Updated: Nov 20, 2019
Designed by Rolf Sagel and André Spil and published by Capstone Games, this is a recent second edition of a game that was first published in 2013. The new edition is distributed in the UK by Asmodee (formerly Esdevium) and it incorporates some new and improved components as well as refinements to the rules.
As the name suggests, Wildcatters is a game about the oil industry. Players represent global oil conglomerates that are exploring for oil, refining it and delivering it to market. During the course of the game players have to develop their own infrastructure – building drilling rigs, pump jacks (no – we’d never heard this term before either), refineries, oil tankers and railway links, so this is a game predicated on what economists refer to as vertical integration. Although Wildcatters is not a worker placement game, workers are used as a key resource, as are the shares that players own in their own and each other’s oil companies.
Wildcatters plays with 2 to 4 players and a game is run over 7 or 8 rounds, depending on the number of players. It is a fairly heavy euro game because players need to put together a lot of different pieces to get a productive ‘engine’. That inevitably means there is a lot going on, but the clear rules and player aids make the whole thing manageable. Many of the actions available to players are expensive, in terms of the workers that need to be used, and an interesting mechanic in this game is the option for players to piggyback on each other’s actions (taking the same action for a reduced cost). This can lead to a degree of brinkmanship with players deliberately foregoing a desirable action in the hope that they can benefit from a rival paying to take that action. Players can also use each other’s infrastructure at the cost of paying the opponent with shares of the borrower’s company.
Because there are so many stages to go through, it can be difficult for players to see exactly how their actions are going to translate to end-game victory points, especially the first time they play. Despite this, Wildcatters is an engrossing game where players quickly get wrapped up in the theme. With players piggybacking actions, using each other’s infrastructure and competing in auctions, Wildcatters is a game with a high degree of player interaction but, unusually for such games, this isn’t, in the main, a ‘take that’ game where players are directly wrecking each other's points engines. The principal exception is that players may deliberately try to get opponents to run down their share capital in order to force them to take loans from the bank. These cost nearly double to repay and heavily penalise players if they remain unpaid at the end of the game…
Don’t be put off by the drab and seemingly irrelevantly illustrated box. Open it up and you’ll find inside that Wildcatters is beautifully produced with attractive wooden components and a visually appealing world map playing board. It feels slightly odd that the game uses a mix of cards and tokens to represent the workers and shares – we were puzzled why they didn’t just supply cards rather than the coin-like tokens to represent '5 workers' and '4 shares'. Another small gripe was that the tiny wooden oil barrels are fiddly and, being barrel shaped (or rather cylindrical) , they do have an annoying tendency to roll about. It’s also unfortunate that the green and blue player colours can be hard to distinguish in certain lighting. These are all small gripes, however, for what is a very strong game that rewards the time it takes to learn and the two hours or so that it takes to play.