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WILDCATTERS

Reviewed by Selwyn Ward

WILDCATTERS (Capstone Games, 2 to 5 players, ages 12 and up, 120 minutes; $69.99)

 

Designed by Rolf Sagel and André Spil and published by Capstone Games, Wildcatters is a recent second edition of a game that was first published by RASS Games in 2013. The new edition incorporates some new components and some refinements to the rules.

As the name suggests, Wildcatters is a game about the oil industry. Players represent global oil conglomerates who are exploring for oil, refining it and delivering it to market. During the course of the game players have to develop their own infrastructure – building drilling rigs, pump jacks (no – we’d never heard of these before either), refineries, oil tankers and railways, so this is a game predicated on what economists refer to as vertical integration. Although Wildcatters is not a worker placement game, workers are used as a key resource as are the shares players own in their own and each other’s oil companies.

Wildcatters plays with 2 to 4 players and a game is run over 7 or 8 rounds, depending on the number of players. It is a fairly heavy euro game because players need to put together a lot of different pieces to get a productive “engine”. Having placed out oil rigs across some or all of the continents, players need actually to build pump jacks to recover the oil they’ve “discovered”. Having produced oil, players have to use their own or pay shares to use each other’s trains to get their oil to a port. They then need to deliver it to a refinery which could be in the same or a different continent. In the latter case, the oil will require onward transport on a tanker ship. Again, this may be the player’s own or a player may choose to pay shares to load the oil onto another player’s tanker. In some circumstances, this may allow them to take the captaincy (in effect, the helm) and choose which port the tanker will sail to. Finally, key decisions have to be taken over the optimal time to “empty” refineries and whether to exchange delivered oil for shares or leave them in situ to contribute to the important end-of-game area control scoring for that continent.

All of this inevitably means there is a lot going on and a lot for players to take in, but the clear rules and player aids make the whole thing manageable.

Many of the actions available to players are expensive in terms of the workers that need to be used, and an interesting mechanic in this game is the option for players to piggyback on each other’s actions (taking the same action for a greatly reduced cost). This can lead to a degree of brinkmanship with players deliberately foregoing a desirable action in the hope that they can benefit from a rival taking the action they want. Throughout the game, players are able to make use of each other’s infrastructure at the cost of paying the opponent with shares of the borrower’s company.

Because there are so many stages to go through, it can be difficult for players to see exactly how their actions are going to translate to end-game victory points. That’ll especially be the case on your first couple of plays of this game. Despite this, Wildcatters is an unfailingly engrossing game where players quickly get wrapped up in the theme. With players piggybacking actions and using each other’s infrastructure, Wildcatters is a game with a high degree of player interaction but, unusually for such games, this isn’t, in the main, a “take that” game. The principal exception is that players can deliberately try to get opponents to run down their share capital in order to force them to take loans from the bank. These cost nearly double to repay and can heavily penalize players if they remain unpaid at the end of the game.

Don’t be put off by the drab and seemingly irrelevantly illustrated box. Open it up and you’ll find inside that this second edition of Wildcatters is beautifully produced with attractive wooden components and a visually appealing world map playing board. You can see the components shown off in 360º with the shorter version of this review on Board’s Eye View (https://www.boardseyeview.net/single-post/2018/03/19/Wildcatters).

It feels slightly odd that the game uses a mix of cards and tokens to represent the workers and shares – we were puzzled why they didn’t just supply 5x or 4x cards rather than the comparatively  incongruous coin-like tokens to represent 5 workers and 4 shares. Another small gripe was that the tiny wooden oil barrels are fiddly and, being barrel shaped (or, to be accurate, cylindrical) they do have an annoying tendency to roll about. It’s also unfortunate that the green and blue player colours can be hard to distinguish in certain lighting. These are all small gripes, however, for what is a very strong game that rewards the time it takes to learn and the two hours or so that it takes to play. – – – – Selwyn Ward


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