Published by: Elf Creek Games
Game Design: Mike Hinson
Illustration: Royce Banuelos & Peter Wocken
Graphic Design: Peter Wocken
Development: Brent Dickman
Rulebook: Brent Dickman. Brandan Parsons, ed.
Plays: 2 to 4 players
Time: 20 – 40 minutes
- Press your luck
- Classic poker
- Worker placement
End of the Trail takes place in the period of the California Gold Rush. Players take the rolls of prospectors who search mountains, canyons, and plains for a chance a chance to strike gold. The heart of the gameplay is to build a poker hand and place Prospectors over the course of three rounds on the fields of California. Each round you can prioritize to search across the frontier for gold or focusing on setting yourself up for the best poker hand. The player who has the most gold at the end of the game is the winner. End of the Trail is seeking funding on Kickstarter, which launches on October 3, 2017. I had a pleasant experience with the game and I want to let you know how the game plays and my thoughts. All the components and artwork come from a prototype and do not represent the final production of the game.
End of the Trail is played over three rounds, with each round having three phases. At the beginning of the game, you receive a hand of six cards and tuck one card face down to build you game poker hand with. The tucked card will be the only card other players cannot see for the rest of the game. After the third round, the player with the best poker hand gets the opportunity to send out one more Prospector to search for additional gold.
The Supply Phase is an opportunity to prepare for the next phase of the game. I started to refer to the Supply Phase as the auction phase or Bid Wars. You want the best hand to play in the current round and the best hand when it’s all said and done. The cards you bid for in the Supply Phase can strengthen your poker hand if you play them correctly. Depending on the player count, you will have between one to three auctions. Every player will have an opportunity to bid or bluff on the three cards available. If you win, the player pays for the highest bidder price by adding up the dollar values from the cards. During the Supply Phase, you can drive up the bidding price just like a game of poker. You may benefit from your deceptive ways or end up with less cards to choose from. You look silly paying out your whole hand because you drove the auction price up at the wrong time. You’ll have other opportunities to make a comeback.
In the Prospecting phase, it’s time for players to get their hands dirty and hit the road searching for gold on the wild frontier. Each player will send Prospectors (meeples) to search land tiles for pockets of gold (points) and stake their claim to the land before your opponent’s steal your glory. Since the Prospector Phase is the meat of the game, I should explain all the cards you will play in the game.
Know Your Hand
End of The Trail has unique card types that determine how quickly your Prospectors will travel from California to neighboring lands (tiles). Oxen are the slowest moving of the three animal cards and when played, the Prospector may only peek at tiles from the first two rows of tiles. Mules have more pep to their step and allow a Prospector to land on tiles in the first three rows. Finally, the Horses can charge across the entire landscape.
Special cards add game breaking abilities to the rules of play. Trust, they aren’t going to outright win you a game of End of The Trail. You must consider the timing, turn order, and poker hand value on them at all times.
Claiming What’s Yours?
Player order can make or break your ability to claim land tiles. Player order is determined by creating a two or three card hand face down. Players turn over their cards simultaneously and the player with the highest dollar amount goes first. The turn order continues in descending order based on dollar value. Your choices during this round are two-fold. Do you want to play cards to see the most land tiles or play cards that will ultimately create the hand you desire? Players will place one Prospector meeple and a Tent on the number established by the turn order. If you want to be a front runner, now is the time to play like one. If you want to allow other players to move about freely, put on your best poker face and use your Special cards properly.
Striking It Rich?
When a card (regular or special) is played, the player may pick one tile from the designated rows and peek at the number value below. After looking at a tile, you place a Prospector meeple on it and decide whether to stake claim to the tile with a Tent or Camp. Tents can be moved or shared by other player, while Camps cannot be moved. When a Camp or Tent are played, your round is over and the cards you played become part of your final poker hand. You only have one Prospector and one Tent or Camp to lay down per round. One thing I forgot to consider, you can play up to three cards during this phase.
You may keep your Prospector on the field of play and attempt to find a higher value tile on your next turn. If you press your luck and locate a higher value tile, CLAIM IT! If you find a lower tile value, you’ve busted and must claim it. I enjoy the risk reward elements during this phase. There is a point in The End of the Trail where you have to commit yourself to playing three cards, knowing you can only move two cards to your poker cards per round. You may be in full desperation mode in the third round because you haven’t played enough cards to create a complete five card hand during the game. Choose your strategy wisely my friend.
The Gambling Phase
After two rounds of refreshing your hand band back to five cards, now its time to show your hand. In the third round, players create their best hands by combining cards they played in the Prospecting phase and the first card you tucked away face down. You may have made the mistake of forgetting to play at least four cards in three rounds. Shame on you! Each player will receive zero to four points based on their poker hands and the winner can place their fourth and final Tent or Camp. The final points are tallied and the player with the most points wins!
Thank you for reading this long-winded preview/review of End of The Trail. There is a lot of gameplay in End of The Trail, like an intense game of poker. You take risks and gamble in every phase of every round. If you risk it all, you could win all the spoils or lose big time. In each of the play groups I played with, there was always that moment where all the silliness stopped……and the bidding began. You get a lot of excitement in a 30 to 40 minute experience. I don’t have much to say on the negative side. I had a minor issue with the player aid layout, which I’m sure will be fixed. The two-player game is ok, but I would suggest a higher player count to bring more excitement to the experience. Overall, I enjoyed my experience with End of The Trail. I recommend you back this game. Have any questions about End of The Trail or the preview? Feel free to comment, like, and subscribe. Thank you for your time everyone!
A copy of End of The Trail was provided by Elf Creek Games for preview.
All components and artwork are in prototype form.