As Rules Tyrant, I feel it’s probably useful to ask what rules cause problems for new players as we look at updating the rulebook.
There a few that we’re aware of (confusion regarding moving and the ‘free moves’ from home to town square and from town square to adjacent locations, jobs and posse dissolution, and a few others), but what has tripped you up, new players (and old players)?
What seems confusing, or complex, or unintuitive to learn?
How can we help you learn this confusing, complex and sometimes unintuitive game?
When I explained the movement rules to my gf I treated the ‘free move’ as being a special ability on the home/town square. “You always boot when you move, but this location prevents that” (I also made a deed card for town square so she could look at it)
As for learning issues, lowball is a big one. A lot of people I’ve played with don’t know poker hands that well and most don’t understand what makes a two pair higher than a different two pair. Considering the first thing you do after set up is lowball it can be really confusing to say “I know I just said what hands are good, but now we are going to do the exact opposite to determine turn order, trust me this makes sense if you understand how the game is balanced” and then a shootout happens the whole thing gets flipped. It got to the point that for the first 2-3 games I replace lowball with a pull-off where lowest card wins. That way they still understand “lowball means I want low things” without having to consult a hand rank chart. I know it isn’t a major issue for people with poker experience but considering it is the first thing every deck does it feels like something that should get ironed out.
Having been the only veteran player among new players and casual players, there are a few things about the current game rules that have been particularly confusing and I’ve had to correct a number of times. Most of these can be addressed with a clearer rulebook or more help text. Here’s some that come to mind:
Adjacency rules and booting. Yeah, I know this is fundamental to the game and seems simple to veteran players, but I wish I had a nickel every time I had to correct an error made by new players (or irregular players who are rusty on the rules). Lots of conversations go like this:
“I move my dude from this deed to town square.”
“You would have to boot to do that.”
“But it’s adjacent.”
“Yes, but you have to boot to move unless it’s from your home or town square to an adjacent location.”
“But last turn, you said that my dude can boot from this deed to join the posse in town square. Shouldn’t that mean he can move there for free when he’s not in a hurry?”
“Booting to join a posse in an adjacent location is unrelated to booting to move during the noon phase.”
“Alright, in that case, I’ll start a job on town square instead. I’ll boot my leader…”
“No, that job doesn’t require you to boot your leader, so he goes to town square unbooted.”
“…Okay, forget it, I’ll just pass.”
Unclear temporary vs permanent stat changes. A dude with Pearl-handled Revolver gets hit with Sun in Your Eyes. Is he a stud or a draw? In other words, does “This dude is a Stud” mean he becomes a Stud until a new effect changes it, or he is and always will be a stud? This is mostly a problem with persistent things like Goods, but can be a case for actions (e.g. Bad Company (Noon action: becomes a Stud) and Sun In Your Eyes (Shootout action: becomes a draw). At the end of the shootout, is he a Stud or a draw?)
Each ability only being usable once per day by default. New players grasp “Noon, Boot” pretty well and how they can’t repeat it because the dude is booted. But every one I’ve taught at some point tries to do a “Noon” ability multiple times. Again, this is probably impossible to change, but it’s a common source of error.
Which card gets booted, especially for jobs. If a Good has an ability on it, that Good gets booted, unless it’s a job, in which case the leader gets booted. Lots of mistakes seem to get made this way. and even the initial promo version of Office of Ancestral Affairs was invalid due to saying “Noon Job, Boot: Boot your leader…”. Contrast this with early cards like Abram Grothe and Allie XP1 that said “Boot Abram” or “Boot Allie” and Desolation Row where you boot the outfit but not the leader. My ideal solution is for the game to always be that if a card says “boot” in the cost, you boot the card, unless the text later says otherwise.
The first sentence being a cost. I only picked this up by reading the Rules Questions: Doomtown Discord channel and never saw this in the rulebook, but apparently if the first sentence says “Boot your dude”, it must happen or you can’t play the card. But if the second sentence says “Boot your dude”, then it’s okay if it doesn’t happen. This seems to especially be a problem for casual players and longer cards. Ideally, I’d love for the bolded text to always be a cost, and the rest of the text to be effect (e.g. Noon, Pay 1 GR, Boot a Dude and Move Him to a Deed: That dude calls out a dude at that location"), but that may not be feasible for longer costs.
Kung Fu being less than, but other skills being greater than or equal to. We get that low is good for Kung Fu and high is good for other skills (in fact, we like the deckbuilding variety it brings). But we always wind up second guessing whether or not ties count for Kung Fu, and have had a lot of games where we allow ties for a few checks before remembering you can’t.
I think that most of the above can be fixed with either clearer rules or help text (used more consistently on all cards, not just the first few cards and then omitted afterwards), and a few of the remaining things through more consistent card design and terminology usage.
In general, I’d love to just have an eye out for where we can streamline rules and avoid exceptional situations. The learning curve is the most difficult part of Doomtown right now, and anything we can do to ease that would be fantastic.
Materials that can help
All related to lowering the learning curve. Even better if they are included in a new starter set:
Cardboard tokens for “Dude is a Stud”, “Dude is a Draw”, “Ability Used”, “+1/–1 Bullet”, etc. This I think would help new players get through more complicated shootouts because they won’t have to keep track of so much. Even better if there are distinguishing tokens (maybe different border?) for temporary vs permanent changes.
An order of play cheat sheet, either on a playmat board or the back of the rulebook. I print out this sheet and it helps a lot for new players to see all of their choices during a particular phase and ignore the rest.
An index and/or glossary. What does “Harrowed” mean, and where in the rulebook is it? It would be great if I could just check the index and see that page 24 defines it.
Deckbuilding advice. New players should be able to understand why deck structure is important and you can’t just throw a bunch of cards together and hope to do well. Among these would be explanations of 16x3, Straight Flush, Deadman’s Hand, and other deck types and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
I realized why this is an issue for casual players: it is not in the rulebook that comes in the box but in the Compendium you have to get from the website (typically reserved for keyword definitions & errata).
Something as important as what the cost is, which affects players regardless of their deck, should be in the rules in the box.