Wildcatters is a medium-heavy economic game by first time designers where players are playing 1 of 4 oil companies trying to get enough oil and ship them strategically to different refineries, aiming to score majorities in regions, shares of each company held and money. There will be a minor scoring somewhere in 3/5 of the game as well as a major scoring at the end. Player with the most points will win the game.
The interesting and differentiating part of the game is the area selection, action triggering by active player and using shares as a commodity. At the start of the active player turn, that player must choose 1 card from 8 which will denote the area on the board (which shows the map of the world) where they will be triggering and working on. These cards often also give you certain benefits, mostly points and/or shares. Already you can tell, it will be Analysis paralysis prone. You need to decide which area to trigger depending on what assets you have in that region, what benefits your opponents may get as well as what the remaining cards are and how they will impact you if your opponent chooses them.
Active player will then take their turn and they can do a variety of things from building rigs/refineries/tankers/trains, converting rigs to jacks, initiating transport, shifting oil to refineries or tankers and shifting tankers around. Most of the building is dependant on how much money you get which is limited because the only way you can get more money is if you select the region card that gives you money. Otherwise you will only get at most $10 per round. You can use shares as money but that is usually inefficient. Now if you want to trigger movement of oil around, you will need to pay. This will however initiate transport action for ALL players, thus potentially benefiting them. So you will need to make sure that money you spent is worthwhile!
Transporting oil will be paid using shares you have. For example, if you use another player's tanker/train to transport oil, you will need to pay using your own shares. When you fill a refinery, that player needs to pay you in their shares. All players start off with the same number of shares and can ONLY gain shares if your refinery is full and you need to process it. If you run out of shares, you can take a loan from the bank and that will be quite detrimental as the interest is rather high. As shares are kept in secret, trying to recall how many shares each player has is important but can be quite difficult to do so. Being able to determine this though will be vital as majority of shares in each company in play will give you lots of points.
At both scorings, each player will then determine who has majority in each region (based on their oil drums that had been processed by refineries in that region), majority of money left as well as majority of shares in each company. Difference between scorings is that final scoring will provide more points.
I was a first time player and my opponents have played before but with 4. This is the first time they have played with 3 and they felt it was quite different. At the initial placement, I was trying to be at places where my opponents are because you need a total of 4 rigs before you can convert them to jacks to pump oil. Opponents then started placing trains in hopes that you are forced to give them shares for using them as there are limited spots so I had to place them where I had rigs as I really did not like to rely on others. In the first half of the game, I could not really see clearly what I was aiming for as half of the point scoring is hidden. I can see the region majorities though so I concentrated on that. You really need to pay attention because when scoring comes, you may be surprised to know you don't have majority in some shares as people can sneak in to grab much needed shares which was what I did. Little good it did though because when final scoring came around, I was last. It was fun as you are building everywhere to try to hedge your bets, making sure your tankers are in the right positions and anticipating what your opponents will do.
My opponents both agreed that with 3 it was quite different as half the board was not triggered (i.e. rigs remained as rigs) and we had a lot of wastage buildings. With 3, it seems that we should concentrate on 1 or 2 areas and ignore the rest. We also did not manage to build a lot of refineries so some areas of scoring was left blank. I still came in last though because of the majority in shares that bit me with the final scoring but not that far away. I think this will work best with 4 as it will make the game tighter and more areas to choose from.
For a first play, I think it is not too bad and I had fun as it was thinky, slightly meaty with lots of interaction. Artwork and component wise all seemed to be high quality cardboard. My friend is very tempted to pimp up his copy but for what it is, its already quite good. He was bemoaning the fact that at Essen it was cheaper (in EUros) and had wooden trains in place of cardboard trains. Plus this game is out in limited quantitys (900 only) so I guess you snooze you lose.
All in all, I will definitely want to give this game a try again and see what other avenues I can take to win. I suspect though replayability maybe limited but I cannot confirm without more plays. It may not get as much play though (for example Russian Railroads I will probably be able to bring it out and play it more often than Wildcatters) but still worth a look if you like medium-heavy economic style games.
Here is a Google auto-awesome-ed picture of the board from start of game to end game: