Doomtown- an Introduction


~ Where"s This "Doom Town" Then?

Now theres many a folk can tell y"all the what and wheres of Doomtown better"n me- most "specially the Crow"s Nest or the Alderac site. In fact, if you want a proper list of all the sites in town, best to hit the home of Mat Bowles, current keeper of the FAQ. Thats his place, the Fuzzy Duck (best you don't ask).

I"ll try and give you a flavour so"s you can drop in on them if you like the sound of it.

OK, so d"ya ever play the Deadlands Roleplaying game? Wait! Come back!

Its OK if you ain"t! I"ll start again... you seen the film Wild Wild West with wicki-wicki-Will Smith? Ah, now we"re talkin! It"s the Wilder West, with lawmen, outlaws, guv"mint agents and mad gadgeteers building devices so crazy that they got no business workin" at all? Pretty cool stuff huh?

Now, imagine all that but with hucksters that can really throw hexes, preachers who can actually call down miracles and shamen who have awakened their ancestor spirits to help defend their lands.

Then imagine - you sittin" down?- that with all this magic flyin" around monsters are roamin" the earth and gobblin" any folk who stray too far into the deadlands. And the dead"r risin" from their grave all too regular, either as mindless zombis or possessed by magical critters that lend them strange powers. Hooha! That"s the Weird West, and Gomorrah is one of its hotspots- a Californian mining town that"s attracted enough magic, monsters and killing to earn the name of "Doomtown".

So that"s where Doomtown is- like I say if you wanna hear more about the place the Town Council at Alderac County has a rather natty guidebook and Professor Crow runs an informal tour for tinhorns like yerself, from the relative safety of his scratch built dirigible. If you"re really into local history theres an extensive library at Pinnacle County Hall, where the whole concept was born. You"re in luck, the coach leaves in just an hour.

If you really like the place, an" think you can stake a claim in this tough town, you"ll need to buy yourself a deck or two and get playin"! And if you wanna chat with the folk inhabiting Gomorrah these days, and theres still a few of us around, theres a maillist you can tap into- just send a telegram to say you"re in. In fact you can see whats been going on by checkin" the minutes, which r" all recorded here fer posterity.

~ OK, So Tell Me About the Doomtown CCG

Thought you"d never ask! OK so I could tell you about the fantastic fiction produced by AEG"s writers, bringing the cards to life and providing a fantastic backdrop to the game.

Prairie Vixen by rk post
Prairie Vixen, by rk post.
Card art for Tzipporah Whateley (Dude, 10 Spades).
Used by permission.
Truth is you don"t need all that to get into the game "cos the art and "flavour text" of the cards themselves give the game so much atmosphere that you"ll be in the swing of the Weird West after yer first game. An" prob"ly hooked too, once its in yer blood it tends to stay there.

The best bit is the game itself, which has a unique mechanic that not only rewards cunning deck construction but also requires strategic play to do well- all while maintaining that Weird West flavour. Your cards represent everything you bring to Gomorrah in your attempts to tame the town: The dudes who"ll accompany you and do yer fightin", building, mining and spell-slinging; the things you"re gonna build when you get there; the stuff you"re shippin" in from back east; and the things you"re gonna do to prevent your opponent from takin" charge while you build your power base. All the while you"re buildin" up Ghost Rock, a kind of mineable source of magic which goes fer currency in a town like Gomorrah.

Pretty standard so far? OK, so now get this- each card is not only a Dude, Deed, Spell or whatever, its also a playing card. Wha...? Yea you heard me right! Every card"s got a rank and suit printed in the corner, jus" like a regular card you"d use fer poker or the like. Every one "cept the jokers of course... Your deck is limited to 52 cards (plus up to 2 jokers), jus" to tie it all in to the wild west poker ethos.

If, as often happens in Doomtown, your Dudes get in a "heated dispute" with your opponent"s Dudes, the results of the combat are played like poker- your good shooters give you a stud bonus (lettin" you draw more than 5 cards and pick the best hand) and your weaker hombres give you draw bonuses (so you can discard and redraw cards from your initial hand). Whoever pulled the best poker hand will still be standin" when the smoke clears.

The values on the cards serve another purpose, as many effects in the game depend on you pulling a card over (or under) a value. In particular skills like spell-slinging or gadgeteering, require you to pull over a certain number (higher numbers for more difficult spells or gizmos), so you need to make sure you don"t mix in too many low cards with card effects that need high pulls to succeed. An" vice-versa of course.

This makes not only for cool combat resolution but also creates very interesting construction issues, "cos you don"t have to build a "legal" poker deck. If you"re lookin" at goin" in shootin", a weak Dude can shoot up some mean hombres if hes pulling from a stacked deck- hey, you could build a deck entirely based on one value and pull five of a kind each time! But wait up, you gotta balance yer mean streak in this regard, because of a second great game mechanic- the Cheatin" card.

Cheatin" cards are Actions you can play when another player pulls an "illegal" hand on yer, and the effects of these cards have been getting" harsher in recent years. Just listen in on some of the old cowhands discussin" decks and cheatin" at the archive post. They"ll tell you they"re glad of the severe punishments meted out to cheaters, "cos they "member when this was even more of an outlaw"s town and the advantages of stackin" up a deck on one value more than outweighed the risks. Believe me its more fun when you have to give it some serious thought. The sign outside the Sherrif"s Office says this in big letters- "DON"T CHEAT!", though noone goes out shootin" without stackin" the odds one way or another.

Ghost Of My Father, illo by beet
Ghost Of My Father, Dude Card, 7 Spades
Card art by beet, used by permission

So you gotta keep the value stacks to a minimum, "cos building a deck stacked full o" fives is gonna get you whupped even before you get in a shootout, prob"ly in the poker draw that happens at the beginning of each round. Oh, and in this part (the Gambling Phase), the poker"s played "lowball", so the player with the lowest hand wins the Ghost Rock and the initiative for that round.

Aside from shootin", the game is a jostle for power and influence, one provided by building important buildings and the other by bringing the important people in Gomorrah into your fold. You can build your power base with weird science gadgets, spells and magical gear and even learnin" kung fu... or why not take the ol" fashioned path of mining, openin" saloons, and hirin" in shootists. You can then undermine your opponent by cutting off his money supply, burning or occupying his buildings, shootin" up his dudes, claim jumping his strikes, casting nasty spells and all kinds of actions from the weird to the jus" plain dirty. An" that"s before we get to the "random" Events that can occur in every lowball round, which you can put in yer deck in the hope that they" hurt your opponent more" they hurt you.

If that all seems a lot to take in, well maybe it is, and with so much going on there"s a few places you can trip up. Sometimes even the developers missed stuff or messed up, but its a credit to them (and to the broad vision of the original designers) that a game with this depth and breadth has stayed balanced and coherent with as few rulings and errata as it has. The list of rulings is held in very good order by, you"ve guessed it, Prof. Crow, and if you"re really stuck there"s always someone on the mail list who"ll give you the benefit of their (usually insanely detailed) knowledge of the game.

If you want a bit more from a card game than chasing the killer rare that wins all games, with plenty of twists to think about both on and off the pitch, you have to give Doomtown a try, especially with many traders selling off their stock at crazy mule prices. So what are you waitin" for? Get yourself a starter deck (an" one f"yer friend) an" join the crazed Doomtown frothers, desparately tweaking away at that killer deck!

~ Hey, What Happened Here?

Bit of a mess at the moment ain"t it? Gomorrah"s had a lot of upheavals in recent years. Two very strong story arcs have

Lord Grimeleys Manor, by Thomas Manning.
Lord Grimeleys Manor, by Thomas Manning.
Card art for Lord Grimeley"s Manor: Experienced
(Deed, Ace Diamonds). Used by permission.
seen the town pulled apart by factions, fire, flood, a plague of monsters, a gate to another dimension and of course the coming of the railways.

Again, s"all chronicled in Professor Crow"s library, if ya wanna go ask him.

The story o" the game itself ain"t much less dramatic: Originally developed for Pinnacle by Five Rings Publishing Group, production and development then transferred to Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) before being bought (and then sold) by a consortium of west coast magic men (you"ve heard of them? Powerful mojo, or so I heard, but even they couldn"t tame Gomorrah).

AEG picked the deeds back up for a handful of coloured beads, but unfortunately the romance had to end when a failure to pick up sales forced them to withdraw support for the game. As a parting gift to the loyal townsfolk the Alderac boys decided to bring out the last set anyway, even knowing that it wouldn"t make them back the money they were spendin". On top of that they sent it out in whole set boxes, with redemption for another box of boosters (!). Heh, them crazy fellers. If you wanna know more about the Do Unto Others Set you can read my review here.

~ The Game Ain"t Dead Then?

Clean Getaway, Action Card, 6 Clubs
Clean Getaway...
Juliet Sumner evades the law again.
Card art by Cris Dornaus.
Used by permission.

No siree! The games only dead when noone plays it, and one thing Doomtown has never lacked is hardcore support. With so many cards already produced for the game and such a great game mechanic theres more life in this game than some still in production! You"re gonna see DT tournaments at big gaming events and in local stores (US) and clubs (UK) for some time to come, even if those crazy old-timers have to play by themselves. So theres no new cards comin" out, let me tell you theres plenty enough there already, several hundred more than them Vampire players survived on for many moons.

Maybe the excitement of spending all your money on obtaining every new card as it comes out is what you want from a card game? Nah, me either. And there"s noone to sponsor the prizes at major events? Pah, the prize ain"t the trophy, it"s the recognition! The fun really is in playin" the game, an" us frothers have a great time with big multiplayer games noone even tries too hard to win!

~ If It"s so Great, How Come it Ain"t Still Goin"?

Hey, if you knew the answer to that theres plenty of folk at AEG would like to hear from you. Though having said that they"ve heard quite a bit on the subject already, from commisserations to recriminations. My opinion, for what its worth, is that the things makin" Doomtown great are precisely the things that prevented it from expanding. It was never supported by a lame-ass cartoon, and its subject matter (soiled doves, demons, zombies, magic) meant that although it was never aimed at a "kids" market, it may have lost sales towards its potential lower age band, with parents steering their progeny down less heretical paths (or, if in doubt, blame the moral minority for spoilin" all yer fun). Others with more (and less) knowledege of market forces than I have said more than I"m gonna on the subject so I"ll leave it there. But let it be known that Doomtown is still the best CCG around, and will remain so for a long, loong time.

Deadlands, the Weird West, ghost rock, Harrowed, the Deadlands logo, the Pinnacle logo, and all other marks, names and characters from Deadlands are ™ and © 1996-1998 by Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Inc. Card illustrations, images, characters, names, marks, and images original to Doomtown are ™ and © 1998 by Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Inc. Doomtown is a trademark of Five Rings Publishing Group. Game Design by Alderac Entertainment Group.
Background texture (Dunes) from