Clink. Clink. Clink. The outlaw looks tired, his spurs singing as he slowly approaches a small herd of cattle grazing on what little grass they can find. “You can do this, you no-good rustler”, he mutters to himself, getting closer to the huge animals without them noticing. Soon, he’s right next to a fine looking steer with horns longer than the cowboy’s arms. He reaches carefully under the belly of the beast and tries to pick the cow right off the ground. “GAHHH!!! THIS WAS A BAD IDEA”, he yells as the herd gets spooked and tramples over the criminal in their rush to safety. And so ends the tale of Eagle Perkins, the worst cattle rustler in the Wild West.
In Longhorn, you are an outlaw competing with another low-life to see who can amass the largest amount of wealth in cattle and gold. Each player shares a single piece which represents their cowboys, one on each side of the disk. I like to think of them as conjoined twins that decide to go on a crime spree, but don’t want to work together. Sibling rivalries are tough.
On your turn, you need to pick up all of the cows of one color (white, orange, black or green) on your spot and move that many spaces to another location. This new space is where your opponent starts their turn, contemplating which cows to pick up and where to send you in the 3 by 3 grid of locales. Its like mancala, but instead of glass beads, its snorting, smelly beasts of burden that you pick up. If you take the last cattle from a site, you get to take a special action tile found there. It could be great, from finding gold nuggets to robbing the other player of hard earned cattle. Or it could be terrible, like snake bites or getting arrested by the sheriff. You have to play very carefully to make sure you reap the benefits while your opponent runs into trouble.
The game can end in different ways, depending on the game board. A player could get arrested, one cowboy could collect all of the cows of one color, or the outlaws could simply run out of spaces to raid cattle. This variability keeps the game fresh, with different location patterns, action tiles, and cattle distribution making the game different every time. The scoring is simple and the game is quick. The art on the boards is some of the best I have seen in a board game. The scenes are so good, I could frame them and hang them up on the wall in my home, and believe me, that is a HUGE honor. I have a tough time thinking of bad things to say about this game, but I do have one warning.
No, not cow love (but it is very common). There is no luck in this game. Theoretically, you could lose the game from the first move you make. Sometimes a few turns happen where there are no other choices to make because you can plan that far ahead. You can dive deep and see every possibility of every move if you think long enough. But I recommend playing this game as it is meant to be played. Its a short, quick, fun, light game about picking up cows and making some money. I think Longhorn is a fantastic 2-player game and it deserves some time in the spotlight. I’m sure Eagle Perkins would appreciate that.