Hayden Smith
United States
Utah
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Doomtown: Reloaded is a unique Living Card Game (LCG) that wonderfully succeeds in its ability to implement dynamic and smart game mechanics within a weird west theme. Based on the Deadlands: Doomtown Collectible Card Game (CCG) of the late 1990’s, Doomtown: Reloaded is set within the Deadlands roleplaying universe – a genre known as the “weird west” that takes thematic elements from steampunk, dark magic, and mad science, and sets them within the late 19th century wild west. Different from being a CCG, LCG’s (also called “Expandable Card Games” (ECG’s) since TCG publisher, Fantasy Flight Games trademarked the term “LCG”) have a standardized starter deck that comes with the base game and can be played entirely without expansions. Expansions are occasional, and are also standardized – so two players that buy the same expansion get the same cards.

Released in September of 2014, Doomtown: Reloaded has won a variety of awards and has slowly accrued a devoted following of players that eagerly await every expansions and, interestingly enough, story developments. Doomtown’s story unfolds within its cards and expansions, and even actions taken during high-stakes Doomtown tournament games affect its own evolving universe. The game itself requires two or more players, and once players are accustomed with the game’s rules a single game only takes around thirty minutes. Having spent nearly a week with this game, I will attempt below to impart some sound advice and knowledge about three of Doomtown’s most interesting and unique features in an effort to inform those looking into buying or playing this game.

I first want to mention that Doomtown can be extremely rewarding for those with experience with playing card games like Magic the Gathering or Android: Netrunner, but it can also be overwhelming for those new to playing card games. The reason lies within the game’s abundance of rules, terminology, and mechanics. Players that are familiar with CCG’s or TCG’s will be able to become familiar with the game in under two hours, whereas newcomers will be looking at a steep learning curve that could result in up to three or four hours of study until becoming comfortable with its systems. These estimations are based on my own experience and the experiences of those I played with. These time estimates can also fluctuate depending on how many players are participating in a game – fewer players mean less time explaining and faster rounds, whereas more players mean more questions and time spent figuring out the game. The general takeaway should be not to underestimate the learning curve of Doomtown. It is also worth noting that while this game comes with two boards, it is by no means a board game, and should not be presented as a board game to family or friends.

To begin the discussion on Doomtown: Reloaded, let me start by talking about the game’s various forms of currency – it’s first noticeable mechanic. There are three currencies gained and lost throughout the game: ghost rock, influence, and control. Ghost rock is gained during the game’s Upkeep phase before each round and is determined by the amount of valuable property (known as “deeds”) the player owns minus the cost of various in-game character cards (“dudes”). Ghost rock can also be earned by killing opposing dudes that have accrued bounties through shootouts (more on that later). Influence, another form of resource management, is a dude’s way of controlling certain deeds across town - either yours or your opponents - in order to garner a larger amount of control. Whichever player has the most influence at a deed controls that deed and gains control points that reflect the value of that deed. The goal of the game is to have more control points than your opponent has influence. The interplay between these three currencies is one way in which Doomtown excels.

The players begin with very little currency, and throughout the game the players build up the town and recruit more dudes – increasing currencies dynamically as the story expands. These three currencies develop depending on the playstyle and outfit (the main faction) the player uses to form their deck (more on deckbuilding later). A Doomtown player must constantly make decisions between spending ghost rock on recruiting more dudes to build a greater variety of influence, buying gadgets to improve the survivability of dudes, or buying deeds that will begin to accumulate ghost rock during the next round and provide the controller with control points. If the player invests too much into buying deeds, then she becomes a target to the other players looking to come capture those deeds for their control points. If a player invests too much into buying a gang of dudes and can’t capture any deeds, then she has no control points to fall back on during play and will most likely not be able to pay her dudes’ upkeep (the costs of maintaining a card in-play) come the next round. Similarly, if a player invests too much into buying gadgets to upgrade her current dudes, she will again not have any control points if she fails to capture enemy deeds. These three currencies must be wisely balanced and monitored with one-another in order for the player to be prepared for various scenarios and react intelligently. And while it is possible to rush your opponents at the start of the game and end up winning in less than a handful of rounds, a player is far more likely to succeed if they aim for playing the long-game and by focusing on growth rather than aggression.

As previously mentioned, “shootouts” are one of the most defining ways a player can win or lose these currencies - even all at once. A shootout occurs when a dude “calls out” another dude in the same location (deed). Dudes can be killed (loss of influence), which can determine control of a deed (increase/decrease of control points), or if a wanted dude is killed the killer gets a bounty (increase in ghost rock). Players draw a poker five-hand of cards and battle for the best hand. The player’s posse (a group of dudes the player can pick to be involved in the shootout) alters the way a player can form their poker hand. According to the attributes of their dudes, the player is able to discard cards and draw new ones, draw extra cards and discard the worst cards in their hand (reversing the order of mechanics of the prior method), or both methods - even being able to repeat the actions several times in an effort to create the best possible poker hand. The difference in success between opposing player hands then determines how the losing player must dispose of their posse, either by discarding dudes or by acing (banishing) them from the game. During the shootout players also have the opportunity to play shootout, resolution, or cheating resolution-cards that affect various dudes and draw hands in their favor.

Shootouts maintain poker’s famous tension that’s derived from the player’s reliance on luck, while introducing game-changing effects that can occasionally turn the tide of battle. Doomtown’s adaptation of poker within its game systems shows a remarkably keen understanding of game design fundamentals and exploring how to take existing, proven mechanics and add layers of depth without changing core gameplay. This system also allows players to have more control over the parameters of their poker-playing and its results, leading to an increase in a player’s engagement and sense of reward. One player may have spent a great deal of currency improving a dude so she may draw and discard four additional cards during a shootout, but her opponent may have gotten a lucky poker hand and used a resolution card that raises her hand rank by two - winning the shootout over the tricked-out dude. With the addition of the various systems in Doomtown’s shootouts, the game makes the process of playing poker more rewarding through tactical decision making rather than the traditional bluffing and feigning. Shootouts are, at their core, the most successful system in Doomtown, and as such commonly become the highlights of any game.

While managing your resources and winning shootouts might help a great deal in winning a game, strategically moving your influence around the game world is among Doomtown’s most difficult challenges. Dude movement – the third unique mechanic – is fast and effective when the player has a plan, such as moving a dude from her home to support growing enemy forces near one of her deeds, or can be slow when the player is unprepared or too spread-out, such as a player trying to bring back her most tricked-out dude from an enemy deed to one of her deeds. Due to game limitations on movement directions, dudes crossing enemy lines can happen quick, but retreating or moving further down a street is much slower. Horse and gadget cards will make these kinds of movement faster, but they are rare to come by and cost ghost rock. Ultimately the player has to make decisive plans on where to send their dudes and keep them from getting too spread-out or else risk having them be picked-off one-by-one without the possibility of backup. Many other reviewers have likened this system of movement to chess. While I believe that it’s overall an apt description, it doesn’t capture the inherent chaos of Doomtown’s movement mechanics. In chess, new pieces aren’t placed on the board as play develops – it’s as if one were to move a pawn across the board and, once reaching the other side, a rook was placed in front of the pawn and takes the pawn during the next turn. In this way, mortality in Doomtown is ever present, and if a player’s navigation doesn’t complement their dude’s abilities or their outfit’s strengths she will surely be fighting an uphill battle – possibly even an unwinnable one.

While the three previous topics – currencies, shootouts, and movement – have been about in-game mechanics, I also want to mention the enjoyment of Doomtown deckbuilding. The base game comes with enough cards and outfits for four complete decks with over fifty extra cards leftover. Each outfit – the Law dogs, Morgan Cattle Company, the Fourth Ring, and the Sloane Gang – emphasizes a unique form of play within twenty outfit-exclusive cards. The Law Dogs have a well-rounded set of fighters whose abilities seek justice against those who cheat at poker and grow more powerful when surrounded by allies. The Morgan Cattle Company finds its strength in the amount of property they control and emphasize constant dude movement, with fighting not quite being their strong suite. The Fourth Ring is a coalition of spell casters and hex masters that pride themselves in being unpredictable and divisive. And lastly, the Sloane Gang is a merciless group of outlaws who, through vicious gunfights and a love of being wanted by the law, spread their influence among the board across their enemy’s territory. Using these initial outfit cards, the player has the ability to add another thirty-two cards to their deck to balance and complement these styles, or create unpredictable teams by recruiting members of other outfits at an added cost. In addition, since poker-playing within shootouts and gambling phases are a large portion of the game, the player must also take into account the poker value of each card in their deck. High-value poker hands win shootouts and jobs, but low-valued hands determine which player acts first during each round. The values of a player’s cards must also be considered if the player includes cards with skill checks – a mechanic where the player must draw a card and use its value to determine if a particular action, gadget, or hex is successful.

Having played with and built-various decks, this balancing act is as rewarding as any other deckbuilding CCG or LCG for many reasons. First, the game employs wonderfully diverse card mechanics so that two different cards never feel redundant. Doomtown, as mentioned earlier, also employs a rich backstory that easily conveys itself within the game’s flavorful card text. So whether you’ve been a Deadlands fan before or are brand new to the series (like me) it’s enjoyable just sitting down and building a deck where you are mentally forming various mini-stories as to why these cards make sense together not just on a mechanical level, but on a narrative level as well. For example, I was building a deck of prideful and upstanding Law Dogs and noticed that I didn’t have many good gunmen, so I decided to include the merciless, lowdown, hired-gunman, Ramiro Mendoza who charges the Law Dogs a pretty penny when he is first played, during each upkeep phase, and whenever he takes part in a shootout. These sorts of relationships are common during deckbuilding and make the act of participating in the Deadlands universe rewarding to those with a playful imagination. Also because the game is a Living/Expandable Card Game, all players have the same cards so long as they own the same expansions, which puts players on an even playing field so that winning a game can really come down to a player’s ability to construct decks (plus a healthy dose of luck).

To reiterate: Doomtown: Reloaded is a wonderful LCG that takes the best components of resource management, poker, chess-like movement strategy, and deckbuilding, and crafts layers of added complexity onto those foundations. With the game’s wealth of rules, mechanics, and story, Doomtown is an intense and rewarding adventure for those familiar and enthusiastic about playing card games. However, these features create a steep learning curve that may overwhelm new CG players, so make sure you and your friends prepare accordingly. While the game has various other features that are both successful and not-so-successful, I believe the points that I brought up in this short review highlight the core of Doomtown’s enjoyment and engagement, and are among the game’s key differences within the genre.
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Adrian George
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Austin
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What a wonderful review of a game that got it's final product this week, and is effectively dead again now.
 
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Dylan Posa
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Great review! Still working on the rules, but I'm looking forward to playing this some day. I think it will be quite rewarding.
 
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C Dylan
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georgeofjungle3 wrote:
What a wonderful review of a game that got it's final product this week, and is effectively dead again now.


Perfect time to get started.
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Adrian George
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C Dylan wrote:
georgeofjungle3 wrote:
What a wonderful review of a game that got it's final product this week, and is effectively dead again now.


Perfect time to get started.


Ehh, it means front loading your investment if you are a completionist, because product is going to get scarce quickly.
 
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Fruit Eating Bear
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Excellent review and a very good read. I've never wanted to like a game more than this one because I love the setting, and I love the very idea of it, but I just can't seem to learn it. I've read and read; I've watched videos; I've had test games; it's just not clicking with me at all. I so desperately want to understand it, but I just don't. I'm glad you've written such a good piece, though, because it just makes me more determined. One day, maybe I'll get it. For now, I just look at all the pretty cards.
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soulblight
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Fruit Eating Bear wrote:
Excellent review and a very good read. I've never wanted to like a game more than this one because I love the setting, and I love the very idea of it, but I just can't seem to learn it. I've read and read; I've watched videos; I've had test games; it's just not clicking with me at all. I so desperately want to understand it, but I just don't. I'm glad you've written such a good piece, though, because it just makes me more determined. One day, maybe I'll get it. For now, I just look at all the pretty cards.


Have you tried playing online using OCTGN?
http://dtdb.co/en/octgnGuide
 
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Fruit Eating Bear
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I don't seem to be able to register for some reason. I'll keep trying.
 
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