Dead Man’s Hand

Some time ago we noticed that our local Wargames club had moved to being significantly closer to where we live. Unfortunately, it’s on a Friday evening which is when we usually play Traveller. Given that there was no Traveller game this week, we took the opportunity to visit and ended up playing a game of Dead Man’s Hand.

It’s a Western based skirmish game for 28mm figures, with a pretty fast and simple set of rules. It probably took us a couple of hours with four players. There was some very nice terrain supplied by one of the players (which came with the unmistakable aroma of laser cut MDF).

Initiative is done on a per-figure basis, with a deck of cards being used with highest going first. A die roll (d10) is used at the start of each round to see which side gets initiative, but that seems to only be used as a tie breaker.

Each card also has a special ability on it. None of the abilities are particularly powerful, but at the right time can be useful. Each team draws up to four of these at the start of each turn, with abilities such as Dust in their eyes (lose any aiming bonuses), or You can’t kill what you can’t catch (gain an extra move action).

Each model gets three actions – which are basically move, aim and shot. You can climb or jump as a move, otherwise a move action is 10cm. Shooting was interesting – rifles and carbines effectively have no range limits, which seems perfectly sensible given the scale of the table, but was a bit of a surprise. Most games limit ranges for ‘game reasons’.

On my first action, I decided to take advantage of this fact to simply try and shoot an opponent on the far side of the table. -1 for long range, +2 for two aim actions, giving a +1 on a d20 roll. A 19+ is a kill, 11+ is basically giving ‘under fire’ markers. Four are enough to kill a figure, but you can shrug them off as an action during your turn.

Being in cover gives a -1 to attacks against you

A few things I learned:

  • Using a d20 seemed to give very random results. Most modifiers ended up being -1/+1, which on a d20 aren’t huge. Luck seemed to play a bigger role than things like whether you were in cover.
  • Shotguns are really dangerous. My first casualty was due to a shotgun at point blank range, which got a sizeable +6 modifier. This was enough to make a difference, and my scout was down.
  • Being able to shrug off ‘wounds’ next turn basically meant figures died due to a single lucky shot, not being worn down over time. Being ‘shot’ generally meant losing actions next turn to recover rather than long term effects. This probably fits the style of the Hollywood cinema vibe of the game, and may not be entirely unrealistic either.

Ultimately, we lost. I lost of couple of soldiers in quick succession to lucky shots from the Mexicans, and though my colleague put up a good fight in a three-on-one close quarters gunfight in the top floor of one of the buildings, we’d lost too many. It was quite apparent that my usual bad luck with dice rolls hadn’t deserted me after years of not playing.

A standout from the game was that I think this is the first wargame I’ve played where the buildings were actually used. Normally they’ve just been blocking terrain. This time, there were balconies to climb, stairs to use and multiple rooms per building. Though it isn’t the sort of genre I normally go for, Dead Man’s Hand was a lot of fun, and the rules seemed to work well.

15mm ancients

Elsewhere at the club there was a Saga game, which seemed to be between the Anglo Danes and Pagan Rus. There was also a 6-way 15mm ancients battle. Though I don’t like painting 15mm figures, long lines of armies at this scale do look impressive.

This all raises the complication of what we want to do in the future. The people at the club were welcoming and friendly, and happy to have us drop in and join in the games. I wouldn’t mind trying some Saga, and I have several armies that I’ve painted over the years (I have plenty of 28mm dark ages figures, mostly Vikings, Saxons and similar) which I’ve barely used. I also have an Undead Legion and (almost finished) Great Kingdoms armies for trying out the Age of Magic rules. Plus there’s always the possibility of corrupting people in the ways of Full Thrust or Stargrunt.

It’s probably been over 20 years since either of us last went to a club for gaming, so if we wanted to start being sociable again we’d have to re-arrange our current gaming habits.

Samuel Penn

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