Continuing my tradition of reviewing rulesets without playing them, allow me to present my thoughts on the new Warhammer Historical Old West ruleset, Legends of the Old West. Only this time, I haven’t even read all of the rules - I gave up halfway through. That should give you a clue about the bias in this review :)
To start with the things that I like, the book is very well presented, better than the other WH books. Each and every page in LotOW is in full colour, and the book is illustrated throughout with good photographs of miniatures illustrating the various rules and mechanics under discussion. The book also includes the now standard painting and modelling section, although in this particular book, that section seemed a bit anemic to me. So in all, good points on presentation.
Another good point is the fact that this book will undoubtebedly draw a few more gamers to the historical side of the hobby, although I’m not quite sure about that, as GW players usually seem to identify themselves with a system (I’m a Warhammer Fantasy player or I play 40K) as opposed to a period or style of play (i.e. fantasy or sf), and for them, LotOW will be just another system, with no potential crossbreeding into the world of historical wargaming.
On to the bad points then. As I’ve said, I’ve not even managed to read all the rules, so I cannot give a balanced review on this book. I’ll just mention why I could not finish reading it — this is one gamer’s opinion, not a review. There are two major reasons why I dislike LoTOW, one reasonable one and one silly one.
The silly reason is language. The book is written in English, but it is rife with expressions like howdy pardner, shootin’ phase and various other examples of stunted English. Now I’m sure that this has been done out of a misguided wish to inject a certain period feel into the language, but it grates on me terribly. Besides the fact that this form of ‘Old West English’ is probably a Hollywood creation (nothing wrong with that, the rules state that they want to recreate the Hollywood version of the Wild West), that slang was used in oral communication, not in written communication like a book. The fact that I am personally not a native English speaker might have something to do with this, but I have to stop reading this kind of language after a few pages of it.
The second reason I dislike the rules is their general feel. I do not mean the rules mechanisms themselves (as I cannot form a decent opinion them, not having read them all), but the atmosphere created through them. At least for me, these rules create an atmosphere where everything needs to be spelled out to the letter, and where every little thing needs to have a rule so that players can turn to the holy book and prove their right (or wrong, as the case may be). For a game like DBM, which is geared towards tournament play (or at least has warped to this purpose, having been adopted as the major tournament ancients ruleset), one expects this, but in a skirmish ruleset such as LotOW, I expect a much more laid back and relaxed attitude. Sure, the rules say that in case of a dispute, you should roll a die or draw cards to resolve the dispute, but they belie that sentiment throughout the rest of the book by painstakingly crafting rules for each and every situation imaginable (attacking a horse in HtH, anyone). In an understanding group of gamers, the kind of situations that LotOW seems to need to spell out fully, can be dealt with by consensus, and need not be written out and officialized. Again, it might be just me, but this is the atmosphere that these rules create for me.
I think that for any Old West games I’m organising, I’ll stick to our trusty Shootist for the time being. Nevertheless, in the spirit of open mindedness I am perfectly willing to be proven wrong (and will report so here if that is the case) should anyone invite me to a LotOW game. I’ll even bring a posse.