Dardenell County Reborn

A few posts back I discussed our tentative steps of getting back into western gunfight as a period and after a couple of false starts we have settled on the rules – The Old West Skirmish Wargames and our scale of 28mm, well actually 32mm given the size of the Dead Mans Hand figures and the Black Scorpion figures!

We acquired a whole town from one of our gaming acquaintances who was looking to invest in a new bike and added some new buildings and some more figures. We then had a couple of scene setting games to make sure we were happy and just recently held our first proper Dardenell County multi player game.

The game was the film ‘The 3:10 To Yuma’ in reverse. Ours was the ‘3:10 From Tanglefoot’ whereby notorious land grabber and alleged murderer, Abe McQuown, was being transferred from Tanglefoot on the 3:10 train to the county seat of Mal Paso for incarceration, trial and possible hanging, but McQuown had a cadre of loyal followers who had drifted into town determined to prevent his incarceration.

Our game was centred around McQuown being escorted from the train station down main street to the county sheriffs office by two professional gunmen, Matt Morgan & Craig Blaisdell, sworn in as temporary marshals. Waiting in the upstairs office were Sheriff Will Rogers and Deputy Johnny Gannon plus old Ernie Jones downstairs guarding the cells. Three groups of McQuowns gang were randomly positioned around the town waiting for their chance to ambush the marshals – actually this randomisation didn’t work out as well as I expected as the groups ended up within a couple of buildings of each other – such is the nature of random I guess πŸ˜„

For the first few moves not very much happened; the marshals advanced up the street guns drawn – yes I know McQuown has got guns but I wasn’t about to break them off and then re-glue them, Charley Prince, Bob Nicholson & Buck Slavin took up positions in the ground floor of the Los Pecos Hotel while across the street, Rick Belden, Ben Nicholson & Fen Jiggs took up similar positions in the Bar and Bunk – both of these were conveniently at the T junction where the sheriffs office stood. The only group doing anything was that of Cherry Valance, Tom Morgan & Curley Burne who advanced up the street from the Western Union office and into the open space of the T to face down the marshals. Somewhere far off, a dog barked πŸ˜‰

The action started with Valance and co drawing their weapons and Tom Morgan calling on the marshals to let the prisoner go to which Blaisdell responded with a, “get out of our way or face the consequences”. In this moment of calm before the storm confusion set in; behind Morgan a voice shouted “Tom, get off the street!” which was Belden from the batwing doors of the Bar and Bunk trying to draw a bead on Blaisedell, Morgan froze momentarily and Blaisedell shot him in the right arm, seriously wounding him and forcing him to drop his gun.

Then it all got a bit messy. Snapped out their lethargy Rogers and Gannon drew their guns and headed out of the upstairs office, Gannon leading. Out on the street Valance heard and saw the lawmen coming out and squeezed off a shot which hit Gannon squarely in the chest and dropped him seriously wounded and Rogers ducked back taking cover. Back with the marshals all hell let loose as Burne, Jiggs, Prince and Slavin opened up which saw Burne’s shot kill Blaisedell stone dead – there obviously were consequences 😒

In the brief moment of quiet following the roar of the guns as the consequences of what had just happened settled in, Morgan put his arm around the throat of McQuown and jammed his Smith & Wesson against the mans head as he snarled “back off boys or the boss gets it!” as he tried to back heel open the door of the bank – no joy. But clearly everyone’s blood was up and Prince fired again, taking the risk he wouldn’t hit his boss, but (fortunately) wildly missed. Morgan now realised he couldn’t hold onto the prisoner and stay alive so loosened his grip enough to fire into the Los Pecos and in quick succession knocked down Slavin with a head wound and then snuffed out Prince with a precision shot. From the upstairs window of the Sheriffs office Rogers joined the gunplay putting a bullet into Valance but in the confusion McQuown started making his escape turning down into an alley and eventually disappearing into the outskirts of town.

The gunfight however was far from over. Realising his exposed position Morgan ran back down the street to take cover behind a convenient barrel while Rogers fought a lone battle with the gunmen in the street – although it was a bit one sided as he was in cover and they weren’t πŸ˜‰

Despite fire from the Bar and Bunk and the Los Pecos, Rogers downed both Burne and Morgan which was just as well because under the cover of the firing Ben Nicholson and Rick Belden had sprinted across the street and up the stairs to finish off the lawman so they could make good their escape. First through the door was Belden who levelled his Colt and……click. A dud! Rogers wasn’t so unlucky and his shot shattered Belden’s right arm giving the lawman enough time to knock the bleeding man to the floor and cuff him. Just as well because next in was Nicholson who shot wide as Rogers pulled his second gun and in the following exchange Rogers, and the now recovered Gannon, put a bullet each into Nicholson.

Back on the street the last shots were fired as Jiggs and Morgan exchanged shots, the lawman was a good shot but the range was long and Jiggs was good with a carbine so “when a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle” and Morgan sprawled in the dust seriously wounded.

And that was it. One law officer dead and two seriously wounded plus a notorious criminal free to cause more trouble; serious questions would be asked! However McQuown was going to need to do some serious recruiting; Prince was dead and Morgan, Burne, Nicholson and Belden would stand trial once they had recovered from their wounds; Valance and Jiggs had made it to their horses out back of the Western Union office and the other Nicholson and Slavin had snuck out of the Los Pecos and disappeared.

All in all it was a good game and created several more possible follow on scenarios, we placed some 25 moves, had a laugh and rolled some amazing dice, good and bad. Perfect πŸ˜ƒ

A Cowboy Conundrum

Many, many years ago I had the pleasure of getting to know the Skirmish Wargames Group and playing in their 54mm western gunfight and later mountain men games and they remain some of my fondest wargaming memories. In subsequent years the club I belonged to at that time got into the period and a campaign set around the fictional Dardenell County flourished for many years.

Like all good things, it came to an end and I sold off all my collection and haven’t really gamed the period for many years. Then, on a whim, I picked up some nicely painted gunfighters at Hammerhead (BC – Before Covid) and then acquired some buildings through my good friend Gareth Lane and the germ of a ‘side period’ was born.

Of course time has moved on and with it wargames rules styles, hence the title of this piece, should I dig out the old rules and try and remember how to play or embrace the ‘new world’?

Just a casual browse at a show or via Google and one can see there are a number of alternatives out there. Dead Man’s hand by Great Escape Games, Gunfighters Ball by Knuckleduster Miniatures, Fistful of Lead by Wiley Games, The Rules With No Name by Wargames Foundry, and Dracula’s America by Osprey to name but a few.

Through the agency of some local wargamers I’ve been able to play a number of games of Fistful of Lead and even done a re-write version for our own multi player cartel games. My kids bought me a copy of Dead Man’s Hand one birthday because I was waxing lyrical about what fun western gunfight games were and so Dave and I have been able to play several games of that.

In keeping with the modern trend, both sets utilise a deck of cards to activate figures which by default becomes quite a random affair; the deck in FoL is a standard deck, so easy and cheap to obtain, the deck in DMH is a custom deck available only from Great Escape Games, so not so cheap but it does have some cool special events on the cards. FoL uses D10 die, DMH uses D10 & D20 die.

The upside to both sets is that they are simple and easy to learn, which results in a fast play style of game – the first time Dave and I trialled DMH we got two games done and dusted in an evening. The mechanisms are straight forward so don’t require much thinking about and the random nature of drawing cards is very appealing to those who like the conceit of ‘friction’ in their games or to those who just want to ‘have a laugh’.

The downside is, that despite the very best of intentions, they don’t have any real western gunfight feel, not even a Hollywood one and as a game both are completely luck driven.

The lack of feel, for me at least, is the decision to just have generic weapons – pistol, rifle, shotgun, which means that the nuances of the period are lost; the difference between cap & ball revolvers and metal cartridge, the speed of reloading a Colt compared to a Smith & Wesson, why certain gunfighters preferred double action revolvers, the different ranges of carbines and rifles (repeaters and single shot). Also the wide variety of characters in the period, and, in fairness, in film, are reduced to a small selection of stereotypes all behaving in the same way which doesn’t do justice to some of the fantastic modern sculpts there are out there, you just end up with Team Blue v Team Red πŸ˜’.

The luck or random element is obviously apparent in any game, that’s why it’s a game, but when the random is the driving force and luck is the sole arbitrator the end result can tend to reduce the player to a spectator in his own game and negate any planning or playing skills he/she might have. In the several games I’ve played with both sets I’ve seen a guy with a shotgun miss the target at point blank range with both barrels (yes I’ve seen ‘Unforgiven’ but remember the first barrel hit), two gunfighters at close range both miss (remember, gunfighters, not random cowhands), characters move into and around buildings like they are ‘The Flash’ and so on.

Now I completely get why rule sets have developed in this way, players can get to grips with the mechanisms quickly, no period knowledge is required, the game cracks along, players have a laugh; and don’t get me wrong, I’ve had quite a laugh playing both sets (in a good way πŸ˜ƒ). But……..

Having acquired more figures and more buildings Dave and I recently asked ourselves the question, “is this it?” Not a good question for a wargamer to be asking himself πŸ€”.

To try and move us forward I suggested to Dave we give the original Skirmish Wargames set a go, knowing full well a bit more effort would be required to play the game. The rules are late 70’s and reflect wargames rules thinking of the time; play is simultaneous based on each character having a written order for the next phase (by order I mean a couple of words – Draw, Walk, Turn & Draw), each character has a set of numeric abilities for pistol, rifle & hand to hand plus an overall experience (Professional, Average, Novice), shooting is based on a % roll against a calculated chance of success which gives a level of damage and everything else out of the ordinary has a % chance of success.

Given the extra effort required the game went remarkably well, we rattled through a lot of turns, a couple of characters were shot down, there was a panic when Dave ran out of ammo (shots are counted) and was messing about swapping guns, a character knocked himself out vaulting a fence and opening a window and crossing a room actually took time. It wasn’t perfect though, the movement was slow and the nuances of the shooting process meant that a lot of bullets were wasted but we still enjoyed the game.

So, we are still in a bit of a quandary. Do we go quick and dirty and to hell with the perceived ‘realism’ or do we go with a bit more detail and the ‘effort’ of doing stat cards so we know what each character is armed with and how good he is? With regards to detail, isn’t that what the hobby is all about? and I don’t have a problem with stat cards, I think it lends a level of player involvement to any game. I’m pretty sure the guys at Skirmish Wargames did an addendum that negated the orders aspect and streamlined the process a bit but dammed if I can find it πŸ˜’ keep looking I guess.

So that’s it. We’re going to give the Skirmish Wargames set another go and take a bit more care over the character stats – we randomly generated for the first game and it gave some very strange results which we thought skewed the game. Look out for our next attempt soon πŸ˜€