TITLE: Legends of the Old West (2004)
AUTHOR: Mark Latham
PUBLISHER: Warhammer Historical
PUBLICATION DATE: 2004
WEB SITE/SUPPORT FORUM:
PRICE (with date): £20.00 / $38.00 (2008)
REVIEWED BY: SeattleGamer Steve
PERIOD COVERED: Old West
Legends of the Old West is a beautifully illustrated, full-color, perfect-bound 7 ¾” x 10 ¾” book. It runs 136 pages long, including 54 pages of basic rules, 12 pages of campaign rules, 17 pages detailing 8 scenarios, 22 pages of historical legends and other generic guns for hire, and sections covering preparing and painting miniatures, building scenery, and even a bit of old west history. The last few pages include templates, counters, roster sheets and quick reference sheets. All but the last item is available as a free, separate download.
Legends of the Old West is a skirmish level rule set. It is designed to allow players to form up one of three types of posses, made up of heroes and henchmen, and engage them in tabletop battles. These gangs can be used in one-off battles, or by using the campaign rules, those who survive can slowly gain wealth and skills. A roster sheet is necessary to record individual stats, skills, equipment, money and other factors for each member of the posse.
Players receive $200 to recruit and outfit a starting posse. You can hire fewer men, and give them more and better equipment, or hire more men, and give them just the basics to start. Because of this, gang size can vary right from the start. However, a typical starting posse will probably consist of between 5 and 8 members.
Game models should be individually based, and represent one gunfighter.
- Ground scale: 1” = 6 feet
- Time scale: unspecified
- Figure/Base Ratio: 1 figure = 1 man/woman
- Recommended Figure Size: 25-28mm – though other figure sizes should work fine
- Table Size: a 4’ x 4’ area is plenty for most games
- Game Length: A typical game between two players should be easily playable in 2-3 hours.
The rules assume that figures on foot are on 25mm round bases, while mounted figures are on 40mm round bases. It is not mandatory, however, to base your figures in this manner.
- The Drop. Both players roll a die (or optionally cut cards) to determine who has the initiative this turn and becomes the first player. The player that had the drop last turn will always lose a tie.
- Moving. The first player moves any or all of his models, followed by the second player.
- Shooting. The first player shoots with any or all of his models, followed by the second player. Shooting is NOT simultaneous, so going first is a big benefit in this phase.
- Fighting. All close combat is resolved. The first player gets to decide the order in which these fights are resolved.
The rules are well written and illustrated. A d6 is used for all die rolling. It should be noted that players are allowed to measure at any point during the game. This means, for example, that they can check to see if they will reach their desired point before moving, or check to see the range before deciding to stop.
Heroes and Henchmen have 7 basic characteristics, and are rated for Shooting, Fighting, Strength, Grit (a combination of toughness, stubbornness and reflexes), Attacks, Wounds and Pluck (bravery). Heroes have two additional characteristics; Fame (expended to alter the result of a die roll) and Fortune (expended to have a chance at avoiding a wound).
Movement rules are straight forward, and include entry and exit from buildings, climbing, jumping, falling, getting on and off mounts, going prone, and dealing with barriers and difficult terrain. Some of these actions require a roll on a table to see if you succeed or fail. The horse rules in particular are quite detailed, and cover situations such as fighting while mounted, carrying passengers, jumping over obstacles, leading mounts, being thrown from mounts, and having them take off on their own if not properly tied up!
Shooting is handled a little outside the norm. You start by rotating your figure to face the target, checking to see that it is within range and line of sight, and rolling to hit. The target number varies based on the shooting ability of the character, but will typically range from 4+ (most Heroes) to 5+ (most Henchmen). Note, however, that cover has no bearing on the target number.
If successful, and the target is in plain sight, you then roll to wound. To find the target number to wound, you cross reference the Strength of the shooting weapon to the Grit of the target. The typical target number is probably a 4+ or 5+. If you succeed the target takes a wound. If a character is reduced to zero wounds (and most characters have only a single wound) they are removed from the game.
If you hit, but the target is obscured in some fashion, you roll on the In The Way table to determine if you hit the target or the things that are obstructing your view. The target number here can range from 3+ (open fences, hedges, etc), to 4+ (solid fences, door or window of wooden building, etc), up to 5+ (fortified walls, etc). If you pass, you hit the intended target. If you fail, you hit the obstruction.
The shooting rules also cover situations such as firing from behind friends, shooting into a close combat (and risk hitting friends), shooting at mounted figures, misfires, jamming, and reloading.
Close combat is simultaneous, and is resolved by having each player roll 1d6 per Attack stat per character in the fight (so if two fighters with one Attack each are ganging up on one defender with one Attack, one player will be rolling 2d6, the other a single d6). The highest result from each player is used, ignoring any other rolls. The character who rolls the highest wins the fight. If the result is a tie, the character with the highest Fighting ability wins. The loser backs off 1”, and the winner rolls to see if he caused a wound. To find the target number you once again cross reference the Strength of the fighter to the Grit of the target. The typical target number is still a 4+ or 5+. As before, if a character is reduced to zero wounds they are removed from the game.
Fighting rules cover a number of situations, including multiple figures fighting a long figure, multiple figures fighting multiple figures, fighting a figure that is down or on the other side of an obstacle, and trapping a figure so that it has nowhere to back off if it is defeated.
Throughout the game, characters who are hit (but not wounded), or close to friendly characters who are removed from the game, must take a Pluck Test. If they pass, they remain unfazed. If they fail, they must immediately head to the closest cover that will put something In The Way of the shooter. If already behind cover, they go prone. In addition, once a posse has lost at least half of their members removed from the game, they must test each turn to see if they remain and continue to fight, or Head for the Hills (exit the table, immediately ending the game).ad for the hills.
Heroes can expend Fame and Fortune points as described above. In addition, they can expend a Fame point to perform one of three Heroic Actions. Yee Haw! allows the hero to move before anyone who is not performing a Heroic Action (so they can actually interrupt their opponent and move before their normal sequence). Any friendly figures close by may move along with the hero. Quickdraw allows the hero to shoot before anyone who is not also performing a Heroic Action (so they can shoot before their normal sequence). Any friendly figures close by may shoot along with the hero. Time for a Whuppin’ allows any close combat involving the hero to be resolved first, regardless of the order the first player may choose. If both sides elect to perform Heroic Actions in the same phase, each player rolls a d6 (or optionally cuts cards) to determine which hero goes first.
As mentioned above, players receive $200 to recruit and outfit a starting posse. There are three types which can be formed, Cowboys, Lawmen and Outlaws. Each has different Heroes and Henchmen to select from, with different recruitment costs and special abilities. You must also outfit your characters. The weapons available and their costs vary depending on which posse you create. Weapons have generic names, such as six shooter, heavy pistol, rifle, repeating rifle, and shotgun, each with their own ranges, strengths and special rules.
There are lists of generic Hired Guns which can be paid to join your posse, and even some actual legends (such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and Billy the Kid) you can attempt to track down and entice to join your gang.
There are eight scenarios included, each with a map showing the table layout, starting positions, victory conditions, and any special rules that apply. These cover some staples such as High Noon (typical straight-up fight in town), Jailbreak (rescue of a posse member), and Bank Robbery (grab the loot). And include some scenarios that take place outside of town as well, including Stagecoach (robbery on the move) and Open Range (typical straight-up fight outside of town).
Ignoring the game itself for just a moment, there is one thing that must be said about this set of rules: They are gorgeous! The layout is fantastic, and the artwork (which is plentiful) and the photographs (ditto) are superb. They are well organized, and include a detailed two-page table of contents.
As for the rules, they are a real pleasure to read. Well written and smooth flowing, with examples galore, it is obvious the author took great pains to write clear, understandable text, and then include photos and diagrams to help make the point even clearer. Any tables referenced in a rules section were included in that section, and also on the Quick Reference Sheet at the back of the book.
There are surprisingly few modifiers, a game mechanic that is used quite heavily by many sets of rules. In Legends of the Old West, the only time a die roll is modified (outside of the rare expenditure of Fame by Heroes) is when a character is fighting a close combat, and only then when armed with certain weapons.
The only rule that struck me as a bit off was the treatment of cover. Not as a modifier to hit (which one might expect), but as a potential target. You ignore any cover at first and simply roll to hit. If you succeed, you then roll to see what you hit, either the intended target, or the cover. While this seems odd at first, it made perfect sense in the game. Most of the time, cover is a fence, or doorway, or window, or balcony railing, and no wounds are inflicted. But what if the cover is another figure, or perhaps a horse? Always rolling to hit first, and then figuring out what was hit means you don’t need special rules to handle these situations. The normal procedures already handle them.
Legends of the Old West is a fun game. The rules are easy enough to grasp, and the game plays smoothly. Each gang has a flavor all its own. The equipment lists, while not extensive, have a good selection, and offer enough variety to outfit just about any miniature out there. And the scenarios provided make it easy to get playing fast if you don’t have the time to develop your own scenarios.
The game really shines though, when the campaign rules are used. These allow your posse to develop more character and hopefully improve with age. You determine the exact nature of every wound suffered by your posse members. You earn experience points, which can lead to improved characteristics or new skills. You earn income, which can be spent to buy new, better equipment, and recruit new gang members. And you calculate an Infamy Rating for your posse (weaker gangs, as determined by the Infamy rating, gain a certain number of free re-rolls to help balance play).
My one complaint is the nearly total lack of chaos. A number of old west rule sets use some form of random activation each turn. That makes it impossible to plot out with chess-like precision exactly who is going to move where and perform what action. This level of chaos feels right to me for a skirmish game in the Wild West. Without that random element, how can you, for instance, circle around behind the other fellow and surprise him. You can’t. You move half way around the building. In his turn, he sees you and moves to protect himself. If figures activated randomly, you might move after him one turn, then before him the next, thus getting two actions before he has a chance to move, and thereby surprise him.
That said, it is not a major complaint. First, there is some chaos present, since Heroes can spend Fame points to act out of sequence. This will not happen very often during a game, but at a critical moment it can make all the difference. Also, since the player who gets to shoot first ALSO must move first, the second player is not totally at the mercy of the first player. And finally, the game tends to have a sort of random ebb and flow to it, as initiative switches back and forth.
When I’m in the mood for a more chaotic gunfight, I simply play one of those other rule sets. But when I want to take my favorite posse into action, and continue on with our campaign, I reach for Legends of the Old West.
Three supplements have been released for Legends of the Old West. They are:
- Frontier: Blood on the Plains. 80 pages, £18.00 / $35.00, which adds a new posse (Texas Rangers), but mostly rules, equipment and scenarios to allow cavalry and Indian actions with large forces.
- The Alamo. 96 pages, £18.00 / $35.00, which adds three new posses (Mountain Men, Comancheros, and Bandidos), but mostly rules, equipment and scenarios to allow large actions between the Texan and Mexican armies.
- Showdown. 48 pages, £15.00 / $29.00, which adds a new posse (Chinese Tong), three scenarios, Bloodbath in Dodge campaign rules, and tips on applying the core rules to other time periods (such as French & Indian Wars, American Civil War, and even Prohibition-Era Chicago gangs).
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