Published on April 9th, 2015 | by Justified Croak4
Doomtown Reloaded Review
Average play time per game: 25-30 minutes
Suitable for ages: 14+
Number of players: 2-4
Mechanics: Area control, Poker, Living Card Game
I was keen to get my hands on Doomtown because cowboys, obviously. It was only after unboxing this beauty that I realized cowboys are the least exciting part of the theme. Also on offer are a creepy occult circus, steampunk gadgetry and, oh yeah – MAGIC. Doomtown, you tease! Settle in banditos, it’s time to open the beef jerky and find a Sergio Leone play list on Youtube, we’re off to the weird west.
Doomtown Reloaded is the reboot of Deadlands: Doomtown, a mostly forgotten collectable card game from tail end of the 90s. Whilst the reboot maintains many of the original ideas and mechanics, the most notable difference is the switch to living card game, from trading card game format. That is to say that instead of buying individual decks and randomized boosters in a trading card game, players will buy the box which contains enough cards for 4 decks, then buy expansions containing a set selection of cards for each faction. Any fans of the original game will be pleased to hear Doomtown Reloaded is still closely tied to the Deadlands Roleplay setting.
In Doomtown players pick one of four factions and attempt to take control of the middle of nowhere town, Gamorra. Players start with a faction card, representing their home and will, over the course of the game, build the town by playing locations and buildings in front of them with the space in between the players being the town square. Players will play and move their “dudes” (each worth a certain amount of influence points) around from location to location trying to control as many locations as possible. The heart of the game comes when Rival factions meet at a location and initiate a gunfight for control of that location, using a very cool poker mechanic with lots of opportunity for cheatin’, but more on that later. Controlling locations rewards players with control points. If at the start of a new round any player has more control points than the highest influence total among other players, the control player wins.
To explain setup and detail a rounds worth of game play, as I am usually inclined to do, would quadruple the length of this review. There is a lot going on in Gamorra and, for some one with a limited experience in Living Card Games, this was all very daunting. However; Doomtown Reloaded includes a well thought out rulebook with accessibly laid out information, good illustrations and endless grating cowboy colloquialisms through out. What is really interesting is the “Getting to Know Gamorra” Booklet roughly equal in size to the rulebook. The game encourages you to play through the scripted turn detailed in this booklet. Two of the contained decks are ordered with this process in mind and SHOULD NOT be shuffled if you intend to play through this one turn walk through.
I strongly encourage all players to work through the “Getting to Know Gamorra” booklet. This details every action taken for a two player game in turn one with detail for each player in turn. If a game designer feels it necessary to produce a 16 page document just to see you safely through the first turn of their game then you damn well use it!
The game contains four factions with varying specializations and play styles. Cards belonging to a faction carry an identifying icon but not all cards belong to a faction. There are plenty of cards representing guns for hire and drifters that can work in any faction. Players may also choose to use cards from multiple factions in one deck but there are often drawbacks for doing so (higher costs etc.) Here’s a quick look at the four primary factions.
The Law Dogs – A pack of straight up good guys. The law dogs include sheriffs, deputies and judges and get a kick out of catching their opponents with illegal poker hands.
The Sloane Gang – These are your bandits and outlaws. The Sloane Gang like to hang around the town square as if it was already theirs, which if uncontested can gain them a few perks.
The Morgan Cattle Company – This is where the money is. Play these guys if you always wanted to be a civic planner in the wild west. The Morgan Cattle Company can get deeds down on the table faster than any other gang.
The Fourth Ring – My personal favourite. From sexy burlesque dancers to Creepy little monsters in waistcoats. The Fourth Ring Circus and Freak Show loves to make the most of spell cards.
Stay calm! The game includes two play boards which rank all poker hands for you. You do not need to memorise all the poker hands, nor do you have to master the art of bluffing. Doomtown Reloaded sees players draw a quick hand of poker to designation who plays first action each turn and of course, to settle those gun fights!
Before a shootout can begin players must form a posse. This means each player selects who gets involved in the fighting. There are various limits as to who can join and from where, but again this is outlined on the player board for your convenience. When it gets to guns each player will set aside their play hand and draw 5 new cards. Every card that you will have in your deck will have a suit and a number printed in the top left corner. Using the 5 cards drawn, players will attempt to make the best poker hand possible to win the shoot out.
Players have multiple ways to better their poker hands. Firstly dudes in their posse may be “studs” or “draws” indicated by a silver or brass bullet icon by the portrait. These guys are good for tweaking your hand, allowing you to draw extra cards or discard and redraw hoping for a better hand. Players may also play spell or action cards to get the upper hand, or use abilities on cards already on the table.
Once you’ve done what you can to ready your hand there is one more thing you might want to check. Is your hand legal? You’re going to have multiple cards in your deck of the same suit and number. You might have four of a kind – but two of those 7s are spades, that ain’t legal son! This is an interesting little dilemma. You could reveal your hand, beat your opponent and get away scot-free OR your opponent (probably the Law Dogs) gets to play a card or triggers an ability because you chanced it, and annihilates you whilst screaming “I AM THE LAW” lesson learned.
Once you have resolved the gunfight, the looser designates a dude as a casualty. Casualties are placed in the discard pile as your dude is injured or run out of town. Discard piles are reshuffled when your deck is depleted so chances are you’ll see them again. On occasion you may find a dude is killed off and thus is placed in boot hill, a separate pile for cards unlikely to be seen again this game. Poker is played and casualties taken until only one posse remains, with the others run off or dead. Players then discard their poker hand to the discard pile and once again take up their play hand to continue the round.
It’s one thing to paste a theme on to an existing mechanic but with Doomtown Reloaded its easy to see the theme was the starting point. The poker mechanic is awesome. It’s totally thematic but adds an entire new dimension to the concept of deck building. What is the probability of a cheating hand in your deck? Are you going to risk it? Or are you going to limit duplications of sets and numbers or can you compensate by having plenty of studs and draws to work your hand in to a legal format? If you’re the kind of player who loves play testing and finding that balance then Doomtown reloaded is ready to blow your mind.
While so much of Doomtown Reloaded serves the theme it has to be said, this is the most complicated living card game I have played to date. There is a lot to keep track of as well as plenty of mechanics to get to grips with. While having an entire first turn detailed in a separate booklet is handy, I find it a little worrying that it takes you 16 densely worded pages to get you through it. Doomtown Reloaded has a higher learning curve than I expected and I really struggled to get to my current level of understanding, which I would summarise as “I kinda get some of it”.
The baseline is I really want to like this game but I’m not sure I do. The concept and setting is glorious; it’s exactly what I wanted from a card game before I knew it. That said, its clunky. I can’t help but think that they could simplify a few mechanics and not lose a whole lot in regards to playability and strategy. If you like your heavy card games then you’ll scoff this one up with glee but if you’re looking for some thing light, or you’re new to card games, leave this one be until you’ve played some thing a little more approachable like the Lord of the Rings/Warhammer LCG or even Magic the Gathering.
I think I would need more time with this one before I could give a yay or nay. Unless you are familiar with its predecessor, this game will require a fair bit of dedication to figure out but for me at least the way it oozes theme is more than enough of an incentive to keep at it.