Then, along comes Osprey Games with this game. Dracula's America: Shadows of the West. I wanted my wild west game to take a more Mythos approach similar to Strange Aeons, but after reading those rules I know I couldn't out Mythos them. So, then I started to think about other "Horror Tropes" to use. Dracula's America clearly settled on applying Gothic overtones and North American themed genre tropes to the Wild West. Good choice!
It took a bit of time, but I eventually picked up all the books. Sadly, I have not had a chance to read them or review them.... until now! There was always some other work just taking a bit of priority over them. Now, with the Pandemic of 2020 going on, it seems like the perfect time to break out these rules and settle in for a read.
Let's open the casket and see what is moldering in side shall we?
Things I Liked
When a player wins activation, they have two actions to complete. At first I was unimpressed, as many skirmish games love this dual action/action point process. I am not personally and fan, but realize I am in the minority. However, I was interested when the player had the choice to spread these activations over more than one model. So, you could have two models each take 1 Action, or a single model make 2 activations. Now we have a decision point! Very simple, yet elegant.
Models have 180 degree line of sight to the front, so facing matters in this game! That is a simple and effective way to create Tactical Game Play.
When shooting, you must target the closest enemy. However, you can decide to make a test to override this and shoot a different target. However, if you fail you loose the chance to shoot at all. A simple decision point that adds more Tactical Play.
Models are either Novices, Veterans, or Heroes. This indicates the type of dice they use to make tests with. Novices use d6, vets a d8, and a Hero uses d10. This indicates improved skills and abilities in a simple and elegant way. Most shooting and fighting is done with a three dice test looking for 5+ for success. This is pretty straight forward with modifiers removing dice in the test. The more success, the harder it is to resist the damage later. The more you fail a save by, the more injury you take. Therefore, Novices are more prone to injury than Heroes and Vets.
Instead of hitting a guy in Close Combat, you can "shove" them. This allows you to break combat, knock them off a mount, or over a cliff. This is a fun little bit of rules and adds a simple decision point to hand-to-hand.
If half of your Posse is down, you need to start making Bottle Checks to stay in the fight. For your boss it is a simple 3 dice test. However, if your boss is down, the test is reduced to a 1 dice test. Therefore, you actually have to decide how to use your boss to maximum effect. Normally, he is one of your Heroes or Vets, so a good fighter too. However, if he goes down your chances of running just went way up. Oh no! More decisions!
All of the Weird Wild West rules are a completely separate part of the rules. This is a Wild West game at its core, which allows you to "bolt-on" as much fantasy as you want. That's pretty cool. It adds supernatural creatures such as Zombies, Vampires, demons, etc. It also adds a different event table, Income encounters, bystander rules, new hired guns, gear, and bestiary.
Things I Did Not Like
I was not a fan of the card based activation process to determine initiative. Essentially, each player gets a number of cards in their hand based on the number of models on the table at the start of a turn. Players than place a card face down and flip it over. High card wins, except Black cards go before Red cards. It creates a bit of resource management and decision making around activation, BUT I do not feel it is worth the time this process takes for what could just as easily be an alternate activation system or some other system. If cards were used as a larger part of determining action results, I could see this activation process having more value. However, as it is the cards are ONLY used for activation purposes. Sure, cards are very Wild West, but I am not convinced that this adds much to the game beyond novelty in activation mechanics.
So, I am a fan of the Novice,Vets, and Hero delineation for dice used. However, I find the stat line and keyword combination to be less than satisfactory. I tend to favor stats over keywords. However, these game seems to have an okay balance.
This game allows pre-measuring. Typically, I am not a huge fan of pre-measuring, but especially in time periods where man-portable range finders and other distance measuring devices were not common. If the actual human has to estimate, I think the player should too. Again, an old-fashioned and minority opinion I have.
Meh and Other Uncertainties
The game clearly covers your most common rough and tumble movement like going through windows, climbing ladders, jumping gaps, etc. Disengaging from combat is interesting as you make a test. If successful you leave combat, but if failed you immediately make a save from damage. They just assume the enemy hits you instead of giving free attacks and the like. Much easier.
The game does have an overwatch mechanic that a model may choose to go into as an action. I find this useful in skirmish games.
The game makes use of complications such as Bystanders and Events built into the core mechanics. If two player try to activate using the same card, it triggers and event. In addition, models can interact with bystanders during the game by grabbing them, holding them hostage, protecting them, etc. The game comes with 7 basic scenarios. In addition, each scenario will have each faction having a secondary "agenda" to try and achieve in addition to the scenario objective. All of these features add to the replayability of the game.
Of course, the game also has a campaign system. It follows the usual campaign system elements of injury, advancement, income, etc. Of course, you can also recruit and hire Hired Guns too. The income section rolls 4d6 or 5d6 depending if you won or lost. Interestingly, on duplicate results you can have different post-game encounters that add flavor to your games. In addition, there is an underdog mechanic which seems to be a must in campaign games.
This game is really two games in one. It is perfectly suitable as a Wild West game, and all the rules allow such a game. In addition, there is Dracula's America which is a Weird Wild West game. That is value right there! Two games for the price of one!
Overall, this is a really well done game. The balance seems pretty solid, even in the campaign game. The flavor elements are well done as well. I look forward to digging into the supplements to see what I find there too. The rules are pretty straight forward and there do not seem to be many If This Then This scenarios. Some more scenarios would be nice, but those can be developed by players pretty easily, and agenda, bystanders, and events can probably keep things interesting for a while.
Now, I am really unsure what to do. My family wants to play Burrows and Badgers. However, I think it will be easier to start a campaign game of this locally rather than Frostgrave. I can easily see getting people to play this game, especially ones who liked the old Necromunda as it had a wild west, sci-fi flair. I may change the basic premise to gangsters though.... I have a lot of gangsters...... not so many cowboys. We will see!
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