Thursday, July 05, 2007

How the West was gamed. Analyzing the field of Western Themed games...I just wanted to use ANAL in the title of a post.

Awhile back I wrote a post about pirate games. I started off by trying to shatter the facade that has been generated (mostly thanks to Disney and Johnny Depp) that pirates are good guys. I listed some of their vile and evil deeds that never gets represented in games and movies to show what a real pirate's life is...then basically said that I would like to see a game like that. The rest of the post went on about how there are precious few good (and I stress the word good here because there's a basically a fuck ton of pirate games made) pirate games out there and my lamenting over this issue.

So today we look at The Wild West and see what the world of gaming has to offer us (in association with a recent geek list I made) with this theme. The first question I ask (as I did in the pirate post) is simply do board games offer a true to life cowboy/western experience? The answer is no. No we don't get to enjoy the hours on end of putting up, riding and maintaining miles of fences on a ranch so the cattle can't get away. I've never had to reshoe my horse in a game. There are a lot of other mundane tasks that people who lived their daily lives in the west faced and none of these are in any of our board games. Thank God for that! Whereas I would like to see a game encompass some of the wilder side of pirates life a good western game should strive hard to steer clear of these daily dull tasks. Instead focusing on the rarer occasions when violence would rear it's ugly head. For the most part that's exactly what's taken place in gaming. In fact I can only think of 1 game that I've played personally that even touches on some of slightly duller moments and that's Way Out West which gives points for having cattle herds...but then again you get to kill off other players herds if they don't have enough cowboys present to protect them. So that theory is only sound for so long.

With this entry to my lovely little blog (you love my blog you know you do...don't lie to yourself anymore) is not going to focus on the idea of "where is the good game" as I fully acknowledge that there are good western games out there but rather just take a gander at the games that are available out there and see what's what.

What games then are we looking at? Not just cowboy games but games that have a western theme of any sort. That being western America in the given time frame that we typically think of when we flash images of Clint Eastwood, Sam Elliot and John Wayne through our minds. This does not have to have anything to do with fact I plan on covering a game that is about the Indians of this era as well. Let me stress that this is not a review of any of these games but rather a quick analysis of the game and my "Guns Up" or "Gun Down" on the game...guess I need a holstered gun cause some of them I've not played yet but deal with it.

Much like my pirate entry this will not be an exhaustive coverage on all games wester/cowboy theme but rather be games that I; know, own, played or are interested in. So your piss ant little "You didn't talk about Blah Blah game" comments are far from welcomed. Other piss ant comments however are fully welcomed.

The ispiration of this post comes from the recent released product by Worthington Games called simply "Cowboys: The Way of the Gun". This game is designed to recreate nothing more than the terror's of the west tromping through town and needing nothing more than to be gunned down by the "good guys." That's right Cowboys recreates just the gun fights of the old west and does so simply, cleanly and without all the mucking about that some of the miniatures games out there likes to throw in that bogs an otherwise good game down. The game has enough detail to it to make it fun. Facing, turn and shoot, fan fire, mounting, killing a mount while cowboy is mounted, angry town folk, line of sight, reload rules action card deck just to shake things up. Well done game worthy of a guns up status by me.

Seems like I'd be remiss to not go ahead and knock out this one. Bang! is a biggie in the world of western games despite it's small physical size. (See size does not matter....grumble grumble.) A great little game with characters and roles and lots of action cards. I think the Dodge City expansion is a necessary component to the game as it adds the green border cards that have to be played a full round before they are active...if they are still there. High Noon and Fist Full of Cards are highly optional I hate the actual Fist Full of Cards cards as it is nothing but a Sheriff loses card and that's just not right. If a person gets resurrected just a round or two before that card (the last card in the deck but shuffling cards can make this happen) then the sheriff has no chance at all. My only major complaint with the game is I don't think I've ever been fortunate enough to play the game where there are all veteran players and new players take quite some time figuring out what they want to do each turn. This can bog the game down quite a bit and your best bet is to kill off the new players quickly so they learn how to the play the game and it moves nicely. Ahhhh the way of the asshole...that means guns up from me.

Which brings me to Bounty Hunger: Shootout at the Saloon.

For those that don’t know this is the western version of Ace of Aces. Seems like these games should have a catch phrase to describe them like “Flip-Book-Game” or something but the creators just never got around to working that up. It’s a very unique gaming system where you roam around the square and inside buildings looking for people to shoot. The genius is that with no board and the game only being played within these books you can only use deductive reasoning to find your opponents. Once you get the system down it’s quick and you can add/remove various amounts of rules and additional elements to craft the game that best suits you and your group. Ace of Aces had a bunch of released (I found one page that chronicles 20 editions of that game alone) and Bounty Hunter was meant to have at least 2 other expansions but it appears they were never printed. So the down fall to this game is that you are limited in your roaming ability. Still a nice fun kill the other guy game. Definitely guns up here.

Bidding, bluffing and screwing over your friends with hot little Indian girls throwing sticks of dynamite. Man what more do you really need in a game? Boomtown brings all this and more to the table. A card game in which the goal is to…well basically just get points and have more of ‘em than anyone else at the end of the game. Not really a unique idea you know…point collecting but it’s a helluva lot of fun and the theme works if you ask me. It could have been theme something different but it wasn’t and it’s included here. Bruno Faidutti is one of my favorite designers and you can feel his signature chaos elements throughout this game. Again it’s a fast game so even if you decide to play it twice you still a probably haven’t lost more than an hour and half at best and that’s if you had to teach the game. I guess it can drag a mite bit if you have some fucking AP player who ever single round of every single auction has to think diligently whether or not to bid up the price one more time when everyone else at the damned table knows for certain he’s going to. You know that guy. Guns up greatness!

I know very little about this game other than it's a card game, based in drafting and set collecting which I like. By Bruno Cathala who was co-designer of the above Boomtown and other games I've enjoyed greatly. It's by Blue Games which is known for crafting (in my mind anyway and where else does it matter really?) short, light fun little card games that have some depth to them. The theme is basically living the real cowboy life as it get riddled with encounters from various events that will take place through the day of trying to get your ranch to a level of success and ultimately bringing you victory. I'm not sure the jury is still out although it's pretty cheap and could easily be tagged onto a game order if I were to do another big one...would really like to score it in a multi-game trade. Obviously holstered guns here.

This game takes a real beating in the general “Designer Game” world but those uber-gamers typically don’t like things like chaos and randomness in a game. This one is full of both and I love it. Chaos from the cards as you never know what’s going to come flying at you from who and randomness from the massive dice pools you put together. You can end up rolling 12-14 D6’s as an attack and have that many rolled back as defense! Further with the damage system as it is you end up rolling quite a hell of a lot of dice and everyone’s only got a maximum of 3 health. You do only 1 point of damage per every multiple of 5 you rolled minus defense. (Example you roll 28 points on damage opponent rolls 14 in defense leaving 14 left over…he takes 2 points of damage unless he can avoid it via a card.) It’s a mini’s game stripped down to the basic move, shoot, power up shoot again…except being as it’s based on a computer game you are never eliminated….you just respawn and have to collect weapons. A really good game, let's see those guns up on this one then.

Way Out West brings the look and feel of euro-gaming to the world of the western front via the mechanics of Martin Wallace. This is a pretty good little game with some interesting rules giving the game it’s own distinct personality. Does it feel all that cowboy like? Only to a minor extent I would say but it does some so that’s something right? The game has effects like raising cattle, buying up stores, holding up the bank, and all kinds of attacks. I like it fair enough but it can drag if you don’t keep on top of the players and make sure they know it’s their turn. 15 minutes after doing nothing someone says “Is it my turn?” and the table responds “FUCK! Yes it’s your turn.” The game itself is made by Warfrog which means fair enough production value and a bunch of little chits to spill all over the board, yep guns up on this one too.

Ace Murder Mysteries is the maker of A Backful of Bullets and it’s as you can deduct…and if you can’t manage to deduct that you don’t need to be playing this game…is a murder mystery. Think of it as one of those “How To Host A Murder” dinner party game type things. I’ve never actually done any of those but this one with it’s western theme is certainly interesting to me and making me wonder about it. I like food, I like party games, I like mur…uhhhh I like food. Yeah that's it I like food and eating food. Interesting take though in that you are trying to solve who shot (and killed) Jesse James in the back. I’d like to see this one unfold but I have heard these games don’t have much replay value even with the changing endings. Keeping 'em holstered here. Have to wait and see.

Just like I would have been amiss for leaving Blackbeard off of the Priatey list so I would be also for leaving Gun Slinger off of this compilation. This game from 1982 by Avalon Hill fits the bill for exactly what AH was delivering game wise ‘back in tha day.’ Tons of details, tons of flavor, tons of rules, tons of sub-rules, and tons of sub-sub-rules. “You can see clearly here in section where the rule book talks about getting a shave from the local barber that if I have the barber start shaving on the left check and not the right I’ll be able to see out of the window for the 2 players turns and therefore have opportunity fire as you pass by. Now if you were coming from the west and it were 3 o’clock the sun would be shining in the window and I’d have no shot at all but it’s obviously only 2:47 at this point in the game and the sun’s too high for that. Whereas if you were coming from the north and kicked the door in you we both would have a shot and you easily would shoot first however I still get to use the barber himself as cover.” A good game? You can say it’s well designed and thought out but don’t be surprised if a conversation like that takes place. Dammit! I just want to play a game, move around and kill people. Guns down baby, sad to say.

Ahhhhhhhhh at last an American Indian themed game in my pile. I own this one and after reading the very unclear rules several times I knew part of the game would be a HUGE bog down. So I check some sources and found where people were playing a seems like this variant is just what a lot of people are asking for too. Instead of letting players freely choose what cards will be played each hunt have them shuffle the whole damned deck! It's faster (thank God because this game does NOT play in 30 mins.) and mixes the Euro/American game style nicely. WTF? A hybrid game? Yeah that works. Still the game kind of...well let's be nice and say sucks but not horribly so. I think I would hate the game with the original rules as some people do and well am not really sure I'm ever going to play this one again really. It's a remake and the quality is top notch, great art blah blah blah if that gets your rocks off and that's all you need go for it. The game play itself is monotonous and boring. Guns way down on this one.

While the list of games available for this entry can go on and on...I can't, well I could but I don't feel like it. I'll probably add to and fluff up this entry as time goes on but here's what I got's so far. Dig people play 'dem western games.