Originally published at: http://gomorragazette.com/2016/07/12/youre-not-as-unlucky-as-you-think/
by Joe James
Hold yer horses, pardner! Before you go cursin' Lady Luck, let's take a look at a few areas where we have direct control over an outcome that we might otherwise blame on simple luck. I am no stranger to the occasional frustration that comes with the more random elements of Doomtown: Reloaded. Not to worry though, I’ll share with you some tips for improving those odds that you may not have known existed.
Shootout Hands: Actions
One of the first things to realize when learning this game is that the draw structure of your deck largely determines a shootout hand’s effectiveness. Tighter draw structures tend to yield higher shootout ranks, albeit with a greater risk of cheatin'. Everyone knows that, and that was the beginning and end of how I used to view my odds of drawing a particular shootout hand.
But I used to curse lady luck: Why does this opponent of mine seem to often get better hands than me when we both have a similar draw structure?
I used to play Sloane a lot, with a tight draw structure and at least a couple of starting studs. Oh, and I always thought Sun In Yer Eyes was the greatest shootout action of all time. Why would anyone play an action that gave them another stud (e.g. The Stakes Just Rose, Faster on the Draw) or bumped up their dude’s bullets (e.g. Bad Company, War Paint)? Clearly it's always better to deny your opponent their biggest stud with SIYE, giving them a potentially huge decrease in odds, than it is to bump up your side and only marginally increase your own odds, right (if you give yourself yet another stud, it's only 1 more card drawn into your hand)? I was on the right track, but it's not that simple.
Picking your shootout actions is just as important as the draw structure of the deck itself. If your deck has a tight draw structure, then it does make sense to pack more stud nerfs and bullet reductions. The tighter your draw structure, the fewer cards you typically need to draw to make a good hand. If you play a looser structure, though, that's when cards like The Stakes Just Rose start to make a lot more sense. You likely need those extra cards in your draw hand to make a good hand. This is especially true with decks that don't want to cheat, such as Putting the Pieces Together and various Law Dogs decks. You absolutely need to draw as many cards as you can to increase your odds of a legal full house or four of a kind or better.
Cheatin’ punishment complements both loose structured and non-cheatin' decks, since cheatin' punishment often packs more of a wallop while riding along side a legal hand. Most decks can do little to stop decent shootout hands that combine with cheatin’ cards.
Maybe my opponent gets consistently better shootout hands, even though we have a similar draw structure, because they tailor their shootout actions and resolutions to their deck while I do not.
Shootout Hands: Degenerating Draw Structures
Most Doomtown players have at least a working familiarity with the concept of a degenerating draw structure. Dead man’s hand and straight flush decks often use cards like Buried Treasure, Gomorra Parish, or the Eagle Wardens home to ace any card that doesn't fit the desired draw structure. Over time, the odds of pulling that hand increase.
What everyone needs to understand, however, is that every deck has some form of degenerating or evolving draw structure. Every time you play a card that stays in play, you change the draw structure of your deck - for better or worse. Even if you have the tightest structured 16/16/16 deck, with zero off-value cards in your deck, your draw structure can worsen over time.
There are two main concepts to keep in mind when crafting how your deck will evolve over the course of a game. For dead mans hand or straight flush decks, you need to have a plan for your off-value cards. If you run a 14/14/10 draw structure, that leaves 14 off-value cards in your deck. The more of those cards you can get on the table in play, the better your draw structure becomes over the course of the game. Likewise, beware of adding off-value cards like actions that always immediately go back into your discard pile and deck. As you play your other on-value cards, your decks draw structure will worsen over time. That's not to say that you can't have off-value action cards, but it's important to keep in mind when building a deck.
When it comes time to decide casualties in a shootout, consider more than simply which dude has a useful ability or provides more influence. Many folks start off-value dudes. If that's the case for you then make sure that you factor in your draw structure when deciding whom to ace and who to discard. Sometimes the choice is obvious, draw structure be darned. But if it's not a big difference either way, then always make the decision that helps maintain or improves your draw structure. While it's always nice to see a discarded starting posse dude show back up in your play hand, it's usually just the opposite when they show up in your shootout draw hand.
On second thought, maybe my opponent gets better hands because all their off-value cards are in play, and half my starting posse got cycled back into my deck?
Play Hands: Gettin' What You Need
Another curse I have given to Lady Luck: Why does my opponent always seem to get that one card they need, even though they only have a couple in the deck?
Once again you can rely on luck, but at the same time dramatically increase your odds. The solution is pretty obvious if you are running a Legendary Holster deck, or some other deck that builds around one particular card. In that case, you simply want to cycle your hand as much as possible. Play every single card you can, and discard at least one if you still have some left in your hand at sundown. Add targeted search cards such as Junior for the Holster. Toss in some Hired Guns, which is a value that fits well in a Holster deck, and you have dramatically increased your chances of getting that Holster. Having only two Holsters in the deck along with Junior and two Hired Guns more than doubles your chances of getting it.
However, even if you don’t play a deck that relies heavily on a certain card, chances are that there are cards in your deck that are more ideal than others - either more ideal in general, or more ideal for the current situation in your game. Every deck needs to contain tools that maximize the potential of your play hand. Flexible cards like Hired Guns and cards that allow you to cycle through your hand like Ambrose Douglas, Asakichi Cooke, and Smiling Frog help ensure your hand best fits the current situation. Play the original Eagle Wardens a few times and you will quickly see the power of card cycling.
This is especially important if you are in a tight spot and are forced into hiding at your home. Unfortunately the original Eagle Wardens won't help you here, but cards like Ambrose and Asakichi will make a massive difference. Imagine that you had a bad shootout in the first few turns, and now your opponent camps your deeds while you cower stuck at home. With minimal income, and only discarding one card a turn, it could take a long time to gather the right combination of dudes, goods, spells, and cards in hand to take back a deed or the town square. Having the above dudes or other cycling effects not only helps with having extra influence or movement shenanigans, respectively, but it can literally halve the number of turns required to get those cards you need. That's fewer turns that your opponent freely gathers income to lay down more dudes and deeds. That flexibility and power cannot be understated.
Hmm, maybe my 4th Ring opponent always seems to quickly find all the hexes they need because they have their home ability, Ambrose, and discard a card every turn to cycle through 4-5 cards every single turn, greatly increasing their chances of finding what they need.
Keep in mind that we can employ every tactic that exists and still have games where luck simply doesn't go our way. That will always be the case, so never worry about a string of bad luck here and there. As always, the case in trying to get better at something, every step you take - no matter how small - will pay out in the long run. A tiny increase in odds by .5% here and 1% there may not make a big difference in any particular game. Nonetheless, as you continue to add to your repertoire they will all add up over time into something significant.
Do you have other tactics to increase the odds of what might otherwise seem like pure luck? I'd love to hear folks thoughts - let's keep this discussion going on the forums.