Review: Doomtown (Reloaded)

Doomtown Reloaded is a two player, antagonistic strategy game. With a gambling hand mechanic, lovely printed boards, all the tokens with skulls on that you can say ‘ooh’ to and an in game currency called ‘ghost rock’.

What’s not to like?

As it turns out, in my particular case, a bit.

If you love this game, you might want not to read on.

The premise

Each player controls a faction in Doomtown. In our case, and as the starting play through asks you to, we played Law Dogs and the Sloane Gang.  We each start on one side of the Town Square and hasten to spend our ghost rock to put up new properties, control them, and win by earning enough control points to outweigh the other faction’s influence value. Don’t worry, this isn’t Property Tycoon.  One of the key ways of winning is not just to increase your control points but to actively work at reducing your opponent’s influence. How do we do that? By calling them out, of course, and aiming to ace as many of them as possible.

The practiceDoomtown Reloaded

The game comes with a very thorough step by step play through to introduce new players, complete with a pre-stacked deck mechanism so that the players don’t have to risk the outcome of the play through.

In very short summary: you figure out who will go first.

Upkeep phase lets you gain ghost rock equal to the production values of the properties you control, and makes you spend it on some of your characters who require to be paid to hang around.

The round continues with a phase known as ‘noon’ where most of the action happens.  Your characters can move around the board. Some movement causes them to become exhausted (turned on their side to show they have fulfilled their action points) and some doesn’t. Your characters can challenge characters from the other faction to a fight, and get some of your other characters to back them up depending on rules and stuff.  You can put up properties, control them, use special abilities and play cards. There are delightfully named shootout phases that resolve the character challenges.

And finally, if you get to it, there is ‘sundown’ where general tidying up and token accounting happens.

The game ends when one player wins, by having more control points than the other player has influence tokens.

The good parts

Doomtown is a very strategic game. You really need to be thinking a few steps ahead during the noon phase. Like many games, the order in which you play certain cards, move certain characters or kick off certain scenarios can make the difference between your plan working and it failing spectacularly.

The atmosphere in the box is pretty awesome. Everything has been given a cowboy western theme name.  Well, nearly everything. Your characters are dudes. You don’t exhaust or tap your cards when they’re all played out, you boot them.  You put up deeds, not properties. You don’t kill an opposing character, you ace them.

The production value is high. The box is sturdy, it has plenty of room on the inside. The tokens are sturdy and feel good in the hand, the card stock is decent quality.  Each player gets their own play board, nicely laid out.

The not so good parts

This is a very antagonistic game. Play time may be limited if you have a ballsy opponent with a good card draw in the first few hands. One play through was particularly frustrating for me as my opponent got a good weapon onto a good character in round 1. Without the tedium of who what where why and how, it meant that my opponent could ace any one of my dudes pretty automatically while I was still figuring out how the hell I was going to pay my ghost rock bill in round 2.  Doomtown Reloaded

There is a crucial component of a shootout that deserves special mention and that’s the completely random luck element.  With all the winds at your back and a grand master like ability to plan several moves ahead, it is possible to set up a shootout in which it seems impossible for you to lose. However, the outcome of every shootout is determined by drawing a ‘gambling’ hand from your deck and attempting to make the best poker hand from it you can. The best poker hand wins.  You can do several things to influence the outcome of this draw.  Doomtown is a deck building game so if you don’t want to play with the prebuilt decks, you can swap some out and refine the deck contents.  Depending on how the shootout has occurred, you may have the right to draw more than five cards and you may also have the right to discard and redraw some of these.

However, when it comes down to it, that draw is still based entirely on luck.

Neither myself nor my opponent liked this. Clearly it must have been put in as some kind of game balancing element but frankly it seemed a bit too much of a gamble given the rest of the strategy required for this game overall.

You need a lot more room than the two boards, which we ended up playing side by side so we could read the wording on the property deeds as they switched hands.  Keep an eye on whose cards belong to whom. Most cards are generic and could belong to anyone’s deck, so in the heat of a shootout it’s easy to get disconnected from card ownership.

The verdict

A good strategy game but with a crucial luck element right in the middle of the critical shootout phase.  You might like this. We didn’t and so we won’t keep this game. For a two player antagonistic game we’d rather play Netrunner.


Commendation note

in a world where as a female gamer I often find it difficult to be represented at all and often end up being misrepresented when representation does occur, it was a lovely thing to note that the lead character of the Sloane Gang was female, referred to as female, dressed as a gunslinger (that is, no cleavage) and even featured on the box. At least one strong female lead, check.


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