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[Review] Lawless

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  • Tom Vasel
    I have a soft spot for Blue Box games, as I ve found them very fun, and good to play with a larger group of players. I m also a sucker for Western themes, as
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2004
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      I have a soft spot for Blue Box games, as I've found them very fun,
      and good to play with a larger group of players. I'm also a sucker
      for Western themes, as they aren't extremely common, and thus found
      Lawless (Eurogames, 2003 – Bruno Cathala) intriguing. I liked
      Bruno's other games (Queen's Necklace, Drake & Drake) and so was
      looking forward to try out the first game he ever designed.
      So, my opinion? Although I love the theme and much of the game-play,
      it didn't really strike a chord with my group. The game is a good
      one, but has so much randomness and backstabbing that it can
      literally be impossible to win. That being said, the game is very
      fun to play. This seems like a contradictory opinion, but let me
      explain a bit more.

      A thin, long board is set out in front of the players, with six
      spots to place cards, each numbered from one to six. (This is known
      as "the Line." A deck of 117 cards is shuffled, and three cards are
      dealt to each player. Six cards are turned over and placed on the
      Line, one in each spot. The rest of the cards are placed face-down
      to form a draw pile. A pile of gold pieces is formed in the middle
      of the board (depending on the amount of the players). One player
      then takes the first turn, with the rest following in a clockwise
      order.

      During the game, a player will play cards in front of him,
      indicating that player's ranch. Cards include cattle herds (poor,
      good, and prize-winning) –which graze on ranges and can be sold for
      money; ranges (scrub, good, and excellent) – which support cattle;
      cowboys (greenhorns, experienced hands, and veterans) – which watch
      over the cattle; and other special cards that accomplish a variety
      of things.

      On their turn, a player completes four phases. The first phase is
      the manage livestock phase. First, a player must check to see if any
      of his cattle have run away. The player to their left counts up the
      amount of cattle herds they have on the table and adds that number
      to the roll of one die. The player who owns the cattle adds up the
      bonuses on the cowboys they have on the table, and adds that to the
      roll of a die that they make. The two rolls are compared, and if the
      player who owns the cattle rolls lower, one herd runs away.
      Otherwise, nothing happens. The player who owns cattle may then sell
      each cattle herd or let it graze. Each cattle is worth an initial
      amount of gold. Every time it is not sold, but left to graze, the
      card is rotated (up to four times). The amount of times rotated is
      multiplied by the base value to get a total value when the herd is
      finally sold.

      The next phase is collecting other incomes. During this phase, any
      player who owns a gold mine collects money for it. After that, a
      player has six action points to spend. They may do four different
      things with their action points (which should be spent and cannot be
      saved from turn to turn).

      - Take a card from the Line (the cost in action points is the number
      that corresponds to the space the card is in.
      - Take a card from the pile (the cost is 3 action points)
      - Play herd, range, or cowboy cards in front of them. (The cost is 1
      action point per card, and herd cards cannot be played unless they
      are supported by range cards – each range supports a certain amount
      of cattle.)
      - Play special cards. (The cost is indicated in the top left corner
      of the card.)
      During the last phase, the player discards down to his maximum hand
      size (10 cards), and moves the cards on the line. Each card moves
      down to fill gaps in the Line, and the top cards of the deck are
      drawn to replenish the Line.
      There are many special cards in the game. These include:

      - Indian raid: This card can be played on an opponent's range,
      locking it up, and preventing it from scoring any points.
      - Cavalry: Cancels Indian raid
      - Stampede: This card increases the chances of cattle running away
      from the player on whom the card is played.
      - Rodeo Champion: Cancels Stampede
      - Hold Up: Allows you to rob the bank or another player of some of
      their gold.
      - Gold Mine: Puts a gold mine on a range, giving that player
      additional income.
      - Hired Guns: Can be used to attack opponents' cowboys
      - Sheriff: Helps defend against Hired Guns
      - And many more….
      After the last card is drawn from the deck, or the last coin taken
      from the bank – the game is over. Each player then scores up their
      total points. Each player totals up their ranges, herds, cowboys,
      and gold. The player who has the most in each category scores five
      points, with the second getting three points, the third getting two
      points, and the fourth scoring one point. Fifth and sixth get
      nothing! The player with the highest amount of points is the winner!
      Some comments on the game:

      1.) Components: The components for this game are typical of
      Eurogames Blue Box series. The cards are of decent quality, while
      the artwork on them is superb – comic book style, and very Western.
      The money is gold-colored Tiddly Winks, and functions well as
      commerce – although it would be nice if they had included chips that
      were worth five coins. The (typical) die, cards, and coins all fit
      easily in the box, which is the same size as all other Blue Box
      games and has some good artwork on it.

      2.) Rules: This is my personal biggest complaint about the game.
      The rules are fairly clear (although the organization leaves
      something to be desired), and printed in an eight page booklet. The
      booklet is colorful and includes examples and many pictures. The
      problem lies in the card interactions. There are many things that
      come up in the game that are just not covered in the rules. Some
      cards are downright confusing to play (hired guns). Other cards
      bring up questions – like can cattle be moved from range to range?
      These questions are not in the rules, and it seems like play-testing
      would have brought them out. We finally had to make some house rules
      and spur of the moment decisions, but it would have been nicer if
      the rules had covered these things.

      3.) Backstabbing: I'm a huge fan of stabbing players in the
      backs. However, it's extremely easy to gang up on one player and
      practically eliminate them from the game. While this may be fun for
      everyone, it's not fun for that one player. And the backstabbing
      cards are immensely powerful.

      4.) Powerful cards: And this brings us to my next criticism of
      the game – the cards. Some cards are just too powerful, and can
      really change the game. Hired guns seem excessively powerful, as are
      mines and several other cards. I'm also not a big fan of cards that
      can only be canceled by one card. I love the variety that the cards
      provide, and the chaos that is included. But it's just too easy for
      one player to draw better cards than the next player and win based
      on that alone.

      5.) Theme and Fun Factor: The theme is a good point, however.
      The wild, wild west is simulated well through the game. Players will
      find themselves talking in a western draw and making sound effects
      as they shoot each other's cowboys, rustle cattle, and rob banks.
      The game is a lot of fun to play, as things move fairly quickly, and
      players are involved in much of the game.

      6.) Strategy: I haven't decided on strategy yet. It seems that
      if you get a card, it's usually pretty obvious where to play it (and
      that's usually the player who is in the lead). Should a player try
      to get the most cattle, ranges, cowboys, or gold – or all of them?
      That sounds like a lot of strategy, but a player is fairly limited
      by the amount of cards in their hands. Strategy and tactics are
      here, but the randomness of die rolls and card selection can drown
      them out. The "Line" is a very unique idea (it's a little similar to
      Queen's Necklace card costs), and I like it a lot, but it doesn't
      work as well in this game.

      So I will recommend the game, but only to people who like the
      Western theme and a LOT of chaos in their games. I probably won't
      play the game again until a good FAQ is posted, and even then not
      often. It's a sad thing, as I love the Blue Box line and Bruno
      Cathala's games, but this one isn't that great. It's a mediocre
      game, but if you want a true, fun Wild Western game, play Way out
      West.

      Tom Vasel
      (First posted in Game Notes #16, at www.bouldergames.com)
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