I grew up playing a variety of card games with my family, but poker wasn’t one that ever hit the table. Subsequently, I don’t really have a passion or knack for it in my adult life – but I do find myself enjoying games that incorporate poker elements or poker hands into play (Dice Town, Bountytown for example), even if I don’t generally gravitate towards western-themed games. I wasn’t sure what to think when I first saw Most Wanted at Origins this year, but was pleasantly surprised by this sort of simplified poker/party game hybrid.
Players are taking each other on to become the most notorious outlaw in St Louis – the “most wanted”! On your turn, you select one of 6 card locations to visit and take that action – 3 of these are chances at upping your fame by staging robberies, and the others are simpler actions or a one to one duel with another player. These cards are double-sided, too – so the first three times you shuffle the deck of cards being used to play hands, you’ll flip these over to switch up the rewards available.
Robberies are the simplest way to become known in the game – the Pony Express, Stagecoach, and Train locations allow you to challenge other players if they should wish to join by playing hands of cards sized 2, 3 and 4 respectively. I know for poker fans this will limit their strategy, but I quite enjoy the scaled back choices of hands to play (and the deck is limited to the range of 6 up to aces). If a player wins the round with the best hand (say, a four of a kind, or perhaps a high card) they will go up on the notoriety track, while other players will have to pay “bail” for getting caught (and if they can’t pay that in money bags, then they’re just going to have to go down on that track, and fade out of the public eye).
The duel location has you pitting yourself against another player of your choice, and whoever wins gains money bags equal to the current player’s bail (related to how high they’re ranked currently – after all, the authorities aren’t going to let a wanted criminal out for nothing!). The Church and Honest Labor locations are just for you on your turn, allowing you to churn unwanted cards out of your hand, perhaps gaining money bags for discarding. I think the balance of locations keeps player interaction at just the right level – mostly, you’re going to try and benefit from robberies and duels where you can, because that makes for a fun race to the top of the most wanted track. But the Church and Honest Labor locations do allow for players to mitigate their hands and prepare themselves a little, which is a nice change from a lot of party games where you’re stuck with what you have and you’ve gotta work with it.
The production quality on this is really lovely – the deck of cards has some wonderful embellishments (and even the backs are pretty!), and the location cards have that very typical Western feel to them. What stands out most, however, is the fabulously stylized character art by Mimi Stanton-Gullack. North Star Games could have gone with very simple wooden player tokens and samey player aids for everyone, but instead have given a little personalized flair to the game in letting players pick a character. These are fabulous, ranging from “Dyn O’Mike, the boomtown kid” to “Sister Chuck, a nun with a bad habit” and “Bullseye Betty, a rootin’ tootin’ sharp shootin’ gal” just to name a few. The range and representation of gender, age and skin colour is admirable for a game that didn’t really even need these to work – and I love that they were included and this art style was chosen – fun, playful and yet a family-friendly version of Western rather than the darker and grittier side in some games. (Yes, there’s gonna be a fight every game for who gets to be Sister Chuck. I promise you.)
If you’ve got a larger group that doesn’t feel like a big rambunctious party game or social deduction, or something wordy, then this fits into a great little niche – the simplified poker hands are easy to remember and the location cards are nice and straight-forward so folks can dive in and be playing in no time. I can recommend this to throw on your larger group/party game shelf if you’re looking for something new and different. And if you do end up giving it a go, make sure you search out the legendary treasure of Fast-Finger Freddy…
Most Wanted is a party poker(ish) game for 2 – 8 players taking approximately 30 minutes to play. Designed by Dominic Crapuchettes, Ken Gruhl and Quentin Weir, the character illustrations are by Mimi Stanton-Gullak, graphic design by Andy Barry, card character work Ben Goldman and card backs by Khia Jackson.
Thank you to the superstars at North Star Games for the copy of Most Wanted. It releases October 1st, and if you’re interested in pre-ordering, you can!