Today we’re going to be taking a look at a game I’ve been wanting to dive into for a very long time and only recently got the opportunity to get the final pieces in place to bring to you. Today, we’re going back to the rough-and-tumble world of the American West with the second edition of Wild West Exodus, the dark alternate-history game set in a high-tech version of the 19th century American frontier, and beyond.
The game originally came to life in 2014 as the brainchild of Battlefoam CEO Romeo Filip. Originally launched with five distinct factions (Lawmen, Outlaws, Union, Warrior Nation, and Enlightened), the roster was expanded in 2015 to add four additional factions (Confederate Rebellion, Dark Nation, Golden Army, and Watchers). While the game did have a lot of initial success and interest from the gaming community, a combination of internal and external factors led to the slow decline of the game overall. Wayland Games spinoff Warcradle Studios acquired the property in October of last year and quickly began work on the second edition. The open beta launched in late June, and the full second edition hit shelves just three short months later.
SettingSet in a much darker and more advanced rough-and-tumble American frontier during the 1870s, Wild West Exodus pits posses of heroic lawmen, fame-seeking outlaws, dutiful soldiers, and more against one another for control of the American west. As titanic and horrible as these conflicts can be, it pales against the eons-long pursuit and battles between the Hex and the Order, two extradimensional forces locked in an endless cycle of hunting, conflict, and ultimately the death of entire worlds.
The current faction roster has been pared down and reworked from the first edition, removing some and adding others:
- 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. A cracking wall struggling to hold back the chaos in the West.
- The Warrior Nation: Various tribes and cultures in tune with the planet’s Great Spirit striving to maintain balance in nature.
- The Union: An industrial powerhouse consisting of the states that won the American Civil War.
- The Order: An enigmatic cult led by interdimensional energy beings bent on eradication of the Hex and its taint.
- 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. Scientific advancement unrestrained by morality.
- The Watchers: The remnants of an off-world exploratory expedition desperately attempting to regain contact with their Hegemony.
- The Hex: A group of societal outcasts, riven with mutation and corruption, led by a sinister group of worshippers following a misunderstood sentience from beyond the stars.
You may have noticed some of the factions from the previous edition aren’t listed. The Confederate Rebellion and the Golden Army were rolled into the Outlaws, with the Conquistadores becoming their own separate force under the Outlaws. The Dark Nation was rolled into the Hex, along with a handful of other units from other factions. Themed forces based around these sub-factions are still available for players to utilize, however; we’ll be discussing that later on. Two additional factions were announced early on (the Crown and the Celestials), but these have been pulled from the game for the forseeable future due to the background reworking being done for the Dsytopian Age setting according to Warcradle Studios.
This move certainly has its upsides and downsides. While it does allow for more thematic and lore-centric forces, not all foes are as fleshed out as they could be a the moment. Certain sub-factions, like the Carcosa or the Hex, currently have a small number of units to choose from when list building. Warcradle has promised to ramp up their release schedule for Wild West Exodus in 2018, but they have proven to be rather tight-lipped regarding exactly what will be released, so there isn't a timeline for when what models will be released. Something to keep in mind when choosing your faction and posse.
The vast majority of the current model line remains unchanged after the handover from Outlaw to Warcradle. The game still retains its 35mm scale, making them not quite the right size to use easily in other games. The slightly larger scale does allow for some very high quality miniatures with enough detail to keep painters enthralled for hours on end.
Warcradle has made a few improvements to the previous line, however. At the time of this writing, two model lines have moved over from resin to plastic: the K-9 Gun Dogs (previously H311-K9) and K-9 Attack Dogs (previously CCLE-K9). After having assembled both in resin and plastic, the newer versions are much easier to deal with: the plastic components are much less fragile and delicate, making assembly less nerve-wracking. For the most part, however, the moulds and materials have remained the same in the transition from Outlaw to Warcradle. Not every kit has seen these improvments, however. The Enlightened Hands units, from what I’ve been told by Enlightened players, can be a nightmare to assemble due to a large number of small, fiddly bits. Looking at the instructions for these, I can understand where they’re coming from.
The game has also shrunk considerably in its current iteration. The first edition of Wild West Exodus was a game that could scale up from a skirmish game to a full army game like Warhammer 40K. The second edition keeps its feet firmly planted in the skirmish realm, paring down the model requirements drastically. A 1250 point Lawmen list in first edition, for example, could easily end up with more than 30 models on the table, whereas a 1250 point list from the same faction might reach half that. Not only does this mean a drastically lower barrier to entry for new players, it also means getting a fully painted army can be done much quicker.
Speaking of fully painted armies, it’s time to discuss one of my personal pet peeves with various miniature gaming companies: using 3D renders alone to show off miniatures rather than fully painted models. I understand that Warcradle is still a new company and the game contains a huge number of models available throughout the various factions, but the point still stands: painted minis sell games. At the time of this writing, only one miniature available on the website features a fully-painted image: Kyle the Red and White, the special holiday release. Everything else is 3D renders. I hope this is something that will change as time goes on and the game matures, but for now, it’s something we have to put up with.
Warcradle has also done a great job keeping the community up to date with what’s in store for the various factions in the future. As of this writing, the company has released three separate YouTube videos showcasing upcoming themed posses for the new year. So far, we’ve seen the Infernal Investigations posse for the Lawmen, the Enlightened Soul Hunters, and the Outlaw Deadly Seven posses shown off, with plenty more to come in the future. These previews currently consist of lore overviews and concept art; hopefully we’ll see more previews containing the actual models and sprues in the future.
RulesThe new rule set for Wild West Exodus are a massive improvement over the first edition, with the tension and drama greatly increased even as the overall game size has shrunk. Rather than playing on a 6’x4’ table for every game, the table size has been decreased to a 3’x3’ area for most games; if you’re playing at 1500 points or more, the board size grows to 4’x4’. Every shot, dice roll, and decision feels like the entire game will be riding on it from start to finish. While the game currently does not have a condensed version of the rules, it is fairly straightforward to pick up once the dice start rolling and the cards start flipping. My first game took about 2.5 hours, including plenty of time for my opponent and I to flip through our rule books to clarify how certain mechanics worked. My second game featured considerably less time looking up rules and more time figuring out how to deal with the Warrior Nation braves coming towards me.
Listing all the differences between the first and second editions would be incredibly dull and time consuming to both write and read, so we’ll basically be starting from scratch here.
Models in Wild West Exodus fall into 6 categories:
- Boss: The head honcho of the posse. The rest of the Posse is generally built around the Boss and what they can do in the game.
- Face: Sidekicks, trusted companions, and people who can get the job done. Not quite as strong as Bosses, but can offer some extra skills or firepower.
- Hands: Run of the mill fighters, deputies, and line troops. If this were a movie, they’d be the nameless henchmen being gunned down by the heroes accompanied by dramatic falls and Wilhelm screams.
- Support: The big guns of the posse. This is where your heaviest firepower and most resilient units reside.
- Strategic: Additional tricks players can bring to sway the game in their favor. Booby traps to provide area denial, Angry Mobs to draw attention, or Civilians to protect for additional victory points at the end of the game.
- Artifact: A catch-all for some of the more fantastic elements of the game, like portals to transport units to other parts of the table quickly and safely.
Each Posse has a set of specific model types that can be brought. In the example image above, the Unlimited Power theme posse specifies that the second slot can only be occupied by a Hex Hands unit, a non-Vehicle Hex Support unit, or a mix of the two. Taking Little Foot, a Hex Face unit, would not be permitted. Themed Posses will typically have more restrictions than the generic posse option, but will also give players an extra edge when bullets start flying.
Every faction has the option to use either a themed posse or a generic faction posse. Much like the sectorial armies for Infinity, theme posses will restrict the types of units available in exchange for an in-game bonus. Using the Unlimited Power posse from above as an example, if a player decides to take three full Hands units, they will get access to a Hexalith unit at no cost. This system can make list creation a bit tricky at first, but is rather straightforward once you get used to it. As of this writing, there is no tool aside from an Excel spreadsheet available for list creation; hopefully this will change in the future.
The game uses a fairly standard “I go, you go” system for unit activations, with a slight twist. Before activating a unit, players draw a card from the action deck, which determines how many action points are available. If you draw high, it gives you plenty of options for whatever unit you want to activate. If you draw low, however, it can really put a damper on your strategy. Each unit also has an action limit that needs to be taken into account as well, so your Umber King Scarab won’t be able to rampage across the board if you end up drawing 4 or 5 action points. This method forces players to come up with backup plans for their upcoming activation rather than rely on simply running ahead and hoping for the best.
Wild West Exodus also features a separate card deck to give players either secondary objectives within a game or a chance to swing an activation in their favor. The Adventure deck contains cards offering either a Guts or a Glory bonus depending on how they’re played. Playing the Glory portion will give you additional victory points for completing various tasks (getting a Boss model within 5” of the center of the board, shoot a Hands unit off the table, etc), while the Guts bonus will give you a boost for that specific activiation (+1 action point, triggering an activation for a nearby Face, etc).
To help balance out some of the more random elements, Wild West Exodus also features a revamped Influence system from the previous edition. Renamed Fortune, this can be used in a multitude of ways. From allowing players to re-roll a particularly bad die to shaking off negative effects to acting as additional action points at a critical point, Fortune is a critical resource to manage throughout. Each Boss has a set Fortune value, and a number of Faces do as well, making them even more important to protect. Once a unit is destroyed, their Fortune disappears with them. If you can force your opponent to waste their Fortune trying to same one unit at the beginning of a turn, the rest of their posse will be beholden to Lady Luck, which is not always the best place to be in.
The biggest standout mechanic is the wound system: there isn’t one. Everyone from the lowliest Caballero to a mighty Union battle tank can be taken out with a single shot. And while there are multiple ways to ensure that your units can weather the assault, it also means that every single shot and every single swing matters. In games like Warhammer 40K, for example, it’s not uncommon for players of horde armies like Tyranids or Orks to end up rolling 20-40 dice at a time. While that may work for large scale army games, having to roll each attack individually and decide just how you’re going to deal with the results all the more engaging. Do you want to use one of your precious Fortune tokens to re-roll that last hit, or do you want to try using the Quick and the Dead to dodge it? Are there any nearby units to Take One for the Team? Or are you just going to use Mettle to take a debuff instead and hope for the best? These decisions can affect not only that activation, but the rest of the game as well.
Starting OutThe game has several options regarding starter sets, allowing newly interested players a chance to easily pick up the faction they’re interested in rather than getting a basic starter set that may or may not have what they’re looking for. Wild West Exodus has the traditional 2 player Gunfight At Red Oak set containing a basic Lawmen and Outlaws posse, along with all the necessary bits like status tokens, unit cards, and templates.
The complete contents of the Gunfight at Red Oak starter set are:
- 1x Jesse James
- 1x Frank James
- 1x Wyatt Earp
- 1x Doc Holliday
- 1x Ranger Interceptor
- 1x Frontier Outrider
- 2x K9 Gun Dogs
- 2x K9 Attack Dogs
- 10x Bases
- 18x Unit Information & Character Stat Cards
- 1x Wild West Exodus Rules and Gubbins Set
- A Softback A5 Rulebook
- Condition Tokens
- Blast and Torrent Templates
- 4x D10 Dice
- 1x Action Card Deck
- 1x Adventure Card Deck
For anyone wanting to go a different route with their factions, themed posse sets for the Union, Enlightened, Lawmen, Warrior Nation, and Confederate Rebellion are also available in two flavors: the starter set version (containing a small starter posse, rulebook, template, and tokens) or the plain themed posse version (containing just the miniatures and stat cards). A separate Rules and Gubbins pack is also available containing just a rulebook, template, and tokens as well. The posse sets have a nice little feature built into them: just about every posse set currently available comes out to roughly about 625 points, which has unofficially become the set size for introductory games. You can get a better look at these theme posses here with my review of the Armoured Justice posse box.
The accessories that come with the various starter sets are functional, but not outstanding. The tokens are basic cardboard tokens that wouldn’t seem out of place in a board game; I personally printed out the template page from the game’s website and used my 1 inch hole punch and some epoxy stickers from when I made my Infinity tokens to create a set that feels much more sturdy. The template is a functional piece of rather flexible clear plastic that gets the job done without being obtrusive, and the A5 sized rule book is a perfect size for easily storing in a small model case. They get the job done, but are nothing to write home about. The Rules & Gubbins set also contains a simple cardboard ruler as well, as most starter sets do, but I have yet to see any of the basic measuring tools ever used in a game due to the simple fact that they’re not quite rigid enough to hold their shape and thus lose most of their functionality. If you live in a country that uses the metric system and an Imperial measuring tool is difficult to come by, this may be useful to you. Otherwise, it’s just something that takes up space.
Another minor irritation with the accessories is the lack of some rather important markers, specifically Fortune markers. Warcradle has hinted in the past about possibly releasing poker-chip themed Fortune tokens, but currently players are left to their own devices to keep track of this important resource in the game. If you have a set of tokens from the first game, I’d recommend using the WWX stars as Fortune tokens. If not, it may be time to fire up Photoshop (or GIMP if you can’t afford Adobe’s prices) and come up with a few of your own. This will be especially important should you decide to pick up General Custer as he currently has the largest amount of Fortune in the game at a whopping 8.
Warcradle has also made nearly everything needed to get started with the game available for free on the Wild West Exodus website. The entire ruleset is available for free online, as well as all the stat cards for the factions and the Action and Adventure decks as well. If you have the printer ink, a ream of card stock and some time, it is entirely possible to give the game a test run with a minimal financial investment. Unlike most companies who give their rules away for free, Warcradle has also included the lore and backstory of the game as well. As this is one of the great draws of the game overall, this greatly helps Wild West Exodus get more people’s attention in a crowded and highly competitive gaming market.
The free rules are not without some flaws, however. There are a small number of editing mistakes and typos in the fluff sections that, while rather small in the grand scheme of things, are rather jarring when encountered. Some are incredibly tiny and will be overlooked by most people (Payson, Arizona is actually located in the Tonto National Forest and not the desert portion of the state) while others will stand out a great deal more (Dr. Carpathian’s wife is named Victoria or Veronica at multiple points in the Enlightened lore section). These mistakes, while small overall, are magnified by the amount of polish seen everywhere else in the game, even down to the packaging itself. It’s akin to going to a high-end sports car show and seeing a handful of scratches on the paint job on the McLaren F1 at the center of the show; a minor imperfection amplified by the quality and care seen everywhere else.
Warcradle Studios is currently reworking its outreach and demo program, so there currently are no Warcradle equivalents of the Guild Ball Pundits or Infinity Warcors. A number of die-hard Wild West Exodus fans are doing their part to act as unofficial reps, teaching people how the new edition works and trying to grow their local communities. At the time of this writing, the Warhost program is still under development and no set date has been given for its launch. The best option for new players is to check the Dark Council Facebook page to find nearby players.
Final ThoughtsI don’t think it’s any real secret that I fell in love with this game and the setting back in first edition, warts and all. It hurt to see such an amazing world wither on the vine, and I was ecstatic to see it get a new home with Warcradle. The second edition has breathed new life into the game, and any trepidation from the first edition has been left by the wayside. Wild West Exodus offers players a level of deep skirmish-level gameplay and tactics similar to games like Infinity without a highly complicated rule set to constantly keep track of and intimidate new players. While I will always have a place in my heart for Warhammer 40K and Infinity, this has become my new main game, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
The Wild West Exodus products featured in this review were either purchased with the reviewer’s own funds or previously provided by Outlaw Miniatures.
Summary: A fast-paced, gripping skirmish game with a very unique setting and several mechanics that provide the game with plenty of strategy and depth.
- Straightforward rule set that’s easy to pick up
- Striking models that are an absolute joy to paint
- Variety of gameplay options make every decision matter
- Currently no outreach/demo program
- Certain factions have a smaller available model count
- Some portions feel a bit rushed and lacking in quality