Doomtown: Reloaded is a living card game similar in construction to Android:Netrunner and The Game of Thrones card game realeased with tons of publicity and fanfare at Gen Con 2014 by AEG, the board game company behind Love Letter and Smash Up. The game is set in an alternate wild west and is filled with all sorts of interesting characters and weird inventions. It is a ton of fun and offers strong replayability for a long, long time.
Doomtown: Reloaded has a brilliant wild west theme coupled with dark undertones of magic and steampunk technology that shines through in every aspect, a great twist that I have yet to see in any other game. The game consists of four factions each competing over the dusty frontier town of Gomorra and its supply of a new type of resource, ghost rock, which is used not only as currency but to provide a source of power for all kinds of insane twisted futuristic technology created with old west flair.
The four factions involved in the showdown for this town are the Law Dogs, Lawmen and Women that fight to maintain order and Justice by placing bounties, making arrests, and general politickin;. The Sloane Gang, a group of thieves, cheats, and no good ragamuffins hell bent on securing the town as a base of operations for their nefarious deeds.
Now this game would be great if the game designers stopped right here and made this a simple game of “This town aint big enough for the two of us” cops vs robbers type of game. But the next two factions take this game into some weird and interesting territory that makes Doomtown something really special.
The Morgan Cattle Company seems like your normal family of wealthy cattle ranchers, but what they cook up in their research laboratories are more horrific and amazing than any pink slime you’ve seem come out of a meat processing plant. This faction sets itself apart by recruiting mad scientists to create crazy inventions like force fields and flame throwers powered by moonshine and magic to confound and overpower their foes.
Creepiest and most terrifying of all is the last faction, The Fourth Ring, the mysterious local circus that performs crowd pleasing shows by day for the simple folk but secretly gain power by brainwashing government officials, using dark magic to destroy their enemies, or if you really get on their bad side you might find yourself kidnapped by a gang of sinister clowns to join their macabre big top show against your will. This is by far the most terrifying addition to the game. When you see a posse of creepy clowns, freak show abominations, and huckster ringleaders you are fixing for a fight where nothing is predictable.
The object of Doomtown is to get more control points than the opposing players influence. Y’see throughout the game, players will be playing different cards showing a wide variety of locations such as the local branch of the pony express, the saloon of ill repute, or the mysterious carnival on the outskirts of town. These locations will be placed on the game board in a layout representing the town of Gomorra. The more locations you take possession of by sending members of your gang to take them over in thrilling showdowns of gunfightin’ and politicalinfluence the more control you have over the town. If at sundown you control more of the town than the other player’s influence over the town you win the game. This leads to a lot of strategic planning and movement as to where you send your posse because one wrong move or push to overexpand your territory can lead to disastrous consequences.
Conflict in this game is carried out in games of five card draw that match the theme so well it feels like you’re in a saloon just when the bandits kick in the swinging doors and the player piano switches to a minor key. Each card in the game doubles as a card from a 52 card deck. The power of your posse in the gunfight dictate how many cards you can initially draw and discard. This means that a really powerful gang can potentially draw a 10 card hand with the ability to discard and redraw 6 of those cards to make the best 5 card hand possible, and since you can create your own decks of cards it’s possible to have hands that consist of 5 aces all of the same suit. Showdowns are resolved by each player showing their hand of cards and the loser taking casualties based on the hand difference between the two.
For instance if a player reveals a three of a kind to defeat another players one pair the losing player would have to send 2 members of his gang to the discard pile with the possibility of having them reshuffled into the deck for later in the game OR completely killing off one member and all copies of that card in the deck with no hope of seeing them again. Showdowns have all the intensity and stakes of a gunfight at high noon and draw you further into the immersive theme of the game. One bad luck draw of the cards can hinder you badly in this game so you best put on your poker face if you hope to do well.
The box contains a massive assortment of good quality, slightly textured cards with terrific art that carries the weird wild west theme incredibly well. Each faction’s cards are very unique and can be easily differentiated from each other while maintaining enough cohesive theme that makes everything seem like it’s a part of the same universe no matter how weird and outlandish the subject gets. It is an amazing talent for the artists and game designers to take a normal frontier lawman, put it next to an abomination from the depths of hell and somehow how make them look like they belong together.
The game also includes two optional playmats that help players learn the game and offer reminders of some the more finicky rules. This is something that I would love to see in just about every game. Doomtown is not without its fair share of confusing and sometimes seemingly contradictory rules about where, when, and why your gang of dudes can move around and get into gunfights. Having a playing area that not only helps the players but also provides a great layout that makes you feel like your characters exist in a town with real geography gives you feeling that you are building and fighting over something that is important and unique.
I do however have a few complaints about the game.
The Rulebook, though an entertaining read with lots of fun flavor text and a well organized layout, leaves out a good deal of explanation on how some specific mechanics work. For several decisions regarding the outcome of a shootout and rules regarding movement when performing jobs required me to look online for clarification. Luckily AEG has a nice FAQ and rule addendum section on their website as well as a large and helpful community on board game geek that answered every question that I had. It was just an annoyance to have to pull out my phone occasionally to look up a rule that wasn’t adequately covered in the rulebook.
I will complement the company on including a secondary rulebook that walks you through a sample game with two prebuilt decks as well as advice on building a deck for each faction (some tinkering with these decks is necessary since the Sloane Gang deck build is VASTLY unbalanced and wins a vast majority of games against the other deck builds. Some adjustments to the starting dudes fixes this though.) The walkthrough really helped me figure out the game much faster than just reading the main book would have.
Another complaint would be with the poker chip components. Included are a handful of cardboard poker chips that can be used to mark how much influence and control you have in the game as well as any other status effects your dudes or buildings may have. The quality is fine and they match the theme well but the blue chips and black chips are so close in color that it was difficult to tell if a card was providing extra control or had some sort of status effect, which is very important when developing a strategy for your turn. I plan to remedy this by using some of my own poker chips to up the thematic value of the game and prevent this confusion going forward.
Currently this game is selling for $26.79 at Miniature Markets and $27.99 on Amazon if you have free shipping through prime. Both of these are great values off of the $40 MSRP Price. The game has a lot of replay value due to the fact that it was built to have the cards and decks reshaped and improved to your liking. The game also already has 2 expansions out that add even more story, depth, and strategy to an already great game.
If you enjoy card games like Magic: The Gathering or Netrunner I strongly suggest that you give Doomtown: Reloaded a try.