End of the Trail - A Kickstarter Preview!
PUBLISHER: ELF CREEK GAMES
DESIGNER: MIKE HINSON
PLAYERS: 2 - 4
TIME: 20 – 40 MIN
INTRODUCTION TO END OF THE TRAIL
From the Publisher: End of the Trail is a competitive card game for 2-4 prospectors and fortune seekers. Players manage a hand of cards to secure transportation, prospect land, and take a shot at winning a title to more land at the poker table. Cards have three uses, each corresponding to a particular phase of the game: to prospect land tiles and discover how much gold a claim will produce, to collect and play cards that build a good poker hand, and to purchase additional cards in auction to help with prospecting, poker, or both.
I received a prototype version of End of the Trail
End of the Trail is played over three rounds. Each round is divided into three phases, played in order:
- Supply Phase
- Prospecting Phase
- Gambling Phase
At the beginning of the game, each player chooses one card from their hand to become their hole card. This is placed face-down and will give player’s direction in sculpting their end of the game poker hand.
After three rounds, players advance to the end of the game and final scoring, where they will play their poker cards and stake one final claim, before finally comparing their combined territory values to determine a winner.
The dealer begins by dealing out cards as a series of face-up auctions, each consisting of 3 cards. The number of auctions is one less than the number of players. The dealer chooses one of the auctions and bidding begins to the dealer’s left; the minimum bid is $0 and a player may choose to pass. Once a bid is placed, the next player in clockwise order must then choose to raise the bid or pass. This continues until all but one player has passed. The winner must pay by showing and discarding cards from their hand until they meet the bid value from the monetay values in the upper right of each card. The Supply phase ends after all auctions have been won. The player who did not win an auction becomes the dealer for the next round.
To begin this phase, players simultaneously select 2 or 3 cards from their hand and place them face-down on the table. When all players are ready, they reveal their cards at the same time. These are the cards that a player will use to determine where they are in turn order for the round and also to navigate the land tiles in their search for gold.
Each card represents how quickly a prospector reaches the California gold fields from the nearby cities. Slow moving Oxen reach any tile in the first two rows, whereas faster Mules are able to reach the third row as well and a prospector racing out to the gold fields on a Horse can reach any tile on the board.
Determine Player Order
Each round, player turn order is determined by the total monetary value of the revealed cards. The player with the highest total value becomes the starting player for this Prospecting Phase. That player then places their prospector meeple along with one tent on the 1st position of the turn order track, 2nd highest on the second position and so on.
Beginning with the first player and proceeding in the established turn order, players take turns prospecting the California gold field tiles by using any one of the cards they selected at the beginning of this phase, turning that card sideways to mark it used. After using a card, play passes to the next player on the turn order track. They select a tile from the available corresponding row and look at its hidden value. They commit the tile’s value to memory, taking care not to reveal it to anyone else. The player must then decide if they wish to stake their claim on the tile or press their luck, hoping to find richer land elsewhere.
Stake Your Claim
If a player wishes to stake their claim, then they place their prospector’s tent on top of their current tile, claiming it for themselves and preventing other players from looking at that tile’s value. That player’s turn is then over for the remainder of thisphase.
Note: When staking a claim, you may place your prospector’s camp instead of a tent.
If a player decides to press their luck, then they place their prospector meeple on the tile that they just looked at, and play passes to the next player in turn order. This marks a player’s spot, but it does not claim the tile for the player. While the player waits for their next turn, another player may investigate the tile and stake a claim.
When staking a claim, you may place your prospector’s camp instead of a tent. Camps are like tents, but they are harder to move. They represent not just your single prospector’s tent, but a group of prospecting friends who will help you watch your claimed land. Staking a claim with a Camp prevents other players from targeting that tile with a Claim Jump or New Prospects card.
- Claim Jump: Place one of your tents on a tile previously claimed by an opponent’s tent. You may then look at the value of this tile. Both you and your opponent will score points for this tile during end of the game scoring.
- Double or Nothin': Look at two orthogonally adjacent, unclaimed tiles. You must immediately claim one of these.
- Shortcut: Look at any unclaimed tile on the board. If you are pushing your luck, then the tile you look at using Shortcut will not cause you to bust, even if the value of the new tile is lower than the value of your previous tile.
- New Prospects: Moves any player’s tent (including your own) to a new tile. The owner of the tent (not necessarily the player who plays New Prospects) picks from among the nearest, unclaimed, orthogonally adjacent tiles and moves their tent there.
Each player chooses 1 or 2 cards they used in the Prospecting Phase, selecting them for their rank and/or suit, hoping to create a certain poker set. They place these cards, face-up, next to their facedown hole card. Discard any cards left over from the Prospecting Phase that have not been added to a player’s set of poker cards.
Preparing for next round
If this is the first or second round of play, then the dealer deals each player back up to 5 cards in their hand, and a new round begins.
End of the Game and Scoring
After the third round, the game is over. Players advance to end of game & scoring, where they will play out their poker hands and earn a score for their total gold from claimed land tiles.
The player with the best set of poker cards wins the title to a fourth and final claim. Winning the poker hand is the only way to place your 4th tent/camp on the board.
Players reveal the gold values of all their claimed tiles (those which contain their prospector’s tents). Players also receive gold winnings based upon the strength of their poker set.
The player with the most gold wins.
WHAT MIGHT YOU LIKE?
End of the Trail is an interesting take on auction bidding, hand management and press your luck. The art is subtly charming and the overall aesthetics incorporates a rustic, 1800s feel.
The poker game at the end is brilliant! Utilizing action cards to create the best possible poker hand is very clever and gives players a reason to bid during the auction and to strategically use different cards during the prospecting phase.
The auction mechanic is a lot of fun and allows players the opportunity to plan for future turns and sculpt their best poker hand.
The variable land tile set-up allows the game to stay fresh throughout repeated plays. The game provides a nice mix of strategy as you try to maximize your prospecting claims while setting yourself up for the best possible poker hand at the end of the game.
The game plays well with all player counts and it's both easy to learn and play.
WHAT MIGHT YOU DISLIKE?
End of the Trail incorporates a lot of random elements in its design. The land tiles are chosen randomly, and the cards are dealt out randomly. Pressing your luck is always a very risky decision to make and when it works out, you feel great but when it doesn’t, you feel terrible. If you dislike a randomness and press your luck, this may not be the game for you.
The game also incorporates a little take that, as some of the special claim cards can move other players tents around the map. This works strategically, but when it’s mixed with the press your luck aspect, it can feel a bit frustrating.
End of the Trail creates a fun, interactive experience for all prospectors. If you’ve ever wished you could live in the 1800s, panning gold in California, your wish has come true! Overall, End of the Trail is a fun, light, press your luck game that uses a clever scoring mechanism utilizing poker hands.
End of the Trail journeys onto Kickstarter October 3rd!
You will like this game if: you enjoy press your luck, auction bidding, poker, and the thrill of a good find.
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