High Noon in Meeplewood
A game was dropped in my lap to review right around Christmas time, but with the busy season, it took me a little longer to get the table than I would have liked. But in January, we were finally able to explore this game of mancala mechanics that has an interesting Old American West theme.
A Fistful of Meeples is a fast game of moving meeples around the board for a variety of effects based on what the piece is, what building it lands on, and what other pieces are in that building. Designed by Jonny Pac and with art by The Mico, let’s look at this mining, building, robbing, arresting, Madaming, gun fight at noon, meeple game from Final Frontier Games.
(Note: A review copy of A Fistful of Meeples was provided to Board Game Gumbo by Final Frontier Games.)
The cover art for the game is solid. If the title didn’t already clue a buyer in on the theme then the art is a dead giveaway. I am also a fan of the art itself. It isn’t overly dark or busier than it needs to be. The overall color scheme works for the theme. The picture is two meeples having a gunfight in the middle of the street while the townsfolk look on. You know, as one did on a slow Tuesday afternoon in 1884.
I also liked the art of the game itself. The clean look leaves clear spaces for each piece on the game board. The changing color schemes and textures help keep the buildings separate from one another. All of the spaces for pieces have a spot outlined so the setup and movement are easy to accomplish. Really the only art problem I had with the game in general, and there was some help around this using the rule book, was there are color coded pieces and references that could be hard on certain types of colorblind player.
The gameplay was also good. The overall playtime is listed at 30 mins, which is nice because even with setup and breakdown the game won’t take an hour from out of the box to back in.
There are two resources in the game other than the workers — stone and gold — both of which come from the mining bag. Stone and gold are both used to build and upgrade marquee tiles. Marquee tiles claim the building for extra effects and scoring points. Gold is also used to claim the gold bars, which are one of the endgame triggers and points. There are five different workers on the board with a variety of effects: The miner (Yellow) generates resources, Builders (Brown) place marquee tiles which claim buildings, Robbers (Red) “steal” from the miners in the building giving resources, Deputies (Blue) arrest the robbers generating resources, and the Madam (Pink) entices builders to the saloon to generate resources.
Players take turns taking the pieces from a building and dropping them one at a time either clockwise or counter-clockwise from the starting building in the door spaces, then resolving their effects. The two spaces on the end with the pistols are for the shootout, which happens when there are pieces in both spots during the resolve step. To do this, just take the vintage pistols, provided free and loaded in the box, outside… wait no. Dice, the shootout is handled with dice, with the better shot (there is a chart for this rule) getting a re-roll. This continues until one of the three end game conditions is met.
There are a few issues pertaining to the gameplay. The first is that for larger handed people *coughs into bear paws* picking up the smaller pieces without disturbing the game board can be a small problem. Second, because the shootout is based on a die roll and gives rewards for winning based on the opponent felled, someone who wins a majority of shootouts can gain a decent advantage purely by luck. Lastly, there are times when getting the pieces you need to the right buildings becomes more luck than skill. I feel these are minor issues, but warranted a mention for all the dice cursed, bear handed people like myself in the world. I feel your pain, friends.
The end of the game is triggered when (a) all gold bars are claimed, (b) the cemetery is full, (c) the three dynamite have been pulled from the resource bag, at which point play continues until all players have had an equal number of turns. Points are scored for gold pieces, gold bars, and marquee tiles in play.
A Fistful of Meeples is a quick game which I would recommend to anyone who likes the Old West theme, the mancala mechanic, or just prefers/needs games that are easy to teach and play. I had a good time playing it, and since it has a nice compact box, the game lives in my game bag for those nights when we don’t want to play anything long or heavy.
Always remember to have fun,
— Bryan Barnes, @bryanbarnes19