Wednesday, January 22, 2014

First try of Dead Man's Hand

I met up with my friends Hugh and Mark at Fantasy Flight Games Center to try Dead Man's Hand. Hugh kindly brought everything-figures, rules, buildings and terrain.  He had his Old West town up in 30 minutes.

That was time well spent as this game looks LOVELY on the table. 4Ground's prepainted buildings are gorgeous.  Each comes apart floor by floor, which allows you to fight from the ground floor to the rooftop. We had 6-7 people stop by to ask what we were playing.  That was a record amount of interest for us!

I ran the Lawmen and Mark ran the Outlaws. The game uses a small deck of playing cards for each gang. The cards determine initiative and activation order. Some cards are held in hand to be played for special abilities or interrupts. I loved that the cards break up the IGO-UGO.  They bring drama and uncertainty as you find yourself hoping for a turn of a friendly card.  Tempted as you are to play the cards quickly, you only get one new card at the end of each turn.

Sharp eyed readers will recognize these fellows from my painting table last fall. That's the bonus of "painting local."
The game is played with 3 linked scenes.  The first 2 are small affairs that build to a final showdown. In the first, 3 drunk Outlaws were giving my Lawman a hard time.  My gun ran out of ammo after my first shot so I ducked into a building for cover.  The Outlaws shot me dead anyway. Not a great start for the good guys.
In the second scene, my Lawmen got revenge by fighting through an ambush and sending the Outlaws packing.

The final showdown felt like a classic Western.  The Outlaws holed up in the Undertakers Office. As they ran in, I played a card that saw the undertaker pull a gun to defend his business.  It didn't turn out well for him as he became the first customer of what would be a busy day.

While the Outlaws were running to the rooftop, I rushed the first floor and dropped the Outlaw tasked to cover the front door.  In the picture below, the Lawman with the "Out of Ammo" marker has a sawed off shotgun.  His specialty is to run up point blank and shoot both barrels.  It's a high risk, high reward strategy. In close quarters, there's nothing better!
Dead Man's Hand gives you many decision points. When the enemy rushes you or through your line of fire, you can activate for a single quick shot if you haven't activated already.  You can also activate for a duck and dive as well, which is often the most sensible move you can make. The game plays out like a classic Western, with players crashing through doors, windows, and jumping off rooftops.  My Sheriff found himself outnumbered and in a bad spot. I played a "Bullets Can't Stop Him" card and kept him alive for that turn.

The end was played out behind the Undertaker's Office.  The Outlaw boss jumped down from the roof and drew my gang into the alley.  The Outlaws up on the roof had a good line of fire on my Lawmen and all the lead was making it hot, hot, hot.  Try as I might, I could not drop the Outlaw boss and losses on both sides mounted until each gang had to take a "Big Morale Test."  Hugh told us both "Don't roll a 1!" to which I replied, "Isn't that the name of a famous blog?"  And just like that, Mark and I tossed 1s.  Both sides broke and ran, resulting in a tie.  Like a good cliffhanger, we'll have to wait until the next episode to see who wins.
I'm completely smitten by Dead Man's Hand.  The rules were easy to grasp and the game moves very quickly. It builds a tense and colorful narrative. As someone who's gamed, lived in and loved the Old West, these rules hit all the right notes for me.  Very well done, Great Escape Games.  I'm off to get my copy and I can't wait to get another game in! Next time, I hope Mark will be singing, "I fought the Law but the Law won."  
Hugh and the Outlaw Mark in green
Fantasy Flight Games Center-aka Gaming Nirvana!