The stuff that dreams are made of...
Deadlands is a game I wanted to like, and, indeed, thought I did like until I played it a couple of times. Turns out it's a fairly tedious slog through a world framed by muddled, confusing rules. Essentially this is a game with an interesting mechanic in search of a better game.
The Premise and Basic Game Play
Slaughter Gulch is a town filled with shady and virtuous characters. Up to six factions are vying to take over the town. These include spell wielding Shaman, law enforcing Texas Rangers, Preachin' Blessed, Deranged Mad Scientists, Pinkerton like Outfit, and the Degenerate gamblin' Hucksters.
Each faction has a set of objectives they can complete. Some have spells, prayers or gadgets they can create (for simplicity, I'll refer to these as spells throughout).
Each faction also has several actions it can do each turn. Some actions are common to all factions, but each faction also has distinct actions.
The game play takes place in the Western town of Slaughter Gulch. The town is set up with a mine on one end, a railroad station on the other, and the six other tiles representing other buildings which are laid out randomly. The buildings are populated by townsfolk, who have Encounter Cards" to indicate their stats and identity. These are initially face down. They are revealed when players enter a building.
Each faction starts with three "dudes" they place on the streets of Slaughter Gulch.
At the beginning of each turn, players who can create spells, etc. flip over one of their spell cards if they have completed one already (or, if its the first turn). This card stays on the deck until it is created.
The players then place their action markers on a minimap each player has behind a wee screen to indicate what each dude will do in the location they end up in. When more than one dude is in a location, the actions are resolved based on the number on the action marker.
Players then reveal their maps and move their dudes. At this point, two random events occur. These can include the arrival of trains or stagecoaches, gun fights in the streets, or cattle stampedes.
Then the actions are resolved. Actions can include fighting, gambling, robbing, raising the dead (!), arresting evil doers, recruiting more dudes, buying equipment, and so on.
Fighting can involve fists, melee weapons or guns. Players can fight each other or towns folk.
After actions are resolved, players determine if they control any buildings, which confers bonuses. Control of buildings is simply based on who has the most dudes present in that building that turn.
This continues until the end game conditions are met. There are six possible end game conditions. One is picked at the beginning by rolling a die. Either that condition must be met, or any three of the others.
The game has an interesting theme and the basic mechanic is novel. There's a lot players can do, and the theme is well realized. The components are reasonably well made, but the pieces for the players' "dudes" fall over way too easily. This is an issue because wounded characters are placed lying down.
The skill check and fighting mechanisms are fun and can be exciting.
The diversity of the actions among the factions makes for a varied game.
The rules are a nightmare. There are far too many vague or conflicting issues that arise during the game. This is likely due to how ambitious the game is. It may be too ambitious.
The learning curve is fairly steep. New players will invariably mess up their action placement for several turns.
The way the game is designed, it is fairly interesting for a few turns. Then it turns into a slog. As new townsfolk arrive, they populate the board, requiring more Encounter cards at locations. It creates a confusing state of affairs.
And then there is a ridiculous randomnizing system. Whenever townsolk are distributed, you are supposed to roll 2 dice and place them on the corresponding number. Well, 7 will come up most frequently, meaning new townsfolk would hang out in the mine more often than anywhere else. My group "fixed" this by rolling one die for "high or low" and one for location. So a high/low roll of 1-3 means the first 6 locations, and 3-6 means the last six. The other die then is the building in that range.
The game ending is anticlimactic. It feels like players are all playing their own game, and that it abruptly ends. The final score is based on how much ghost rock (call it gold) each player has, the value of various met objectives and created spells, and the value of equipment used, along with the number of dudes each player has, plus an inexplicable 5 point bonus for each building a faction controls at the end of the turn in which the ending happens to occur.
The ending is anticlimactic in part because it's really difficult to gauge who is in the lead.
The game is unnecessarily long.Shave an hour off of it, and it would probably be fairly fun. As it is, it feels like a slow, tedious march.
Deadlands could have been a very good game. It's got a lot of interesting elements, and some novel gameplay. But it feels like it was released without honing the rules. This game should feel more like a game with six players as opposed to six players in six separate games on one board. Yes, there is interaction and conflict, but it almost seems incidental.
For a game that has great atmosphere, it misses out on creating an exciting endgame. It just drags on way too long then suddenly ends.
Deadlands: The Battle For Slaughter Gulch is disappointing all the more because there's so much potential within the game that is so close to the surface. But it stays just slightly hidden.
On The Howling Monkey Game Report Card, Deadlands: The Battle For Slaughter Gulch gets a 5 out of 10.
- Last edited Mon May 21, 2012 8:12 pm (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Mon Mar 19, 2012 5:32 pm
You've pretty much summed up my thoughts exactly. So much potential, so much that I want to like and really if you were to do a bullet list of what they put into the game they basically got it right.
Unfortunately the rules are so muddled up that even once you play it a few times and think you've got it right it still feels like something is going wrong. Essentially it's a pretty straight forward game. They've put out a FAQ that didn't really answer any questions and it's wording is equally bad.
The rules manual needs a total re-write. It suffers in much the same way Zombies does in that it's essentially a simple game but badly muddled rules lead to a disappointing game.
I really like this game and this review points out the major flaw with it:
This is a great game muddled by a badly organized rule book.
The game is fun, and can be played in about 45 minutes to an hour, which, in my opinion, sits about just right for this game. The first time I played it, though, the game took about two hours and felt like a slog at the end. My one friend was bored and my other friend was confused, while my third friend was having a blast (Despite the fact that he was losing terribly). I felt throughout the game that I was missing a key piece that was dragging the game out. (It turned out I was missing a few pieces to help the flow).
We ended the game early and it turned out that my confused friend had won. We were all basically a little disappointed but kind of enjoyed it for a little while.
It wasn't till later that we figured out what was wrong. There are TWO ways to end the game. We were all headed towards one winning condition when it turned out our game would have ended about an hour earlier.
Than, I went online here at the Geek and discovered the A Fistful o' Answers FAQ. It answered soooooo many questions and cleared up sooooo many rules.
The people at http://www.twilightcreationsinc.com/ are wonderful in their willingness to answer questions and are very fan friendly. They create a lot of affordable and fun games. But they are consistently subpar when it comes to organizing rule books. The answers are generally ALWAYS in the rule book and very common sense but many times in obscure locations. I find many times I am going AHHHH there it is!
It's almost as if they expect you to read the rule book like a novel and than have it memorized. I feel like they give us stupid gamers who read rules ALL the time too much credit.
But it is a great game. Really. Just read carefully.