The "Golden Age of the Western" began in the 1930s and lasted through the ’70s. Stagecoach, A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, My Darling Clementine and High Noon epitomize the best in films. On TV, it was shows like Wagon Train, Bonanza, Maverick, Rawhide and Gunsmoke that kept viewers in the saddle.

For PC pardners, however, no "Golden Age" appeared. A handful of decent mainstream titles sauntered into town over the years, but nothing to placate the more "refined" tastes of the casual gamer…until now.

Westward, from Sandlot Games (makers of Glyph, Tradewinds: Legends and Cake Mania), is a simulation and real-time strategy combo set in the Wild West. Virtual Villagers in chaps, it expands greatly on the idea of managing a settlement and its townsfolk. But, before rustling around in its saddlebags, dust off yer britches, set yer carcass down by the campfire and listen up to Westward’s tale.

Like other folk near Camp Chippewa, you’ve been hoodwinked by a shifty feller called the "Mad Russian," an untrustworthy hombre who cheated you for the very last time. As Marion Morrison (John Wayne’s real name, in case you didn’t know), you’ll track this villain from town to town in an effort to restore justice to The Old West. And, in the process, do your honest best to make each settlement prosper.

In a nutshell, you’re the hero and your objective in this western drama is simple — turn wagon camps into flourishing communities as you thwart the efforts of the Mad Russian. A challenging task for sure, but a rewarding one, as well.

What’s it like? Well, the developer equates Westward to an "ant-farm full of gunslingers." Spend a little time with it, and the similarities emerge. You’ll encounter a heavy dose of resource management up front as you build and expand your towns, and struggle against the game’s environmental factors. You’ll also experience its sim aspects as you guide citizens about their daily lives. Thankfully, its unique blend of elements work seamlessly, knit together by an unfolding storyline.

Your goal of prospering each community is basically the same, though the tasks and obstacles encountered vary from one town to the next. Through the course of each scenario (over 20 in all) you’ll explore your surroundings, buy, sell and trade various tools and resources, build structures necessary to support a growing populace, dig wells, erect water towers, grow food, raise livestock, harvest lumber and mine gold. You’ll also be obliged to house and employ your townsfolk, as well as hire sheriffs, deputies and gunslingers to protect your settlement from bandits and outlaws. Quite a list of tasks!

Given the above, you would think Westward offers great depth, and it does. This is evident, for instance, in the variety of structures employed. Included in the roster are a bank, church, farm, general store, hotel, house, lumber camp, lumber mill, mining camp, ranch, saloon, sheriff’s office, town hall, trading post, train station, wagon camp, water tower, well and windmill. Each goes beyond simple window dressing, too, having an effect on your success. Fortunately, as deep as Westward is, it remains approachable.

There’s more, as well. The game’s colorful characters need your attention. Townsfolk complain when hungry, homeless, and unemployed, while outlaws and drunks require the steady hand of "the law" (a little jail time and a trip to church may actually reform drunkards). Fail to provide sufficient housing and jobs, and folks will become dissatisfied. Run low on food, allow drunks to get out of hand or let outlaws run amuck and some of your faithful citizens may hop the next stage out of town.

Of course, some situations are entirely out of your control. A gamut of environmental disasters will raise havoc as you work to build a thriving community. Expect to see your fair share, and then some, of fires, tornadoes, droughts, famines, plagues and bandit attacks. Therefore, don’t be surprised when crops wither, buildings collapse, banks are robbed or someone ends up being kidnapped. It’s all part of life in the early West.

While the version of Westward provided to Gamezebo was relatively early (pre-beta), it was still playable enough to gain a solid feel for what’s coming — and it’s lookin’ mighty purdy. When ready to hit the trail, expect it to offer about ten to twelve hours of play for those eager to finish, while the highly meticulous can anticipate a mucho grande experience.

Whether you grew up on westerns or not, from charming, frontier-themed visuals to catchy trailside tunes to engaging Wild West game play, Westward should be more than an OK addition to your corral. So, keep your saddle and six-shooters handy!