Doomtown: Reloaded from Alderac Entertainment Group was released in the summer of 2014 and we thought it looked awesome. A card game based in the Wild West with legendary outlaws, steely gazed sheriffs and actual horse cards you can equip your characters with. Equipable horses! What else do you need? Well, perhaps just a bit more.
Like most card games, getting your head around the game can be daunting and Doomtown: Reloaded continues this trend. Before I go on to what we actually thought of the game, I can tell you what we thought of the rulebook. It’s awful. It’s so bad, it got to the point where I gave up looking through it and started googling all our queries on rules and specific abilities. There needs to be a revolution in rulebook writing and Doomtown: Reloaded will be one of the prime examples why. Before you even attempt playing, watch the Team Covenant video below for a better understanding of what you need to do when you get to the table.
So how does the game work? You start off by picking one of four factions to play with and set their home card in the town (the game area). You’re then given the opportunity to start with some folk already in town, settled and ready to fight. These cards are called dudes (even the women because er….sure). You get to pick up to five dudes to start off with and they’ll be paid for by your starting money. What’s nice about this setup is you’ve got a couple of options available to you. Do you spend all your money? Or do you try and save as much as possible? Do you go for your big cheese right away? Or do you go for swarm tactics? Playing it safe means meeting in the middle of both spectra but the immediate choice is something I really like and allows for an expanded range of tactics.
You then start the gamblin’ phase which decides who gets to go first in the turn. All players chip in one ghost rock (ghost rock being the currency instead of dollars) and draw five cards. Now I should probably explain that each card in the game also has a real playing card value assigned to them. So your six shooter is also a two of hearts and throughout most of the game the mechanic is to get the best poker hand available. In this initial phase though you want the lowball, which is the worst hand possible. If you succeed in getting the worst hand you get to keep the pot and then start your turn.
This begins the Noon phase, where the actual action happens. Starting with the winner of the gamblin’ phase players take turns doing a single action until consecutive passes happen. Actions range from moving your dudes to other locations in town, buying property, equipping items and finally starting fights. You win the game if you have more control points (these are given through properties in town) than your opponent has influence (which are provided by your dudes). If your opponents dude comes over to one of your properties (titled deed cards) you then lose the chance to use it’s ability, it’s income and finally the crucial control points.
So the game is basically, recruiting dudes, equipping them up to the teeth and using them to defend and attack deeds to position you with more control points. But let’s get into the main mechanic, the poker handery. During a fight you’re going to draw a hand of cards trying to make the best poker hand possible. The dudes you have in the fight will change the hand significantly. Studs are dudes with a silver bullet on their card. They allow you to draw extra cards initially which help significantly. Studded dudes are more expensive to play and usually ask for a wage (which can be expensive). Draws on the other hand are the more common type and allow you to discard a card and replace it. Draw dudes are more common and make luck a bigger fact in your draw hand. Once you’ve studded and drawn you discard down to five cards to make the best poker hand. Then both hands are compared against each other and the difference in rank (a table of the different hands are provided) is the amount of damage dealt to the loser. The loser then gets a choice of discarding a dude to cover one damage or acing him (remove permanently from the game) for two. It’s nice to have a choice but it also means drastic differences can hurt you and then lose you the game.
The only other factor you need to worry about is whether your hand be a cheatin’ hand or not. Your deck compromises of 52 cards, but it’s not a simple case of having the exact 52 playing cards. You may for instance, have a couple of ‘Pair of Six-Shooters’ in the deck, but that’ll mean you have a couple of ace of hearts. If you ever have a duplicate suit and value your hand is automatically cheatin’. The Law Dogs have some nasty ways to punish cheatin’ hands but there’s also a few things the other factions can do to capitalise on their cheatin’ ways.
Lastly you have the upkeep phase where you reset your cards you used during Noon. Most abilities in the game require the card to be booted. The easiest way to describe this is to compare it to Magic’s tapping. Being booted means a dude can’t move, making them either a horrible backup because they are unable to join in a shootout or potentially a sitting target. This reinforces the strategy at Noon and in which order you do things. Once you’ve refreshed your cards, you start again at the gamblin’ phase.
The game then, is kinda cool. I think. I dunno, we had a blast playing the Sloane Gang versus the Law Dogs. We rolled around in the theme, fully embracing it. It’s just as enjoyable to play up the narrative here than it is when playing Dead Of Winter. Sending Sheriff Montreal out to the Town Square to face up against Lawrence Blackwood and Ramiro Mendoza is great fun! The characters are brilliant and the fights can’t be predicted. We then tried the other two factions out, The Morgan Cattle Company and The Fourth Ring and that’s when Doomtown takes a weird turn. They are definitely a step up in terms of understanding and combining them is a bit trickier but it’s also a turn into the macabre. Reading the story to the game you know the reason for this is it’s an alternative universe where the town has just defeated a demon but for us it felt so jarring. We had this fun character driven card game transform into a confusing spell activating rage-fest. It was like night and day to us and while you could sit down and learn to understand these wild and wacky cards we felt rather unmotivated to try.
One thing I can’t fault the game on is the cards provided. There’s a lot going spare to start you building your own custom decks straight away. There’s a plethora of options, characters, weapons and locations to explore and if you put the time in and with the money in cards being generated from the expansions and add-ons it’s nice to see AEG be so generous in this manner. This is on top of their decision to follow the Living Card Game route of releasing fixed packs instead of blind boosters. Unfortunately due to Fantasy Flight Games being overzealous with their protection of the term Living Card Game, AEG have had to brand the game an Expansive Card Game.
I can however, moan at the lack of resources in the game. Only being able to discard one card at the end of your turn and drawing back up to five can mean only one new card a turn. This shackled with low income if you don’t have any buildings can make for a frustrating game. Being limited like this can get even more frustrating when you see the perfect card you absolutely must get being drawn in the gamblin’ phase and wondering if you’re ever going to get it. Perhaps there will be deck searching in future cards but for right now that was a big negative we found while playing.
Lets end on the end of the game, which thematically is brilliant. If you own more buildings in the town then the other player has dudes to bad mouth/destroy/take over then you win. It makes sense because you’re fighting for the control of the town. In actuality though this means some very anti climatic endings. If one big fight goes badly for you then that’s it, game over. Now with any game of chance that can happen to any game going on right now, but it feels more stacked in this game. Arguably this works for it as well as against it, every fight matters and careful and clever moves need to be made in order to advance and defend your position. Games can also be over incredibly quickly as it’s easy to put someone struggling out of their misery with a couple of buildings and strong defending.
Overall can I recommend Doomtown? I’ve been doing my best, not to compare this game to my favourite LCG Netrunner and I’m coming up short in nearly all the aspects of the game. If you’re a fan of the original Doomtown, if you really love the Wild West or if you’ve not yet invested in a card game then give it a go because what have you to lose?! Let’s face it, we all have limited time and money and so can’t possibly get into every card game. For those already invested in another card game I can’t see Doomtown muscling it’s way in. The poker mechanic is brilliant and a welcome addition to the format but otherwise I’m not sure what else it brings to the table. Unfortunately for me, I’m going to have to let Doomtown saddle up and be on it’s way. I’ve got some hacking to do.