Publisher: Victory Point Games
Game Designer: Kyle Van Winkle and Michael Huven-Moore
Artwork: Brett Mitchell
Ages: 13 & up
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $32.99
With the last sheriff pushing up daisies out on boot hill, outlaws have the run of the town until the local railroad fights back by putting bounties on the heads of the worst offenders. The promise of wealth and fame draws people like you from all walks of life looking to make a name for themselves, welcome to Bountytown!
Bountytown is a new card game published by Victory Point Games from first-time designers Kyle Van Winkle and Michael Huven-Moore where players take on the persona of one of 15 different characters in a Wild West town overrun by outlaws, on a quest to collect as many bounties as possible and earn the most renown.
There are a lot of cards in Bountytown, 182 in all. 75 make up the poker deck in five different suits, the four standard suits and a fifth that doubles as gold used to purchase items at the general store.
The rest of the cards make up the bounty, character, wound and location decks each colored in an old tyme style that sets a perfectly fitting western tone. The final bits are the 15 standees cleverly done in the portrait style of the time, covering all of the available unique characters.
I first demo’d Bountytown at BGG CON last year and the game was an instant hit with everyone who played it thanks to its easy to learn rules, fast-paced play and intuitive use of poker as a dueling mechanic.
To setup the game, the town and bounty decks must first be created. Bountytown is constructed out of nine location cards in a three-by-three grid, six of them chosen randomly for either side of the middle row which always remains as the Sheriff’s Office, Doc’s and the General Store. To the side go the general store items that you can purchase to help in your quest for glory.
The number of bounties varies with the player count and ranges between sixteen and twenty-two. The Train card gets shuffled in with the bottom five cards of the deck, its appearance signals the immediate end of the game.
Players select their character, each with their own special abilities and starts at the Sheriff’s Office except for Doc who starts at the Doc’s Office. Once everyone receives five cards for their starting hand, you’re ready to go bounty hunting!
On their turn, players take up to three of the following actions; move to any location, buy items at the General Store, heal wounds at Doc’s, lock in a bounty’s renown at the Sheriff’s Office, duel, or reload your hand.
The goal of the game is to have the most renown when the train shows up and to earn that renown you must outduel outlaws and at times other players, to pilfer their captures using a modified poker mechanic that’s pretty slick.
I really enjoy Bountytown’s poker implementation quite a bit; it’s different from standard poker using five suits rather than four and three of each card ranked one through five in the deck. This allows for multiple strong hands to be in play at any time, keeping things level but allowing the wily player to outfox others through smart use of items, locations and their best poker face. After bouncing around the math, the designers decided to alter the traditional hand rankings which may throw off some long-time poker fans, but it works very well and adds to the games unique spin.
Each duel is a single hand of poker where everyone involved chooses their hand and simultaneously plays their selected cards in order to get the best hand rank possible. Some locations, items and characters may also allow you to temporarily exceed the five card limit, increasing your ability to create a better hand, so use them to your advantage.
The outlaws hand is always handled by another player who draws the amount of cards indicated on the bounty to create the best match possible with those listed on the bottom of the outlaws bounty card.
Against an outlaw, the highest rank wins and ties are a push with no high card as the tie breaker. If you lose, the bounty escapes (is discarded) and you take a wound card into your hand, which goes against your hand count.
Duels against other players are a bit different in risk and challenge since you square off against both the player and the outlaw that they’ve captured. This makes for a big risk, but with risk comes reward!
If the attacker ties or wins they steal the bounty but in a tie, both players take a wound. Vice-versa for if the defender wins, but if the outlaw wins both players are wounded and that bounty escapes! This makes for a worthy gamble late in the game when a player is close in score to you because you have a greater chance of taking that bounty away from them either through theft or escape.
Once you defeat an outlaw, you’ll need to go to the Sheriff’s office to claim the bounty and lock in its renown. Once locked, that renown stays with you as your score, so don’t go running around town with several unclaimed bounties because you’re just making yourself a big fat target for your opponents. I’ve sniped many a bounty off of other players and stolen wins this way.
Items and location abilities play a big factor in the game, along with those of each character. There are ten items available in the game and two copies of each, these can be bought at the general store or captured along with some of the outlaws. None of them are bad but some are much better than others, like the poker chip that can buy any item in the store, the crucifix to ignore wounds after combat and the rifle, which allows you to attack any location on the map.
There are eight unique abilities spread out over the remaining random locations, aside from the base three locations and one final location that has no effect for either player. Some of the abilities are beneficial like the Boarding House, which allows you to ignore wounds while the Bandit Hideout dishes out two wounds to all who lose a duel there. Other locations provide specific benefits to either attacker or defender, adding a fun, lite strategy element on who and where to attack.
Matching items to location abilities can really work to your benefit and opens up some neat options. For example, attacking a player from the boarding house with the rifle while they’re in the abandoned jailhouse can set them back two wounds if you win, while a loss by you takes no wounds! There are some fun combo’s like this to explore, giving you plenty of strategies to try each game.
With a unique take on the tried and true poker mechanic, Bountytown is both a familiar and fresh card game that is accessible to everyone and above all, a whole lot of fun! The balanced mix of special abilities for the characters, items and location cards gives the game enough strategic options to keep things interesting through many plays.
The rule book is very well written, covering everything you need to know leaving no ambiguity. The art is nice and the components are good with the biggest drawback being the color of the standees. With a full table, some of them can blend together due to similar color palettes and more than once I’ve heard comments from players about this. It’s not a game breaker at all but can lead to some confusion, otherwise, they’re the excellent VPG laser-cut, chunky tokens we know and love.
The designers have also released new variants for solo and two-player on BGG that expands the game to 1-6 players, both play well giving even more value.
Bountytown hits my sweet spot for a western themed filler when I want something a little meatier than one of my other western faves, Bang! the dice game. Both offer fun, quick games but Bountytown forgoes the social deduction for strategy, making it a more fulfilling, slightly longer and a little more thinky game.
The clever deck designs keep the draws fairly balanced, making smart card play and good strategy more important than reliance on luck.
If you enjoy poker and quick, lite filler games like Bang! the dice game, this one should be in your stable pardner!
Company Website: http://www.victorypointgames.com/
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VictoryPointGames
Company Twitter: https://twitter.com/VPGame
Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.