Quick Look: Doomtown: Weird West Edition
Designers: David Williams, Mark Wootton, and Richard Carter
Publisher: Pine Box Entertainment
Year Published: 2022
Welcome to Doomtown, where you try to gain control of a western town set in the Weird West of Deadlands. In this world, cowpokes good and bad wield guns, steampunk gadgets, and spells of all sorts, and death is sometimes just a minor inconvenience.
In Deadwood, South Dakota, Eagle Woman That All Look At tries to enforce a fragile treaty. Hao-T’e Zui’s Anarchists fight for the townsfolk that E.B. Farnum’s consortium of Entrepreneurs are trying to drive out of business. Bass Reeves, the West’s most persistent Marshal, arrives in pursuit of the notorious outlaw, Jessica Patchett, who’s trying to escape her bloody past. And out in the Badlands, Ursula’s cult prepares to summon the power of the great Worm.
I’m not a regular TCG player, so I wasn’t sure how well I would like Doomtown. Although it has the format of a TCG, it really isn’t. It took me a bit to get into the game, not because I wasn’t interested or it was overly complex, but mainly because I found the lore behind the cards and the game fascinating. A little into my first game I was thinking, ‘This would be what MTG would be like if it was developed in the Old West.’ In the Old West a shootout would happen at High Noon, well in Doomtown you could have multiple shootouts happening at High Noon. And what would the Old West be without a little Poker. In Doomtown you get to play a game of low-ball Poker and a game of high-stakes Poker. But it’s more than just shootouts and Poker, it’s about gaining control of the town any way you can.
The rule book is quite intensive; you’ll want to keep it handy the first few times you play the game. Since this is a card driven game, the rulebook spends some time going over the different types of cards, the iconography on the cards, and the uses of the cards (including some basics of Poker). This is important because like a TCG you will be creating a deck to play using the available cards. How to create a deck is explained, but if you want a pre-made deck setup Pine Box Entertainment has these on their website. Setup and rounds are explained in a manner that makes them easy to follow. The rulebook then goes into detail on the remaining rules of the game and finer points regarding gameplay. The rulebook finishes off by describing the variants players can use to mix up the gameplay. Looking forward to trying some of them.
The setup of the game is fairly straightforward. Players create the deck they are going to use out of the available cards, to include a faction they will play. Players then put out their faction card, which determines their starting location and the amount of Ghost Rock (money) they have at the start. Players then choose their Starting Dudes by looking through their deck and selecting a number of characters or locations to start the game. These are put into play, paying for them. Players then draw their starting hand of 5 cards and play begins.
In Doomtown you are the leader of a faction that is trying to take over a town in the Weird West. Your goal is to gain enough control to overcome your opponents’ influence to seize control of the town and claim victory. Doomtown has it all, the shootout, the Poker games, the expansion of the town with new locations, and interesting characters (some even have gadgets or spells). But you have to plan your takeover well since nothing but your homestead is safe from being overcome by adversaries.
The mechanic of the game is similar to a TCG in that players build a deck and play cards from that deck only. Thus hand management is a big part of the game, knowing when to play a card or use an ability. Winning the game is a matter of area control; a player needs more control than other players have influence in order to win.
Doomtown is played over an indeterminate number of rounds. After the game is set up, players take turns playing cards that affect the gameplay or playing area, moving characters around the playing area, or setting themselves up for a weird set of shootouts.
Gameplay each round begins with a low-ball game of Poker. Each player draws the top 5 cards from their deck to form a Poker hand. The player with the lowest ranked hand becomes the Dealer (start player) for the round. Starting with the dealer and continuing around the table, each player gathers their production from cards with a production value. Then players pay upkeep for all cards that require an upkeep fee. By this time it is High Noon.
During High Noon players perform actions one at a time until all players have sequentially passed. The actions available during High Noon include Recruiting a Dude from your hand into play, buying and trading goods, learning a spell, building a Deed (a new location), moving your Dudes, using a Noon ability, or Calling Out a Dude.
At the end of High Noon, Dudes who were called out have a shootout with the Dude who called them out. This is essentially a game of Poker. Players draw a hand of at least 5 cards, some modifier cards may let a player draw more. Players make the best Poker hand they can. Whoever has the highest ranking hand wins the Shootout.
After all Shootouts are resolved, it is Sundown. Victory conditions are checked and all Sundown traits activate. If no player has won, the Nightfall phase begins where the game is setup for the next round.
The producers of Doomtown have done an excellent job with the lore behind the game. The rulebook even includes a “Tales of the Weird West” section with a few stories based on the lore. And then there is the flavor text on the cards that allows players to further explore the lore. It doesn’t stop there as the publisher seems to be putting out more and more quite often. Players who like a game with a story or lore behind it will love Doomtown.
The publisher’s support of the game. Games change and expand, and Pine Box Entertainment has done well to keep up with the changes. There are several points in the rulebook that prompt players to go online for further reference, and the references are excellent.
Making a truly strategically interactive game. As you move people around the town, or grow the town, inevitably, and quite necessarily, you will run into another player. Sometimes they can be semi-friendly meetings, but most often they will end in a shootout. Unlike a TCG, it’s not just about what cards to play when, because at some point you’re going to play Poker, and that takes a bit of skill and reading your opponent, not just they cards they play.
Newer players will have a hard time putting together a deck, just like most TCGs. Players won’t know what cards work well together and what cards can counter other cards. Luckily the publisher has thought of this and includes some card deck setups on their website.
The inclusion of Poker as a game element. Some may find it distracting because all it does is make those cards unavailable for play since they were used for Poker. Others will not like that it’s not a full game of Poker. There is no betting, no draw (unless you have modifier cards), and no bluffing. I thought it added an interesting element, but I can see where others may have an issue with it.
When I first opened this game I was surprised to see the amount of cards in the game. I skimmed the rules and was thinking this is just a Wild West themed TCG. After digging into it, I realized that it is a mixture of a number of types of games and gameplay and that it isn’t just a duel between players, there’s a great deal of strategy behind actions and plays. Also as I dug into it I started looking at the lore, and that just pulled me in more. Doomtown is a wonderful game with a great deal of strategy and interaction depth to it. It’s not one I can just pull out at a game night and get someone to play, but with the right crowd, I can see this being played very, very often.
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I grew up loving to solve puzzles, play games, and have fun. In my younger years I had fun playing pencil games, enjoyed the creativity of playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends, and generally hanging out with others. My favorite thing to do was to make puzzles of all kinds, mazes, word games, picture games, etc.
Sadly my career took me in a different direction, solving computer problems rather than gaming problems.
Gaming came back into my life, though, in a big way about 15 years ago, and I have held onto it since. I still enjoy designing games and have 9 published titles, which I did through my own game publishing company, Toresh Games, prior to the Covid pandemic. Sadly I was not able to sustain the company through the pandemic.
I highly encourage people to play games, make friends, and have fun. As a game enthusiast, I would love to see a return to games as the best social media platform for the masses.
All of Thomas Shepherd’s reviews can be found HERE.