Inside the R & D Ranch: A Look at the Playtest Process

Check out Doomtown: Reloaded’s latest Saddlebag, Bad Medicine, on sale now!

Howdy folks, Dan Knight here. Today I get to share something really cool with you all: an insider’s look into the world of playtesting Doomtown: Reloaded.

To take you through this journey, we’re going to look at two cards that greatly affected each other during the test phase and the decisions that were made to get them to their final form: Xemo’s Turban and Arnold Stewart.













Before we start though, let’s take a look at the process as a whole.

Each cycle, we generally test three saddlebags at a time, and the cards are given to us on a schedule closely resembling the release schedule for the actual product in so much that we “normally” get a set of cards to look at, break, test, fix, and terrorise each other with every eighteen weeks or so (this is shorter when we get a Pine Box thrown in). New set day for us is just as exciting as spoilers are for you guys … only we have to wait longer.

I came on board with playtest in January 2015. At that time, Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force had been finalised, The Light Shineth was just wrapping up, and the next three Saddlebags (Dirty Deeds, Foul Play, and Bad Medicine) had been released to the test team (so we’re about a year ahead).

During each playtest cycle, we play many, many games of Doomtown. There are a number of different playtest teams, and each one is responsible for rating all of the cards and relaying those results to the Design Team. The team then tweaks, fixes, or completely changes what a card does and passes it back for us to try and break again. We currently have forty-four playtesters spread over eight teams from all around the world.

Xemo’s Turban

Xemo’s Turban is the first Experimental gadget that doesn’t do something nasty when you pull a club. Instead, it just fails to work. But this is its final form. This wasn’t the case when it started out. When we first got it, it looked like this:

Repeat, Noon, Pay 1 Ghost Rock: Draw a card. Choose a card in your play hand and pull. If the pull is a club, ace that card, otherwise discard it.

As you can see the “pull a club = bad stuff happens” aspect of Experimental gadgets is still there, but is it really that bad? It sounds like it should be; you have to ace a card if you pull a club. As it turns out, we realised very quickly that it gave you a repeatable way to thin your deck. You actually WANTED to pull clubs. A simple and effective repeatable action to remove all of your off-value cards. Some of the early test decks using this were also putting Lula’s Exploit to good use letting you effectively use the Turban twice for free.

Multiple playtesters quickly raised this as being far too efficient and it was flagged as being too good. However, the change to its final version didn’t happen until we started to combo Xemo’s Turban with Arnold Stewart.

When Arnold first arrived he looked like this:

Noon: Boot a Gadget on Arnold to look at the top five cards of your deck. You may boot Arnold to place an out of town deed into your hand and replace the other cards on top of your deck in any order.

So he didn’t end up much different but take a moment to look at that ability. Let’s ignore the fact that he can fetch deeds for now and just focus on looking at the top five cards of your deck.

#1 – You know exactly which five cards are going to form the core of your shootout hand if you’re about to get into a fight.

#2 – You not only know exactly what value you are going to pull next, but you can ENGINEER that value by changing the order of the cards.

If you see a full house or better, you know you can send in anybody to a shootout, even a 0 bullet chump, and guarantee a decent hand. More crucially, not only do you know what you’re going to pull, but you know exactly who to target with Asyncoil Gun, Arden Gillman, or the various Grit based Hexes.

Either of these abilities makes for a VERY powerful card, but the synergy with Xemo’s Turban is what really forced us to look at them both.

You could use Arnold to look at the top five cards and then choose which one you want to draw with the Turban by making sure it went back on top. It was like a miniature tutor effect. If there was nothing you wanted to draw, you could make sure the second card down was a club to guarantee being able to ace something and thin out your deck.

Sorry guys, we were never going to let that one through. Clearly something had to be done.

We also came across some instances of “Analysis Paralysis.” This is a term used in a lot of card games to describe a turn stalling out due to too much information becoming available at once. Being able to keep the five cards leads to people trying to memorise all five and the order they are in, then come the questions about whether you can or cannot take notes during a game and how much time should be allowed if you can. It gets very clunky, very quickly. That was something we wanted to avoid if at all possible.

The first change was Arnold. He lost his ability to stack the cards and they went back in the same order. This nerfed the Turban synergy somewhat but scouting your next five cards was still incredibly good.

Arnold’s ability to find deeds was a specific design intent that we had to keep. He HAD to be able to fetch deeds in some way so that didn’t give us much room to move. How does he fetch a deed if he doesn’t look at cards? The idea of letting him just search your deck for an out of town deed was floated, but that made him a different kind of powerhouse if he could just fetch a deed every turn. In the end, we settled on having him discard the top five. He still gets to see the cards but you can’t use him to engineer your entire turn with no consequence.

That left us with Xemo’s Turban, still the most efficient card draw effect and deck thinner in the game. That’s where the idea that a club draw could just be a failure arrived. While the original downside effect looked like it could be a hinderance, the Classic players were quick to point out that rapid deck degeneration was a very big problem in the old game.

The change to the final version still allows a repeatable draw as long as you don’t fail and no longer let’s you ace cards with abandon. In this form, pulling a club is actually a lot worse than it used to be as you can then no longer use the Turban.

In both cases, the card intent remains without any powerful after effect.

I hope this gives you some insight into how and why we make the changes that we do. Sometimes it can be a completely new ability, other times it can be as simple as changing a value or bullet rating. Everything that we change though, is always done to make sure Doomtown: Reloaded remains a fun and balanced game for you all to enjoy.

If you want to experience Arnold Stewart and Xemo’s Turban in their original form, grab yourself some friends and try them out in a couple of casual games.

Bad Medicine Preview – Horace Manse

This preview is for the next Saddlebag Expansion, Bad Medicine, arriving in stores February 8, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

Into the Darkness
by Brett Satkowiak

horacemanse_cardHorace descended the dark stairs with unexpected grace, navigating each step quickly while keeping his cargo from jostling. He had made the trip so many times now that he didn’t need the light.

Soon enough, however, he entered a small room and the light returned, emanating from a lantern hung on the wall. The space was new to the Sanatorium, hewn from the rock beneath its foundations to contain two items: a wooden cot and a large iron door.

Horace entered the space with his precious cargo, a frail-looking man wrapped in a white sheet. He was gaunt and pale, resting in Horace’s enormous arms, limbs dangling. Open sores and scaly calluses speckled the man’s skin; fevered sweat washed over gruesome fluids oozing from the deeper ones.

The man groaned awake as Horace gingerly laid him on the cot. “Am I dead yet?”

Horace looked down into the man’s eyes, brushing away a wisp of hair threatening to obstruct them. “No,” he sighed simply. “Death is not the end of this.”

The man seemed disappointed but was far too weak to fully express it. “Where are you … taking me?”

“To the darkness … where you can rest.”

“Rest?” he wheezed. “I’m afraid … I’ve given up … on getting better.”

“Better? No.” Horace looked up and down the man’s body with pity. “There is no ‘better’ … only the darkness.” He turned slowly to the iron door, sliding the pair of posts barring it shut. “You can wait there until it’s finished … until the master is ready.”

The man let out a grunt as he used some of his precious energy reserves to turn his head toward the door. “Who? Odett?”

“No … his master.” Horace slid the tattered cloth around his neck up over his nose and mouth. He swung open the door as a wave of cold, damp air sprung forth, releasing an unholy stench. He winced slightly, but took comfort in knowing his patient would find it soothing.

Horace returned to the cot, leaning down for one final look. The man’s eyes, the only part of him with any real life left, pleaded with Horace to end the suffering. The large man urged himself to finish the task, knowing the end of this trip would be just that. He adjusted the sheet so it wouldn’t be binding on the man as he rested, then lifted his hands and laid them gently across his chest.

Reaching down, Horace lifted the man effortlessly off the cot and carried him into the dark tunnel descending from the doorway. He could hear the shuffling of the other patients who remained nearby as he located another cot, laying the man to rest comfortably upon it.

Horace placed his large hand upon the man’s as it lay upon his chest, looking down one last time into his eyes, barely visible in the glow from the lantern. “Try to rest, friend. It will all be over soon.”

Bad Medicine Preview – Mugging

This preview is for the next Saddlebag Expansion, Bad Medicine, arriving in stores February 8, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

by Jon Del Arroz

“Excellent, Travis. You look just like him … at least enough to fool someone in the dark. How well can you imitate his voice?” Rafi Hamid asked, standing with the grifter in the alleyway behind Cooke’s Nightcap.

Travis Moone wore a phony beard, along with dark shirt and overalls, bearing a passable resemblance to Max Baine. He cleared his throat. “The Morgan Cattle Company. There’s strange things going on at their ranches out of town. Someone has to do something. Someone has to believe me!” he said in a deeper, raspier voice than his usual timbre.

“Excellent. I doubt anyone could tell the difference,” Rafi said. He held up a small purse of coins that clanked together as the bag moved.

Travis reached out, but Rafi snatched it away, tucking it back into his coat pocket. “Not until the work is complete. Too many rumors about you cutting and running from the job. That poor coach was left to bandits.”

“That was only one time, Mr. Hamid. I couldn’t very well risk my skin just for some coin. Not that little coin anyways,” Travis said with a grin. “What’s yer beef with Mr. Baine, anyway?”

“Ever since Mr. Baine left the Morgan Cattle Company, he’s been sticking his nose in places where it does not belong … and speaking about matters that shouldn’t concern you either.”

“Ahh, he’s been pokin’ around a bit too much about Mayor Whateley. I gotcha. I won’t tell nobody,” Travis said with a wink. Someone else came out from behind the corner. Travis gave a slight wave. “There’s Rico. We got this covered, don’t you worry none.”

mugging_card“If a word of this is uttered to anyone, Travis, I assure you you’ll have far greater problems to deal with than a couple of swindled drunks.” “It’s better if your companion doesn’t see me. So here is where I leave you,” Rafi said, tipping his hat toward Travis.

With that, Rafi turned back toward the bar. A third person came from the direction Rafi was headed, no doubt joining Travis’s crew as well.

Rafi continued along without stopping, avoiding eye contact with anyone as he did not want to risk more witnesses. He certainly shouldn’t be seen anywhere near Travis and his friends perpetrating a crime. Once on the main street, Rafi slowed his pace to a casual stroll, smiling and nodding towards any citizens who recognized him.

In the distance, he heard a pistol fire, followed by a woman’s scream.

Bad Medicine Preview – The Orphanage

This preview is for the next Saddlebag Expansion, Bad Medicine, arriving in stores February 8, 2016! Ask your local game store about it today!

The Orphanage
by Paul Durant

theorphanage_cardMiss Willa Mae was way too strict. She said they could drape sheets off the top bunk to make their fort, but they couldn’t hang a lantern in there because it’d burn the place down. Without a lantern, how can they see all their important plans without taking the sheets down? And if they take the sheets down, how can you still call it a fort? The goblin could just saunter in!

They’d be sorry when that little goblin attacked the orphanage and they didn’t have a well-lit fort to hole up in. Sometimes, Jack felt like him and Drew and Ty were the only ones who gave a darn about this town.

Jack pulled out his map, squinted at it in the darkness, and marked an X next to what he thought was the orphanage. “Okay, Becky Riggs says the goblin was here yesterday, stealing cookies … but that’s nowhere near where we usually see him. You think he’s out here ‘cause he’s looking for us now?”

Ty shrugged, scratching Mittens the jackalope behind his little antlers. “Maybe he’s looking for cookies? If I was a goblin, I’d want some. Probably hard to find, since Miss Willa Mae don’t cook for goblins.”

“They’re oatmeal cookies!” said Drew. “Goblins don’t like oatmeal. That is a science fact. It gets stuck in all their goblin teeth. ‘Sides, every other time we seen him, he’s gone for hard candy.”

“Well, he’s got to have some reason to want them,” said Jack. “Maybe he’s gonna put a spell on ‘em or something, like, the kind of thing where they put out sweets for a kid and you eat ‘em and you fall asleep and wake up locked in a cage with a witch who wants to eat you?” He put a hand on his chin. “I bet if we knew he was coming back here, we could lay a trap for him … put a net on the ground, put the sweets in the middle, and when someone picks ‘em up, BAM! Caught ‘im!”

“If we did that we’d probably just catch Becky Riggs,” said Drew. Jack was pretty sure he was rolling his eyes but couldn’t quite make it out. “And who needs a net?” he added, drawing his slingshot with a flourish. “I tell you, if I get a good shot at him … Whack! I’ll knock that little booger clean out!”

Ty and Jack stared off into space for a bit, not really sure why Drew thought that would work but not wanting to question him. Then Ty added, “You know, what if we asked Benji Washington and his kung-fu gang to help us? I bet they could round up that goblin.”

Benji Washington is not in a kung-fu gang!” Jack snapped. “He made that up so we’ll think he’s important! This is serious stuff, Ty. We can’t mess around with silly ideas like that! Now, we need to figure out how to get a net and a bunch of lemon drops …”


Read more about Epic PVP at this link.

Q: Some Move cards have more than one Attack and/or more than one Defense, how do these work?

A: The rules are that only one Defense can block one Attack (not one card can block one card). So if you play the High Elf Dance of Blades card with it’s two Attacks of 3, your opponent will need to play two Defenses of 3 or higher to stop this card from doing damage. Each unblocked Attack does 1 Damage. Your opponent may use Blocks from two different Move cards if they want to block either of these Attacks. Of course, if your opponent has plays the Dark Elf Steel Dervish card with it’s three Blocks of 4, that one card can block both of the Attacks from Dance of Blades and still block another one of your Attacks of 4 or less!

Q: I don’t get the High Elf Ability.

A: The High Elf ability is all about options when deciding how many cards to draw. One of the biggest decisions in Epic PvP is how many cards to draw, because you have to declare how many you are going to draw, then draw that many. The High Elf power lets you declare and then draw as normal, then after you look at those cards, you may choose to draw another 1 or 2 cards from your aggression pile. This lets you draw a smaller number of cards, then react to those cards by drawing more or not. This is a VERY powerful ability!!!

Q: I have some timing questions, when do things happen?

A:  Here is a list of all of the phases and sub-phases for the game. Most cards will have a specific time when they happen.

  1. Aggression
    1. After Aggression
  2. Draw
    1. After Draw
    2. Before playing Moves
  3. Play Moves
    1. After playing Moves
  4. Assign Block
    1. After Blocking
    2. When Damage
  5. End Phase

Q: What are the Halfling tokens for?

A: They are not needed at all. We changed some cards during development and forgot to take the tokens off the token sheet!

Q:  Some cards allow player to take cards from other players. If I steal a card that creates a token (like the card that gives a player a Decept token), can I use the token even though I’m not that Race?

A: Nope. You need to be that race to use the token. You do get the token though, which could keep it from your opponent. Now if you are also playing the class/race that the token came from, you can use it (this would only happen if you have more than one set of the game of course (which would make you even more awesome).

Q: I have heard there is an Epic PvP: Magicrelease coming. What is that all about?

It will be coming out late in 2016. It will include a bunch of magical Races and Classes and special rules for how magic works in Epic PvP. It has not been decided yet if it’ll be launched via Kickstarter or released directly to retail. Check back later for more info.

Q: Where can I get one of those really cool boxes that were initially sent to Kickstarter backers?

A: There are a few extra copies. They will be available through future Fun to 11 Kickstarter campaigns and at any trade show that Fun to 11 goes to while supplies last, and we don’t have many. Look for us at PAX East, we’ll save some copies for there for sure.

Q:  I saw some images of PvP cards that featured Valentines Day themed imagery. I think it was called “Hug Life.” What was that all about and where can I get them?

A: Those were cards we made as Print and Play cards during the campaign. We only made them available for a short time, so sadly, they are no longer available. (They weren’t exactly “balanced” anyway – more of a fun “wahoo” thing we did as a goof).