Updated: Jun 16, 2021
If you were in any doubt over Jonny Pac Cantin's love of Westerns, you need look no further than the three games he designed last year: Sierra West (Board&Dice), Coloma (Final Frontier) and Fistful of Meeples (Final Frontier). All three adopt a Wild West setting but they are three very different games so there's no need to worry that this town may not be big enough for all three.
A Fistful of Meeples is the lightest and most accessible of the three. Jonny Pac has taken the traditional (7th Century) abstract two-player game Mancala and used its core mechanic to create a lively thematically strong game that takes 2–4 players, with art by Mihajlo Dimitrievski (aka The Mico). Instead of dull seeds or stones, you are moving tiny wooden meeples, each of which represents a character with a special action that is taken at the location in which it is placed. The yellow meeples are miners, for whom you'll draw cubes from a bag when they are placed at locations that you own; the brown meeples are builders, allowing you claim ownership of a location or upgrade a location you already own provided you can pay the requisite gold and stone cubes; red meeples are robbers who draw cubes for every miner at their location; and blue meeples are deputies who capture any robbers at their location, draw cubes as a reward, and clap the robbers in jail. There is also a saloon madame who draws cubes for any builders at the location where she's placed. As in Mancala, players can choose any of the locations: they take all of the meeples at that site and place them out so that one goes to the doorway of each adjacent building. You can take the meeple actions in any order; so, for example, you will usually want to take an action that gives you draws from the bag before you activate a builder who will spend cubes.
Fistful of Meeples can be played as a light casual family filler where players don't think too hard about their choices and are content to allow serendipity to work its magic. On the other hand, it can also be played as quite a meaty strategy game, with players carefully planning ahead their meeple placements to secure a cascade of effects. There are three prospective end-game triggers that players will want to take account of, one of which takes the form of a High Noon-style showdown between the meeples at the two ends of the board. At least one of the gunslingers will end up in Boot Hill, and the game ends when the sixth grave is filled...
There's plenty packed into this inventive small box game to keep you coming back for more. You'll find there's inevitably more scope for strategy and planning ahead with two players than if you play with four, tho' we especially enjoyed Fistful of Meeples as a three-player game. Perhaps, however, we were just channeling the climactic showdown at the end of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly :-)
(Review by Selwyn Ward)