Dead Man’s Hand Review

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Dead Man's Hand RulebookDead Man’s Hand Review

Review by David Lent

This is our first miniatures game review at the Centurion’s Review. Dead Man’s Hand is a card driven Wild West miniatures game by Great Escape Games. The rulebook includes a deck of cards and some tokens that you can cut out of the book. You can use any company’s line of 28mm miniatures, terrain and buildings. In addition to that, I recommend purchasing some tokens instead of using the paper ones included in the book.

Cards are used more extensively in this miniatures game than in any other I have played except Malifaux. Your gang has a certain card suit associated with it. Each scenario (scene) dictates how many cards a player gets. In most cases it is either a half deck of 14 cards or a full deck of 23. The scenario also dictates how many cards are in a players hand and how many remain in the deck. Aces are high and jokers are low. There is text written on the card for events. The value of the card is used for initiative and canceling another player’s card. If a player plays an event on a “5” card, you can discard a “5” card to cancel it.

In each game you have a gang and at least half of the members must be armed with a pistol. Each scenario gives you a number of points to spend on models. The stats for the characters are weapons, hits, nerve, shoot, hand to hand and rep. Weapons is obvious, but hits is the number of under fire markers a model may have before going out of action. Nerve is essentially morale and the lower the number the better. Shooting is a just a modifier that is added when you shoot. Hand to hand is obvious, but rep is how many points a model costs.

Each turn in the game begins with initiative. This game has the most tedious initiative procedure I have ever seen. Each player draws a card and places it face up by a model. Next, they draw more cards and place them face down by their other models. After all models have a card, the facedown cards are then flipped over. The values of the cards determine the order the miniatures activate with high going first. If you drew all low cards, it is possible for all your opponents models to activate before yours and defeat you on the first turn in some scenarios. I don’t like this excessive randomness. You can have the strategy skills of Alexander the Great and lose this game because you kept drawing low cards for initiative. If your models are in a building, it’s difficult to place the cards next to them.

I would have liked to have seen a more fair initiative procedure. Having both players draw one card with the high going first and then each player alternating activations would have been better. Both players who helped me play test this game complained about the initiative procedure, so it’s not just me.

Each model gets 3 actions (unless he’s drunk) and they must be declared before doing anything. They are move, aim, shoot, reload/change weapon and recovery. In addition there are two interrupts called duck back and quick shot which can be done instead of taking your normal 3 actions.

Movement actions allow a model to move up to 10cm, but the model may not get closer than 2cm to an enemy model. If your model moves to within 2cm of a wall or a ladder, it may jump the wall or climb up to 8cm for free. During movement a model may use an additional movement action to move the final 2cm into base to base contact with a model and initiate hand to hand combat. For hand to hand combat each player rolls a D10 and adds the appropriate hand to hand modifiers. The player with a lower score gets under fire markers equal to the difference. The model with the highest initiative card may then continue the hand to hand combat or break off.

The aim action allows a model to add +1 to his next shot. If the model is armed with a rifle, it may aim for 2 actions and add +2 to its third action.

Shooting has a lot of modifiers and for simplicity, I am not listing all of them. Each weapon has a maximum number of shots it can take per turn and it’s range bands are different. Point blank range adds a +1, close adds a +0 and long adds a -1. Shotguns have big bonuses, but may only be used at point blank or close range. The results of shooting are either no effect, adding an under fire marker, adding an under fire marker and nerve test or putting a model out of action. The under fire markers are a unique mechanic for this game. Sometimes, they seem to represent wounds and other times seem to represent how shaken a model is. Either way, if a model receives more under fire markers than its “hits” number it is out of action.

The reload/change weapon action is self explanatory. Some models can carry more than one weapon. If a model rolled a “1” in the shooting phase, it is out of ammo.

The recovery phase is used to remove under fire markers. The actions are cumulative, so if you take 3 of these actions in a row you remove 3 under fire markers. It is a good idea for a heavily wounded model to hide in a building and recover.

The interruption actions are what make things interesting. If an opponent declares he is going to shoot your model multiple times, you may choose to duck back. This allows you to move 10cm away into cover after he shoots the first time. The drawback to this is your model loses his activation phase for the turn. The other interruption is quick shot. This may be used to fire at a model while it is moving or to take a shot before the other model (provided you are at long range). Just like ducking back, this causes you to lose your activation for the turn. What is cool about this is if your enemy is jumping from one rooftop to another, you can shoot him while he is in mid-air and cause him to fall. Falling causes additional damage to occur.

Events listed on the cards in your hand can be played in the phases they specify. Most of the events are overwritten, with multiple sentences being the norm. I would have preferred a simple phrase like “Add 1 to a die roll”, “Cancel a models interrupt without burning its activation”, “Subtract 2 from an opponents die roll”, “The activate shooter runs out of ammo after taking his next shot.” My play testers were the ones who pointed out the cards were too wordy.

The first game we played was the scene entitled “The Stranger.” It pits one tough stranger against 3 drunks in a gunfight. Everybody is armed with a pistol and the stranger goes first. He took an aimed shot and missed and then used his last action to move forward. The drunks responded and got a few hits on him. During the next round he wounded one of the drunks, but they finished him off with 2 aimed shots. We later replayed this scene, but armed the stranger with a double barrel shotgun. He used 2 of his movement actions on the first turn to get to hard cover close to the drunks. He fired both barrels and killed one of the drunks outright. The next turn, he killed another drunk and they got one more hit on him. Two kills was all that was needed for the stranger to win this scenario. It proved the value of shotguns and shooting from hard cover.

Next, we played the scene “This Town Ain’t Big Enough.” Both sides got 21 reputation points to build their gang in 4 separate groups. In this scene the bad guys were the ambushers so the good guys can only activate three men on the first turn. The good guys have to kill 2 bad guys to win or the bad guys have to kill 3 good guys. During this game, both sides were doing their best to close on the enemy and fight from cover. Models in buildings were difficult to wound because shooting into hard cover adds a negative to your die roll. In the end, all the models that were killed were out in the open. The good guys won by killing three, but lost 2 models in the process.

I know I pointed out some negative aspects of the game, but now it’s time to point out the good things. All three of us thought the game was fun and a reasonable simulation of Wild West warfare. There is enough scenarios to keep you occupied for a while and you can use the reputation points to help build your own balanced scenarios. The game play is very fast and many games can resolve in less than a half hour. In addition, the rules are simple and everyone learned the game quickly. I also own The Chicago Way and it’s rules are extremely similar to this. It’s good that when I finally get around to trying that game, I will already know the basics from playing this.

Buy your own copy on eBay.

Good

  • You can use miniatures or buildings from any company
  • The rulebook is easy to understand
  • There are a lot of scenarios
  • Games resolve quickly
  • There are rules for drunk cowboys
  • The rules are very similar to The Chicago Way.

Bad

  • The initiative phase every round is tedious
  • The measurements are metric, though there is a reference sheet in the back of the book that is imperial.
  • The cards are too wordy. 2 sentences on a card is 1 too many.
  • The text on the cards is small
  • If 4 models are in a building. It is hard to tell which initiative cards belongs to each.
  • Dice add enough randomness to a miniature game. The card events in this game make it feel like you are playing a board or card game.
7.3

Good

Rulebook Clarity - 8
Fun - 6.5
Originality - 6.5
Component Quality - 7
Replayability - 8.5
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