Deadwood (Fantasy Flight Games, 2011)

Dates played: 05/23/20-05/25/20

Basic details: 2-5 players; 30-60 minutes

Gist of the game: Knowing there’s gold in them thar hills, you send your cowboys into Deadwood to, ahem, “annex” buildings and collect money. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins.

To start the game, the Town Hall, Sheriff’s Office, and Church tiles are placed on the board, as is the Sheriff token, which always sits at the intersection of 3 tiles. The remaining building tiles are sorted by symbol and placed in stacks. Four random tiles from the first stack are drawn and placed, along with the saloon, in the 5 starting plots on the board. Five wanted posters per player are placed in a pool, and the money tokens, cartridge tokens, pony tokens, and dice are played in a supply. Each player receives the 9 cowboys in their chosen color, $5, a pony token, and a cartridge token. One cowboy of each strength (1-3) are placed face up in front of the player with the remaining cowboys going to the supply. The area in front of the player is their Ranch. Ranches are open and can be seen by all players. Players roll dice to determine who goes first.

On your turn, you must take 1 of 2 actions: head back to the ranch by removing one or more cowboys from the board and returning them to the play area in front of you, or hit the town by placing a cowboy at a building on the board.

Players take turns until the end of the game is triggered by 1 of the following conditions: a) the train station is placed on the game board; b) there are no more wanted posters in the pool; or c) any player runs out of cowboys.

When hitting the town, a cowboy cannot be placed at the abandoned mine, a plot without a building on it, a railroad tile, or at a building with a cowboy of the same color. If placed on a tile with an opposing tile, there’s a shootout (described below). If a cowboy is alone at a building, they annex it. Each building triggers different conditions when they are annexed, including possibly the placement of railroad tiles or additional buildings.

A shootout occurs in 9 steps: 1) the new arrival takes a wanted poster out of the pool (full disclosure: we never remembered to do this); 2) the defender can choose to flee by discarding a pony token and moving their cowboy to the abandoned mine; 3) if the defender stays, the attacker says whether they are going to use a cartridge. Only one cartridge may be played per player per fight; 4) the defender says whether they are going to use a cartridge; 5) players take a number of dice equal to the strength of their cowboy (1, 2, or 3); 6) an additional die is taken if a cartridge is used; 7) the number of dice each player has is compared and the player with the most dice rolls a number of dice equal to the difference in numbers of dice. If any dice have a 6, the other cowboy is killed and is moved to Boot Hill, from hence they cannot return. If any dice have a 4 or 5, the other cowboy is wounded. Two wounds kill a cowboy. After the shootout, all wounded cowboys are healed; 8) if the other cowboy survives the initial showdown, both players now have the same number of dice. They roll dice one at a time until a cowboy dies or they run out of dice; and 9) if the defender is killed or flees, the attacker annexes the building. If both cowboys survive, the attacker must flee to the abandoned mine and the defender retains control. If both cowboys die, no one controls the building.

Once the game end is triggered, the current player finishes their turn. Even if a player has no living cowboys, they may still win the game by having the most points. Points are calculated by adding all the money together and subtracting the amount required for the number of wanted posters a player has (more posters non-linearly cost more money). The player with the most points wins.

Color commentary: There wasn’t much gunslinging in the first couple playthroughs, only a few shootouts, all instigated by M. It’s a little annoying that you almost always have to consult the instructions to figure out what to do when a building is annexed. Each building tile does have an illustrated guide as to what happens, but those diagrams don’t always make sense. Having to constantly refer to the manual made it hard to keep a steady cadence to the game. Maybe making player guides or something would help. Perhaps this will be a craft project I undertake at some point.

The fact that you cannot move a cowboy directly from one building to another (unless annexing a building allows it…but I think only one or two do so) creates interesting strategic opportunities in terms of when and how many cowboys to bring back to the ranch at any given time.

The shootouts all basically revolved around the bank, which comes with a $5 and 1 wanted poster payout. The $5 is a big deal, and wanted poster is easy enough to get rid of because anyone can place a cowboy on the church (which lets you discard a wanted poster upon annexation) without having to worry about a shootout at the church.

Thoughts from M: I haven’t been able to develop any real strategy, aside from trying to annex the bank as often as possible, as well as annexing the church to unload wanted posters. The Dance Hall gives you a dollar and lets you remove up to 2 cowboys in the same turn, which a) provided me with some quick cash and b) let me avoid having all my cowboys out of commission when I pulled them back to the ranch. Petra left the Dance Hall open when I left each time, letting me play it for several turns in a row, generating a steady stream of money and cowboys. That only happened in the 3rd game, though. In general, I found myself getting too focused on a multi-step course of action I could take and missed better opportunities that opened up because of Petra’s actions. The artwork is cool, though, and it stayed fresh over the course of repeated play throughout the weekend.

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