Saddle Up: Aces Over Eights (Not Dead Yet)

Deck construction requires a careful balance of what are often called your “play structure” (the cards you want to put into play and do whatever with) and “draw structure” (the cards that are there to help you have better poker hands, and that you’re mostly trying to cycle away as fast as possible). Although perhaps “balance” isn’t the right word, because (to my understanding, anyway) some of the strongest decks in old school Doomtown were all about throwing balance to the wind, either just not bothering to try to win shootouts (and guaranteeing lowball as a benefit) or fixing almost everything in the deck around the draw hand and riding a strong initial posse to shootout victories.

Could this happen with Doomtown Reloaded? I hope not, and I’m betting not. At least as I reckon it, one of the goals of game design is to push what’s fun about your game. In Doomtown, the most distinctive thing about the game was maneuvering around and, from time to time, getting into shootouts. And I think that the Reloaded designers are in something resembling that sort of space, at least as I read this article. So if they’ve achieved their design goals, it should be pretty difficult to just avoid shootouts all game long. On the other hand, having strong draw hands also means having cards all over the place.

So how should I approach deck design with that in mind? I want a strong draw structure but, at the same time, that strong draw structure is going to have a lot of non-actions, which means I can’t just Noon-cycle through my whole hand every turn. So I’d like to be able to actually look forward to playing the cards I’m drawing, not just desperately scrambling for ways to cycle them (although I won’t mind those). Also, since I’m still trying to go pretty strong on my draw structure, this should make my posse fairly solid in a shootout, which is important because I have no idea what I’m doing and having an advantage in shootouts can help cover up my play errors (rather than them resulting in board/game wipes). This generally strategy probably leans the deck towards Sloane or Law Dogs, with Fourth Ring the hardest to assemble.

I have to choose what my draw structure will be, and a structure

for this particular thought experiment I will go as far towards favoring draw structure as possible, settling on a pure 3-value deck (or near to it) for this time out. Straights and especially Flushes are tougher to put together for what they get you. Four of a Kind and Full House are good hands, and are not tough to assemble with a little bit of draw/stud magic. The most extreme version of this draw structure would give me 16 copies of three different values, and then four dudes for my starting posse. That seems a bit too much, but I’d want at least two. So the exercise today will be to give at least a cursory look to each value and see why I would or wouldn’t want that as one of the foundations for my draw structure.

When I’m looking at a strong draw structure, one of the tough spots is going to be the dudes. Dudes are expensive, and dudes that are much good invariably have an upkeep. Dudes that are cheap with little upkeep could be helpful because they can actually stay on the board until sacrificed in some glorious defeat. But a dude who could get played and cycled away can also be handy. The purpose of a draw structure, after all, is to be in your deck so you can draw it. Our aim here is balance, so an ideal world might see some of both (and our really ideal world would see more than one good dude on the off chance we want to play more than one out).

On the “cycle your dudes” front, there’s one big option, and he’s very conveniently located – Steven Wiles (8♠). Whiles is a neutral 3-stud who enters play cheap and then has a massive upkeep we’ll never pay. And 8 is an acceptable sort of value elsewhere. In actions we have Reserves (8♣). The action slot has something strong at almost every spot (if you were going to make a flush or straight flush deck, it would have to focus on actions), but you can’t go wrong with free cash. Eight also gives us two good options for deeds – Pat’s Perch (8) and Circle M Ranch (8). All of the out-of-town deeds are great economy, although their lack of influence is an obvious problem. Circle M Ranch is as good as your economy gets from an in-town deed (3-for-2), and has a good ability to boot. Since deeds are Unique and I want more than three deeds in play at once, it’s very nice to have two deeds in one value that I actually like (I still want to be able to play my cards, not have them good for nothing but cycling). The slimmest pickings at 8 are in attachments, where the Quickdraw Holster (8) is my only non-spell option. I’m OK with that, but not excited.

On the “play a cheap dude” front you can run out Clementine Lepp (A♠) or Travis Moone (5♠). Lepp provides influence (but no bullets); Moone provides bullets (but no influence). Since Lepp can still provide her support draw and Moone as part of a draw structure doesn’t get to use his mulligan ability, Lepp’s deficiency is less of an issue. Too bad my favorite saloon is at 5 and there are no saloons at ace. Moone’s 5 brigade would bring with it the amazing Pistol Whip (5♣), the acceptable Pearl-Handed Revolver (5), and my choice combination of Charlie’s Place (5) (my preference because it’s cheaper) or Pearly’s Palace (5). Lepp would bring Lady Luck (A♣) (acceptable, but not too exciting), the lovely Pair of Six Shooters (A), and a combination of Pony Express (A) and Bank of California (A) (again I favor Pony Express because I’m skittish about 5 rock deeds that I could have a hard time playing T1).

What else is out there? Two lets me play with Bluetick (2) and my choice of a great anti-cheating card (Bottom Dealin’ (2♣)) or a good defensive Shootout card (Make The Smart Choice (2♣)), plus Olivia Jenks (2♠) as the neutral dude (with Law Dogs having other good options). The the downside, I’m uninterested in my deed options at 2 (so inefficient). Three shifts the soft spot to attachments with Shotgun (3), while picking up a decent shooter in Ramiro Mendoza (3♠) – and multiple great Shootout cards. The deed slot is a bit of a mix, with decent economy out of Yan Li’s Tailoring (3) and no economy out of 1st Baptist Church (3).

If we wanted to combine Wiles and Lepp we could round out our aim at the Dead Man’s Hand (8♠ 8♣ A♠ A♣ J) with the Jacks. Clint Ramsey (J♠) is a solid neutral shooter (and some factions have options as well). Jackson’s Strike (J) is, of course, economically efficient – but The Undertaker is not at all (J). We could go all in on the “win shootouts” plan with A Coach Comes To Town (J♣), although I’m personally less enthused about “win more” cards. I’m also not super-excited about Buffalo Rifle (J), although it does provide tactical flexibility.

Four is very strong at actions, but it’s a Sloane-only option for me as a full set of 16. I don’t like the attachment option. I’m only excited about the deed choices (especially B&B Attorneys (4)) if I’m Sloane or focused Law Dogs. And I’m most interested in the 4-value dudes from Sloane. Still, that is great actions, decent dudes for Sloane, and decent deeds for Sloane. I’ve seen worse. Similarly, I would favor six only for Morgan. Killer Bunnies Casino (6) is handy for anyone (as is Stagecoach Office (6), which fulfills a unique non-economy role) or One Good Turn (6♣), but the attachment is a Horse and Morgan and Fourth Ring have the only dude options I like. Seven again favors Morgan, with two Ranch deeds, a gadget and a horse at attachment, and James “Free Money” Ghetty (7♠) at dude. The strongest action, Kidnappin’ (7♣), is best in Sloane, but can be played anywhere (as can Pinned Down (7♣)).

For the purposes of this concept, I think it’s downhill from there, as the remaining values have broad weaknesses. It feels like the higher values mostly give something up to be higher. This deck is not pulling for gadgets or hexes. You can win ties with the higher hands, of course, but the whole concept I’m working with here is that good cards in your deck beats just a great draw structure. Plus if I lose to a tie that’s only one casualty.

Nine doesn’t excite me all once I get past Xiong “Wendy” Cheng (9♠), and she’s a consideration for the starting possse. The most exciting attachment is a Hex (Blood Curse (9)), I’m still skittish about 5-rock deeds (Morgan Research Institute (9)), and there’s no super-exciting action. Indeed, that’s one of the things that most of these higher values have in common – no action that makes me go “yeah, I want four of that!” All of the low values have at least one of those.

So lets hit the exception to that, because 10 does have a strong Shootout action in Unprepared (10♣) – neutralizing that one scary enemy is never shabby. And Carter’s Bounties (10) is a decent deed (decent economy, worthwhile action). The dudes are all faction-specific, but at least they’re big (Clyde Owens (10♠) of the Law Dogs) or provide additional Mad Scientist/Huckster options (for Morgan and Fourth Ring).

Queen and King likewise feel like shallow pools. At Queen I do like the General Store (Q) – decent economy by itself, and an action that gives even more economy. But neither Sloane nor Law Dogs has anyone to pick up here for dudes (Morgan and Fourth Ring at least have options). On the other hand, at King both Sloane (Sloane (K♠)) and the Law Dogs (Dave Montreal (K♠)) get their heavy hitters – both dudes are very expensive, but it isn’t the end of the world to have one Personality there as a possible finisher. But both attachments at K require pulls and a keyword (one Gadget, one Hex), neither of which Sloane or the Law Dogs is going to enjoy (the Gadget is even Ranch-specific).

Overall, 8 is definitely my favorite value for a draw structure at this stage of the game, with the single best dude for cycling, a pair of good deeds, and the obligatory strong action. The most straightforward place to go from there would be a Sloane deck with 4 as the second value. The remaining third of the deck could be 4-8 dudes/deeds with the rest strong actions.

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