Posted by: gschloesser | April 5, 2019


Design by Rudiger Dorn
Published by White Goblin Games
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by Greg J. Schloesser


Montana in the mid-to-late 18th century was still a vast, mostly uninhabited place.  Indeed, even though the gold rush and a desire for land and a new start brought an influx of settlers and entrepreneurs, the area is still one of the least populated regions in the United States.  Perhaps the harsh weather and vast open spaces serves as a deterrent for many. A shame, since it is a beautiful area.

Montana by designer Rudiger Dorn is set in the period when settlers begin moving to Montana in increasing numbers.  Players represent entrepreneurs attempting to establish a new life in this harsh, yet promising new environment. They must hire workers to help harvest grain and pumpkins, mine copper, gather stone from the quarries and establish towns and settlements.  To be successful, players must not only balance all of these needs with limited finances, but must also stay one step ahead of their opponents, who are also attempting to claim the most lucrative land.

The modular board is created by piecing together landscape tiles, each of which depicts seven fields.  These fields depict various types of terrain, as well as the resources that are needed to construct a settlement there.  Some areas reward a player with cattle when a settlement is constructed, while being the first to construct next to a lake gives the player a canteen (representing access to water), which can be used to take another turn.

The “worker” board is where players will send their hired hands to work in the fields (grain and/or pumpkin fields), quarry (stone) or mines.  They may also send workers to the bank to acquire funds, or to the market where they can trade valuable pumpkins for other commodities, primarily copper, stone and/or grain.

Each player receives a player board, upon which he will keep his supply of workers (maximum of eight), commodities collected and cattle.  It also provides a graphic display of the possible actions a player can take on his turn. Players begin the game with four random workers (there are four different types, matching the four different commodities), one commodity of each type, a cow and a few silver coins.

A player must choose one of three possible actions on his turn:

Recruit Workers.  Workers are vital.  However, they are also apparently quite transient, as once they do a bit of work for you, they move on to hopefully greener pastures.  So, players must constantly be hiring new ones. Hiring workers is a simple process: spin the dial on the wheel and take the two workers depicted upon the space where the dial lands.  A player can manipulate this by spending grain to move the dial forward one space for each grain spent. This is a way to get the type of workers you absolutely need.

Work.  This is the “worker placement” aspect of the game, wherein players will place their hired hands onto the worker board and collect the resources depicted.  As with most worker placement games, if a space is already occupied, it is closed to new workers until it is again opened. Most spaces require one worker of a specific color.  Alternatively, a player may place two workers of any color. The player then has the option of placing another worker of the specified color (or any two workers) to receive the additional resources depicted.  It is wise to claim these additional resources as often as possible, but, of course, it does deplete one’s stable of hired hands more quickly.

The “city” location is a bit different.  The player receives a pumpkin and then places his contractor on one of the four “bidding” rows under the column indicating the number of pumpkins he is willing to pay in order to receive the goods depicted at the far right of the columns.  In turn order and in the same fashion, each player may then also place their contractor on one of the rows. If a player is outbid, he must immediately rebid by again choosing one of the four rows. Alternatively, he may pass. Once everyone has passed or placed their contractor on different rows, the players pay the pumpkins and take the commodities depicted.

It is important to note that there are both small and large stones and copper.  The city market is the main place where small stone or copper can be upgraded to the larger ones.  This is important as many fields on the board require these large resources in order to construct a settlement.

An area of the worker placement board is not cleared until all of the non-bonus spaces (the “larger” spaces) are occupied.  Once this occurs, all workers at that location are returned to the general supply and that area is now once again open for new workers.

Build.  Herein lies the objective of the game: be the first player to construct his final settlement, which varies from 8 – 12, based upon the number of players.  So, there is a race to be the first to complete this task. Dilly-dallying can be fatal.

To construct a settlement, a player must pay the resources depicted on the field.  Mountains and lakes are prohibited spaces, so no settlements may be constructed there.  A settlement must be constructed next to the starting settlement or any other settlement previously constructed.  A player may construct up to three settlement with this action, but this is not always possible.

There are a few incentives when constructing settlements.  If a player constructs four settlements in a straight row, he may place an additional settlement on top of the fourth settlement in that row.  Further, there are a few fields on the board that allow the player to immediately place a second settlement on that field when the first one is constructed there.  Of course, these areas generally require more valuable resources in order to found a settlement.

Some fields also provide the player with a cow when a settlement is constructed.  Cows can be traded to acquire a good or worker of your choice, or three silver coins.  As mentioned earlier, constructing next to a lake gives the player a canteen, which can be used to take another turn.

In essence, this is the game.  Players repeat this process until one player has constructed all of his settlements.  The round is completed to insure all players have had an equal number of turns. If more than one player has constructed all of his settlements, victory goes to the player with the most cattle and canteens still in his possession, so using them during the game can be a tricky proposition.

Montana plays very quickly and the end arrives much sooner than what many players may expect.  The ability to construct up to three settlements per “build” action–and to place those extra settlements–can cause a player to construct all of his settlements in a quick flurry.  This often leaves some opponents stunned. So, again, don’t procrastinate or dilly dally!

Keep an eye on those valuable fields and try to grab them as soon as the opportunity arises.  Remember, you can construct a settlement next to ANY previously constructed settlement, not just your own.  So, wise planning can allow you to construct several settlements quickly and reach those valuable spaces

Don’t underestimate the importance of those canteens.  Getting an extra turn or two can be critical. So, be the first to construct next to as many lakes as possible so you can claim those valuable canteens.  Cows are also valuable, not only for the resources they can provide during the game, but also as a tie-breaker if they are conserved.

A game of Montana generally plays to completion in abo29ut 45 minutes or so.  Set-up time is a bit long, however, as it takes awhile to sort the pieces and get everything ready for play.  Overall, this is a solid, fun game that challenges players with many tough decisions, all accomplished in less than an hour.  Those games are rarities and always something special.

NOTE:  Thanks to Henk Rolleman for use of his outstanding photos.

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