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Review: Pony Express

Posted by Eisley on 3rd November 2009

Pony ExpressThe great-looking board of Pony Express caught my attention before any other info.  Reading the rules made me pre-order it.  Could the game live up to my expectations?

Players play wild west riders racing to reach Sacramento.  To move, a player rolls 5 poker dice and the result determines how many spaces they will move forwards; for example, a pair equals one space, two-pair equals two spaces, etc.  A player can re-roll dice if they want but at a cost.

The twist is that the player rolls the dice under a cup and simply states what they have rolled so they could be bluffing.  It’s up to the player nearest to them on the board to call the bluff if they want to.  If the player is bluffing and is found out, they go to prison.  If the player is called but they weren’t bluffing, their accuser goes to prison.  (Prison usually means missing a turn but it can be beneficial too.)

Most spaces have a special effect such as gaining money from a mine, taking a train, gaining equipment, and so on.  In addition to the actions that most spaces offer, if two players are on the same space, they must fight a duel.  The players place their cowboy meeple on opposite corners of the board and have three attempts (shots) at rolling a dice across the board at them to knock over their opponent.  If you shoot an innocent bystander (your dice hits a non-dueler’s meeple) then, you guessed it, you go to prison.  If more than two players are on the same space, they roll dice and play a game of poker.  If a player lands on a space marked with Indians, they must roll dice across the board at the three indian figures (like a duel) and receive a gold for each they hit and go back one space for each they miss.  Of course, hit another player and, yep, you’re prison-bound.

If the first person to Sacramento is there for two full turns and no-one else arrives, they win.  If anyone else arrives during the two turns, then those two players duel to decide who wins the game.

Pony Express is a very simple game but it is really engaging and two elements are particularly brilliant.  The first is that the dice result bluffing leads to some very funny moments – especially when you want to call the roller on their bluff but can’t because you’re not the nearest player.  The second is the dueling.  When I read the rules, I thought the dueling part sounded a bit silly but it works really well and results in lots of laughing and entertainment.

So, did it live up to my expectations?  It certainly did.  It’s a light, fun game but the interaction between players is great.  The duelling is a fun element, but it also sits on top of a solid eurogame too.

One piece of playing advice: It’s wise to look at the board first and see what you actually do (and don’t) want to roll before bluffing.  I was so pleased to roll a real full house in one go that I declared it and then found the space I moved to meant I had to pay out (although the person that called my bluff going to jail was probably worth it).

James.

[Played with 4 players]

Second Opinion: Read the thoughts of the other player (my friend Rick) at: http://www.gamesetupmatch.com/news.htm#10

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