Monday 22 May 2023

What a Cowboy! A First Take

 Never say never... when Too Fat Lardies announced the publication of a new set of rules to play with cowboys, my inner historical wargamer soul said: "Bah! No interest... won't play this".... famous last words.

Piqued by the exchange of messages in the club's Telegram group, the nice photos shared there and the (pushing) siren voice of my club pal Miguel, the Club Dragon What a Cowboy leader, I finally surrendered and gave it a try... and ... oh boy! What a fun time I had so far!. 

As said, I'm a deeply rooted historical gamer (both board and tabletop); but my recent foray into the War of The Ring showed that there's life (and fun) outside the pure historical simulation universe. 

What follows is a brief summary and my personal take on the rules after a couple of games (note: I don't have the printed copy, only the electronic PDF version).

The rules were designed and written by John Savage, an active and long standing member of the Lard fans club. I´ve seen posts testing the rules in social media for years, so I had no doubt the final product was going to be solid as a rock.

The book is a lavishly illustrated, impressive 86 pages tome, covering the main rules mechanics, a guide to create characters and recruit a gang, and finally the campaign system.

I have only played so far with the basic set of rules, but has been enough not only to enjoy a couple of hours rolling dice on a table but also to understand the full potential of the game.

What a Cowboy is a very cinematic set of rules where you at best are going to play with a couple of main characters and may be three secondary actors known as henchmen. So forget about playing serious and professionally as you do with your historical rule sets; and no, you won't have to paint a lot of minis to start playing.

The system is loosely based in the What a Tanker system, but adapted to the the features of the North American frontier lands in the mid-19th century. 

Your character can have a certain level (ranging from "greenhorn" to "legend"); he will usually have a Colt or a Winchester (in the more advance rules you can choose from a wide range of weaponry); and he may also have some special skill.

You have initially 6 action dice. Each score (1 to 6) allows the characters to move (1),  spot (2),  aim (3), or fire/reload your weapon (4-5). 

The 6 can be used as a joker to undertake any of the other actions (so for example,  you can move with 1 and 6; or fire/reload your weapon with 4-5 and 6); recover shocks; or attempt some adventorous (I'll say "crazy" action), like for example rolling on the floor while shooting at your opponent.

In addition you may have one or more "Bonanza Tokens", that allow the character to opportunistically react to an enemy action. And there's also a special card deck (the "Desperado Deck") that you can distribute among all playing characters, enabling some one-off actions (can be downloaded for free)

The game is based on card driven activations: each character is represented and activated by a card of a standard card deck. When a character shots (or is shot by) other character, you have different factors to take into consideration including whether the shot is aimed, distance to target, cover benefitting the target, type of weapon used, etc. 

Characters can react to shootings (equivalent to "saving throws") trying to avoid the bullet by hitting the dirt or taking cover nearby. If failing dodging the bullet, the character receives an impact that can range from being a simple shock to a critical wound.

And that's basically it. You have of course typical (and sensible) rules covering LOS, levels of cover when being shot, riding horses, etc.

The fun part of the game is using you dice results to make all sorts of actions usually seen in cowboy movies: jump from balcony to ride a horse, assault a train or stage coach by jumping from your horse, crash the Saloon's glass window and come up shooting your gun... you choose.

For my first two games  I received two characters (a greenhorn and a gunslinger) given that the average life of a new playeer in the game was 5 to 8 turns at best. 

These were the infamous and fearsome Lardo Brothers, Nicolas and Ricardo.  Both were killed in record time in my first game, so soon I learnt that bravado brings suffering, and it's best to move and to approach your enemies using the best possible cover on the table (from fences or barrels, to wagons or even the wood pisoir cabin on the back of a house XD.

Future plans include elaborating  more  detailed characters with a background story, riding horses and potentially starting a campaign next Autumn.

As said, to play What a Cowboy you need not to invest a lot in minis (although once you have a couple of typical cowboy characters, you want also the sheriff and the deputy, the gambler, the Mexicans or the red skins just in case).

Scenery on the other hand is money well spent, and once you have a few tytpical houses (saloon, hotel, jail, etc) you start collecting like mad all type of things: drinking troughs, fences and rails, a graveyard, ... a train!! The visual impact is key ingredient in enjoying the games.

In summary: a fantastic, fun, fast and simple set of rules. From a historical wargamer to anotehr historical wargamer: forget formations, tactics and combined arms... unleash your imagination and return to your childhood cowboy and indians games payed with your pals. 

And of course, search in your TV streaming provider all those John Wayne films to get inspiration for your games.



Hope this short review entices many of you to give a try to What a Cowboy.



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