The Legend of Dead Man’s Hand

The original version of The Dead Man's Hand was written by Great Escape Games (2013) and was later expanded by the french Studio Tomahawk with additional, optional rules. The present review is the German version of the Dead Man's Hand rules, which is distributed in Germany by Stronghold Terrain. Previous rule enhancements are included in the 94-page book and once again arranged to complement rules and characters.

Dead Man's Hand The Legend of Dead Man's Hand

What is it about?
Dead Man's Hand puts great importance in capturing the atmosphere of the 1960s and '70s spaghetti western movies. In several mini-campaigns or in free scenarios, ten different gangs compete in skirmish struggles.
The story of the fictional Wild West town of Dead Man's Hand begins in 1853 Arizona and continues sporadic chunks of story until about 1870. How the city got its name remains uncertain over the path of the book, although there are some legends about it. Hence the name of the game.

Especially the increasing number of tabletop daddies and older veterans will feel comfortable here, but also general fans of a Western setting will settle here quickly, as the main focus of the game is on the narrative rather than the competitive side.

First impression
I was able to test Dead Man's hand on the RPC (Role Play Cnvention in cologne, Germany) this year in a spontaneous match and was impressed by the short playing time and the deep atmosphere it was able to generate. One of my friends took on the role of the lawmen while I played the outlaws.
Although I'm not that into historical games, Dead Man's Hand still scored points with me, as the game itself is really just a set of rules and the variety of Wild West figures on the market is rather big and offers something for every taste.

The book itself comes as a stable hardcover with an incorporated bookmark made of fabric. The last pages of the book contain printed markers and a reference sheet with modifiers. They`ve been added as an extra pair of loose cardboard sheets as well, so if you do not want to buy markers made of wood separately, you`ll have some DIY markers in no time. The artworks are not as detailed as you may know them from other manufacturers' publications, but they fit very well into the setting and do not disturb the overall impression.

The Legend of Dead Man's Hand The Legend of Dead Man's Hand

Dead Man’s Hand – how is it played?
The rules section covers nearly 30 pages, while the rest of the book describes scenarios, gangs, and small, loosely connected campaigns. They usually consist of three to seven models most of the time. The composition and size of the gang usually varies a bit, depending on the faction they are affiliated with and their individual cost of points.
Each model has three actions per round in it's base pool, which must be chosen and announced according to the situation. Players choose whether the characters move, aim, shoot, or recover. Particularly refreshing is the easy handling of the movement rules - each model can climb up to six inches and up to eight inches down. On leveled grounds, stairs or over waist-high fences, the full movement of ten centimeters can be used per action.

When playing an action, it is particularly important to verbally make your intention clear to make the logic of it understandable. This mechanic is supported solely by the players themselves, as far as the level of detail goes. Example: "Carlos runs from one side of the main street over to the Stronghold store and hides behind the corner so that he can not be seen and shot at, but in turn can shoot out of cover in the next round.". With this I made the intention clear to my opponent and s/he knows, that I move three times with my three actions and just pull my nose around the building so that I can see him in the next round, but he can not shoot me this round.

The Legend of Dead Man's Hand

This type of communication between the players not only helps to clearly defuse the competitive factor in the game, but also creates a very dense, narrative film feeling. The shooting sequences is handled just as easy - depending on the weapon, there is a certain value, which is determined with a D20 and gets negative modifications by movement, repeated shots and cover, or bonuses, for example by aiming prior to the shot. Testing for courage is done with a D10.

The activation of the models does not take place alternately, but is determined by the highest value of the cards drawn from the deck, which happens randomly for each player. So it may be that one side can activate all models before it's the other sides turn, but it can also happen that the bands activate their models alternately. At this point it gets really important to decide who to shoot at first, as this can significantly influence the order during the game.

What’s next?
Dead Man's Hand currently has ten different gangs in the book and a number of special characters that can be recruited. Great Escape Games offers complete gangs for purchase, but the general supply in the Wild West area is relatively broad. If you want to give your gaming table more atmosphere, you will sooner or later look around anyway.

A big factor in the game, as in all skirmish games, is the terrain. 4Grounds offers a wide selection for both the slim and the thick purse, but it is clear that the biggest factor of costs lies here.

To play you'll still need the Dead Man's Hand playing cards, which are not part of the rules, a ruler of at least ten centimeters in length and a few twenty-sided dice. Other markers are a nice gimmick, but are included in the rulebook and therefore not a must have.

The Legend of Dead Man's Hand

Two extensions are already available in english: The Curse of Dead Man's Hand and Down Under. Stronghold has already shown foresight here and will publish the extensions next year as another hardcover book. Backgroundwise Down Under will technically be set in a modified version in Dead Man's hand, not in Australia. If you do not want to wait that long, Stronghold will meet you half the way over the course of the next year and will offer the already translated rules for more gangs, etc. on their page as a download.

Incidentally, the new gangs are not only a homage to classics such as "The Magnificent Seven," but they also take a little excourse into the direction of fantasy. For example, there is a gang of undead, led by a voodoo hungan, or the count, who is a vampire himself and travels with his personal servants.

The Legend of Dead Man's Hand The Legend of Dead Man's Hand

Except for a small copy-paste error in the special characters section, I didn't notice anything negative in the book. The quality is high and the book will last a long time even with frequent use thanks to the hardcover. Since the entire set of rules is in full color, the rather crisp price of 35, - € is also justified.

I particularly liked the scenario section. You quickly get a feeling for a good structure of a western town and pick up ideas for own campaigns fast. The choice of models on the market is also nicely set up and there is a wide selection. The small size of the gangs also invites you to play several of them and maybe connect them throughout the course of a campaign, as you`ll be able to see here on the Chaosbunker soon. Since the game is a skirmisher, the main costs lie not in the rules or the models, but the terrain. Therefore, it must be mentioned that the deep Western atmosphere on the table only arises when it is also equipped accordingly.

For those who would like to try Dead Man's Hand and are looking for some nice miniatures, I have put together a collection of providers with Wild West themed ranges:

Best regards from the Wild Wes…eeerm, the Chaosbunker

Dead Man's Hand is published by Great Escape Games and by Stronghold Terrain in Germany.

Posted by Dino

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