25 April 2023
Choose your faction, draw your six-gun
The Wild West is a familiar setting for games, with the opportunity for quick-draw shoot-outs, yelling “Varmint!” at each other, and eventually riding off into the sunset on your trusty steed. Cactus Town does its best to squeeze all of that rich theme into an impressively small box.
The aim of the game is to achieve the specific goals set out for your character. The sides are asymmetric, with different goals, abilities and numbers of characters they control. The Sheriffs, for example, get three standees, and win if they stun and capture two of the Outlaws. Whereas the Can-Can Dancer only has one piece on the board, and wins by paying back debts and winning three shoot-outs.
Play takes place on a five-by-five grid of location cards, which start face down and are gradually revealed as players move onto them – which will feel very familiar to anyone who has played Burgle Bros. Some characters, like the Outlaws, have a hand of cards with locations written on them. Their objective is to wait until matching locations are revealed and then take the “Rob” action to pick up loot.
It’s not quite as simple, however, as simply choosing actions; players need to pre-plan three turns all at once, unstoppably programming their characters to act, even if events unfold differently to how you predict.
The combination of Western setting and programmed actions immediately bring to mind the excellent Colt Super Express. Unfortunately, Cactus Town lacks the incredibly tight decision making and humour of that game; choosing your three actions rarely has you on tenterhooks, and there’s often little you can do to stop someone simply using Sneak to escape from you.
The shoot-outs are very luck dependent, each player rolling a (beautifully pastel-shaded) dice and trying to beat the other. There are some mechanics included to adjust this, but losing a game due to a poor roll still feels anti-climatic. Worse, unlike the recent famously asymmetric Root, the different factions are nowhere near balanced. In every game we played, the Sheriffs lost every single time.
Overall, my family did have fun with Cactus Town. It’s pretty, nicely illustrated and there are several game modes to keep things a little more varied, as well as an expansion available to add more factions and a single player mode. It’s definitely one for people who fancy a simpler, silly game; fans of strategic complexity may wish to look elsewhere.
PLAY IT? MAYBE
Experience the adventures of a Frontier Town, all in a box the size of a paperback book. A good introduction to programming and asymmetry for younger players.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED Colt Super Express…
…Trading shoot-outs on top of a speeding train for holding up the bank, or stealing a horse; although Colt Super Express manages a feeling of frantic real-ness that Cactus Town doesn’t come close to.
Designer: Raúl Luque Torner
Publisher: Second Gate Games
Time: 20-60 minutes
What’s in the box?
- 70 Cards, including 48 location cards, and 24 player cards.
- 9 Character standees
- 28 Tokens
- 4 Dice
- 4 Gunslinger screens
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