Quotes

Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly. Love truly, laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything that makes you smile. - Samuel Longhorne Clemens (Mark Twain)

Friday, June 17, 2016

Wild West Rules - The Compilation

Something I would like to point out is that this is not an attempt to say that one of these rule sets is better than another. What they share is desire to in some way simulate the wild west of Hollywood and our imagination. Each takes its own approach to accomplishing this goal and that's what I want get into here. Do you prefer running one or two characters or a whole posse of characters? Do you like a lot of detail or keep it sketchy and simple? Those are the types of questions I want to answer here. Unfortunately blogger typically doesn't hand excel tables very well so I'll try and make this as reasonable as possible. I'll I'm giving you here is a taste of each rule set for more information you can refer back to the specific post for that set of rules.

1) Let's take a look at which of these games you can still pick up right off the shelf.

In Print                                  Out of Print
Dead Man's Hand                  Boot Hill
Desperado                             Legends of the Old West
Fistful of Lead; Reloaded
Gutshot
Shoot N' Skedaddle (Cards are out of print and being revised)
The Rules with No Name

2) There is certainly a theme with wild west games involving poker cards, not all of these games use playing cards though so let's sort out the ones that do from the ones that don't.

Uses Poker (Playing) Cards          Does Not Use Poker (Playing) Cards
Dead Man's Hand                          Boot Hill
Fistful of Lead; Reloaded               Desperado
Shoot N' Skedaddle                       Gutshot
The Rules with No Name               Legends of the Old West

3) Another common aspect is running a whole posse or gang instead of just 2-3 characters. 

Posse/Gang Oriented                    Character Oriented
Dead Man's Hand                          Boot Hill
Fistful of Lead; Reloaded               Desperado
Legends of the Old West               Gutshot
Shoot N' Skedaddle                       
The Rules with No Name
Something to note though is that really all of these games could be played with just a few characters per player. While several are definitely oriented towards the posse aspect its not necessarily a requirement that you have to play it that way.


4) Movement is an important aspect of the game for me. There is already a fair amount of luck built into any game that uses cards or dice or both in most of the wild west games that I like to have something that I feel I can control. So whether movement distance is random or a set rate is important to me. However, since movement is always part of some action you need to remember that in some of these games some characters are going to get several opportunities to move in a single turn. So temper your like or dislike of random movement and see if it is offset by multiple opportunities to move in a turn.

Random Movement                        Set Movement Rate
Desperado                                      Boot Hill
The Rules with No Name                Dead Man's Hand
                                                        Fistful of Lead; Reloaded
                                                        Gutshot
                                                        Legends of the Old West
                                                        Shoot N' Skedaddle

5) Combat; Shooting - This is a hard one to break down into a couple of simple columns so I'm not going to try. I'll just give the basic shooting concept for each game.

Boot Hill - Percentile dice roll with modifiers
Dead Man's Hand - D20 dice roll with modifiers
Desperado - Percentile dice roll with modifiers
Fistful of Lead; Reloaded - A target number based on the range using a D10 roll with modifiers
Gutshot - Each character has a target number to shoot their target using a 2D6 roll with modifiers
Legends of the Old West - Roll your shooting value or better to hit your target, no modifiers. Target gets a saving throw.
Shoot N' Skedaddle - A target number of 5+ is required to hit your target. Consult marksmanship trait to determine the type of die to roll to hit.
The Rules with No Name - Roll a Six to hit. Character ability and weapon type determine how many dice to roll. Modifiers affect the total number of dice thrown.     

6) Combat; Hand to Hand. Some of these games use the shooting mechanics for hand to hand and some don't. Again this will be broken down by game.

Boot Hill - 2D12 roll with modifiers
Dead Man's Hand - D10 dice roll with modifiers
Desperado - Opposed 1D6 die roll with modifiers
Fistful of Lead; Reloaded - Opposed 1D10 die roll with modifiers
Gutshot - 2D12 die roll to equal or surpass the target number based on the weapon used in HtH.
Legends of the Old West - Roll your fighting value or better to hit your target, no modifiers. Target gets a saving throw.
Shoot N' Skedaddle - A target number of 5+ is required to hit your target. Consult scrap trait to determine the type of die to roll to hit.

The Rules with No Name - Opposed rolls with the number of D6 rolled by each participant based on the weapon they are using.

7) Scenarios and Campaign Rules - Most of these sets have some form of campaign rules as well as scenarios to play.

Boot Hill - Scenarios - Yes, Campaign Rules - Yes, neither is particularly extensive though. later editions of Boot Hill had both available particularly the 3rd Edition.
Dead Man's Hand - Scenarios - Yes, Campaign Rules - No, but campaign rules are in the Legends supplement (which I don't own, guess I should fix that)
Desperado - Scenarios - Yes, Campaign Rules - No
Fistful of Lead; Reloaded - Scenarios - Yes, Campaign Rules - Yes 
Gutshot - Scenarios - Yes, Campaign Rules - Yes
Legends of the Old West - Scenarios - Yes, Campaign Rules - Yes
Shoot N' Skedaddle - Scenarios - Yes, Campaign Rules - Yes


The Rules with No Name - Scenarios - No, Campaign Rules - Yes

And there you have it kind of boiled down to the bare basic game play. I'm not going to sit down and rate any of these rule sets. I will say that while they all share the wild west theme yet the game play is actually quite different. It really comes down to your own preferences. Do you like using poker cards, do you like rolling a lot of different dice, do you want to keep it simple and just roll D6s. I think there is a wild west game to fit all of the different styles of play out there. If you haven't already read the specific blog posts about these different rules I would encourage you to do so. You can find the links to each one below.










Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Family Business - The Shop

I'm going to stray from gaming for a post and talk about the family business. While I don't work for the family business (we have an employee for that!), I am involved in the decision making. Recently we have been having to run overtime to meet demand. Usually this kind of thing only runs a month or two so we suck it up and work the overtime. This year the demand has increased and stayed steady at those levels since the beginning of the year. Since the work demand was starting to have an impact on our only employee it was apparent that we needed to increase our production capacity and that meant biting the bullet and building two additional machines.

In the shop we straighten fine, stainless steel wire and cut it to length and ship it out to a manufacturer that uses it as their raw stock to create different types of medical guide wires. If you have had the pleasure of dealing with a catheter or even worse an angioplasty odds are good that the wire came out of our shop. This business was purchased by my parents and originally came equipped with 10 machines all hand built by the original owner using whatever materials were at hand when he had to expand his production capacity. You can see the progression as each succeeding machine became more efficient and I can even tell when different machines came online because of the materials and frame design. The basic principle though is that two electric motors spin a series guides that the wire is threaded through to straighten it out. Since the wire comes wrapped on spools it has to be straightened to be usable (but not over stressed either). As the wire advances through the machine it will trip an electronic eye that activates the cutter and cuts the wire to the proper length as specified by the client.  

To add two more machines to the line we had to make some changes and move the cutting operations to a garage in the "Barn" (its shaped like a barn and it has a barn loft but the main floor has a garage and a finished space that we use for meetings and parties, although not so much since my dad passed away last year). Now the cutting of the PVC pipe and cardboard tubes used for shipping takes place in the garage and we can avoid making a mess in the main shop.

The new machines will bring the total up to 15 and these are basically identical as my dad had plans drawn up so that we could add capacity relatively easily. Unfortunately the machines hadn't been delivered when I was there so there are just a couple of empty work areas just waiting for them to show up.

Here are the ten original machines lined up on the left side of the shop. Machine #10, all the way at the back of the picture is dedicated to just cutting wire 110" long, this is the guide wire that will likely be used when they want to work on your heart without opening up your chest cavity!

The five new machines are on the right side along with the shipping area and business area. The bays for the two new machines are closest to the camera. Storage of shipping containers was in the racks above these machines. We will be storing those containers in the barn now.

Here is one of the old machines doing its thing. Innovations we made were changing the cutter and adding electronics that will shut down the machine if it doesn't see wire at the electronic eye after a certain period of time. Each machine has its own little quirks. Mostly around what wire sizes they like to run.

A new machine, my dad's design. These are more efficient than the older machines and all five (hopefully, the first three do) run exactly alike. They are easier to setup and keep running. The tray on the right side is were freshly cut wire sits until there is enough to work with. On the table on the left you can see finished wire laid out. We ship by weight and we know how many pieces of wire, of a given size, will make up a pound of wire (its a lot by the way). That way we can measure rather than weigh it, in this example 15 3/4" , measured across, makes up a 1/4# of wire. We usually aim to ship about 1000# (or a ton) of wire each month.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wild West Rules - Gutshot - Hawgleg Publishing

I know that this set of rules wasn't on the initial list but I finally got around to ordering it and since it arrived in the mail on Monday I felt like I should include it in the list. So one more post after this one and then its off to the compilation post. I heard about Gutshot on TMP. It seems that every time someone asks which wild west rules are the best Gutshot gets a couple of shout outs. So since the wild west is going to be my focus for a while longer I figured it was about time I picked them up. I have spent a couple of days now pouring through the 175 pages that make up the rulebook but don't let that scare you off, like a lot of these wild west rules its not all rules on those pages. I should mention that Gutshot won the Origins Award in 2006 for Historical Miniatures Game of the Year (interestingly enough I have won an Origins Award as well, way back in the 80's when I did a line of 15mm buildings for Stone Mountain Miniatures). I should also mention that there is a lot of downloadable material on the Hawgleg Publishing website so after you have read this post wander on over to the website and see what kind of support you can get..for free! Gutshot Downloads

Gutshot
Hawgleg Publishing
In Print
8 1/2 x 11, Paperback, Perfect Bound, 175 pages
Original Price: $24.95

Movement: Moved is based on what kind of movement the character is performing and can be found on Table 6.1.1. Basically you can crawl, walk, trot or run during your action (a character will have three actions during the turn, one action each time their name is drawn from the hat, these are referred to as action slips). There is a section for character movement, mounted movement and vehicle movement but the basics can be had in Chapter 2 Quick Start Guide. There are plenty of rules to handle just about anything from jumping through windows, jumping off roofs and picking the lock on a door. All of these are based around the concept of a task. There are free tasks (just do it), fast tasks (combined with movement or an attack) and Full Tasks (these takes the characters full attention) and Multi-Action Tasks (will take more than one action to complete). For a straight up gunfight most actions taken will either be free or fast and the rest are more likely to come into play when called for by a scenario.


Combat: Basically each character and NPC in the game has a target number. If you roll your target number or better on 2D6 you hit your target. Of course there are modifiers to be applied to that based on the actions of the character shooting and his target. Rolling snake eyes (double ones) is a bad thing and you get the pleasure or rolling on Table 10.2 and see what wonderful thing happens to your weapon. If you hit damage is rolled and applied to the target based on the weapon. There are a whole host of other rules that can come into play and are all are described in Chapter 10. But you already have the basics down at this point.

Hand to hand is a bit different. The target number is based on the weapon being used and the defender has a defensive target number as well (but only if they have a free hand to defend with). There is a difference between fisticuffs, melee weapon and improvised weapons so Chapter 11 is a good chapter to read thoroughly. 

Wounds:  So damage is handled a little differently in Gutshot. Each character has 15 hit points. The number of points of damage a character has accumulated (either in one shot or over the course of a game) increase the severity level of the wounds. From 1-5 points of damage is a light wound level, 6-10 is moderate and 11-15 is severe. Different wound levels will have different effects on how well a character can perform actions. A character is dead when more than 15 points have been accumulated. In a campaign setting damage can be healed over time. Even dead characters can come back (referred to as knocking on Heaven's Door in the rules). At the end of the game all "dead" characters are checked to see if they can survive with proper medical attention.


Weapon List: While everything else is handled in extensive detail the weapon list is quite short consisting of; derringers, pistols, rifles shotguns and sawed off shotguns. This is deliberate to get you into the game quickly. It is the game I expected a more extensive list for though. They do recommend "The Knuckleduster Firearms Shop" book by Forrest Harris. Unfortunately that book has been out of print for some time. I have a copy and no I won't sell it to you. [At the time of this writing I do see a number of used and new copies on Amazon all going for at least $40 and 1 copy on the Noble Knight Games site going for $45].


Campaign rules: You can find just about anything in the campaign rules (although the campaign rules from SnS could be incorporated easily and really make an exceptional wild west setting). Like many of the other wild west rules Gutshot suggest tying scenarios together to form the basic outline of a campaign but that a more well thought out campaign will create a better experience for the players and the Game Marshal. I think an excellent resource would be watching episodes of the Wild Wild West and seeing what kind of adventures James West and Artemis Gordon managed to get into. Everything you need to start a campaign like this is present in this section of the rule book, especially on how to handle a mass of NPCs and playing with an unruly mob!


Rules Bling: The is nice rule book with a glossy full color cover made from a heavier cardstock and white pages on the inside. It is bit crowded with text and could use some white space to help make things less dense. It has a some really nice drawings and some odd ones that look like some kind of photoshop work. Its in a two column format and its strictly black and white on the inside. There are some nice call outs in the margins (typically the gutter margin) and charts and tables will span both columns on occasion. You will find all the charts and tables in the back of the book for quick reference as well. It has great table of contents as well as an index. I'm not fond of some of the organization but in the end it works especially with the a good ToC. To make the rules even more rule friendly the right hand margin is used to tell you what section you are in, so you can flip through the book and pretty quickly find what you are looking for in a broad sense like; 10. Combat: Firearms (starts on page 95 and runs to page 118).


Unique: Its hard to pinpoint a single thing that makes Gutshot truly unique because there are a number. The one item that really sticks out to me is the retaliation shot. Whether you hit your target or not, they get to make a retaliation shot against you (unless they are out of ammo). Its quite possible that both characters will go down in a blaze of glory just like it happened in so many western movies.


My Thoughts:  This is big book filled with a lot of information and its hard to distill it down into something as short as a blog post. While it can be a bit intimidating an experienced gamer can read Section 2, Quick Start Guide and be able to play Gutshot without much of a problem. Skimming through some of the other chapters for more detail during the your first game will help lock in the concepts established in Chapter 2. Everything else is nice detail that you may or may not need in every single game. So don't be intimidated by the length rules (the longest yet by page count) and just focus on Chapter 2. This is definitely not a posse style game, running one or two characters will give you plenty of things to do during a game. This one definitely shades the line towards an RPG and it definitely has some cross over. For me it really does a good job of bringing you into the old west as its can be so much more than just a running gun battle. Although you can definitely do the running gun battle and not get bogged down.


I'm going to nitpick on one thing, because references to scale can really set me off First let me say that this in no way affects how the game is played or in reference to a specific rule. During the description of buildings and how to dress up your western town there is a reference to Model Train Buildings. It refers to the "less popular O-Scale, which is about 1:64 (1/64) and is just right for Gutshot." My issue is that O scale is definitely not about 1/64 it is (in the US) 1/48 scale and its usually quite precise that is why model railroaders use actual scale as opposed to the gaming companies need to measure things in millimeters. Of course if you have read my blog or any amount of time you know the 1/64 is actually S Scale and its a bit on the small side for our miniatures although there are model railroad items that work quite well for gaming. O scale is a bit on the large size but is also usable. My preferred scale is 1/56 which seems to be the best compromise to match up with most lines of western miniatures. End of rant! Just buy the rules, I think its one of the good ones!






Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Wild West Rules - Shoot N' Skedaddle - Turnstyle Games

How can I pass up a game that uses cards for just about everything, especially when the rules themselves are free? Shoot N' Skedaddle let's you read the rules first and then decided if you want to buy the rest of it. Something I can appreciate in these days of the $30+ rulebooks that are only about 40 pages long. It really helps that this is a good game on top of that. And if you don't like the game the campaign rules are well worth reading and solve a lot of problems that I have encountered in other wild west campaigns. It takes a little work and someone willing to play referee but I think they are worth the effort.

Shoot N' Skedaddle
Turnstyle Games
Rules In Print
Card Decks Out of Print (being revised)
8 1/2 x 11, PDF, pages 
Original Price: Rules Free, Card Decks $30

Movement: Like most wild west games when a character is activated one or more of the actions available is or includes moving. In SnS movement rates are set and found on the character cards. Most characters move 6" a couple are a bit speedier and move 8". Rates for animals can be found on an animal movement chart.


Combat: SnS is built around the concept of the test. So shooting and hand to hand fighting use a test to see if your character succeeds in hitting. A test requires a 5+ to succeed (or hit in this case). This is when the various character traits and weapons come into play. A shooting test is based on the marksmanship trait. A soldier's marksmanship trait uses a D12, so he rolls a D12 needing a 5+ to hit. If he is using a carbine then he only gets 1D12 if he was using a sixgun then he would roll 2D12s. The marksmanship of the priest character is a D6 and he still needs a 5+ to hit. Modifiers adjust the die rolled if the soldier is shooting at a target in cover then he is -1 and rolls a D8 for marksmanship instead of a D12 (D10s are not used in this game. The same concept works for hand to hand fighting except the scrap trait is used for the test.


Wounds:  If a character is successfully hit then he receives a wound if the wound check is successful (again that's a 5+). The die roll for a wound check is based on the weapon. A sawed off shotgun only rolls a D6 (but it allowed the character 5 "shots"), while a heavy sixgun uses a D12 (but only gets 1 shot). There is no hit location or severity to go along with it. A wound reduces a characters traits so they are less effective. A character is incapacitated if a second wound is received.


Weapon List: The weapon list in SnS is fairly extensive! It even includes a weapon card for a lasso. My only knock against it is there is still no difference between a single action or a double action pistol.


Campaign rules: The campaign rules are extensive and quite well thought out. Since the rules are free anyway I recommend that you just download them and read them for yourself. They include how to set up the campaign and characters gaining or losing dice for traits as they progress through the campaign.


Rules Bling: This is a step up from the plane jane rules. Since they are only available as a pdf the author didn't need to worry costs. Its in a single column format with the main rules in black and white and colored boxes for examples and commentary. There are pictures but no drawings (probably not a bad thing). There is a nice table of contents and the layout is quite clean. This is really my preferred formatting for a set of miniature rules.


Unique: S
omewhat in a different vein from other wild west rules SnS's unique characteristics has nothing to do with the card deck although it does have something to do with cards. Each character in the game is drawn from the character deck, the deck will consist of lawmen, bad guys and neutrals. The first player to draw a lawman or a bad guy takes that side in game. Neutrals can be on either side and make up the majority of the deck. A scenario will state how big a posse will be for the game and players take turns keep drawing till their posse's are full. The card contains all the traits for that character. You will find the equipment he starts with, any special rules that pertain to him and then his traits defined by the type of die that is rolled to make the appropriate "test". For instance "the Drifter" gets to draw two weapon cards, gets to add a joker to the activation deck and activates when the joker is drawn in addition to his normal activation card (King of Clubs in this case). His move is 6", Str D12, Agility D8, Scrap D12, Marksmanship D20 and his Guts is also a D20. A pretty nasty individual. In a campaign situation he could be added to your posse for 75 gold. Each character also tells you what player card the character will activate on. Use two identical decks and pull out the necessary cards to make the activation deck. With the drifter in play you need to start with the King of Clubs (x2), a soldier activates on the Six of Clubs (x2) and the Priest on the Ten of Clubs (x2). So every character in a posse will activate twice during a turn with the drifter getting three activations because he gets to add the joker. So, by design, you are likely playing with unbalanced posse's and a varied mix of weaponry. Remaining neutral characters might enter the game based on the special activation cards (add 0-4 aces to the deck if desired).


My Thoughts:  I enjoy the random aspect of posse creation in SnS. You can play the same scenario at a convention or at home a number of times in a day and have it always be different because of the random nature of the posse's. Using different dice to reflect the character's traits is also fun and reminds me of playing the Deadlands RPG. At first glance it appears quite complex but all you really need to remember is that every test in the game requires a 5+. If you keep that in mind then everything really does fall into place. Its nice that the rules are free, you have a chance to read them before laying out any money for the card decks. I do see that the card decks are no long appearing on thegamecrafter.com. I believe that there are some revisions being made to the decks (like adding pictures of painted miniatures to them) and he didn't want anyone to purchase old decks. If you contact the author directly through his web page he might be willing to send out templates so you can get started. This is another fast and furious game!



Since the rules are PDF and don't really feature a cover I thought I would take a picture of the box cover for the card decks. These were produced on demand from thegamecrafter.com.

Now that's a weapon deck!

Here you can see some of the weapon cards, showing the range, the number of dice to roll (i.e. shots) and the die type needed to wound, along with any special rules and, of course, the cost of the weapon in a campaign

The "special" decks. You only draw from here when an ace comes up in the activation deck


The character cards, there aren't to many good guys or bad guys but there are a whole bunch of neutral guys. You can populate an entire town with these!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Wild West Rules - The Rules with No Name - Foundry Publications

This is the first set of rules I purchased when I began the search for a rule set for my town of Calamity. I added it to an order of western miniatures during one of Foundry's periodic sales. Its the only hardcover wild west rulebook that I own at this point. In fact I'm not sure if there are any other rules published in hardback for the wild west (okay Aces and Eights but that's I consider that much more of an RPG for Wild West rather than a set of miniature rules). Probably because most of Wild West rules are pretty short and it would be hard to justify a hardback book for them. However, as you can see from the page count below, and like Legends in the Old West, this is another big book of rules and more! I'll do my best to distill this one down a bit. While the rulebook is big the basic rules to get you going are only about 14 pages long which is pretty close to some of the other rule sets I have taken a look at and should have you diving into your first game right away.

The Rules with No Name or "A Fistful of Dice"

Foundry Publications
In Print
Large Format (A4+?), Hardcover, 133 pages 
Original Price £25

Movement: Like many of the other western rules this one is based on characters taking actions when their turn (when their card is drawn from the fate deck) comes. In TRwNN how fast your character moves when they use a move action is random. A character simply moving gets to roll 3D6 for their movement. A character moving and shooting gets to roll 2D6 for their movement. Pretty straight forward with the possibility of you not quite getting to cover.

Combat: In the basic rules the only combat is shooting. Characters need a six to hit their target and potentially cause a wound. You get to roll multiple dice to get that six, it depends on the type of weapon and the range to the target. For example a character with pistol at close range (between 2" and 6") gets to roll 3D6. Modifiers are applied as well but instead of a + or - to the roll you add or subtract dice. If you are firing at at target in cover you are -1D6. You still need a six to hit you just have fewer dice to use.

Hand to Hand fighting is actually an optional rule. The attacker rolls dice based on his weapon as indicated on the fighting chart (a Fist is 3D6 a pistol is 2D6). The defender also gets to roll a number of D6 based on his weapon (A fist in defense is 4D6 while a pistol is still 2D6). Which ever side rolls the most sixes gets to roll for an "effect" (or wound) based on the weapon they were using. Again modifiers are applied just like for shooting and adjust the number of dice that are thrown.

Wounds:  For shooting the player rolls 1D6 for the location and then another 1D6 for the Effect. Wounds will run from a graze to dead! Fighting has its own chart as mentioned above. This game is not quite a bloody as some of the others but the use of a D6 does keep the range of possible results quite low and deadly. There are modifiers to a character's ability to take actions based on the type of wound they have taken


Weapon List: The weapon list, again is very short, just pistols and rifles in the basic rules and shotguns and hand to hand weapons in the optional rules


Campaign rules: There really isn't a set of campaign rules for TRwNN but there is a section for improving a characters class and adding skills. There is definitely an RPG component here there is even a gamemaster section in the back that allows someone to run a game and really customize the citizens (NPCs) and create a town with personalities that could be the ongoing location for all a gaming group's wild west interests.


Rules Bling: This is a pretty heavy bling book. Its hardback with lots of excellent pictures (featuring Wargames Foundry miniatures of course) and some nice drawings (that I think are basically clip art or old drawings that are no longer under copyright). Its in a two column format with pictures, drawings and charts/tables spreading across the page as needed. The table of contents is extensive and it includes and an index & reference page which is good because I don't find the book particularly well organized. I found the use of basic rules and then everything else being optional a little perplexing. Going with an advanced set of rules to ease players into some of the new stuff would have made more sense to me. There is an extensive section in the back that gives you everything you need to create your own fate deck (I would suggest scanning these cards) along with some extras that would let you skip the dice like; shooting chits, skill chits and even event cards for bystanders (event cards are part of the fate deck normally). And in the very back are the quick reference sheets!


Unique: These rules have a couple of unique aspects to them. As you can tell from the shooting and fighting section the number of dice based on the weapon approach is definitely unusual and I like that. I find it quick and fun to deal with. 

And then their is the fate deck. It has some similarities to a couple of other games (notably Fistful of Lead) as it uses cards to determine when character gets to take an action. The difference here is that there are also "Fate" or action cards in the deck along with a joker. If the card turned over is a character then that character takes its action. If an action card is drawn it will be placed face up next to the deck. It will have a level on it and only a character with a level equal to or higher than the one listed is flipped over the player can pick up and use the action card. When the joker is drawn then all the cards in the discard pile are shuffled back in. Action cards have to be played or discarded to the deck when this happens as well. In other words the joker really resets the entire deck. Makes for some nerve racking terms and really adds tension to the game. 

My Thoughts:  Don't be overwhelmed by the size of the rule book. While its extensive as far as rules go there are a lot of sections that some people may never use. While I have a problem with how the optional rules are presented you aren't in anyway required to use them. I still would have preferred and advanced rule section as some of those rules, like hand to hand, I don't really consider optional. There are rules for challenges and horses and dynamite in there so take some time and read through them and see what tickles your fancy. There is a painting section by Dallimore that I would view as required reading as well as a whole section on building your own buildings along with signage to go along with them. For those with a more military pent you will find sections for both Soldiers and Indians. This book really does cover a lot of material and even if you don't decide to use it for your rules its a wonderful reference for your library.