Doomtown: Reloaded

Doomtown: Reloaded

From: Alderac Entertainment Group

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck

Back in 2000, I first came across the Deadlands RPG. Westerns and horror are two of my favorite genres, so seeing them combined intrigued me. I also learned of the CCG spin-off Doomtown. However, I found the CCG model and the prospect of buying a gazillion booster packs unappealing, so I gave it a miss. However, when AEG announced they were reviving the game using a model much like the Living Card Games produced by Fantasy Flight, that was something I was more willing to get behind.

From the rulebook:
Gomorra’s a hard place that has seen more than its share of action, and a good day is any day that doesn’t end in a pine box.

While nominally a card game, Doomtown: Reloaded plays more like a board game. The premise is that you’re running one of four outfits vying for control of the town of Gomorra, California. Each player starts with a deck of fifty-two cards (or up to fifty-four if a player elects to use Jokers) constructed beforehand. Cards come in four varieties; Actions, Dudes (which serve as game pieces), Deeds (which essentially become the game board), and Goods. As well as any relevant stats and abilities, each card will also have a suit and value of a poker card. Actions are clubs, Dudes are spades, Deeds are diamonds, and Goods are hearts. It is not necessary (or advisable) to construct a deck where no two cards have the same suit and value. However, each suit/value combination has a limit of four to a deck.

A game turn is called a day and consists of four phases. The Gambling Phase determines play order for the day and is resolved with a hand of lowball poker (that is the lowest hand wins). Each player antes one ghost rock (borrowing from the bank if necessary) and draws the top five cards from his deck, with the winner taking the pot. During the Upkeep Phase, players gain ghost rock income from any Deeds they control and own. The upkeep costs for any Dudes in play are then paid for, as well as any loans from the bank incurred during the Gambling Phase. The meat of the gameplay occurs during the Noon Phase. Starting with the winner of the Gambling Phase, players bulk up and maneuver their forces, as well as having the occasional conflict. The day concludes with the Sundown Phase. Everyone totals their Influence (from their Dudes in play) and their Control (from the Deeds they currently control). Should a player’s Control total be higher than the individual Influence totals of all the other players, he wins. Otherwise, everyone draws their play hands back up to five cards and unboots any Booted cards before starting a new day.

Two important mechanics to be familiar with are Booting and Pulling. During the Noon Phase, a card in play can become Booted, which is indicated by turning it sideways. For Goods and Deeds, this mostly serves as an indicator of the use of an ability which can only be used once per day. Dudes can become Booted for other reasons and are also more vulnerable to certain actions while in this state. Obviously, Dudes who are already Booted cannot perform actions that require them to become Booted. Pulling usually comes into play when using a Hex Goods card or purchasing a Gadget Goods card. When a Pull is called for, the player draws the top card from his deck. If its value is equal to or greater than the target number called for, the task in question succeeds. This is where one of the more potentially confusing aspects of the game crops up. Aces are treated as having a value of one and are effectively the lowest ranked card. For the sake of consistency, this applies to all aspects of the game where a card’s poker value comes into play. Since most people are accustomed to thinking of an ace as the highest ranked card, this could easily trip up new players.

During the Noon Phase, a player can do one of six things on his turn. Shopping allows him to place a non-Action card into play from his play hand by paying the indicated amount of ghost rock. Trading allows two Dudes in the same location to exchange a Goods card, so long as the recipient is not Booted. Moving sends a Dude to a new location. However, unless the destination is adjacent to the starting point, that Dude must become Booted. Acting allows the use of an Action card or the ability of a card in play that has the keyword Noon. Calling Out allows a Dude to challenge another Dude from a rival outfit in the same location to a Shootout. This can be refused by Booting the challenged Dude and moving him to the outfit’s Home location. If a player can’t or is unwilling to perform any of these options, he can choose to Pass. The Noon Phase ends when all players consecutively Pass.

From the back of the box:
Who will control the town? Slap leather in the town square and join in the story.

As with any proper Western, Shootouts are a key component. These are useful for lowering an opponent’s Influence total, as well as running off any interlopers on one of your Deeds (and thus regaining any Control points). Assuming the challenge wasn’t refused, both sides form up their posses. These can consist of any Dudes in the location as well as any Unbooted Dudes in adjacent locations, who become Booted upon arrival. Once the posses are assembled, both sides take turns performing any available actions with the Shootout keyword if desired and then choose a lead shooter. The Shootout is then played out with a hand of poker. This is more involved than the poker in the Gambling Phase, as it requires that you calculate the Stud bonus and Draw bonus of your posse. Each Dude will have either a Stud rating or a Draw rating, indicated on the card by a number on a colored bullet (silver for Stud and bronze for Draw). The Stud bonus is equal to the lead shooter’s Stud rating (if any) plus one for each Dude with a Stud rating (regardless of the actual value). Draw bonuses are calculated in the same fashion with the Draw ratings. Once this is sorted out, both players draw a number of cards from their deck equal to five plus their respective Stud bonuses. They can then discard and redraw a number of cards up to their respective Draw bonuses. After discarding their hands down to five cards, both players reveal them. Before the results are applied, either player can use any available actions with the Resolution keyword. There is also a special subset known as a Cheating Resolution, which can only be used when the opposing player’s hand has two or more cards with the same value and suit. Once finalized, the players compare the ranks of their hands, with the loser having to pay the difference of their ranks in casualties. If both players have the same ranked hand (regardless of the actual value of the cards), both pay one casualty each. Placing a Dude from your posse into your discard pile covers one casualty, while placing a Dude in Boot Hill covers two. However, once a Dude is in Boot Hill, that Dude can no longer be put into play, even if you have a duplicate still in your deck. If both sides still have Dudes standing, another round may commence. However, if the previous round didn’t go so well for one player, he has the option of running like the yellowbelly dog he is by moving his remaining Dudes back Home, Booting any that weren’t already.

As you can see, the game can have a rather steep learning curve. As well as the counterintuitive nature of aces, the wide range of special abilities the different cards possess can be overwhelming for a new player trying to figure the best way to employ them. Therefore it’s best for a player’s first game to be a two player affair. For one thing, this greatly simplifies the Influence and Control comparisons made at the end of each day. But more important is how resolving Shootouts can drag until you get the hang of them, leaving uninvolved players stuck twiddling their thumbs.

However, once you clear that hump, gameplay moves quite smoothly. With a bit of practice, performing actions and running Shootouts will become second nature and minimize analysis paralysis and player down time.

Rating: 15

Product Summary

Doomtown: Reloaded

From: Alderac Entertainment Group

Type of Game: Card game

Game Design by: David Williams and Mark Wootton

Developed by: Eric Jome, Konstantinos Thoukydidis, Steven Martino

Cover Art by: Mario Wibisono

Graphic Design by: Kalissa Fitzgerald and Blake Beasley

Game Components Included: Rulebook, Introductary Booklet, 2 Player Aid boards, 4 Outfit cards, 52 Deed cards, 102 Dude cards, 38 Goods cards, 10 Spell cards, 2 Joker cards, 54 Ghost rock tokens, 20 Control tokens, 20 Influence tokens, 20 miscellaneous tokens

Retail Price: $39.99

Number of Players: 2-4

Player Ages: 14+

Play Time: 30 minutes

Website: http://www.alderac.com/doomtown

Reviewed by: Sitting Duck