Previewing: Westerly (Sort Of)

Howdy folks!

If you’ve had any sort of education in the last 30 years, there’s a very good likelihood that you’ve at least heard of the massively popular (and often educational) game, Oregon Trail. It’s a strange thing to say that it was a mainstay in schools for so long, whereby students could learn how to improperly barter, overstock in all the wrong things, be constantly broke, and ultimately die of dysentery.

And just admit it: you died of dysentery. Everyone at some point dies of dysentery in that game. Unless you were special and lucked into typhoid instead.


Oregon Trail attempted to impart lessons of resource management, financial planning, and problem solving, all rolled into one. It was a great game that, despite it’s often brutal nature, still generates fond conversation years later. At its heart, Oregon Trail is about overcoming challenges.

That old video game is relevant here because of Westerly, a board game looking to tackle some of the same thematic challenges. Granted, it’s more about entertainment than education, but Westerly still contains much of the same flavor and character cooperation of Oregon Trail. It has a lot of similarities – including us being beset with logistical problems.

Now winding down its third attempt at funding, Westerly is hoping to make it across the finish line. (Its previous two pioneering attempts ended up like the Donner party.) We were to be part of championing them across this time. However, we stumbled into a gopher hole and broke our damn leg.

Long story short: this was supposed to be a formal preview about the cheeky and humorous event-driven Co-Op western game that is Westerly, but due to issues of shipping, timing, losing a stagecoach or two fording the Colorado River, and so on, getting in the necessary playthroughs just didn’t happen in the timeframe we had.

Oregon Trail 2

 So, instead, we’re offering a mini-preview of the game. It’s the best we can do, passing on what we have gleaned of the game before the sepsis sets in and we get all loopy. Or dead. So here goes:

Westerly is a collaborative game about taking your party through the American West during the era of westward expansion. Players work as a team to overcome challenges that range from mild to down right deadly. Throughout a series of rounds, players navigate the land, represented by a tile-driven trail westward. Whenever a new tile is revealed, a new Event challenge occurs. Events depict anything from trying to hunt for food, to fending off bandits, to trying to cross rivers.

However, navigating the landscape doesn’t happen in a straight line, and that affects which Event cards are drawn. If the players can move along the primary route, they only have to overcome moderately difficult challenges, which are done via a system of Success / Fail dice rolls, and with fives or sixes being successes. By deviating northward or southward, the players must deal with more difficult Northern or Southern Event cards instead, and only sixes will do there. How the team overcomes these challenges is dependent on which characters the players get, and each character has a good amount of fun flavor to them. Had I got to do a full rundown, I fully planned on being The Corduroy Kid. Because there’s nothing like a gunslinger you can hear coming.

The winding progression track. Prototype Shown

The winding progression track.
Prototype Shown

Each player get a character that comes with a handful of statistics and a special ability. The primary stat is Constitution, signaling how many times a player can re-roll dice, and four secondary stats: Grit (strength), Gumption (charisma), Learnin’ (intelligence), and Pioneerin’ (nature skills). Each of these secondary skills work on a sliding scale that can be raised through acquiring items and are spent to overcome Event challenges.

A character card. Prototype Shown

A character card.
Prototype Shown

Of course, failure to overcome the challenges in Oregon Trail Westerly results in damage and possibly even character deaths. Every time you should die, your character is replaced with increasingly less useful characters until you’re essentially just a burden to the team. You know, if you’re not already.

Players decide amongst themselves who should take on which challenges when, and they have to hope as they press westward that they’ll occasionally find towns to stock up, resupply, and maybe even heal up a bit in. Maybe.

Rounds keep going till you make it to the end or, well, don’t. Luck of the draw I suppose.

Westerly is now into its final day of funding over on Kickstarter, and if you’re after a game that’s equal parts co-op challenge and tongue-in-cheek situations, it may be a game worth looking into. We were eager to actually play it, and we’re still hopeful we will. It just may not be until after the campaign ends. And we didn’t want to hold the wagons up on our part. We can’t break down how it plays like we normally do, but from going over all of the pieces and rules, we feel it’s safe to say that it certainly appears to be what’s being advertised. To us, that means it’s an amusing game about going westward that is probably safer than Oregon Trail. But we can’t be 100% sure about that last part. You’ll want to do yourself a favor and scout it out for yourself.