Howdy pardners. If you are looking for good ol’ time that is sure to end in a hoedown, then look no further than the just launched Kickstarter for Doomtown: Weird West Edition, a new base set for the excellent table top expandable card game. A (mostly) two player game that sees you battling for control of a dusty old town in a demonically singed Wild West.
What is it that makes this game so special? Most immediately obvious to new players will be the incredibly unique combat system. Form your posse and get ready to sling cards as you start by taking it turns to make shootout plays. These will be special abilities that give your cowboys, girls and thems buffs as you get ready for the show to start. Once you both pass and the lead is ready to start flying, you settle the battle with poker-like system. The cards in your deck not only represent characters, places and abilities, but also regular playing cards. Draw cards from your deck and try to form the best poker hand that you can, with the number you can draw and the number you can mulligan based on the bullets that your dudes’ cards depict. Depending on by how much the player with the winning poker hand wins by determines how many casualties the loser takes. If the loser is still feeling luck, they can decide to continue or run back to base.
This system becomes a brilliant moment of tension between the players as they prepare to reveal their hands. It is an amazing system to capture those scenes from classic western films, as the protagonist and antagonist stare at each other across the town square, hands hovering over their gun. More than that though, it soon becomes apparent that the implications on the system with your deckbuilding, as you need to balance having the right cards in your deck, as well as having a deck that is going to reliably be able to give you a good draw in a gunfight. Throw in extra rules such as special effects for having an illegal poker hand, as well as counters to your opponent having an illegal hand, or Jokers that can manipulate your hand rank and you end up with a real spicy bowl of beans to play with.
The deckbuilding as a whole really stands out from the pack. As well as this combat system to think about, you have to deal with the restriction of only being able to have 4 cards of particular value in your deck. You can easily spend until high noon trying to figure this puzzle out and it becomes a game unto itself. You may end up putting cards in just to make sure you pack out a particular value to make a good fight deck or perhaps you will make something a little more defensive that just generally focuses on high value cards to ensure that your spells work.
Perhaps though, what really stands out for this game is the way movement works. Unlike many other card games, Doomtown features an actual environment that you are battling over. At the beginning of the game this will consist of just you and your opponents home bases, along with the area between them that is called the town square. Soon though you will each start putting down buildings on your side of the street to start generating income and control. Control is the key to victory, as the winner of the game is the player that has more control than their opponent has influence (normally coming from dudes). This means that these buildings, or deeds as the game calls them, are vital to keep hold of. So, you need to move your dudes around the town to make sure they are protect, whilst also attacking your opponent’s deeds.
It can take a little while to get the hang of it, but the movement becomes another puzzle to try to work out. Most movement will cause your character to boot (or tap, for Magic players), meaning they won’t be able to move again. The exception to this is moving from your home base to the town square or the adjacent deeds, as well as moving from the town square to any in town deed. Similarly, when you are forming posses for shootouts, anyone at an adjacent location can be brought in, but they will need to be booted and stuck there. This results in you needing to plan out what you will be doing with your dudes on each turn and how you going to make sure they are positioned correctly to be able to defend locations or form attacks. Mix in the different location abilities and attachments and things get even more interesting. It isn’t surprising to see the game compared to chess, as threatening attacks can be just as deadly as actual attacks.
But what I love about Doomtown, the reason why I think it is a truly special card game, is the way all of this combines, along with the regularly excellent art work and flavour to the different characters and factions, to create exciting narratives as you play through the game. These aren’t set narratives, like you might find in the also excellent Arkham Horror, but natural western tales that emerge as you play. Sending your dude over to just sit in the bar over on your opponents side of the street, getting a posse together to run a kidnapping job on a particular valuable target, sending out your bible quoting lawman to smite diabolic demons with righteous justice or just starring down your opponent as you are both about to reveal that vital poker hand. It all creates an amazing sense of drama through these rules that evokes the western films that are so part of cinematic history. It does it with a great sense of fun too, with an extra dash of steampunk and horror thrown into the mix.
It isn’t the easiest of games to get into and some of the rules may seem a little obtuse to begin with. Getting your head around the movement restrictions can be daunting and there are times when you need to remember the differences between running a job or having a shootout. The other problem is that the mechanic that is likely to attract people into the game initially is also one that should not be jumped into without consideration. Most new players will likely get a shock as they rush into the town square for a shootout on the first turn, only to find the game quickly over in a shower of seemingly random bullets. Patience, waiting your time and building up a strong foundation is key to success and people regularly bounce of this game quickly before they learn it.
The time investment is worth it though as this is such a superbly constructed marriage of mechanics and theme.
With this new Kickstarter, Pine Box Entertainment are doing a bit of a reset of the series with a new base set. They have rejigged the cards that come in this set, adding some completely new ones, adding some that were previously in expansions, balancing a few of the original cards and doing a refresh of the rules to make things clearer. Of likely more interest to those that are familiar with the game, they are also adding in some extra ways of playing the game, with the big ones being solo campaigns, co-op campaigns and 2v1 mode. Allowing for a larger player count in general is being retuned and officially supported too. Then there are also optional tweaks to the rules that can be used, referred to as Town Markers, which act much like mutators from the Unreal Tournament series, adding a bit of variety if you feel like making gunfights more deadly or mixing up the scoring system.
It’s a pretty good package for those that are familiar with the game and seems to be an excellent introduction to it for those that have never played before.
Being quite complex, my words can’t really do justice to how you actually play the game, so check out the below video to get a better feel for the mechanics. You can also try it out through a new official online version. The Kickstarter is due to finish 8th September and delivery of the game is expected to be May 2022. Price for 1 copy of the base set is $60 or around about £44.