Review: ‘Deadwood 1876’

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A Fun Board Game for Wild West Fans

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You walk into a dust-filled saloon in a middle-of-nowhere town called Deadwood in the Black Hills of South Dakota circa 1876 during the gold rush. There are only three such watering holes in this town, and this one seemed like the best one to belly up to the bar for a drink. While there, you here several cowboys discussing the amount of gold being mined, how it is hard to get the ground to give up the gold, and how it may be easier to pick off the safes at one of the other establishments nearby.

Not being one to shy away from a little less-than-hard work to make some money, you introduce yourself to them. They welcome you into their cohort easily, maybe a little too easily…

This is the mood at the beginning of a game of Deadwood 1876 from Façade Games for ages 13 years old and older. Deadwood, which originally launched on Kickstarter, is a semi-cooperative, Wild-West themed shootout game that allows you to team up with other players, change teams when you want (or sometimes when you don’t want) and then finish the game off with a gunfight against your own team. It is an exciting board game that mixes teamwork and treachery to really convey the Wild West feel. Facade describes it as “a game of cards, strategy, deceit, and luck.” 

Last Man Standing

Let’s first look at the story behind this card-and-dice game. You play one of nine characters from the Deadwood story. If you are a fan of Western history or of the HBO series, you will immediately recognize these iconic bandits.

Deadwood 1876 mixes teamwork and treachery to convey a Wild West feel.

To add depth, the game requires you to you choose an establishment where you’ll be part of the crew: the Gem Theater, the Bella Union Saloon, or the Grand Central Hotel. Thus, you are not only the character that you are playing, but also part of a team. The narrative is one of the best stories from the Wild West and qualifies for a whopping 9 out of 10 in this category.

Artwork is the next major category. Deadwood 1876 provides an impressive set of art. The character cards contain color on one side and sepia on the other, which gives the appropriate Western feel to the game. The randomizer cards in your hand, are dual-use with stellar artwork.

Whether it’s the guns or the “events” that you can put into play, it is obvious that Façade Games put significant time and effort into Deadwood 1876. Therefore, the art scores a very good 8 out of 10.

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Mechanics make the game, and Deadwood has a good set. When you start, you begin to see an almost BANG! style feel to the game, where each player is trying to do away with everyone else to get the gold. However, once you immerse yourself in the game and things settle down, you start to see that this game deals with some of the issues of BANG!

First, this game does not allow players to be eliminated in the first round. With a big game like Deadwood 1876 (again, up to nine players), if you are knocked out in the first round, it is not fun to watch eight of your friends play without you. Deadwood deals with this by preventing you from being killed; instead, you are just thrown out of the saloon.

Further, everyone has the same amount of “life.” No one is going to take eight hits to kill while others take two hits. This does stagnate the mechanics somewhat, but it also prevents the winner from being chosen by the draw.

Mechanics, Strategy, and Novelty

The key randomizer is the card/dice combo. Players play their gun which indicates which die they will roll. It is quite effective at balancing the game. The genius of the dual-use cards, however, is the event at the bottom of each one. A card can be used as a gun (for a gunfight) or as an event that changes the course of the game. The mechanics of this game are well thought out, yielding a score of 6.5 out of 10.

Strategy is another element that makes a game fun. Too often, the draw in card games determines when you win or lose. Fortunately, Deadwood 1876 does not fall victim to this tendency. While there is always randomizer bias, it is balanced by the team element and the “three safe” rule. Since you can only have three safes, there is no reason to attack the weakest player. The strongest players are often fighting each other, which allows other players to get back in the game.

Since there are only four rounds, each player understands what is necessary to finish strong. The key strategy is for your team to amass the most gold in the first round and for you to have the best guns in the second round. This means that you have to enter the game with a balanced plan.

This does not exclude innovation. For example, one exciting method of play consists of bouncing the best players from your saloon after cards are revealed to ensure your saloon has the most gold. You also need the best gun, however.

This is a fun game that keeps you on your toes; for strategy, it is a 7 out of 10.

Novelty is another important factor. Acknowledging the above-referenced BANG!, Deadwood 1876 is not the first cowboy card game. That being said, the integration of the safe mechanics with the augmented shootout rules, along with the dual phase playscape, creates a game that is significantly different from others in the genre.

Deadwood is unique in many elements and is limited by some of the elements that constrain all card games. This means that Deadwood comes forward with an above average 6 out of 10 for novelty.

The Final Showdown

Make no mistake; Façade Games has published a quick, fun, and easy to pick up entry for your family and friends, both gamers and non-gamers alike. With a raw score of 36.5 out of 50, Deadwood 1876 qualifies for the very good category of card games.

This is a game that you want to have on your shelf for a quick round with your non-gamer friends or you can sit down for a battle royal with your hardcore gamer buddies. One of the nicer aspects is that is a great party game. With 2-9 players, a large group of friends can participate, which gives it a 1.5 point boost in its overall score. Thus, the final rating is a 38 out of 50, making it a very strong card game.

I hope you will take the chance to try Deadwood 1876. Have fun and get your cowboy (or cowgirl) hat on!

Christopher W Smithmyer
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