Everyone knew that hiring Tommy “Wildman” Horner was a bit of a gamble. He did have a reputation for being able to take down anything and we had a job that matched his skills. The Bicycle Job. Sure, it doesn’t sound that dangerous but the sheriff just bought a new rifle and he’s antsy to try it out on some lowlife. We decided to roll the dice. It’s not clear whether things went horribly wrong or he rode out of town with the loot but he never came back. I guess we’ll need to look for more reliable help next time around.
How It Plays
The Setting – Rounding Up A Posse In The Wild West
Wanted: The Outlaws takes place in the hay days of the American wild west. It’s high time you wrangled up a posse and made a name for yourself. You see, there’s a fancy new bank that just opened up – the global national state bank. It’s right across from the marshall’s station but you’ve got a good feeling about this one. Word around these part is that the local saloon might have some folks that’d be interested. Better head over and have a look for yourself. The characters around here are of a more unsavory type but they’re the kind that you can rely on to get the job done. The barkeep directs you to a couple of shady fellas lurking in the corner. That’s Shea “The Wolf” Looijen and Joe “The Gentleman” Jones. An odd pair for sure but they’ve got the power and smarts that you’ll need. They insist on bringing along Ella “Sassy” Courtright, you can hear her ranting from across the room. You’ll be needing one last man for this job. Sitting at the bar is Willie “The Loner” Taylor, he prefers to work alone but for the right price he’ll join your crew. Luckily there’s a bank to rob and cash to be made so he’s in. You wouldn’t mind keeping some of that hard earned loot for yourself but what you’re really after is reputation. Time to give the sheriff some work to do.
The Gameplay – Hire a Crew, Rob a Bank, Don’t Get Shot: Light, Accessible, and Fun
The Outlaws is a very straightforward card game that tells a story much like the ones above. You’ll be assembling a crew of colorful characters in your hideout and attempting various jobs in the hopes of earning the most reputation. These characters and jobs are represented by cards which are shuffled and divided into six equal stacks with the top card of each stack showing. The visible cards represent the characters that are currently available to hire and jobs that can be done. Each player is given some cash and an empty hideout (no characters) to start the game.
In turn, players are given two options based on these cards: hire a character or do a job. Hiring a character costs an amount of money indicated on the card and allows you to take that character and add them to your hideout. Each character has different skills that will be used for doing jobs and an amount of life representing how much damage they can take. Once you have some characters, you’ll be able to start doing jobs. You can do so by selecting one of the available jobs and indicating which of your characters you are sending there. The skills on your characters must at least match those required by the job in order for you to select it. Each job has a risk value which represents how many dice you’ll get to roll after completing the job. The results vary from collecting money, earning reputation, and getting shot. Take the money and reputation indicated on the dice and assign damage to your characters however you want. Any character that has taken damage equal to its life is removed from your hideout. One last option that a player has on their turn is to report a tip. Select the top card from any stack and discard it then take 1 money.
Continue taking turns until all the cards have run out and then compare your reputation. The player with the highest total wins!
The Awesomest Train Job Ever?
I received a review copy of The Outlaws to preview since the game is currently on Kickstarter so the components, cards, and possibly some rules may be subject to change. I was extremely impressed with the quality of the components and ease of reading (and entertainment) that the rulebook provided. The dice have a nice custom wooden engraved design that is easy to read, the artwork on the cards illustrated the feeling of each character and job nicely, and the tokens were surprisingly vibrant and metallic giving a great feel. If this is any indication of the final product then I’m sure the quality is top notch for a small developer as much care was put into this game.
The Outlaws is a light, thematic, and silly game that can be a blast to play if you go into it with the right expectations. I’m stating this up front because I think this is a great game for the right group of people and I’m going to try to highlight that. To be fair I’ll come back to who might find this game frustrating but not because it’s a bad game, simply that it has a certain audience in mind.
The story of Tommy and the Bicycle Job from the introduction was taken from the first game of The Outlaws that I played. In fact it was the very first thing that I did in my first game and it was extremely memorable and hilarious. Here’s the scenario: on my first turn I hired Tommy because he’s exactly the kind of guy that I would want if I was starting up a posse in the old west. Just look at that mug and listen to this description “He’ll take down anything just wind him up like a top and stand back!” Yeah, he’s the man for my crew. Next turn I notice that there’s a job that he could do, the bicycle job. I should probably hire some more people first but I’m too excited and come on, it’s the freaking BICYCLE JOB. Look at all those old timey bikes, I can’t wait any longer and this description is filling me with confidence “Who cares what we’ll do with ‘em. They’ve gotta be the easiest thing in town to steal.” What could go wrong? So I send Tommy off to do the job and wait with anticipation for the results. I roll a hit and Tommy never comes back. I couldn’t believe it, it was supposed to be so easy! Surely I was set up! And poor Tommy, this was his first job and I didn’t get the chance to go on that bicycle ride that I promised him when he got back. I was playing with Jason and we had a “well I guess that just happened” moment and then started cracking up. If the story wasn’t so hilarious I might have been frustrated about my bad luck but instead I found the scenario to be extremely entertaining and started looking for who I’d hire next that might be a little more reliable than the late Wildman.
That captures what I found to be so much fun about The Outlaws: the characters have personality, the jobs have mystery, and there’s a whimsical narrative running through the whole game. The game is engaging while keeping your decisions simple since there are only ever six cards to pick from. There are choices to make but you’ll often be playing from your gut and making choices based on the flavor of the cards. This makes it ideal for teaching to non-gamers or as a nice break between heavier games.
However, there is a big part of the thematic immersion that could easily divide players as to whether or not they’ll enjoy this game and that’s the resolution of jobs. Each job has a risk associated with it, note the word risk and not reward. You don’t know how a job will go down and that could result in a big payout or your whole crew getting shot up. On one hand that’s exciting, you could hit the jackpot but there’s a thrilling sense of danger too. On the other hand you don’t have direct control over gaining reputation and the best way to increase your odds (hard jobs) also increases your chance of having things fail miserably at no fault of your own. In other words you are forced to gamble whether you like it or not because the only way to gain reputation is at the whims of the dice. Now, you can choose to play riskier by hiring characters with more bang for the buck and less health but there’s no getting around your dependency on luck when resolving jobs. The reason this matters so much is that players who roll poorly (lots of hits) are penalized twice, they are not only losing characters (which makes it harder for them to do jobs later on) but they also aren’t getting money or reputation which are needed to keep up with the leaders. I found this system to be very punishing to the point that you could be pretty much eliminated from the game due several bad rolls (or one really bad roll). I had one game where I attempted the Bandit Blow-Out (a job with 4 Risk) and ended up rolling all 4 results as hits for a total of 6 hits. There was absolutely no coming back from that one. It’s certainly memorable and entertaining but can be discouraging as well based on your perspective. This is why approaching The Outlaws for the narrative (what a story I had to tell) and thrill of the dice rolls is important. Otherwise you’ll end up discouraged at the lack of direct control over gaining points (and ultimately winning) and quit in a rage when you have a Blow-Out of your own (I’ll note that I was a gentlemen and finished the game while only flipping over the table in my mind). Luckily the game plays quickly and you won’t be waiting for long if you’re on the receiving end of some unfortunate rolls.
With that in mind I wouldn’t mind if they cooked up some variants to minimize how punishing it is to roll hits and increase control over gaining reputation. There is an excellent solitaire variant that added some interesting decisions to the game but that’s limited to the solo experience. If anything I would like to see players receive some compensation for getting shot so that you can stay competitive despite rolling poorly. I’ve enjoyed playing the game as a light and thrilling adventure in the wild west so I’ve no qualms with what it is but it couldn’t hurt to tailor a little more to the strategic crowd at the same time.
I’m glad that I was able to play The Outlaws despite the fact that it isn’t the type of game that I normally play. I had just as much fun winning as I did when my whole crew got shot up in a blaze of glory. I would gladly choose to pull this one out to play with my non-gaming friends that want a quick and entertaining game that will give them a great story to tell.
Wanted: The Outlaws is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign which has been successfully funded and is pushing towards stretch goals. There’s a really nice and unique wooden card option that looks fantastic so go check it out today!
This preview was paid for by Bibelot Games.