When you grow up with Bonanza being the highlight of every Sunday night, Sheriff Matt Dillon and Paladin being heroes, you might be a western fan.
If you loved Clint Eastwood's 'spaghetti westerns', The Magnificent Seven and Django Unchained as movies, then your childhood interest likely continued into adulthood.
And if you then become a miniature gaming fan — well you're likely to go looking for a western-themed skirmish game to take to the gaming table.
The old west is actually a good fit for a miniature game with each player controlling only a handful of pieces. Think of many old westerns and you will recall they have an outlaw gang at their heart, and often they are chased by a posse. Those become a rich vein to mine for gaming systems.
That said, the field of western-themed miniature games is not a particularly crowded one.
But there a few, and a recent addition to the roster is Dead Man's Hand (DMH) from Great Escape Games in the United Kingdom.
I'll admit I was a bit surprised to see a western game out of the UK, but that it does really speaks to the lasting appeal of the North American cowboy and his mythos.
While cowboys are a part of history, Hollywood has made them larger-than-life, and DMH borrows heartily from the big screen feel of the old west, leaving exact historical recreation to others.
"Dead Man's Hand is a town in the U.S. During the period often referred to as the "Wild West". Our town and rules reflect that "wild" nature. We have made our game reflect a cinematic, Hollywood version of the time. With this in mind there may be some occasions where as a gamer you may think, "surely he cannot do that ..." If you find yourself considering that just take a minute to reflect on the number of Western films that you have seen where the plain ridiculous has been presented on screen and then reconsider. We want Dead Man's Hand to be a quick and deadly game, where daring game play combined with a bit of poker craft will lead to victory, or at the very least an enjoyable game for all. We want to encourage gamers to have their figures climbing on to buildings, running and leaping across roofs whilst firing at enemies all around. Where doorways are a secondary way to enter a building to diving through windows and where at any moment the best laid plans can be brought crumbling down by simply playing the right card at the right time," details the rule book.
"The inspiration was Western movies," offered Stuart McCorquodale co-creator with Great Escape Games, adding generally the company has focused more on historical accuracy with other games. "In the past, with our WWII system (Rules of Engagement) and our Ancients game (Clash of Empires) we have concentrated on tactics of these historical eras, but with Dead Man's Hand we wanted a game that reflected the cinema."
That works for me. Hollywood has flaws but making cowboys something special is an area they've actually done an admirable job.
Now as is the case with most miniature skirmish games there is a level of randomness with DMH, a big part of that coming from custom cards players have to draw and use, although you also need 10 and 20-sided dice.
"I've been wanting to work with cards in relation to miniature rules for a few years now so, when Mark (the other half of Great Escape Games) came up with the idea of us doing a Western game, it was only natural that cards would be integral to the game," said McCorquodale via an email interview. "The basic mechanics came quite quickly and were built on the specific premise that the game would be a Western gunfight system."
The cards are dual-purpose and work in two ways. First, they are used as special cards to affect the game (referred to as your 'hand') while it's being played. Second, they are used to determine initiative. Just keep in mind that the two are separate.
Each player has a themed deck to use throughout the game, consisting of the red or black common number cards (2's to 10's) of a deck of cards, including a joker. In addition, the player has the Jack, Queen, King and Ace of his gang type (e.g. Hearts for Lawmen, Spades for Outlaws, etc.). That said, a quibble is that the cards are undersized, far smaller than a standard deck of cards. While large enough to be easily read, they do not look very good put into standard protective card covers.
Mini gaming tables are such that grime is part of the norm, and cards will show wear with regular usage. That is why card sleeves are so popular, and the DMH cards would be better if they were larger to fit the available sleeves.
On the plus side, the cards are pretty easily understood in game terms, which again fits with the basic idea of DMH, a game where the emphasis is on fun more than complicated rules.
"Dead Man's Hand is mechanically a very simple game," agreed McCorquodale. "There are not many rules to absorb and remember so, in terms of development and play testing, this was our easiest game to date. This stage took 12 months of intense work. Some of the research was actually watching movies and getting the right balance between speed, simplicity and tension."
That is what makes a skirmish game come alive. As a player you want to have to make the tough decisions which can win you a game, or have you you lose but in a catastrophic blaze of bullets and glory.
A skirmish game also lives and dies on its mechanics. Players want something different with each game they buy into, and DMH has some things going for it which McCorquodale said the creative team is proud of.
"There's a shortlist of a few, but I'll pick just one: interruptions," he offered. "This mechanic means that initiative can be overridden by a model that has yet to act in a turn. It simply allows a single move or shoot action now instead of the normal three actions later on when the model's initiative comes up.
Check out the game at www.greatescapegames.co.uk/dead-mans-hand
If anyone is interested feel free to contact calmar...@sasktel.net