Jason M. Brown
As a film buff with a near encyclopaedic knowledge of modern cinema and an avid Cheapass fan, Deadwood is a game that couldn't possibly fail to appeal to me (did I also mention how modest I am?!) - given that it is a game based around the comic exploits of hack actors roaming a Western movie backlot...and it is published by Cheapass Games. Of course, it's appeal would be lessened somewhat if the game had turned out to be a clunker...but thankfully that's not the case.
Each player is assigned a different colour of six sided die at the beginning of the game, which is placed into the 'Trailers' section of the lot. Each die at this point is on a '2'. The number on the die signifies that actor's status and this determines which roles will be available and how much money can be made from them. The dice...sorry, actors walk through the Deadwood sets taking part in scenes from Westerns currently filming, and attempt to make as much money as possible from appearing in these scenes, either in the background or in a more prominent position. Once a scene wraps, the player who was responsible for said wrapping collects a credit for the scene (taking the card face up for 1 credit if they were working 'on the card' or face down for 1/2 a credit if they were working 'off the card'). These credits can be cashed in to raise status, along with a small fee from the player's earnings. As status raises, so does the opportunity to take roles with higher earning potential.
Each turn, players will either take one step around the board, or roll to advance the scene. If taking a step, players can reveal the scene on a space if they land on it (this is done by turning the relevant card over) and then take a role in the scene if they choose. If they are already working on a scene, they can roll to advance it to the next shot (which can also wrap the scene). To advance the scene, players roll a six sided die and have to roll equal to or greater than the scene's displayed budget. Once this is done the scene moves ahead by one shot (most scenes have only two shots, then they wrap). If working on the card, players only collect cash once the scene wraps (thus earning the right to a larger payout at scene end), but if off the card they are 'working for scale' and collect one dollar each time they roll.
Players have four days to make as much money as possible - the player with the most money at the end of the game wins.
Play is simple and entertaining, with the cards - typically for Cheapass - being very witty, with excellent movie titles and roles for the strugglng actors. There are several strategies that can be employed, all of which have advantages and disadvantages throughout the four 'days' of play. There does seem to be a slight advantage to keeping status low, although this has apparently been fixed with the 'Another Day, Another Dollar' expansions.
Deadwood is a surprisingly addictive and enjoyable game, given that it is very simple and relatively abstract. The theme is very strong and the usual off-kilter Cheapass humour is prevalent throughout. A very pleasant diversion, and one that can be enjoyed by players of all ages.