Doomtown Reloaded is a remake of the Deadlands Doomtown, a collectible card game from many years ago. AEG have released this two to four player game as an expandable card game, which simply means you buy expansions in known packs of cards rather than random booster packs, similar to the LCG system.
Doomtown Reloaded is all about control, to win the game you need to gain more control points than your opponent has influence. This mostly means building locations and getting your dudes to hold them, or take them off your opponent and this all leads to a chess-like game of moving your dudes around the town of Gomorra and calling out the opposition into shootouts.
It all comes together to make a beautifully thematic card game. As you add properties to the game you start to build up an opposing street and Gomorra takes form. Your dudes and posses move through the town, from hanging round in the town square to taking control of properties, it all feels like you are strutting your stuff in the dusty old west.
Where the theme really shines like a highly polished sheriff’s badge is during shootouts. Whether it's trying to rob a stagecoach or calling out a dude that's stinking up your property, sooner or later the hot lead is going to start flying and this is all achieved via poker hands. Every card has a standard card value and based on the kinds of dude in your shootout you will draw a number of cards from your deck and try and make the best five card poker hand. The better the hand more you have managed to outshoot your opponent.
The whole mechanic fits both the theme and style of Doomtown perfectly, carefully balancing the risk and theme. It's also unbelievably tense. You can be fretting that the lizards will be fighting the buzzards for your gizzards, holding on to a merely three of a kind when your opponent reveals an even more measly pair of 2s.
Sometimes the shootout draw can feel like a cruel twist of fate, being unable to pull anything useful. It's largely due to how you have built your deck and if you are capable of card counting you can carefully choose your shootouts knowing what's left in your draw pile.
Which leads us to another great bullet in the chamber for Doomtown Reloaded; deck construction. Making a Doomtown deck requires balancing the cards usefulness, its cost to bring out and upkeep and, most importantly, its face value. There's nothing worse than building a deck full of killer cards and then pulling a godawful poker hand during a shootout. The system not only makes balancing important it also gives plenty of strategic options. Do you concentrate on weighting the deck for killer draws, fill the deck with cheap gunslingers to flood the streets of Gomorra or boost your gunslingers with gadgets, blessings and spells? The options are many and just like every good collectible card game you can tinker your deck to your style.
AEG have to be given kudos for the way they constructed the core set. You simply get two of every card, with two starter decks already constructed and plenty of spare cards and example decks to make more. I absolutely love that the box comes this way, if you want to own the maximum number of cards you can play in a deck (4) you simply buy two core sets, and you're left with no redundant cards. I'm starting to get frustrated with Fantasy Flight Games’ core set distribution where if you want the maximum of every card you have to buy multiple core sets and then are left with many useless duplicate cards, I'm looking at you Conquest, and AEG have shown with Doomtown how to do LCGs right.
Another place where AEG should be given praise is the tutorial. Make no mistake Doomtown is a complicated game, probably the most complicated card game I have ever played. The rules about when cards get booted, how dudes move and how to call together a posse can all be unintuitive at first. Fortunately AEG realise this and have done everything in their power to make the game easier to learn. The game comes with player boards that give references about joining posses, movement and poker hand ranks but the best tool is the tutorial. The core set comes with two decks constructed in order. A step by step tutorial goes through a two player game and illustrates the major mechanics and concepts of the game. There are still a couple of places where the rulebook could have been better laid out but the tutorial and player boards more than make up for this issue.
One thing I want to say is that Doomtown is not a fast game, it's a lot more slow and mechanical. The analogy to chess is a strong one, the game is all about careful placement of your dudes and deeds and choosing the best time to start a shootout. Rush in all guns blazing and you'll be caught with your pants down and it's very easy for your opponent to shoot you down and mop up the remnants. That's not saying that with the right deck you can achieve this but I just want to emphasise the strategic and tactical depth of Doomtown.
I should point out that Doomtown Reloaded can be played up to four players; I should also point out that you really shouldn't, as the game just drags on and can end up with movement and shootouts that just get too complicated too quickly.
I really should have written this review a year ago when the game came out, but one year on, after just taking part in the world's largest Sherriff tournament I can say this game is just getting better and better. Being a year late it also gives me chance to talk about the extra cards that have come out in the meantime. AEG have released several saddle bags (smaller packs) and a handful of larger expansions featuring new home deeds and even two new factions; spirit wielding Native Americans and Chinese Kung Fu masters. These new factions have not only added some variety to the game, they have also added some significant new mechanics that can drastically alter the style of play.
However, the really good thing about all of these expansions is that none of them have added significant power creep to the game. Doomtown Reloaded's emphasis on tactics, deck construction and area control mean that it's still possible to be competitive with just the core set. Sure there will be the odd card in one of the expansions that will suit your play style but you don't need to buy every single expansion, and because it's a known distribution you can pick and choose with packs you buy.
Doomtown Reloaded is a (ghost) rock solid expandable card game that rivals many of Fantasy Flight Games LCG, in fact I would say Doomtown is better than most, and it does not suffer from the power creep as much as games like Netrunner.
Doomtown Reloaded manages to strike the perfect balance between theme and mechanics, it actually feels like you're building an old west town, and the shootout mechanic not only introduces a smidgen of randomness into the game, but perfectly fits the old west theme. It was my pick for Best Game of 2014 and is quickly becoming my most played game of 2015 and I think more people need to play this superb card game.