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This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.
If you liked the review please thumb the top of the article so others have a better chance of seeing it and I know you stopped by. Thanks for reading.
Game Type - Euro Game
Play Time: 30-50 minutes
Number of Players: 2-5
Mechanics - Worker Placement, Dice Rolling
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in 20 minutes)
Components - Excellent
Release - 2011
Designer - Loic Lamy (Ladies & Gentleman, Mafia de Cuba)
Overview and Theme
[Engage your inner Wild West voice-over now!]
In the Wild West dead men tell no tales. But in Deadtown (despite the body count)...there is a tale to be told. Rumour has it that the railroad is coming to Deadtown and with the iron tracks of progress comes money. But this rumour isn't a well kept secret...oh no. Every drifter and cattle rustler from here to god knows where has heard about it, and well, that's gonna mean trouble for the good folk of Deadwood. Cowboys and every lowlife within coo-ee will come a ridin', try to shake down the locals and dominate the important businesses in town. There is only one game in town now...set yourself up for the fortune that the rails will bring.
If settin' up means a few, um...competitors, find themselves 6 foot under on old Boot Hill, well so be it.
Theme aside, Deadwood is something of a hybrid design. At its core is the heart of a Euro with the placement of cowboys to dominate buildings and earn their benefits. But when a shootout takes place, dice are utilised in order to decide who shoots the sharpest.
On a side note, I often find myself stumbling across interesting coincidences in this hobby of ours and as luck would have it, the design name of Loic Lamy meant little to me when looking it up tonight. And yet only a few weeks ago I stumbled across another of his newer designs in Mafia de Cuba. Anyhoo I digress.
Pack ya things junior, we're heading for Doomtown...and there's work to be done.
Fantasy Flight are known for their great components but I wasn't sure if it would extend to a mid-sized box such as this. I needn't have worried as every production value is excellent here.
Board - On first glance the board is rather dull looking, largely thanks to the use of sepia tones and the y-shaped railroad print in the center.
But the colouring is a deliberate design choice as it allows those colourful building tiles to stand out once they are placed and the printed track makes it clear where the players can lay future rail.
The board itself consists of mostly tile silhouettes, which allow for the town to be built over time. Several 'Sheriff Star' icons help denote where the initial tile placements are to go and several building-tile prints outline the 3 key buildings that are always in play.
Apart from that the board features two illustrated areas in the bottom two corners. These represent Boot Hill and the Abandoned Mine, more on those later.
The board itself is well thick and the 2 fold design allows the game to come in a smaller square box, which reduces the games overall footprint on one's gaming shelves.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Building Tiles - The Building Tiles are really the stars of the show as they give the game its colour and vibrancy. Each tile features a standardised format for the artwork with 4/5ths of each tile featuring blue sky, the bottom fifth the name of the tile in classic Wild West font and artwork nice and central to represent the building in question.
The top left hand corner is reserved for a variety of icons to outline the benefit and effect of each tile and after 2-3 plays these icons are self-explanatory and the rule book need not be referenced anymore.
The backs of the Building Tiles feature either an X or a value of 1, 2 or 3. These are simply to help with set-up and to vary the building types that can be built at the same time during play. The game does feature multiple copies of several building types, which is important for balance.
The tiles themselves are seriously thick. Good stuff.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Cowboys - The game comes with smaller Cowboy Tiles in 5 colours to accommodate the max player count. There is an added touch not always seen in games here, as each colour features different artwork for the 3 strengths that feature.
To denote the strength of the Cowboys, each tile features a value of 1, 2 or 3.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Dice - These are probably the weakest element of the production for mine. The dice are simply wooden, round cornered affairs with darker brown pips.
I get that this design and material choice was to reinforce the western theme of the game and it works from that aspect. But when compared to some of the dice being put into games these days, they are rather underwhelming. They do the job however so we shouldn't complain.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Money Tokens - The Money Tokens are very nice. Rather than being paper or round cardboard tokens, here we get lovely rectangular tokens in denominations of 1, 2 or 5 dollars and they give the impression of American currency.
Image Courtesy of Gnomish Mustard
Assorted Tokens - The game then adds in a range of tokens to represent Ponies, Cartridge Shells, Wanted Posters and Railway Track. It is all high quality stuff that is great to look at and hold.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Rules - The rules are well written here and easy to reference. The use of colour images, good spacing and examples make the game easy to learn and the main thing they will be needed for is to reference the building abilities in those early learning games.
Image Courtesy of Alice87
Production wise, Deadwood is one of the higher quality games I have reviewed in some time. I can't speak highly enough of the thickness for various tokens and such and the wild west theme is realised and reinforced at every opportunity.
In short, the game is well worth the investment if you like to own quality looking games.
Oh I also need to give a shout out to Miguel Coimbra for his excellent artwork. His efforts are always appreciated and this production is no exception.
Image Courtesy of BearpawFirst up the players must set up the building stacks. Buildings have a back that features an X or a 1, 2 or 3. These tiles are grouped accordingly and shuffled to create random stacks.
The game begins with no less than 8 buildings that form the heart of Deadwood. Three of these are set in the form of the Sheriff's Office, the Town Hall and the Church. These buildings are printed on the board and the corresponding tiles are located and placed on top of them.
Then there are another 5 buildings that must be placed. The remaining X building is added to a further four '1' tiles and these are randomly placed on the 5 locations marked with a Sheriff's Badge on the board.
The Sheriff Token is then taken and placed so it overlaps the Sheriff's office and the two buildings below it.
Each player then selects their colour of choice and takes the corresponding Cowboy tokens. They get to start with a single cowboy in each of the three values (1-3). These are placed face-up in front of each player. They then take the remaining 6 cowboys and form stacks according to their value.
Each player is given one Pony and one Cartridge Token and a total of 5 Dollars.
All other tokens are placed in piles for easy access during the play. A total of 5 Wanted Poster Tokens per player are counted out and form an available pile with the remainder being returned to the box. This is important as the Wanted Poster supply can feature as an end-game trigger.
The players roll dice to see who goes first and the game is ready to begin.
Deadwood is a gateway game and as such the actions that drive the game are minimal. In fact there are only two.
Hit the Town – This allows a player to place an available Cowboy Token on one of the buildings within Deadwood and gain its associated benefit (this is referred to as Annexing a building).
Head Back to the Ranch – The Ranch is the game term for a player's available supply. Once a Cowboy is placed and the benefit earned, they cannot do too much else (although some locations have an ongoing effect).
But if a player has no more Cowboys to place, then they are forced to call them all back from whichever part of the board they are located at(except for Boot Hill...there is no coming back from the dead).
Taking back one's Cowboys simply ends a player's turn.
Image Courtesy of EarlofBronze Should a player place a Cowboy at a location that already contains a rival Cowboy, a Shootout is likely as this town simply ain't big enough for the...you get the idea.
The defender may have the option to flee though. If they have a Pony Token, they can discard it to avoid the conflict and in doing so they can move their Cowboy to the Abandoned Mine, where they hide out until they are recalled.
If they don't have a Pony or don't wish to use it then guns will be drawn. This is where the value of the Cowboys is important as the number on a Cowboy denotes its strength. Both players can also play a single Cartridge Token to add +1 to the gunfight (attacker must decide first).
Before any dice are rolled, the two players then compare their strengths. The difference is how many dice are initially rolled. For example if the attacker had a strength of 4 to the defender's 2 then they would roll 2 dice unopposed. If the fight is not won at this point, then both players will roll a single dice each at the same time. After each roll the players determine if someone has won the duel. If not another dice is rolled and this continues until there is either a result or the players run out of dice.
If either player rolls a 6 result (at any point), they have fired a fatal shot. It is indeed possible for 2 Cowboys to go down simultaneously...in which case everyone else cheers and Boot Hill gets two more additions!
A roll of a 4 or 5 results in a wound and is recorded by placing the dice on the token of the other player. If a Cowboy suffers 2 wounds within a single gunfight, death is the result.
If a gunfight ends with neither Cowboy being killed, the attacker slinks off to the Abandoned Mine and can do nothing until the player decides to recall all of their Cowboys back to the Ranch.
If a wounded Cowboy wins a gunfight, then the wound is removed and they live to see another dawn. Any Cowboys killed in battle are sent to Boot Hill and play no further part in the game.
If the attacker won the fight, they can then Annex the building and gain its benefits as if they were just placed in an empty building. A defender that remains at a building simply gets the satisfaction of having held their ground.
I should also note here that instigating a Shootout will earn the attacker a Wanted Poster for causing trouble in the town. This is earned even if the defender decides to hightail it out of there on their pony.
Triggering the Endgame – The game can end in one of 3 ways. Most obvious is the arrival of the railway and the building of the Train Station to signify the completion of such a momentous project. In all this will take 5 Cowboys to be assigned to the Town Hall, which allows construction of the Railway. When the Train Station is placed the game ends immediately.
The game can also end if the supply of Wanted Posters is exhausted. I guess this means that Deadwood just got to dangerous and the army was called in to clean things up. Players must take a Wanted Poster from the supply when they rob the Bank, force a Shootout and in several other ways.
The final way to trigger the endgame is if any one player sees the death of their last available Cowboy, leaving them with no dudes with which to influence the town.
Winning the Game - When one of the endgame trigger's is pulled (heh heh ) the game is up and the player's simply count up their money. The player with the most cash to their name is declared the winner. If 2 or more players are tied in cash, the game throws up a Final Shootout to determine the winner.
However there is one final reckoning at the end. The players must pay a price for the number of Wanted Posters they are left with at game's end. The more Posters they hold the higher the fine. This of course reduces a player's overall cash pool and may have a significant bearing on the outcome.
This penalty is very important to the make-up of the game as it makes the players think carefully about what actions they take. It also makes some of the weaker buildings highly valuable if they allow Wanted Posters to be dumped.
The Buildings – Now that you have a fair understanding of how the game plays, let's take a more in-depth look at the building types.
Saloon - Annexing the Saloon offers no cash, but it does allow a player to add another Cowboy to their posse. A level 1 Cowboy is free, a level 2 costs one dollar and a level 3 costs three dollars.
Having a larger number of Cowboys means that more can be achieved before having to waste a turn calling them back to the Ranch, so the Saloon is very much about efficiency. Heck, it may be downright critical too if you've had to bury a few of your boys.
Bank - The Bank is a vital location as it offers up 5 dollars when annexed. Given that cash is the goal to win the game and $5 is far and away the single biggest earner in the game, the Bank is a pretty hotly contested location and only the strongest Cowboys should take it on if they wish to fight off the likely Shootouts that will ensue.
Annexing the Bank also sees a player earn a Wanted Poster, which is thematically neat.
Sheriff's Office - This building allows a player to move the Sheriff to any intersection of 3 building locations (even if some of those plots are yet to be filled). It can allow a player to protect some of their Cowboys from attacks or it can remove the protection that someone else had.
If a player is in control of the Sheriff's Office and someone places a Cowboy at a location protected by the Sheriff, the player in charge of the office is also paid a dollar by the player who enjoys that protection.
Town Hall - Annexing the Town Hall allows a player to discard a Wanted Poster (they are upstanding citizen's it would seem!), they get to lay a piece of railway track and they get to place new buildings.
Laying Railway Track - There is always a two-way intersection at which track can be laid and new track must be connected to any that came before. If a newly laid piece of track should enter a location of a building, that building is destroyed and removed from the game.
If a player needs to lay track and all 4 pieces are already on the board, the player instead adds the Train Station to the board and in doing so ends the game.
Added Buildings - The Town Hall represents progress and to simulate this Deadwood can expand by 3 new buildings each time this location is annexed. The player takes the top tile from each of the 1-3 piles and can then add them to any plots of land, provided that each placement is adjacent to a former town building.
Town Hotel - Controlling the Hotel awards a decent $2. In addition a further $2 can be earned if a player controls this building when a piece of track is added to the board. The potential for a combo move here is quite clear and this is one of several such combinations to be found.
If a player is in control of the Hotel when the Railway Station is built (thus ending the game) a further $10 is earned. This is to signify I guess, the roaring business that a hotel would do with travellers coming into town regularly.
Church -Robbing the Bank and starting Shootouts are but two ways that a player can earn themselves a Wanted Poster, but they will cost a player a cash penalty at the end of the game based on how many they have. So every good Cowboy needs to find ways to clear their name or get out of the headlines.
Attending Church is one such way and it allows a player to discard a single Wanted Poster back to the box (not the supply). This is important because the supply of Wanted Posters is then finite and is also a possible end game trigger.
Gunsmith - Shootouts are no laughing matter...people will be killed. So it is good to try and turn things in your favour. Annexing the Gunsmith not only earns a player $1, but it also allows them to take 2 Cartridge Tokens. Not surprisingly the Gunsmith is a popular part of town and it isn't a stranger to a shootout or two of its own.
Blacksmith - Some Cowboys though recognise the importance of knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. The Blacksmith earns a player $1 and also gains them a Pony Token. If another Cowboy comes a spoilin' for a fight, those ponies are mighty handy for a quick getaway.
Casino - Controlling the Casino allows a player to take $1 from any other player of there choice. I would have liked to have seen some dice element here to keep with the theme of the establishment but I guess anything more than a $1 gain (which equates to a +2/-2 differential between the two players in question) may have been too significant during playtesting.
General Store - The General Store is a critical establishment in any wild west town and in Deadwood this is reflected with a very handy ability. As well as earning $1, the controlling player is also able to move another Cowboy they control within the town (not the Abandoned Mine) to another building.
If that building is empty then they can annex it and gain the usual benefits. If the building contains another Cowboy then a Shootout will take place as per the usual rules.
This is another way that the game allows a player to extend the usefulness of their posse before they have to use a recall action to get them back.
Laundry - Annexing the Laundry earns a player $1. However as an added benefit, if a player in control of a Laundry goes and visits the Church in a future move they can discard 2 Wanted Posters instead of just 1. I'm not exactly sure of the thematic reasoning here, perhaps it is a play on words as to the term 'launder' or perhaps it signifies that they are doing the Churches' laundry?
If a player should be in control of both Laundries that feature in the game (there is no guarantee that both will be in play though) and they visit the Church...they can discard 3 Wanted Posters!
Stage Depot -Controlling the Stage Depot earns a player $2, such was the vital role played by the stage coach. It also brings progress to Deadwood and allows the player to add 1 new building to the town from any pile of their choice.
Should the game end without the Train Station being built, then the player controlling this location at that time earns a whopping $10, to signify that the Stage Coach is the only transport to and from town.
Again this location opens up new strategies as a controller would be wise to try and advance a game ending agenda that doesn't feature the Train Station.
Undertaker - What with all the bodies piling up and all, somebody needs to clear up the mess. Enter the Undertaker. Controlling this location earns a player $1 and every time a Cowboy is killed the player in control of this important civil service can take a further $1 from the bank.
This even takes affect if a Cowboy is killed in a shootout at the Undertakers. There is nothing funnier than a player challenging another to a duel, killing the old Undertaker and then donning the 'blacks' and getting on with business, earning a quid at the same time!
Gold Mine - The Gold Mine is something of a crapshoot, much like it was back in the day. Annexing this location allows a player to roll a dice and see what they find in the ground. There is a 1 in 3 chance that they will find nothing, otherwise they can earn between $1-5.
Of course get nothing and you have effectively wasted a precious resource in a game where the clock is always ticking.
Fortune Teller - Controlling the Fortune Teller ears a player $1 from the superstitious people of town. It also allows a player to look at any one of the building stacks, assess what they hold and then rearrange them in any order.
This can be quite useful if you are desperate for a second Saloon or other such building. But if the Fortune Teller comes out late in the game when the stacks are largely diminished, then its benefit can be diluted.
Courthouse -The Courthouse can be a hilarious building as it enforces the long arm of the law. When it is annexed, it forces all players to pay $1 for every Wanted Poster they possess. Provided you are wanted less than your rivals, the Courthouse can be a clever way to get ahead of the competition.
If a player cannot pay the fine or chooses not to, then they must take an additional Wanted Poster from the supply, which of course can also move the game closer to an end-game trigger.
Grifter -The Wild West was known for its snake oil shamans and sellers of healing tonics. Controlling the business of the Grifter allows a player to steal $1 from the supply. They are then able to move any 2 opposition Cowboys from the board or other players Ranches (supply) to the Abandoned Mine...rendering them useless.
This is essentially a 'Dammit...I've been hoodwinked' moment.
Newspaper - Earns a player $1 and allows them to take a Wanted Poster from the supply and give it to any other player. In other words you've either framed someone or brought attention to their 'evil' deeds.
Dance Hall -The Dance Hall earns a player $1 and then allows them to remove up to 2 of their Cowboys from any location on the board, bringing them back to the Ranch ready to be used again.
This is a pretty handy move as it combines modest income generation and staves off the need to waste an entire turn recalling your men.
Telegraph Office - This ability is quite situational and can either be weak or very powerful. As well as earning $1 it also allows a player to add 2 Wanted Posters to the supply from the box or to remove 2 from the supply.
As such it allows a player to shorten or lengthen the game, which may be to their advantage if they feel they are winning or it may buy them some more time if they are not. A player may also be in control of the Stage Coach and wishes to avoid the Train Station being built to earn a big payoff.
With the buildings covered, you should now have a much greater sense for the plays that could be made and the possibility for combo plays (whilst they are somewhat minimal).
The Final Word
Deadwood is a light strategy or gateway game. There are combos to exploit for sure but they are minimal and won't engage combo-kings who are used to deck-builders and heavier Euro designs. All this doesn't make Deadwood a bad game at all, but it is what it is and a player should know what they are in for. The Western Theme is brought to life well, the action sequence and mechanisms won't prove too daunting and the players are free to explore what it has to offer in fairly quick time with an average playtime of 45 minutes with 4-players.
In truth the decisions to be made really boil down to two key considerations; Which building is of most benefit right now and which Cowboy should I use at each given location? Using a lesser strength Cowboy will invite a possible Shootout as the opposition look to thin your ranks or access an important building for them, but sometimes the Sheriff can offer protection. Of course using a lower valued Cowboy to annex a building that others are not interested in may also see them safe.
On the flipside, buildings of great value tend to warrant stronger Cowboys in an attempt to dissuade others from taking on a risky shootout.
Beyond those considerations, the players also need to weigh up carefully their need for resources such as Cartridges and the implications of their actions, those dreaded Wanted Posters. The game of course also requires that you spend your winning condition in order to recruit more Cowboys to your Ranch (well the ones of better strength that is). So there is that aspect to balance as well. Players also need to manage their Cowboy pool carefully. Creating a combo play that requires control of multiple buildings will require several Cowboys and losing an unnecessary shootout at an ill-advised time can screw up your plans.
All of this is done with the ever present reality that progress waits for no one. By that I mean that Deadwood cannot go on indefinitely and it only takes 5 annexing moves on Town Hall to see the Train Station built and the game come to an end. This is usually the most common way for things to grind to a halt given that $2 can be earned and players get to increase the size of the town. If you are in a game where the players are bloodthirsty, then the Wanted Posters can be diminished quickly and also bring the game to a quick close.
The other element of the game worth mentioning before I finish up is that of the Shootouts themselves. It really is highly thematic and there is some control offered in relation to using Cartridge Tokens to improve your chances...but they are still a highly luck-based feature of the game. I have been involved in several shootouts now where I had a dice advantage but I rolled poorly and they rolled a 6 and killed me at the first opportunity. For some this will be seen as a negative in what is a largely Euro experience. For others (myself included) I really liked that dash of chaos and the unknown. The shootouts are where a large dose of the fun is at in this game and younger gamers are likely to exhaust their 6-shooter in quick time.
The final point worth making I think is that the game will offer a varied playing experience based on the order in which some of the buildings are added to the board. This is a nice feature, which demands that the players adapt their approach with each play and that is always welcome.
Is Deadwood for you? I think this is one where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I like what it offers but certainly don't see it as a keeper. That said my boys quite enjoyed it, they got into the theme and were sad to hear that I was letting it go.
Till next we meet...doodalootle-oooooo dah dah dah, doodalootle-oooooo dah dah dah...just keep lookin' the other way hombre!
Image Courtesy of RenoDelft
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