Dark Horse Review

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Dark Horse is a game by Don Lloyd, published by Knight Works. It is for 1-4 players. In this game, players will be playing wild west character that are in charge of small territories that they will try to expand upon. They will do this by building towns, cities and rails and by gaining gold and collecting influence. This is done through the placement of workers. The person who is best able to do all this and collect the most victory points will be declared the winner.

To begin, each player will choose a character card. These cards give starting bonuses as well as special abilities that are used during the game. If it’s your first time playing, this step can be skipped. Once chosen, each player will receive the starting bonus that each card gives as shown in the top right section of the card. Each player now chooses a color of game pieces, receiving 6 towns, 3 cities, 3 dice, 2 discs and a pawn. They also receive 1 rail, 1 wild die token and 1 food, 1 ore and 1 wood token from the bank. The rail has to be placed before the game starts. At this point, resource hexes will be mixed up and randomly placed on certain areas as defined by the rulebook. Turn order is now determined and players will place one of their discs onto the Turn Order track. They will also place one of their discs at the top of the Influence Track. Players will now place their initial city and 2 towns in reverse turn order. The only governing factor is that when placing the first city there must be at least 2 non resource tiles between it and another city. The initial rail must be placed off the beginning city but will give access to other areas. Placement of the cities, towns and rails are key to winning the game. The Game End token is placed onto the number 11 spot on the Influence Track. After all this has been done, play can now begin.

There are two phases to the game, the Placement Phase and the Collection Phase. In the Placement phase, all players will begin by rolling their dice as determined by their character. This is usually only 2 dice. In turn order, each player will place a die or dice onto one Action spot. This continues until all dice have been placed. Play then moves to the Collection Phase. Before I move on to the Collection Phase, let me quickly explain a few things about the Action spots. Some of these spots will require that the die used to take that spot are a naturally rolled number, such as the Politics spot which requires a natural 3 to be rolled on a die. These are indicated by showing a dice with the number on it. Other spaces only have a number and may be taken by any amount of dice possible to get the required number, such as the Builder spot which only shows the number 6 and not a die. Also, unless the spot is a gray space only one person may be able to take that particular spot. If it’s a gray space, any number of players can share the spot.

The second phase of the game is the Collection Phase. In this phase, the Action spaces are resolved in order. Most of the spaces are easy to understand, however a few have more detailed instructions to resolving them. An example of this is the number 10 spot, the Sheriff space. When a player takes this spot they become first in the turn order and received the silver Deputy die as well as the Sheriff badge. This badge allows the player to be unaffected by cards or abilities that have the green icon with a sheriff badge and a red X on it. The deputy die replaces one of the players regular die and when it’s rolled the player can flip the die over 180 degrees to the other side. This will allow a 1 to become a 6 and so on. Most of the time however, the spots will give resources, special tokens or some other normal benefit. Of course the higher numbers provide better actions and benefits so getting these are almost always a boon. One thing about the special tokens, like Engineer tokens, Wild Die tokens, an so on. Each player may only have one of each of these at a time. So to get one, they must not already have one in their possession. Some spaces will give a player a number of Action cards. These cards are very beneficial and are good to have. Sometimes an Event card will be drawn. When it does, it must be played immediately. Unless it is a temporary event, it stays active until replaced by a new event. All of this continues going from Placement Phase to Collection Phase and back again until one of two things happens, either a player places all his cities and towns on the board or a player’s influence token moves past the Game End token on the Influence track. Scoring now takes place.

Scoring is done by adding victory points. A victory point is awarded for each gold, influence point and special role like the Mayor or Sheriff. Points are also awarded for cities. Each one is worth the number of towns that are connected to it by rail. Players lose points for loans they can’t pay off and for having any dice that are held in Jail. In the end, the player with the most victory points wins the game.

 

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COMPONENTS
This game has LOTS of components to it. There are character cards and action cards. The art work on these is fantastic. They look and feel very nice. Before I continue, let me tell you these card are very thematic as is the entire game. Everything is dripping with theme from the board to the tokens to the cards. The wild west theme is present everywhere. That’s one thing that I LOVE about this game. The city, town and rail tokens are all bright colored wood, as are the player discs for influence and turn order. There are also wooden pawns in player colors. These are all sturdy and look amazing. The resource, gold, wild die, engineer, stock, loan, trader, sheriff and mayor tokens are all made of thick cardboard and have great artwork that is very much representative of what they represent. I especially like the Sheriff and Mayor tokens, a badge and key respectively. The dice are all colored in the player colors and the silver Deputy die looks fantastic. It’s great getting to use it, just because it’s so SHINY! The resource hex tiles are made of thick cardboard as well. These like all the other components are great. The board looks amazing with great artwork and as I said earlier, full of theme. I just don’t know how else to describe these things. You have to see them for yourself. Absolutely the BEST components that I’ve seen in a game so far.
10 out of 10

RULEBOOK
The rulebook is really long and a little difficult to get through. I was directed to download the rules from off the BGG website for a more streamlined rulebook by the designer. I have to say, those rules are definitely better. With the newly updated rules, I was able to understand things a lot better and it didn’t take that long to be able to get into the game. I recommend that if you want to understand things better definitely download the newer rules. They are easy to read and simple to understand. There are references to all the Action spots and the different icons used in the game. Everything is explained extremely well and I had no trouble with any of it. There are even game play variants for 2 players and even a solo option. All in all there’s lots of good reading to be had here. For this review, I’m using the rules that I actually used to play and not the ones presented in the box. Do yourself a favor and make sure that you use those.
9 out of 10

GAMEPLAY
This game is Sheer Awesomeness in a box. First off, I love worker placement games, so this definitely scratches the right itch on me. Every piece, every card every token looks amazing and is very thematic. I love how the action cards will even penalize you for doing bad things, like robbing a bank gives you gold but sends your dice to jail where you’re unable to use them on the next turn. It’s these mechanics that just amaze me at how well thought out they were. You will definitely find yourself thinking each move through before placing those dice. Every character has interesting abilities that are special to them. Choosing the one that plays best with your specific game playing style is probably the best way of getting the most from the game. Everything plays really smooth and fairly quick once you get used to what everything does. It says about 90 minutes to play and that’s about right for the first time or so. I think with repeated play though it could be played quicker. It really depends on how long you want to play and how well the dice rolls go for you. Needless to say, for me, the dice usually hate me. That’s the good thing about this game as there’s always actions to be had even with bad rolls. The game is really tight too as it can be won by only a few points. I love playing this game and definitely can’t wait to play it again.

My copy also had the Outlaw mini expansion and the Salty Troll action card. The Outlaw added a special rule and the Troll adds an extra trading space. Both are fun to use and are really cool.
10 out of 10

OVERALL
Dark Horse is a medium to light worker placement game of rail and city building. The theme is definitely present throughout the game. The game is not that difficult and can be easily learned but it may take awhile to master. There are lots of strategies and decisions to make with every roll of the dice. Players will definitely get sucked into the feel of the wild west and building their cities with this one. That feeling of exploration and taming the west will keep you coming back to this game over and over again. This game is probably best with more than 2 players but it plays fine with 2 as well. I still have to try the solo variant, but I’m sure that will be lots of fun as well. Western fans and anyone who loves worker placement games will absolutely LOVE this one like I did. I can’t give this game high enough marks. If I could, I’d give it an 11. I HIGHLY recommend that you get this one. This is well worth every cent you spend on it, as you will definitely get your money’s worth here. Buy it, then call me to come play because I can’t get enough of this game.
10 out of 10

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For more information about this and other great games, please check out Knight Works at their site.

http://knightworks.net

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About Gaming Bits - Jonathan Nelson

I'm a happily married man with 2 wonderful kids. I love my family very much. I'm a big fan of board, card and RPG games and have been playing for over 20 years. As a board and card game reviewer, I'm hoping that this blog will inform, educate and entertain you. If you like it, please tell your friends and have them join in on the conversations. Thanks and GAME ON!!
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