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)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Wild West Rules - Dead Man's Hand - Great Escape Games

Boot Hill was published in 1975 and now we move a lot further forward to a more recent addition to my library of wild west rules, Dead Man's Hand. I was first introduced to Dead Man's Hand (DMH) by an announcement on the Lead Adventure Forum and picked it up as soon as it was available.

Dead Man's Hand
Great Escape Games, 2013 1st Edition 
In Print
A4, softcover, 44 pages 
Original Price £20 (includes the DMH card deck)

Movement: Dead Man's Hand uses a set movement rate so all "characters" move at the same rate. When a character takes its turn it can take three actions as part of its move but all three actions being taken must be stated first  before they are executed. There are also some extra actions that can be taken as part of movement like dramatically leaping over a fence.

Combat: Shooting is handled using a D20 and applying the appropriate modifiers for the shooter and his target. Hand to Hand combat is handled using a D10 and applying the appropriate modifiers.

Wounds: In some ways Dead Man's Hand is less "deadly" than other wild west rules. Characters are either missed, under fire, under fire with a nerve (morale) test, or out of action. Odds are that members of your posse are going to run away rather than be put out of action (which requires a 19+ on a D20). Under fire markers are accumulated but can be recovered as part of character's actions and they do have an affect on action's taken.

Weapon List: Very generic and very short. You are either armed with a pistol, a rifle, a repeater, or a shotgun. I'm not sure why there is a difference between a rifle and a repeater. I don't own either of the two available supplements so I don't know if the weapon list has been expanded or not.

Campaign rules: There are no "campaign" rules as such in the DMH rulebook. However, it uses the concept of scenes (like in a movie) to mimic what amounts to a small campaign.

Rules Bling: This is a heavy bling book for me for much in line with the current generation of miniature rule books. It is in the English A4 format with a stapled binding, to be expected with a short book, with a nice glossy cover. Interior pages are a heavy gloss paper and should hold up well to repeated reference. Despite the size it uses a single column format with pictures and artwork inserted. Its pretty straight forward in its presentation so you won't have any problems finding things and there is a table of contents if you are really desperate (no index though, its a little short for that). I find the layout a bit distracting at times and I consider the artwork to be on the poor side and the "thought bubbles" are a bit dark for my tastes. The pictures are excellent and the charts and tables work are easy to understand. There are quick reference "charts" on the inside front and back covers (not removable, I suggest you scan them.  There is also a page of markers that can be scanned or photocopied to use during a game. 
There is a download section on the Great Escape Games webpage where you can download the charts, markers and a couple of other extras. So a nice rulebook. It appears to be a bit expensive when you consider its size but it does come with a set of DMH cards so you are ready to play at soon as it hits your door.

Unique: There are a number of wild west games that use playing card decks, but DMH adds a few twists to the concept. Cards are used to determine a couple of things:

1) Who goes when as part of the initiative. You get to turn the first card over in your deck and assign that to the character of your choice, then the rest of your characters are dealt a card. So you at least have a chance to make sure your best character (for that turn) gets a chance to take actions. 
2) You also get a hand of cards to use. Each card has a specific action that it can be used for or you can use it to trump a card used by your opponent if the numbers match (i.e. he plays a 5, you can trump it with your 5). Its a neat system and adds a lot of interest and drama to the game.

The Legend of Dead Man's Hand (includes a card deck)
Dead Man's Hand Down Under (includes a card deck)

My Thoughts: I enjoy this game and it has received a lot of positive press on some of the forums that I frequent. It does carry a big price tag for a small book, but you have to temper that with the fact that it comes with its own custom card deck as well. This is very much a "Hollywood" style game with an emphasis on the "scene" and dramatic action. While there will be plenty of gunfire and fights breaking out its definitely a less bloody game than other sets of western rules. Characters aren't killed out right they are just out of action or have run away and in true Hollywood form will be ready for their next scene on the table. Fast and Fun it has all the elements I want in a set of western rules except for the very, very generic weapon list, I would prefer something at least on par with the list in Boot Hill, there really is a difference between a single action and double action revolver. Now this list may have been expanded in one or both of the supplements which I don't own yet. I also need to figure where I stashed my DMH deck of cards! I'll update the pictures when I find them.

Save me from poor artwork!


  1. The Legends expansion adds campaigns.

    1. Nice to know! I'll definitely have to pick up that expansion then. Thanks!