If you’re one of those wise souls who follows Strange Assembly on Twitter, then you know that some of us sat down this weekend to play some Doomtown Reloaded. You’ll be happy to know that my maiden voyage into the game ended up with Jay beating me on the first turn, and so I now consider myself to be a font of sage advice on such topics as “5 stud dudes are scary.”
Slightly more seriously, if you follow Strange Assembly you’ll know that I’m a ginormous stats nerd, who uses Excel way too much when it comes to games. And that makes Doomtown’s poker card aspect delightfully intriguing. Every card in Doomtown has a standard playing card value and suit (well, except for the Jokers, anyway). Each particular card type is one particular suit – dudes are Spades (♠), actions are Clubs (♣), deeds are Diamonds (♦), and attachments are Hearts (♥). When you’re building your deck, it has to be exactly 52 cards (again, not counting Jokers) – and, while it doesn’t have to be (and almost certainly won’t be) a legal 52-card poker deck, you aren’t allowed to have more than 4 cards that have the exact same suit and value.
Along with the playing card motif, combat and jobs (and some other things) in Doomtown is decided by drawing cards off the top of your deck and then forming poker hands. This means that constructing a deck that can fairly consistently get strong poker hands is very important. On the other hand, there are inherent deck limitations in that. For example, you could make a deck that has 16 copies each of 5s, 9s, and Qs (4 each in all 4 suits) with four leftover cards that would probably be starting dudes. This deck should have an incredibly consistent ability to pull full house and four (or five) of a kind hands (it may also be fairly susceptible to Cheatin’ cards, but that can be a topic for another day). But you’re deck must have 12 deeds and 12 actions and 12 dudes and 12 attachments and for a lot of values you’ll only have a couple of choices. So those good draw hands would have to do an awful lot of heavy lifting to make up for a relatively cramped ability to actually play the rest of the game.
All of this means that I am going to have to work up a spreadsheet for engaging in deck construction (sorry, the completion of such a spreadsheet is still at the lick and a promise stage). But, in the meantime, I thought I’d do a little ruminating on what sorts of numbers might be attractive, and I noticed that 4♣ might be awful crowded. Now, Clubs in general seem like they’d be a suit I might lean towards a lot, because the ghost rock (money) in Doomtown Reloaded is pretty tight, there are a lot of free actions, and you have an incentive to drop most of your hand every turn (in addition to the general desire to draw into whatever your good stuff is, if you have parts of your deck that are components of your ideal draw hand, you have an incentive to get them back into circulation instead of clogging up your play hand). Alas, I’m pretty sure I can’t make a whole deck out of A♣ to 8♣, all of which have at least one sexy option. But 4♣, in particular, seems to come with some potent choices out of the box – and you can’t run them all.
And none of this “you’ve got two great options” stuff (there are plenty of those). The 4♣ slot features three strong cards – War Paint, Coachwhip! and Ambush. Remember how I said “5 stud dudes are scary?” Well, War Paint is just an unconditional bullet boost. As a Noon action, your best shooter (hopefully a stud) just go better. Even if you don’t want to pick a fight, it’s a handy defensive mechanism. And since it has no cost and no conditions, even if you don’t think there will be a shootout this turn, it will always just cycle itself back into your deck.
Not as easy to recycle, but pretty broadly useful and a strong effect is Coachwhip!, which is a doozy of a Cheanin’ punisher. If your opponent is cheating in a shootout, they have to pick and ace a dude. If you aren’t cheating, then you get to pick. You lost the shootout? Well, now their best dude is going down anyway. You won the shootout by a little? Well, now you won it big. You were winning the shootout big already? Well, then quit whinin’ and just win the game already. The main (and obvious) drawback of Coachwhip! is the same as that for most Cheatin’ cards – you can only play one per cheating hand revealed, and maybe your opponent ain’t a cheater. Although that last one don’t seem to likely, given the types I’ve seen ’round Gomorrah.
Finally, there’s Ambush, the most expensive, self-sufficient, and narrow of our three 4♣ cards. Ambush is a job, which means it’s usually going to result in a shootout. And if you win that inevitable shootout, then your target will be aced. Of course, you can just call a dude out anyway, but then they might refuse, and you have to maneuver over there, and then they can see you coming – hence the “ambush” part. Ambush lets you and your posse jump your target from way across town (hopefully when he doesn’t have many buddies handy), and that’s worth the ghost rock cost that this card comes with. Why is it kind of narrow? Well, ambushing some poor sucker isn’t exactly OK with the law (or the Law Dogs), so everyone in the attacking posse will become wanted – but if you’re the Sloane Gang, that’s probably more of an upside.
At least, that’s how this dandy from back East sees things. I reckon I shall be shown strikingly wrong by the end of Gencon (you do remember this stuff is coming out at GenCon, right? Big tournaments and all that jazz).