Thursday, December 1, 2016

Doomtown: Reloaded, Requiem

The Doomtown LCG is ending soon; word is the last expansion for the game will be released in October and as of this writing, there is no plan for it to be picked up by another publisher.

That's unfortunate, because this is a hell of a game. Yes, the learning curve was quite high, but once it leveled out, the rest of the game came pretty easily. It had an interesting blend of the familiar and the new and few games I've played have as successfully evoked the atmosphere they were going for.

Multiplayer games especially felt like the high noon shootouts of old west movies. They were tense with a lot of buildup and then bangbangbang! Did you guess right about the time to pick your battle? If you did, that felt pretty sweet. If not, it became pretty clear where the stumble was-usually picking a fight you didn't need to.

However, the game had some issues and I'd like to talk a little bit about I think went wrong.

First; playtesting. In the first year of the game, especially in the last half of 2015 and into very early 2016, expansions were arriving every month. That is a lot of product to sift through.

And it lead to some cards that felt awkward or weird or nonsensical. Which leads me to the next point.

Second: unruffled feathers. I remember there was an early expansion that gave Dudes (the characters in the game) keywords of "Confederate" and "Union". The significance of this? They couldn't be on the same team at the same time.

That's it.

Since there was no reason to use them cooperatively, nor a reason to use them to counter each other, then perhaps they were just powerful? No. And if there's one thing Doomtown isn't lacking for it's Dudes to play. So the impact on the game that made players have to take into consideration those keywords was nothing.

So many features of the game, ostensibly new mechanics that were introduced, just didn't matter. Didn't change the status quo, and didn't reach back to make an old card interesting, nor pay off in a near future set. 

That is not a good thing for a new mechanic and it's the kind of problem that many Doomtown expansions had. But when they did we got...

Third: confounding expectations. For certain kinds of mechanics in Doomtown, the player would perform a Pull to see if they succeeded. To Pull, the player would simply announce the ability they were activating (say, the creation of a gadget) and then reveal the top card of their deck. If the value was greater than or equal to the number required for the Pull, the activation was a success. Certain modifiers would come into play at that point: a Dude could have a Mad Scientist value of 3, which would be added to the value of the card-so if I needed to hit a 7 with a Mad Scientist value of 3 and drew a 5 or greater, I'd succeed.

This all got turned upside down with the introduction of the Kung Fu mechanic. Which worked like this:
To play a Technique, you must choose a dude with Kung Fu and pull. If the pull is lower than the dude’s value (remember this is the dude’s printed value plus Kung Fu rating value), it succeeds. If the pull is equal to or higher than the dude’s value (once again, including Kung Fu rating), it fails.
What? Why do we have to add the Kung Fu value to the printed value? Why not just provide a Kung Fu number and then subtract that from the value you needed to hit? It would be a clever mechanical way to distinguish that ability and it would be an easy thing to remember.

In a game like Doomtown where mechanics already were difficult to remember- movement and how jobs worked, being most notable- adding in extra math and issues for value was needlessly complicated. Plus, it would allow for good Kung Fu Dudes at higher values so you would have a broader range of values to work with.

Messy implementations of mechanics like this are impediments, not benefits.

It's because of things like this that I feel Doomtown had difficulty sustaining an audience. It's too bad, because there is a really interesting game under it all that could have had time to shine. Magic was equally messy in it's early years too and people, I think, often overlook that because what we talk about now are the powerful successes that make Legacy and Vintage interesting.

But even with that, Magic almost imploded on itself in it's early years. I would have liked to see Doomtown make a similar escape. 

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