Hello, TechRaptor readers. Instead of looking at futuristic, laser-shooting sci-fi games or dark and gritty medieval fantasy games, we’re going to look at a dark, gritty Wild West game with shooting lasers, exploding mechanical zombies, and Nikola Tesla stomping around shooting people with a lightning-powered Gatling gun in a steam engine-mecha hybrid. No, I’m not talking about a late-night booze and spaghetti western Netflix binge. I’m talking about Wild West Exodus.
What is Wild West Exodus?
Wild West Exodus is a new tabletop game created by Outlaw Miniatures set in a grimdark alternate history where new technologies created by a mad scientist by the name of Dr. Carpathian have radically altered the fabric of post-Civil War America and everyone in it. In this world, it’s not uncommon to see outlaws with laser Gatling cannons mounted on hoverbikes, small towns using robotic sheriffs to maintain order, Native American tribes turning into battle-crazed werewolves, and mad scientists traipsing around in steampunk-esque constructs normally seen in bad Western comedies featuring Will Smith. These disparate groups use machines powered by a mysterious fuel known as “RJ-1027” by most and “distilled evil” by those who know what’s going on. Silently watching and pulling puppet strings from the shadows is the enigmatic Dark Council, steering humanity toward an unknown future.
There are currently 11 different factions in the game, each with its own unique backstory and play style:
- The Outlaws: A jack-of-all-trades group of bandits looking to make a name for themselves.
- The Lawmen: Hard-pressed, poorly supplied sheriffs trying to maintain a semblance of order in the Western Territories. Sadly, there is currently no Sherrif Bart model. If you don’t know who Sheriff Bart is, go watch Blazing Saddles. Now.
- The Warrior Nation: An amalgamation of all the remaining Native American tribes trying to cleanse the land of said distilled evil and those who use it.
- The Union: An industrial powerhouse consisting of the states that won the American Civil War.
- The Holy Order of Man: The remnants of an ancient religious order originally created in Atlantis. Yes, that Atlantis.
- The Enlightened: A technocratic group of mad scientists who believe it’s their God-given duty to rule the world and usher in a new era for mankind.
- Mercenaries: What it says on the tin. Also, Firefly.
- The Golden Army: Greed-crazed conquistadors constantly searching for gold.
- Confederate Rebellion: What’s left of the Confederacy after getting crushed in the Civil War still carrying on hit-and-run attacks against the Union.
- The Dark Nation: Warrior Nation tribes who decided that using distilled evil for guns and whatnot really isn’t a bad idea.
- The Watchers: Aliens. Hey, we already brought in Atlantis; why not aliens as well?
The last four factions were part of the Unfinished Business Kickstarter that wrapped up earlier this year with an impressive $178,000 USD. The Kickstarter rewards are currently scheduled to be delivered in March 2016, and the factions should go on sale for the general public shortly thereafter.
There are four criteria a tabletop game needs to meet in order to succeed in today’s market: a well-fleshed-out and engaging setting, high-quality models, a solid ruleset, and a community outreach program designed to bring in new players and keep current players involved. Wild West Exodus succeeds in almost all of these areas, with only one of these four categories being sorely lacking, which is all the more frustrating because of everything else the company got right.
Setting: Robot Sheriffs and Exploding Zombies
With so many different games currently on the market with detailed and built-up lore and backstory, getting the setting for a new game down is critical. And this is one area in the game that succeeds beautifully. The main rulebook has a huge fluff section that deviates from the current norm by telling the story of Wild West Exodus in short stories and novellas focusing on the major players of the world rather than the encyclopedia-style worldbuilding commonly seen in other games. Going this route does an excellent job of getting the players hooked on the world and introduces some of the more oddball elements. And rather than slowly bringing said elements into the narrative, the backstory starts out with stories of omnipresent aliens, Martian civilizations, and the lost continent of Atlantis. The mix of truly fantastical elements alongside more well-known myths and conspiracy theories help build a bridge between reality and the Wild West Exodus world and serves as a warm-up for the really weird stuff later on.
The stories focus on the big players of the world, like Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, and the central villain of the world, Dr. Burson Carpathian, a mad scientist from Eastern Europe, currently building an army of undead automatons, war machines, and other mad scientists from his Mordor-like bastion of evil located in Payson, Arizona.
The backstory also lays out the dark path General Grant has been set on after his first run-in with Dr. Carpathian’s henchmen. I won’t spoil anything here for you, but it’s not pretty. And if you were paying attention previously, the name “Abraham Lincoln” popped up earlier in this article. Yes, he’s around. Yes, he’s carrying a giant axe. No, I’m not going to spoil anything here.
Along with two major factions, we get a chance to explore the three other factions released at the start of the game. The book covers the coming together of Native American tribes into the singular Warrior Nation and the reconnection to their Great Spirit, giving them lycanthropic powers to cleanse the land of evil. The book also covers the rise of the Outlaws and the Federal Order of Lawmen to fight them off.
The main rulebook also shows a great deal of polish to it as well. The artwork is excellent, though in a few spots, the background artwork can make the text a bit difficult to read. Another small nitpick I noticed is what appears to be small printing errors sparsely spread out through the fluff text. Every so often, I’d come across two words that seemed to be missing a space between them, resulting in a short mental halt as my brain tried to process what it had just attempted to read. It’s a minor issue, to be sure, but it cropped up enough to be noticeable.
Rather than relying on just the main rulebook to supply the setting, Outlaw Miniatures has also released a series of novels and comics to flesh out the setting further. Games Workshop has been doing this for years with Black Library, and Privateer Press recently followed suit with Skull Island eXpeditions; it’s great to see new companies are following suit. The novels are also available in ebook form from Amazon, which shows the company is paying attention to its customers in this regard.
Wild West Exodus Has Iron Horses and Bionic Cowboys
The models themselves once again show that Outlaw Miniatures is learning from its competitors and delivering an excellent product. The miniatures are 35mm scale, which seems a bit odd at first when you’re coming from the land of 28mm games. The models are a tiny bit bigger than most wargaming models by themselves. While it does set the range apart from most other games, I really don’t understand the reasoning behind slightly bigger models.
The bases are also rather unique as well. These particular bases were designed with a topper system in mind, allowing players to pop on pre-made scenic décor to any base. This gives players the opportunity to quickly and easily have their models stand out. I unfortunately wasn’t able to pick up any base toppers, unfortunately. The models come in either plastic for the vast majority of the ranges, and several in resin, though these are limited to special characters and vehicles. Why such large models are cast in resin, I can’t say for sure. It may have been a technical limitation regarding detail levels between plastic and resin, but that’s just speculation.
The models are another area where it’s evident that Outlaw Miniatures are working to 1-up their competition. Each individual model consists of about 4-6 pieces, grouped together in a letter and number scheme. All the components for the first model will be parts A1-A6, for example. While this setup in and of itself isn’t that unique, the fact that each section has a small picture of the entire sprue with the components for each model highlighted to assist in quickly finding and clipping them off definitely is. It’s a small departure from most instructions, yes, but it again shows that the designers are veteran players using their experience to step up their game and compete with the big boys.
This is a … skirmish-ish game
Wild West Exodus is a scalable skirmish game, meaning games can range from just a few models at a traditional skirmish level all the way up to an army-level game a la Warhammer 40,000. This gives the game a level of flexibility that isn’t prevalent in most games out today. Sure, Warhammer 40,000 has Kill Teams, but that feels like a completely separate game rather than a built-in scaling mechanic.
The game itself relies on model activation, meaning each player takes turns activating and using 1 to 3 models at a time before handing control over to their opponent. A game turn is considered over once both players have activated and used all of their models. Where the scaling comes in is with gang activations, which allows players to activate groups of 5 to 10 hired hands (your basic grunts) as one group provided they’re all within 2” of each other. This allows for larger games to be played without a huge increase in time required, which gives players a great deal of flexibility in how big or small they want their games to be.
Another interesting mechanic I quite like is the Influence stat and how it’s used. The enigmatic Dark Council is everywhere, constantly pulling the strings of fate to manipulate the fate of mankind. This manifests itself in what’s referred to in-game as Influence, a way to deal with dice rolls that just don’t go your way. Before rolling, you can determine how much of your Influence pool you want to devote to it. Each point of Influence allows you a re-roll. While this is a great way to deal with Lady Luck not smiling upon you, it’s something you’ll need to use carefully. All Influence points, used or unused, disappear once you pass your stat test. If you dedicate three Influence points into an armor save, for example, and pass it the first time, those three points are gone for the remainder of the turn.
One odd quirk that took me some time to wrap my head around is the way stat tests are made. In Wild West Exodus, rolling at the required number or higher results in you passing, whereas most games require you to tell at the required number or lower. This has the additionally confusing effect of modifiers that increase difficulty being listed in the rules with a +1 or a +2 instead of the -1 or -2 typically seen in other games. It is confusing for both newbies and veteran wargamers alike, but makes sense once you get over that initial mental hurdle of “+1 is bad, -1 is good”.
The remainder of the game rules are quite solid, have little ambiguity in them and provide plenty of opportunities to create wonderful moments to celebrate or commiserate, depending on which side of the dice you’re on. The game has rules for jumping across rooftops, shoving people down (or off of said rooftops), and other possibilities that add more life to the game than jumping behind cover and taking potshots.
The Player base is Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
There are two distinct sub-categories that fall under “community outreach,” in my opinion: the starter set and a community outreach program. And here is where we start to see some issues with the game as a whole.
The starter set itself is a great way to start a posse of either Outlaws or Lawmen. The forces consist of:
- One boss
- One underboss
- Five long-range hired hands
- Five close combat fired hands
- One light support unit
The Outlaws get an Iron Horse hoverbike, while the Lawmen get an Interceptor motorcycle. The starter set also comes with a set of 4 d10 dice, a set of game tokens, a universal template, a set of quick-start rules, and a black-and-white mini rulebook. Both the mini rulebook and the full-color rulebook do suffer from one major drawback: the lack of an index. This makes using either one as a reference guide in-game a bit difficult.
Wild West Exodus is Crying Out for a Campaign
Another missed opportunity in regard to the starter set is a walkthrough campaign to guide new players through the game’s mechanics. This has become more prevalent in recent years with “Dark Vengeance” for Warhammer 40,000, “Operation: Icestorm” for Infinity, and the mini-campaign in the Warhammer: Age of Sigmar starter set. While it may seem like pointless hand-holding for wargaming veterans, a walkthrough campaign like the ones listed provides an excellent opportunity to gradually introduce players to the game in quick, easy-to-digest portions rather than the sink-or-swim method currently in place. Aside from this omission, the WWX starter set gets the job done in a very straightforward and utilitarian fashion.
The support for the game, in its current state, is slowly improving after a major focus on the Unfinished Business Kickstarter. The official forums are picking up steam; however, the /r/wwx subreddit or Twitter account hasn’t been touched in six months, and the Deputy program (a program for volunteers to help organize and run tournaments along with running demo games) was dormant for nearly as long. I tried looking for a way to contact a Deputy for a demo game but wasn’t able to find any way to do this, which is not a good sign on the face of it.
In an email conversation, Outlaw Miniatures CEO Romeo Filip explained the company decided to focus all its efforts on the most recent Kickstarter to get the remaining factions in place and ready for sale as quickly and realistically as possible. This had the unfortunate result of sending the Deputy program into hibernation for a time. While it may seem a bit of an odd risk to take, it makes more sense when you consider a more long-term picture. The company has decided to sacrifice short-term momentum to divert resources into creating a solid foundation and wider product line for future growth. I apparently had the bad luck of writing up my review during this time.
And the company is currently working on building that momentum back up. They’ve brought on additional staff for sales and support, the Deputy program has restarted, and Outlaw Miniatures has begun to do more promotional work. For example, there’s currently a WWX model painting contest taking place, offering WWX-brand Battlefoam bags as prizes similar to the P.A.C.K 432 I recently reviewed. The company has also stated that additional free missions will be released starting on October 15th, and an Outlaw Newsletter will be launching on the same day. This is a great start, yes, but I’d still like to see some additional pushes into new areas. Restarting the Twitter account, even if it’s simply just re-posting the same images from the Facebook page for now, would help get the word out to people outside their current fan base.
Is Wild West Exodus Worth Your Money?
Overall, Wild West Exodus is a solid, fun tabletop wargame with a few quirks that take some getting used to. It excels in most areas and stumbles a bit in others. It’s not getting the attention it deserves at the moment, and I sincerely want this to change for the better. If the usual sci-fi or Tolkein-esque skirmish games are getting a bit stale, give Wild West Exodus a shot.
Disclosure time: I was a member of The Freebootaz, a paid forum for the 40K Radio podcast hosted by Romeo Filip for about a year and a half. I hung out with Rik Massei, a Battlefoam employee, a few times and made his Blood Angels cry many sparkly emo vampire tears with my Dark Eldar.