2.
- Moonshine Angie: “Awarded” to the first player to have 5 tiles, Moonshine Angie forces you to discard a Tycoon Card every time you play one. If you cannot discard a Tycoon Card (for instance, you only have one in your hand), you cannot play one.
While these are pretty bad, you might also need some of these around town for your Secret Claims, which … is definitely something.
End of Game
Anyways, the game continues with each player taking their turn until the Supply Cubes are depleted, causing the final round to begin. Once this happens, add in all the Supply Cubes you left out before the game started so that there are still some that can be used. Every player except the current player will get one more turn, but no characters (Citizens or Outlaws) can be moved or received. This includes via completing tiles that give you Citizen cards or playing the No-Good Troublemaker Tycoon card that lets you move characters around. If, for some reason, you run out of Supply Cubes, they are not limited, so you can just fake it.
- Unfinished tiles score:
- Large Tiles: 3 points
- Small Tiles: 2 points
- Citizens are each worth 5 points
- Sidney Smythe is worth -5 points
- Score your Secret Claims! Note that you only can score a Secret Claim if you currently have fulfilled the requirements (for instance, having certain Citizens and / or Outlaws). This is why having characters in certain places is important!
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I don’t really see many differences at various player counts other than the game gets much longer. The major thing is that the Outlaws tend to have their effects diluted at larger player counts (since they can be distributed a bit better than they could at, say, two). I’d probably recommend it most at three, surprisingly, as I think that’s the right balance between the two competing factors (outlaw distribution and play time). I’d normally mention collision (multiple players competing for the same thing), but there are always more Open Claim cards, so that’s also pretty fine with player count.
- Chaining actions is generally very useful. Similar to Dominion, but if you can make it work for you, you should. I usually recommend saving those cards until you have plenty of money, but watch out for getting your cards stolen by another player.
- It’s generally a good idea to not be the first person to take any Outlaw, but don’t wait too long. The Outlaws are designed to slow down players, so obviously you don’t want to keep them for the entire game if you can avoid it. If everyone forces the game to a standstill, though, then you just let the person with the most income rack up gold (and potentially action-chaining cards), meaning they might be able to finance a megaturn.
- You want to be the player that initiates the last round, or at least make sure it’s not the wrong person. Make sure you have all the characters you want to have before the Supply Cubes get too low. If you miss a Secret Claim, that might cost you the game.
- It costs at least 12 gold for a free action. You can get an extra action by buying a Billiards Room or Pharmacy and completing it, which costs 12 gold, at minimum. That’s occasionally helpful to know.
- Don’t forget that buying Supply Cubes is a free action. Sometimes people forget this, but it’s very important.
- Of the Outlaws, Sidney Smythe and Flatfoot Flemming are definitely the least bad of the two. I would avoid the other two at all costs. They just junk up your turns or make it impossible for you to play Action cards. Not good!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- This is like, one of the coolest tile-laying concepts ever. 3D saloons! I love it. It’s also super fun to build — you just keep stacking up tiles and expanding.
- The Outlaws are a neat way to gradually speed up the game. I’m actually a fan, even if I don’t like their effects. It forces players to be intentional and one person has to break through the barrier and take the first Outlaw. After that, suddenly, the game accelerates a bit. Then a bit more. Then a bit more. It feels tightly designed, and I appreciate that.
- Super high component quality. The tiles are super thick, the cards are nice, the cubes and the gold nuggets are nice, honestly, this is a gold standard in successful Kickstarters just judging from the components, alone.
- Fairly diverse cast. Wanted to give that a shout-out, as I appreciate it when game designers work to make their art reflect a diverse group of characters.
- Teaches pretty easily. It’s not a terribly complex game, though the symbology is occasionally a bit hard to read on the tiles, which slows down gameplay sometimes.
- I’m always a fan of games where the state is easy to figure out / recreate. You can always calculate your score in a game based off of your current play area, which I like. Means that if you lose track, you’re not hosed.
- Highly variable game play. There are a lot of Secret Claims and Open Claims, so you’ll likely never build the same Saloon twice. Can definitely keep you busy for a while.
- The game can kind of stall if every player avoids the Outlaws. Strategically, that’s not a great idea, as you might hit a point where one player just has a ton of money, but it’s still possible. Nobody wants to take Phineus Pillbottom, for instance; his effect (increases the cost of Supply Cubes to 3) sucks.
- I’d like to see Citizens that do more than just score 5 points. It’d be nice to see a bit more variety, there, as it might encourage different strategies / tile purchases. As it stands, generally most players go for Citizens that match their Open Claims / Secret Claims, and they’re interchangeable within that. Word on the street is that there’s someone who does more than just score 5 points in the Boomtown Expansion…
- The take-that cards aren’t really my style. I don’t really like any take-that in games, generally, so stealing someone’s gold or taking cards from their hand is not my favorite thing. I’d much rather have more cards that are a bit luck-based or give variable rewards and don’t make the other players mad. There aren’t many, but there are enough.
- Scoring can be a bit precarious. There’s a huge advantage to locking down the last round on your turn (if you’re where you want to be), as you can essentially set where the Citizens / Outlaws are, and once the last round begins, nobody can move them. This might be a big stress point for some players.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think Saloon Tycoon is a super-cool game. I love the aesthetics of building vertically, and I think the game really identifies its niche and locks it down. There are a lot of fun options, interesting paths through the game, and enough variety that I generally try to play the game differently each time and see how it goes. All of those things are good on their own, but having them combined in one package is really solid. There are some things I’m not as big of a fan of, sure, but I don’t think they impact the game experience negatively in a meaningful way. Especially now that the Ranch expansion is launching on Kickstarter, I’d recommend checking it out and giving it a whirl if you haven’t tried it! Or playing it again, if you have. I mean, that’s always an option.