You're Not As Unlucky As You Think

Originally published at:
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.


Jumping off from there…

When building/playing your deck, keep in mind the kind of money you’ll get first turn and second turn, guaranteed.

I have two very different decks in this regard:

My Gadget Deck out of Morgan Stables starts with a minimum of 6 GR. That’s enough for any deed in the game, and to build a gadget horse, no problems.

And if I don’t get a deed first turn? I can still mad science up a horse to help cycle a card, without any major concerns.

This means I can put in fewer deeds if I want, and I’m not concerned about their cost really.

My Kung Fu deck starts with 0 rock, 0 upkeep the first turn, then 2 upkeep after.

I always aggressively hunt for deeds in my opening hand (using Focusing Chi and Benjamin), or I save GR for a second turn if I can’t find one, getting into a shootout early to burn actions if needed.

I’ve seen lots of new players construct a deck that they really can’t get going, due to not having enough rock to kick start their economy.


Re: Degenerating Draw Structure:

Remember too, that all actions are not created equal, even if they are on-value. Shootout actions (and especially cheatin res) can clog up your hand (and draw potential) if over-emphasized. This is rarely a problem with a 16/16/16 structure, but the more diluted structures (straight flush, deadman’s, etc) can suffer.

For example: if you rely on seeing 4 clubs for hand rank, coachwhip might not be the best bet, because your ability to play it will depend on your opponent. War Paint, on the contrary, can be played as soon as it hits your play hand and starts to cycle back into draw potential.

Of course, you always have to weigh effectiveness of ability vs effectiveness of value - which is the signature strategic element of Doomtown (much to our collective satisfaction and occasional frustration!).

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Very good points. Having initial cash to kickstart the deck is important, and also having cards (actions especially) that don’t clog up your hand is also important.

The latter point is one of my issues currently with the new card - Inner Struggle. I really want to like that card, but it works best in lowball, since there are waaaaay better cheatin’ res options out there (maybe not for A of clubs, but still). I’d rather use other cheatin’ res during a shootout, so unless it’s the only cheatin’ res I have I will be saving it for lowball… which means it’s sitting there potentially clogging up my hand indefinitely. And if I have another cheatin res to use in a shootout, that 2 cards clogging up my hand. Not cool… but imagining 3 or 4 of them stacked onto my opponents home (which would require a long game, probably) sounds pretty damn cool too. Great vs Den of Thieves, but a serious gamble against anyone else.


You’ve brought up card cycling, and left out some of the best card cycling tools. While discarding a card that is currently unhelpful (cards you can’t afford, or tech cards not useful against opponents deck) will give you more draw at the start of your next turn, discard and draw is even better. While these cards aren’t as exciting or surprising as The Stakes Just Rose, or Kidnapping, they work toward what you’re talking about, preserving and improving draw structure, and getting the right card at the right time.

Homes with built in discard and draw will essentially get to play from 5 out of 6 cards (when they meet their requirement), instead of just 5, as well as dropping a currently useless card. 4R, Morgans stables, and Eagle wardens greatest asset is being able to play through more cards every turn.

Certain Actions, goods, spells, and deeds can offer good card advantage and should not be so easily dismissed as they are by some. Pony Express is an incredibly good deed for 1 reason only, card cycle. Gomorrah Perish also tunes a deck and gains GR. Whisky flask on Clementine Lepp is another favorite of mine. Spirit guidance also works about the same. Buried treasure is a hidden gem since it cycles out of hand, draws a new card, and aces a card out of your deck that you don’t need (plus ghost rock gain).

Decks that have more discard and draw abilities are able then to play cards like Inner struggle with less fear of it clogging their play hand if it was unable to be played during lowball.


Another great card for Card Cycling and being useful is Focusing Chi.

Need to make a critical pull? Put it back on top so you can unboot and setup the next few cards.

Need something else in your hand desperately? Draw a card.

It’s honestly been one of my favorite cards for my Kung Fu deck.

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Oh definitely on focusing chi, especially if you have a booted kungfu dude you want unbooted, or play legendary holster.

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Yeah, I really just lumped all card cycling into one broad category and didn’t really go into detail into the different kinds, other than to bring up some examples like asakichi and ambrose. I think Jayjester hit the nail on the head, showing how that topic alone can be quite in depth.

The question becomes how much card cycling is enough, and more importantly, how much is too much? That is clearly a question with a million variables to consider, but I do think having too much cycling is a potential problem as well. At some point you need to be able to actually do something.

Another question: Are there decks out there that wouldn’t really benefit from any more card cycling than the standard 1 discard per turn? What about a Judge deck that needs to be shootout ready turn 1, has almost entirely club shootout actions, and never has time for cycling since it needs to be instantly aggressive turn 1 (often first noon action, as well)? Most card cycling that draws a card the same turn takes time and cards to set up. I’ve never played a Judge deck, and have little experience, so this is just random pondering on my part trying to think of a deck that wouldn’t want card cycling.

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Well, just speaking from anecdotal experience, I have yet to build/play a deck that doesn’t benefit from some form of card cycle.

As you say earlier in the post, there will always be cards in one’s deck that are more ideal than others. This is always true due to a constantly changing game state. The ability to cycle into cards that are helpful at any given moment allows a player to adapt and make educated decisions. It also greatly enables ‘toolboxing’ with hard counters that could otherwise be useless.

As for “how much is too much cycling?” Depends on playstyle, methinks. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of serious milling decks. They tend toward the ‘one trick pony’. I like to flesh out my builds with both resiliency and flavor. I think the design of doomtown helps with this - through the uniqueness of dudes and deeds, the value limits, and the poker variable.

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This is one of the best discussions on the strategy of deckbuilding I have seen since Eric Jome’s article on (Classic - but still relevant) deck structure here:

Anyone still trying to build up the community around this great (if dying) game should refer players interested in moving past the ‘playing better’ phase and into ‘building better’ phase of learning here.

Excellent insights people!

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“Too much cycling” depends on how much tempo you want to lose and how specific you want to be. You may want to fish for an specific card, but as you stated that makes you a one trick pony.
Regarding tempo, you may lose you opportunity to gain the upper hand in a game if you spend your actions digging for a card, opportunity windows is a term used a lot in ANR but not so much in DT:R, but it’s an interesting one.

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One thing I’ve been doing more of recently is including two (or more) copies of a key dude or deed in my deck. It increases your chances of seeing the card when you need it, while removing the possibility of putting all your cards of one suit/value into play and hurting your deck’s shootout structure. There are plenty of options for card cycling now, so the old concerns about ‘dead’ cards are less of an issue. You might not want to send a dude you have multiples of into a fight alone though, because them getting aced is even more annoying!

I’m not a stats person, so I don’t know how it works out mathematically, but to lower the possibility of cheatin’ I’ve been playing around with running no more than three actions for my values in a three-value deck. The thought being that I’m going to be putting on-value dudes, deeds and goods into play, so as the game progresses I’m going to see the actions more and more as my deck degenerates. By having fewer actions in the deck to begin with it doesn’t skew the balance quite as quickly as it would usually.

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Great post there by Eric Jome. I had no idea he was such a big part of doomtown - he lives not too far away and we’ve been trying to get him out here for some games but it hasn’t worked out yet. Now I really want to play with him! If someone were ambitious enough to compile a list of strategy articles in one place, that one definitely deserves to be at the top.

As for the too much cycling, Funtimeteddy and Pachinko, that’s what I was thinking too. With the decks that need to be instantly shootout ready turn 1, I would agree that card cycling will always help with getting those more ideal cards, but like Pachinko said - at what cost? If you need that extra shootout action turn one, but are stuck with a card cycle action (or 2) instead then you might lose that opportunity. I don’t know, it’s hard to say since there are so many variables but since I’m personally not a fan of a deck that relies on winning within 2-3 turns (and has no long term plan), I’d probably add some card cycle.

Doomdog - I love the idea of including more than one copy of a key dude or deed that is on-value to your deck. Even if one gets aced, at least you can continue to count on the other copies for your draw structure. Question about your three actions in your three-value decks, though: I can understand doing that if you want to avoid cheating, but doesn’t that mean your draw structure is not only weaker to begin with, but gets even weaker over time as you play your on value dudes/deeds/goods? Actions are often the one thing you can count on playing and NOT degrading your draw structure, so wouldn’t you want all 4 in a three-value deck?

Are you trying to tell me that my kung fu deck that has 4 copies each of buried treasure, one good turn, focusing chi, and whiskey flask, and starts Asakichi Cooke is to much card cycling?

hahaha - it may or may not be that deck of yours I was thinking of when I posed the “is too much card cycling possible?” question :smile:

Yours has legendary holster, though, so when building around one card like that, there may not be such a thing as “too much cycling”

I must admit: I haven’t given Whiskey Flask much love. Don’t know why exactly - guess because of the “booting dude” cost. But you’ve definitely got me thinking jayjester. Looks like a nice card to revisit.

Saddle up that one-trick-pony. Card cycle for the win!

I enjoyed playing this deck: Deckbuilder · DoomtownDB, card cycling is a theme of it. I think Eagle Wardens is the best outfit for such decks, Mariel in the staring posse almost guarantees control of TS since turn one.

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Was that the deck you played when I played my quasi-slide? I remember you said you only had 1 or 2 kidnappins, but kept constantly getting them due to the massive card cycle/deck thinning.

I am not sure tbh. I remember playing this one in a quite few games and it was working really well for me.

I’ve only been playing Doomtown a couple months and have probably only gotten 10 or so games under my belt, but I am blown away by the depth that this game has to offer. Reading posts from experienced players on here (like this thread), and looking at decks on DoomtownDB has made me realize just how nuanced Doomtown is. Its deck-building is the most intricate puzzle of any LCG -style game I have come across. And the theme comes across so brilliantly (and frequently hilariously) in the cards! I wish I had gotten into Doomtown: Reloaded when it first came out. It’s such a shame that AEG cancelled it. I’m worried that I won’t be able to find a playgroup.