I’ve heard Longhorn described as a two-player version of Five Tribes and I can definitely see where the comparison comes in. Both games utilize a mancala-like mechanic and both have randomly dispersed tiles that make up the board, oh and both are designed by the prolific, Bruno Cathala. However, I think both games have some unique qualities and are aiming for a different gaming experience.
Longhorn is set in the old west and is all about rustling some cattle, avoiding the sheriff and hopefully finding some gold along the way. It is specifically designed to be a showdown between two cowpokes.
At the beginning of the game the board is randomly created by laying out the nine location tiles in a 3×3 grid. The tiles are beautifully illustrated by Vincent Dutrait and the western locations like Red River Valley, Nugget Hill and Cherokee Spring are reminiscent of his work on the Lewis & Clark series. Each location gets a certain amount of cattle depending on the number on the tile. The cattle comes in four colours (black, white, orange and green) and are randomly dispersed on the tiles. Each location also receives a random action token. These tokens can be something good, such as gold nuggets (worth the amount depicted) or the branding iron (which allows you to grab extra cattle from adjacent squares), or it can be something bad like the epidemic (which causes an entire colour of cattle to be removed from the game) or the sheriff (which will force you to immediately lose the game).
The goal of Longhorn is to end up with the most money, in the form of cattle and gold nuggets. The players take on the roles of different outlaws, either Eagle Perkins or Jessie Artist Bird. A token that represents the outlaws on either side is flipped like a coin to determine who will go first and the loser of the flip decides which location the token starts in. From that point, gameplay proceeds in a very straightforward manner.
On a turn a player will select a breed (or colour) of cow on the location that they are on. They take all of those cattle into their supply and then move the outlaw token a number of spaces equal to the number of cattle taken. Then the outlaw token gets flipped indicating that it is the other player’s turn. If the last cows on a tile are taken the action token will be activated, affecting the current player. They take the token and apply its effects.
Play proceeds this way until there are no legal moves left or someone is forced to activate the sheriff. When the game ends players will total up their loot with the most money being the winner. Gold is worth its face value and cows are worth $100 for each cow of that colour still on the board. So, if I’ve got three orange cows and they are two left on the board, my orange cows will be worth $600 (3 x $200). If there are no cows left of a certain colour on the board then any you’ve collected in your supply are worthless.
I was a fan of Longhorn. It reminded me of similar, simple 2-player games like Lost Cities and Patchwork. The game plays in 15-20 minutes and there is some challenging decisions to make along the way. Longhorn is an interesting tug of war and you have to really consider what your opponent is collecting. Give it a shot if you get the chance.