Thar’s gold in them thar hills! And what’s mining for gold without a little poker? End of the Trail puts you in charge of finding the best gold claims and seeing how much extra you can win with a little poker on the side.
What is End of the Trail like?
End of the Trail is a hand-management, auction-bidding game where the goal is to end up with the most gold. Each round begins with an auction for cards that can potentially be used for in-turn actions and also the end of game poker hand. To begin the auction, one lot of three cards are put out for every player minus 1. So, in a three person game, two sets of three are available for auction. Each lot is auctioned separately and the players bid using the money they have available to them via the cards in their hand. Each card has a monetary value in addition to their poker value, suit and ability or animal. For the auction phase, only the monetary value matters. If a player wins the auction they have to discard cards until they reach or exceed the value that they bid. One player will not win an auction and that person will be the dealer for the next auction allowing them to choose what lots are auctioned when.
After the auction each player plays one card on their turn to use for their action. Each card has either an ability or an animal (oxen, mule, or horse) which will allow you to do a variety of things. Some of the actions allow you to move your or other player’s tents or look at multiple claims before deciding. The players choose 1-3 cards to play face-up and their monetary value will determine who is the starting player for the round, plus those are the only cards that they may play that round.
A normal turn consists of playing a card and looking at an available claim somewhere in the modular board. The type of animal on the card determines how fast you are and how far you are able to go while choosing a claim. All of the rows can be viewed when using a horse card, while the mules cards allow you to view the first three rows and the oxen cards only allow you to see the first two rows. Once a player secretly looks at a claim, to see the value, they can decide to claim it with a tent or camp token. A tent is more vulnerable than a camp, but you only have one camp so using it too early may not be wise. The player can also decide to push their luck and wait for their next turn to look at another claim. It’s a push your luck decision because if they look at another claim and it is lower than the one they looked at previously, then they bust and must place a tent or camp on the new tile.
A round consists of players playing the 1-3 cards in front of them, one at a time, until they decide to stake a claim. Once they have staked a claim the cards they used (no more than 2 of them) can be put into their poker hand for the end of the game and the rest must be discarded.
After three rounds the players reveal their poker hand and the player with the best hand gets to place a 4th claim. Each player also receives an amount of gold based on the strength of their hand and add that to the value of all of their claims. The player with the most gold wins.
I played End of the Trail, both as a solo and 2-player game. Neither of them were bad, but neither of them made me want to offer it up as a regular game at those player counts. That being said, I could see the potential for higher player counts. I used to play poker a good bit, so I like the idea of playing for the best poker hand at the end of the game. With more players it would be a bit more competitive for who has the best hand which would have made the game have a bit more tension during the auctions.
What I do like about the game are the multi-use cards and how they are used for all aspects of the game. The auction, claims and the end-game poker hand. Knowing their true value allows the auction to be a bigger part of the game than I initially thought it would be. Do you discard the horse card to pay for the three cards you won in the auction, or do you discard the higher monetary value card which wastes money, but is only an oxen card? At times, this can add very good decision points to the game.
My only major issue with the game is the “busting” mechanic where players look at one tile and then on a future turn in the same round they look at a lower valued tile then they must claim it. I don’t like this because it is in secret, so you have to trust and rely on people remembering the rule and then following the rule. I normally play with trustworthy players, but if I took this and played it with strangers, I’m not sure I would completely trust they did this correctly.
- The end-game poker hand helps guide all of your choices
- Plays quickly and has very easy rules
- Fun theme which actually shows through in the gameplay
- Too many mechanics for a short-playing game
- Busting mechanic seems out of place and not needed
The game is not difficult to learn or play. Once you know what the cards can do in each phase of the game, the ruleset is pretty straightforward.
- Players: 2 – 4
- Playing time: 20 – 40 minutes
- Suggested age: 10+
A review copy of End of the Trail was supplied by Elf Creek Games.