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Subject: Deadlands: Doomtown-a living review of a dead CCG. rss

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Davido
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Deadlands: Doomtown is a CCG that takes place in the Weird West. Note, that this is not your Pappy’s “Wild, Wild, West”, nor is it Gramps’ “Old West”. To briefly recap, the saga unfolds in the California town of Gomorra, where vast amounts of the super-fuel Ghost Rock have been discovered. The Civil War still rages, and the Pacific Coast has been transformed into a Maze of water-filled canyons inhabited by scrappy pirates dodging unearthly Abominations. Gomorra itself is home to nearly 10 factions all vying for control of the town and the surrounding Ghost Rock lodes.

As a player, I am drawn to Deadlands: Doomtown for the following reasons: 1) well-defined Outfits with strong characters 2) a coherent story arc that evolves during game play 3) clean, elegant mechanics that offer ease of play and challenging options and decisions.

Even though Deadlands: Doomtown takes place in an alternate reality where ‘magic works’ and creatures are not from our world, we know these characters as they represent classic Old West archetypes from pulps and cinema. Who else could The Drifter be but The Man With No Name, down to the “Clint squint”. Nate Hunter is an analog of Will Kane in High Noon-a reluctant, but powerful hero. The Blackjack affiliated Parkers are the hillbilly clan who packed the shootin’ irons and headed west. Even the Collegium have a spiritual kinship to Artemus Gordon and the Whateleys are the heirs to the Lovecraftian tradition of trafficking with the Great Old Ones. We grew up with these characters, we know them, we know their motivations, even as we let the cards tell new stories.

Instead of constraining the world of Doomtown, the “poker deck” mechanic actually serves to breathe life in to the game and its outfits (factions) and characters. Think about it-while other CCGs start with minimum deck sizes, they often have high or unlimited maximums (although 50-90 appears to standard). Deadlands: Doomtown limits deck sizes to 52 cards + 1 outfit + 2 Jokers maximum. That’s right, the entire world/storyline unfolds through a mere 104 cards in a 2P game.

There are two basic formats: Bicycle/Highlander and “Cheatin”. In the former, each player MUST use one card for each “Hoyle Value” e.g. one 10 of Spades, one 8 of Diamonds, etc. just like a ‘real deck’. The basic challenges of Bicycle are to obtain cards of each value and to construct a deck that will perform the given objectives (winning shootouts, generating income, increasing influence, etc.). At the same time, the Bicycle format gets away from the need to have multiples of a card, and actually deemphasizes rares, not to mention multiples of rare cards.

Conversely, Cheatin’ decks can use multiples of cards (up to four) and values. These decks help overcome one’s lack of cards at a particular value and allow tailoring of decks for specific purposes. Cosine has posted an article on deck construction (and check out his other articles) that is a must read for any novice deck-builder:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/294186

As noted in the article, decks are built around specific ‘core suit/values’. With Cheatin’ decks, we see several unique mechanics to balance ‘stacking the deck’. First, each round starts with ‘lowball’ where the LOWEST poker hand wins the pot (each player antes 1 Ghost Rock to start the round). A deck ‘built to cheat’ is going to have a hard time ‘losing’ to an honest deck. This, folks, is just brilliant: a built-in ‘catch up’ mechanism that is both logical and fair, and consistent with the game’s premise. Winning the low-ball hand gains not only the Ghost Rock, but the initiative of first action during play and in shootouts. Likewise, the use of “Cheatin’” cards provides a leveler against powerful cheating hands. Many such cards such as “Cheatin’ Varmint”, “Jackelope Stampede”, and “Who Are You Again” are common/uncommon and thus readily obtainable.

The cards themselves are evocative, not only in artwork, but also in the flavor text that is sometimes voiced ‘in character’, but more often as told by the semi-ubiquitous narrator/barkeep Charlie Landers. One interesting note is that Deadlands: Doomtown is an equal opportunity killer: women and minorities are not only represented, but also form some of the strongest, useful, or interesting characters in the game, eg. Outfit leaders Wilhelmina Whateley, Katie Karl, Rachael Sumner, and supporting cast such as Professor Sarah Wings, Nelson Roberts, Sir Whitmore, Dr. Duvalier, Squish-Eye Samantha, Xiong "Wendy" Cheng, Kansas City Kara, , and Elizabeth King to name but a few.

Nevertheless, the cards are functional with a lot of information that is easily discernable, not only to the player, but to an opponent across the table. The Suit/Value is yet another brilliant mechanic that not only reinforces the theme, but instantly conveys much of what one needs to know about the given card. Clubs are action cards, Diamonds are Deeds (buildings in town, Strikes or mines out of town, along with improvements that can modify the Deed’s value), Hearts are Goods (which can be standard weapons, horses, gadgets, but also all manner of spells), and Spades are the Dudes or characters who populate the town of Gomorra. In yet another inspired balancing act, many of the most powerful cards are low suit-value, which means that they are less desirable for poker hands. Likewise, the high-valued cards are often cheap to bring into play, and thus are more useful in the game then for poker where they are also very useful. Thus each card creates a mental ‘tug-of-war’ of utility in play versus necessity for poker hand resolution. The Suit/Value mechanic also helps streamline deck-building. Need more production? Look over your diamonds. Need additional spells or weapons? Check out those hearts.

In addition to suit/value, each card has a title/name at the top and a Ghost Rock cost to bring in to play at the bottom left, and sometimes an upkeep (integer) or production (integer with a “+” sign) per turn cost/benefit. Unlike say, Jyhad/VTES where the cards are evocative, but busy with dark colored backgrounds, the ‘business portion’ of Doomtown cards are clean and uncluttered. By looking across the table, I can instantly see that a 9 of Hearts with a title enclosed in a feather is a spell that is being played (e.g Puppet) or a Queen of Diamonds is a Strike that costs nothing, and produces 1 Ghost Rock per turn (e.g. Harlot’s Haven Strike).

During the game, one needs to keep track of Influence (how powerful your Dudes are), Control Points (how much of Gomorra you control), Victory Points (like Control Points, but can’t be taken away from you), Ghost Rock/Production, and occasionally Fear Level. The essential mechanic is the tug of war of your Influence and Control/Victory Points versus your opponent(s). Once a player’s Control/Victory points exceeds the opponent(s) Influence, they win the game. Thus, for all the Dudes, Deeds, goods, etc. in play, it all comes down to comparing Influence to Control/Victory points. Again, very simple, very clean and elegant. I prefer to use dice: red d10 for influence, blue d6 for control, green d6 for VPs, and white d6 for Ghost Rock production. I happen to have ‘official Ghost Rock’ currency, but any other counter will do (e.g. glass beads, or cubes from your fave Euro du jour-the white cubes from Bootleggers are great for this). My local opponent, Degamer, uses actual poker chips (red for influence, blue for control, white for Ghost Rock, etc.).

While some decks/outfits are built to ‘turtle’, e.g. hang out at the Outfit and build stuff/generate production, much of the game is a ‘chess match’ of moving the right dudes to the right place to engage the opponents’ dudes. By the way, the ‘word that we use to indicate that a card has been turned to show that it has been used this turn, so that Wizards of the Coast can’t sue us for patent infringement’ is “boot” with returning to usability at the end of the round is “straighten”. Cosine, creator of the legendary SuperShooter deck, in a move akin to the ultimate cold-warrior Nixon going to China, has opined that Shooter decks are a limited strategy versus control point flooding or influence hosing. Nevertheless, in non-tournament settings, shootouts remain the funnest part of Doomtown. My Dudes versus your Dudes-round up a posse (usually Dudes in the same or adjacent locations), play modifiers and have at it. Dudes are classified as Studs (draw extra cards) or confusingly Draws (can replace cards after the initial draw). The lead shooter gets the full modifier, while posse members get to add one stud or draw bonus (depending on their rating) to help the lead shooter. A typical high powered shootout will see a 3 stud backed by 1 stud and 3 draws. In this case, the player draws 9 cards (basic 5 plus 4 for the stud bonuses) and then can replace up to 3 cards in the hand. As one might expect, the final hand ranks are usually quite high, hence the use of cheatin’ cards to level the playing field. Using the deck structures outlined in Cosine’s article, it is quite common for full houses and four of a kind to square off against each other. Losing hands require that the player “ace” (banish) the number of dudes equal to the difference in hand ranks (modifiers can affect this either way, of course).

As of this writing (May, 2008), the ‘entry point’ for Deadlands is still reasonable. Starters (or sets of starters from later expansions) can be had for $2.50 to $5 (or $15-20 for a set of three), and boosters range anywhere from $1 to $5/pack. So a set of starters plus boosters would be in the range of $50 (e.g. the cost of a good Euro) for a very playable set of two to three Outfits. I recommend a set of Ashes to Ashes or Revelations starters along with the original “rolling thunder” episodes 1-9 boosters as an accessible entry point. Finally, I find that each game of Deadlands: Doomtown tells its own story-a cacophony of voices swirling around myriad agendas. Tales of tragedy and loss, and occasionally justice and redemption. This is the Weird West of Gomorra, this is Doomtown.

[more information and decks can be found at:]

http://gamesmeister.com/doomtown/index.php


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David Wilson
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Doomtown's last publisher, Alderac Entertainment Group, has promised that if a western movie blockbuster ever hits, doomtown will see publication. I think it would be great if someone would buy this title out from under them from Pinnacle and start publishing it again.. it is the greatest CCG ever.. great depth.

David "the preacher" Wilson
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Jerry Jackson
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I guess "3:10 to Yuma" wasn't big enough, sigh. I agree, I really wish they'd release it and let someone else publish it like Shadowfist did with Z-Man games.
 
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Lucas Blackwolf
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Aldeberon wrote:
I guess "3:10 to Yuma" wasn't big enough, sigh.


We'll see how Appaloosa does ...
 
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