Halloween is year round for some of us, but fall is when it gets more intense for many people. The colder weather and rainy days put people in the mood for tales of mysterious strangers, lonely ghosts and tall tales told around a campfire. One of my favorite genres of this kind of story is the weird western.
The American West is a big part of modern mythology and weird westerns that mix classic heroes and villains with elements of supernatural creatures or science-fiction twists. Everything of supernatural until Wild Wild West have tipped their limits to this classic genre mashup (although if you can see the TV series instead of the 90s movie of the latter, I’d be very grateful). This article explores some of my favorite expressions of the strange west on the tabletop and I hope you add them to your rotation as we dive into the darkest part of the year.
3000 villains put down a juicy premise that feels like a great B-movie pitch. The Traveler came to a dusty western city with all kinds of strange technology that claimed they were going to build a utopia. But now they’ve risen and disappeared, causing factions in the city to bicker and grab those devices for their own ends.
The game is beautiful with a cinematic design that winds through everything from the board to the faction mats that tell the traveler’s story. That beauty extends to the villain cards, which combine characters and jobs to create unique gang members that change every time the game hits the table. The bluff and build gameplay is immersive, but every time players open the box, you’ll see a new town full of villains.
Cult Classic TV Show glowworm maybe on the sci-fi side of the weird west, but it still has some elements of horror, be it the strange creatures known as the Reavers or the conspiracy horror that links River to the Hands or blue. Gale Force Nine has created an excellent board game that allows fans to fly around the ‘Verse in the same way as their favorite team. They’re back with Firefly: Misbehaving bringing the world of show to the popular deckbuilding genre.
At the start of the game, players choose one of four factions: Eavesdown, Niska, Serenity, or the Alliance. Each of these factions suggests a play style with special attributes granted by faction tokens. The game ends when a player reaches an adjustable number of victory points.
Shadows over sulfur
Mines are often gateways to the strange in these kinds of stories. Shadows over sulfur adapts the classic game in dungeon crawler to send western heroes to a nearby mine to fight against the forces of darkness. Those who return become stronger, better and can go deeper into the mines.
Flying Frog Productions excels in the amount of options for this game. Different characters, villains from other times and places and more really customize the experience. They’ve even opened up a series of samurai-era expansions for fans who want gunslinger and ronin heroes to battle back to back.
They say that truth is stranger than fiction and the American West is one of those places and periods that confirm the idea. Haunted West delves into the strange tales of the West to show how important BIPOC and LGBTQ people were to exploring the frontier, despite film and TV covering things from a straight white angle. Once players know how weird the real west was, they can start making the west really weird.
The book offers multiple ways to play the RPG adapted to the preference of the table. Players can opt for a narrative, light frame or they can get into the core of miniature battles. They also get the elements they need to make their own weird west if the one in the book doesn’t inspire.
Released in 1996, this game inspired my love for this genre and also a thirst for the historic West. Deadlands is a great stew of alternative history, horror, action and science fiction. Simple schoolmarms stand alongside undead gunslingers, kung fu masters, steampunk gadgeteers to do battle with creatures unleashed by our own fear in the darkness of the West.
The story of Deadlands is told through multiple games and time periods ranging from the stylish Deadlands Noir for the desperate Deadlands Hell of the Earth. Deadlands Lost Colony aims to be the final chapter told on a distant planet where the themes of boundaries and fears still play a strong role. The company is currently crowdfunding for the next chapter, In other words, Oblivion.