Cowpoker Review
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Players: 2-4
Playing Time: 15-30 minutes, depending on the number of players

Cowpoker takes you out to the Wild West, a world of ranchers, ranch hands, and gamblers—where a shootout could break out at any minute, and only the toughest (and the luckiest) survive.

To begin, each player chooses his or her ranch: Davila, Gallagher, Masterson, or San Joaquin. No matter how many live players are sitting around the table, there are always four players playing Cowpoker—whether it’s four live players or a combination of live players and Deadwood players—so all four ranches are always represented.

Each live player is dealt five cards, each of which has a number of elements: a character (who comes from one of the four ranches or from town), a poker card, a point value, a roundup value, and a gunfight value. It also has a special effect—the directions you may have to follow when playing the card.

When it’s your turn, you draw from the draw pile to make sure you have five cards in your hand. Then you select one of those cards to be in your Gang, playing it face-up in front of you. If you play a card from another ranch into your Gang, you do nothing, and the play passes to your left. If you play a card from your own ranch, or from town, you have to follow the instructions on the card. That could mean stealing other players’ cards, or it could mean a gunfight or a roundup. If you start a roundup or a gunfight, players take turns playing a card in the center of the table. The player who plays the card with the highest roundup or gunfight points is the winner—and he or she takes the cards and places them facedown in a pile called the Cellar.

Deadwood players don’t have a hand to play from—so when it’s their turn, just play the top card on the draw pile.

The game ends once the last card has been taken from the draw pile—then it’s time to add up your points. First, you count all of the points in your Gang. On top of that, players get more points for having the best poker hand in their Gang, their hand, and their Cellar. And the player with the least number of points in his or her Cellar loses points. After the points are tallied, the player with the most points wins.

Obviously, there’s a lot to keep track of while playing Cowpoker. You choose which cards go into your Gang—so you can tell how many points you’ve got and what kind of a poker hand you’ve got (or at least until someone starts stealing cards from your Gang). But you’ve also got to keep an eye on your Cellar cards, as well as the cards left in your hand. There’s a lot going on in this game—so it’s definitely not one for younger players—but it’s a fun game for adults. Poker players have a bit of an advantage, since they know which hands are better—but most of the game is really left to chance, so anyone has a shot.

While there are a number of strategies to figure out—as well as a lot of numbers to keep track of—Cowpoker is still an easy-going game. The illustrations and the general card design are both spectacular (you can see exactly what you need to see at all times). And with a short playing time, the time commitment is minimal. Keep your Cowpoker cards handy—because you never know when a game might break out.

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