Wyatt Earp is a game of outlaws and sheriffs in the
American Old West. The players take the part of sheriffs trying
capture famous outlaws ... and earn the reward money for doing so.
Along the way you can get help from legendary sheriff Wyatt Earp,
but mostly you're on your own.
Wyatt Earp is a card game - actually a rummy variant.
One of the designers also did the Mystery Rummy
series, which this may have been intended as part of. To my tastes,
however, this is a better game than those in the Mystery Rummy
The components include 78 cards - smaller than normal card because
your hand size is often quite large, and you have to spread meld
on the table - as well as seven reward posters, a fistful of money,
and some summary charts. The reward posters show the seven outlaws
you're trying capture: Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wes Hardin,
Belle Starr, Bob Dalton, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. The
money comes in two denominations: $1,000 and $5,000.
The cards are divided between 49 Outlaw cards marked with a bullet
hole (seven for each outlaw, each worth 2 capture points) and 29
Sheriff cards, marked with a star and sometimes a revolver.
It's like this, Greenhorn ...
It's a rummy game, and a good one. You start by spreading the
wanted posters around the table in a circle and putting $1,000
reward on each outlaw. You shuffle the cards, deal out ten cards
to each player, flip over one card face up to start the discard
pile, and you're ready to go.
To start your turn you must either draw the top card from the
face-up discard pile or take the top two from the facedown draw
pile. Once you've done that, you may "meld" as many outlaw cards
as you legally can by playing them face up to the table in front
of you, play one sheriff card, and you must discard. If ever you
discard your last card, the round ends.
Melding outlaw cards is how you get money: each outlaw card is
worth 2 capture points. You must have at least three outlaw cards
of the same outlaw to "open" the chase: lay them face up in front
of you. When you do this, the reward is increased: add N-1 x $1,000
to the reward poster, where N = the number of outlaw cards played.
(Example: if I play three outlaw cards for Billy the Kid, 3-1 x
$1,000 = $2,000 is added to Billy's wanted poster.)
Once an outlaw has been played to the table, any player can
add cards to that outlaw to try to get a share of the reward.
(Even though you're "adding" cards to that outlaw, play all meld
from your hand in front of you so it's clear who melded what.) At
this point, outlaw cards can be played one at a time - no need to
wait for three, though the same formula applies for increasing the
reward. (Yes, that's right: adding one card doesn't increase the
reward at all.)
You can play one sheriff card each turn, if you wish: these are
all clearly marked with a sheriff's badge. There are seven different
types of sheriff cards that allow you to do various things: add
value to an outlaw's reward, try to steal a card from another
player, search through the discard pile to reclaim a covered-up
card, draw two more cards, send an outlaw into a hideout (thus
denying an opponent a share of the reward), and try to negate the
A few of the sheriff cards are automatic, but most require you to
draw the top card of the draw pile and draw a bullet-hole card to
be successful. Every outlaw card has a bullet hole, but no sheriff
cards do, so as more and more outlaw cards are melded it gets harder
and harder to draw a bullet. But then, I rarely do, even when it's
easy ... unlucky at cards, I guess.
The round keeps going until one of two things happens: either a
player discards his last card, or the draw pile is exhausted
What's in it for me, Hombre?
When the round ends, it's time to score the round: distribute the
money on the reward posters. First, discard any remaining cards
in your hand: they're worthless. (Unlike some rummy games, though,
they don't count against you.)
Next, you start with one outlaw's wanted poster and evaluate who
gets what, if any, and work around untill all seven outlaws have
been resolved. To resolve an outlaw, first check to see if there
are enough capture points exposed to capture the outlaw. It takes
eight capture points to capture an outlaw (each outlaw card is
worth 2, remember, and some of the sheriff cards can add to the
value: Bank robberies, Stage Coach robberies, Fastest Gun, etc.)
- if there aren't that many, go on to the next outlaw. [There
might not be enough capture points for three reasons: (1) it simply
never got that high - it only takes three cards, worth 6 capture
points, to open an outlaw, and sometimes an outlaw is never melded
at all; (2) some cards may be hidden in a hideout - their value
doesn't count at all; (3) there may have been 8 capture points on
the table but someone stole a card with a Most Wanted sheriff card
and put it into their hand, never melding it back.] If the outlaw
isn't captured, the reward builds up into the next round.
If there are at least 8 capture points showing on the table, you
then figure out who has the most (thus earning a larger
share of the reward), or if it's a tie (thus splitting the reward
evenly). It's possible to have enough capture points on a given
outlaw that you get all the money - no one else is even close.
Once all seven outlaws are resolved, check everyone's money pile:
if anyone has at least $25,000, the game is over, most money wins.
We find it takes three rounds to get to $25,000, almost every game.
If it's not over, add $1,000 to each wanted poster, shuffle well,
and start another round with the next player in line taking first
So, why's it a good game, Ol' Hoss?
Lots of choices, friend, and the more you play it, the more choices
you discover. Unlike many rummy games, it's not always advantageous
to meld as soon as you can. Sometimes you want to hold back, either
because melding brings an outlaw up to eight capture points, thus
helping an opponent, or because there's such a large reward built
up on a given outlaw that melding early would mean lots of time
for opponents to play Hideouts on you.
Since you can only play one sheriff card per turn, there is often
a tense choice over which one to play. And some of them can be
played in more than one way, so there's another choice! If, for
example, there's a hideout on some of my outlaw cards, only Wyatt
Earp can help me get rid of the hideout card - and even then it
takes a bullet. Would it be better to use my Wyatt Earp to collect
a card from the discard pile that will enable me to start a new
meld, and just forget the one in the hideout? Or just use Wyatt
to draw the top two cards of the draw pile? Or, shifting gears
entirely, do I simply play a Most Wanted card, trying to steal one
of your cards?
It's a game where it's sometimes possible to pick on the leader,
but not always. There are only three Hideout and three Most Wanted
cards, after all, and they usually require a bullet to be successful.
And even then, it's a possible a Hideout may be countered by Wyatt
Earp ... so you're usually better off playing for your own score
rather than trying to hurt an opponent's score.
You have to allocate your resources. By this I mean: do you go for a
share in lots of outlaws, or try to build up such a capture point
lead in one that you get all the money? If you have 5 or more
capture points above the next highest total, you get all the reward.
So by playing lots of Bank robbery and Stage Coach robbery cards
on the same outlaw, you not only build up the reward but you have
a chance to take it all. Or you could spread those out, trying to
get a tie or the lead in lots of outlaws ...
You always have to watch how many cards the other players have.
If someone's close to going out, it behooves you to meld as much
as you can, to be sure you're not cut out of a scoring round. This
might mean using a Wyatt Earp to draw two more cards, hoping to
get a set. Or, you could simply try a Hideout on such an opponent,
making it a disadvantage for them to go out until they can get rid
of the Hideout ...
It's a fast-playing game, on the whole. Even though you have
choices, no one seems to agonize over them too much. We rarely
go longer than 45 minutes, yet have a good time the whole way
through. Even when you have a bad hand, eventually others will
meld outlaws that you have a card or two of. Then you can play
them, trying to get at least a cut of the reward. It's a rare hand
where you have absolutely no control over your fate - though I have
seen it happen once every few games or so.
And it's an excellent three-player game - a category often hard to
fill. There's not a strong king-maker or petty-diplomacy element,
which ruins most three-player games.
Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?
Well, you might not like rummy-type games at all, in which case
this isn't for you. I think it's the best of the rummy family I've
played, and I grew up playing Gin, Canasta, 500, Michigan rummy,
etc., and still enjoy some of those.
You might not like pick-on-the-leader games - though not as strong
as in some games, there is an element of that here. It's not always
smart to be in first place after round 2, and that bothers some
gamers, who feel it should always be smart to be in the lead.
We play this one a lot. Good, fast-playing, fairly quick and
moderately light game that nicely balances out a more cerebral game
played earlier in the evening. Recommended.
PS: I've been told the designers included a rule that the
publisher cut, and the designers still prefer the game with their
rule. Here is the rule in case you want to try it (we play with
it and like it):
When someone first opens meld on an outlaw, if another player has
the Photo sheriff card for that outlaw, he/she may play it
then, out of turn. Since you can only play one sheriff card on
your own turn, playing a Photo card out of turn like this allows
you to slip in a second sheriff card that round.
Back to SOS' Gameviews
Back to Steffan O'Sullivan's Home Page