Wyatt Earp

A card game for 2-4 players by Mike Fitzgerald & Richard Borg,
published 2001 by Alea (Germany) and Rio Grande Games (USA)
These comments copyright 2002 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated February 10, 2002

Howdy, Pardner

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 series.

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 hideout.

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 two times.

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 turn.

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.

Summing Up

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.

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