Dark Horse: Rebels & Rogues Game Expansion Review (prepublished version)

Please Take Note: This is a review of the final game, but it might change slightly based on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is being reviewed on the components and the rules provided with the understanding that “what you see is not what you might get” when the game is published. If you like what you read and want to learn more, we encourage you to visit the game’s web page or visit the Kickstarter campaign. Now that we have all that disclaimer junk out of the way, on with the review!


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The Basics:

  • For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 13+)
  • For 1 to 4 players
  • About 60 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Active Listening & Communication
  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management
  • Trading
  • Worker Placement & Area Control

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Moderate
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Work the land and raise a town by hiring or fighting famous and infamous characters from the “Wild West”

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Life in the “Wild West” was tough. There were only two ways to make a living: work the land or cheat the populace. The strong preyed on the weak and the weak banded together to fight the strong. This was a time where fame and infamy were the same thing, and right or wrong was decided at gunpoint.

Dark Horse: Rebels & Rouges, designed by Don Lloyd and to be published by Knight Works, will reportedly be comprised of 27 Rebels & Rogues cards, 35 Reputation tokens, 8 Mystery hex tokens, 6 Improved Town tokens, 6 Game Variant cards, 5 Player Character cards, 5 Action tiles, 23 Progress cards, 1 Marshall token, 1 four-sided die, 24 Silver tokens, 12 Wanted tokens, 12 Wounded tokens, 2 Player Reference cards, and 24 miscellaneous game tokens. Based on the success of the Kickstarter funding, the game expansion might very well include more than what we were provided. As this is a review of a prepublished game, I will not comment on the game component quality.

Note: If you are not familiar with Dark Horse or want to learn more about how the game is set up and played, please read the Dark Horse game review. Additionally, Dark Horse: Rebels & Rogues was played and tested using rules that are not yet finalized. As such, I will not be going into great detail regarding game play specifics. I’ll summarize the new components and general play in this review, detailing what I observed during our game play sessions. The current rules can be found on the Kickstarter campaign web page.

Rebels & Rogues

The namesake of the game expansion is a collection of villains and heroes, lawmen and outlaws, right out of the history books. Depending on your point-of-view, the outlaw is a hero and the lawman is a villain. Such is the duplicitous nature of the “Wild West”, where what you earned was not always fairly gained. “Good” and “Evil” are just words on the dry prairie wind, after all. A person’s reputation is all that matters, often preceding individuals as they travel. Legends and folklore expand the already very tall tales until the line between truth and myth is nonexistent. Legendary characters of the “Wild West” can be hired by the players, but at a price.

The Rebels & Rogues cards are available to players through the “Pioneer”, “Scout”, and “Stagecoach” Action spaces on the game board. Once collected, the Rebels & Rogues cards are kept in the player’s hand until they are played and used. Unlike the standard Action cards, a Rebels & Rogues card is only played once and is set in front of the player signifying the individual has been “hired”. Once played, the Rebels & Rogues card can be used once per turn.

Each Rebels & Rogues card lists the character’s name, their gun-fighting ability, any additional combat specific stats, and additional action abilities. But more importantly, each character comes with a reputation. This plays a major part in the card’s use and the game play.

darkhorsernr_rebcardA person’s reputation was everything in the “Wild West”. Dark Horse: Rebels & Rogues uses “White Hat” and “Black Hat” tokens to keep track of the player’s overall reputation during the game. Each Rebels & Rogues card adds to the player’s fame or infamy when they are hired. For example, the “Jesse James” Rebels & Rogues card will give the player 3 “Black Hat” tokens when it comes into play. These tokens are collected and determine if a player can use a law-abiding hero or a villainous criminal. It also determines how certain tiles can be used by the player, but players can change their mind during the game and adjust their reputation to be more law-abiding (“White Hat”) or more lawless (“Black Hat”). This allows players to hire different characters, but at the cost of losing others, as well as damaging their hard-earned reputation.

Hidden Agendas and Secret Goals

The new expansion introduces hidden goals and objectives for the players to pursue. The Hidden Agenda cards are drawn at random after the players have selected their Player Character card and before they place their towns and cities. The timing is important because the Hidden Agenda cards, if successfully completed, will reward the player with additional Victory Points at the end of the game.

Progress in the Wild West

A man had to bend his back to plow the land, but recent achievements in science have brought about improvements that make daily life just a little bit easier. For example, the marvelous steam donkey, the strong steel plows that never break in rocky soil, and the mining lamp that helps would be millionaires find their fortunes. The Progress cards are intended to assist the player and are “built” by playing them to the table. Progress cards can be collected by using the “Pioneer”, “Scout”, and “Stagecoach” Action spaces on the game board.

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But tools are not the only items available to the players to improve their lives. Towns can also grow and provide additional resources as a result. Improving a town takes time, however, and money. Silver has been introduced in the game to help players makes smaller transactions, but Gold is still the king of currency.

New Action spaces are also available to the players that provide additional opportunities and strategies. The “Stagecoach” Action space allows players to draw cards or collect Silver, the improved “Trader” Action space allows the player to make trades more easily, the “Marshall” Action space gives a player “White Hat” reputation (as well as new responsibilities), the “Wagon Train” Action space allows for more trading of goods, and the “Carnival” Action space provides a special bonus die to be used in the game.

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New Actions, New Risks

The “Wild West” was indeed wild and more than just a bit dangerous. Risk and danger was abundant, and the promise of gold and fame drove many to the untamed territory. Much of the land was unexplored and this concept is introduced in the game expansion by using Mystery hexes. These are random hexes that are placed on the game board. Underneath the Mystery hexes are new locations that players can use. For example, the “Cattle Ranch” Mystery hex that provides more food, the “Outlaw Hideout” Mystery hex that will reward players reputation and wealth, and the “Silver Mine” Mystery hex that gives the owning players much-needed Silver.

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Gunfights and duels oftentimes broke out in the “Wild West”, too. These types of actions are now available and allow players to challenge one another. The characters in the Rebels & Rogues cards will fight (and bleed) for the players in the dusty streets in towns and in the wilderness. Players can also rob certain Action spaces, but only if they are aligned with the unsavory sorts who wear “Black Hats”.

Scenario Based Learning and Play

Dark Horse can be an intimidating game for new players, both old and young. Once a players sits down for a game, it’s best to teach them through example. This is how I teach all my games and the game designer is using the same approach with Dark Horse: Rebels & Rogues. The expansion includes several scenarios that combine new game expansion components built around a theme. By doing so, the new components of the expansion are slowly introduced and build upon the base game using a thematic element. This also allows players who are familiar with the base game to tailor their gaming experience by using the scenarios for easy game set up.

It might help to think of the overall expansion as a collection of game variants and new game components that can be mixed and matched based on the player’s likes and dislikes. In other words, the players are not expected to throw everything in the game expansion into the game box and use it all, but they certainly can if they want. At the time of this review’s publication, all the scenarios include the Hidden Agenda cards, the Mystery Hex tiles, the Stagecoach Action tile (replaces the “Pioneer” Action space on the game board), and the updated Trader Action tile (replaces the “Trader” Action space on the game board). Several of the scenarios are summarized here. The final game expansion will include more than what was provided to use for this review.

Martial Law

This scenarios focuses on the new Rebels & Rogues deck of cards, which players will use to hire new characters to assist them in their game play. Reputation tokens are introduced for the first time and used as additional Victory Points at the end of the game. Players should expect to adjust their Reputation a number of times during a game, too. The Rebels & Rogues cards, the Marshall Action tile (replaces the “Sheriff” Action space on the game board), the Cowboy Boot game variant, and the new County Bank card are used in this expansion

How the West was Won

This scenario focuses on the new “Building” and “Technology” Progress cards. Progress cards are an investment, and depending on when a player invests in them, might or might not have favorable returns. New ways to earn additional Victory Points are included through improvements and the new Golden Spike game variant will cause players to pause and carefully consider where they want to place their starting city. The Progress cards, the Carnival Action tile (replaces the “Mayor” Action space on the game board), the Wagon Train Action tile (replaces the “Market” Action space on the game board), Improved Town hex tiles, the Golden Spike game variant, and the County Seat game variant are used in this expansion.

To learn more about Dark Horse: Rebels & Roguesvisit the game’s web page or visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Prediction

There is very little to predict here when it comes to this game expansion. The base game was well received by the majority of our players, earning Dark Horse the “Father Geek Seal of Approval”. My only concern was addressed by the scenario introduction in the rules. By tailoring the expansion bits and game variants to a specific narrative, it makes introducing the expansion easy and fun. This provides the players a context they can then use to better approach the new game rules. It’s always easier to learn something new if you can wrap your mind around the abstract concepts early.

I had to teach myself how to play Dark Horse again. It has been sometime since I last played it. One of the hazards of being a game reviewer is that you seldom get to go back and play the games you love. Much of my time and focus is learning and playing new games. I remember liking Dark Horse very much and was eager to get it back to my gaming table.

A number of folks have mentioned in the past that the game rules are difficult to use when learning how to play the game for the first time. I completely agree. The rule book for Dark Horse is complete, but is not a good tool to learn how to play the game at the same time you read the rules. There are a lot of references and some backtracking a reader will need to do when new game concepts are introduced that build off earlier explained game mechanisms. If you are just reading the rules, you are set. If you try to use the rules as a road map, you are going to be hurting. The same applies for the rules for the expansion. I had to read it several times to understand how it was to be used, but playing with the game expansion is not the same as reading about the game expansion. It wasn’t difficult, but my experience further reinforces my belief that Dark Horse is an easy game to learn how to play IF you are being taught the game by a player who already knows how to play it.

The game designer, Mr. Lloyd, needs to make certain the expansion rules are very crisp if it is to succeed. The base game already has a negative reputation in some circles due to the perceived complexity of the rule book. Subject stances are difficult to argue for or against, but actions can be taken to help new and older players learn how to play the expansion with ease. I was provided a beta version of the rules, which of course means they were not complete, had spelling errors, and the descriptions of how some of the game components worked were a bit vague at times. Once I got the expansion to the table, everything made sense, but some players don’t want to play a game if they don’t understand how to play it after reading the rules. Just a word of caution for Mr. Lloyd and his editing staff.

And so, after I read and re-read the rules to ensure I was fully up-to-date and ready to teach the game, I introduced it to my groups. It was met with mixed emotions that ranged from excitement to undefined concerns. It has been a number of months since Dark Horse has been played. Let’s see if our love for this board game set in the “Wild West” remains strong or it looses some of its solid reputation.

Final Word

The intent of most game expansions is to breath new life into the base game and provide new challenges. From what I observed and was told by our playing groups, Dark Horse: Rebels & Rogues has successfully done just that. One of the aspects missing from the base game was the theme and narrative of the uglier and more dangerous side of the “Wild West”. The addition of the characters and the reputation tracking brings to the gaming table a neat new way to play and manipulate the game. It also allows the players to interact with each other more and the game play benefits as a result.

The Child Geeks liked the new expansion, but only if they liked Dark Horse to being with. Only our older, more experienced, and patient Child Geeks tolerated Dark Horse when it was first introduced and the same can be said for the expansion. The Child Geeks did think the game expansion added complexity, but nothing that was difficult to manage. The introduction to the game expansion via the scenarios was a brilliant bit of game designing. Instead of just throwing it in, the new game components are slowly added. Better yet, they are added based on how the players want the game to feel. For example, some of the Child Geeks wanted to have more combat, so the Martial Law scenario was introduced. Other players just wanted to use a few of the new game bits, which worked fine, too.

But the game expansion was not welcomed by everyone. For those players who already thought Dark Horse was a “pretty big game”, the expansion pushed it beyond the limits of what the more casual players wanted to play. To be fair, Dark Horse is a difficult game to grasp when new players first learn it. There’s a lot available to a player, but the choices they need to make are determined by what they rolled on their dice. This hasn’t changed, but the new ways a player can go about winning the game made a number of our casual players feel that Dark Horse was a bit more complicated then it needed to be. When I asked if they would include the game expansion, they quickly responded with a “No”. According to one Parent Geek, “The game was good enough as it was. I don’t play it enough to be overly familiar with the rules and this game expansion just feels like more stuff I’d have to deal with.”

The more “hardcore” players, which included Parent Geeks and Gamer Geeks, thought the game expansion was an excellent addition to the game. According to one Parent Geek, “This expansion gives the game life! I loved being able to hire famous people and make them do my bidding!” A Gamer Geek said, “Any game that is already pretty good but gets better because of an expansion is always nice, but what I really like about this expansion is that it didn’t make the game any longer.” That is an excellent point. None of our games lasted any longer than they normally would have without the expansion. The game’s depths, strategies, and tactics were shifted, but not the overall governing game play.

After the games were played and feedback taken, two things were perfectly clear. First, Dark Horse remained a game that all our groups enjoyed. Second, the game expansion is an excellent addition to an already good game. It truly does expand the game play, but without adding a great deal more weight to it. The new level of difficulty being introduced is one of additional choice. The rules are still just as easy to play with and the game’s speed does not get bogged down with the additional bits. Dark Horse: Rebels & Rogues was approved by all our players who enjoyed the game, and for those who did not want to play with the game expansion, they still thought it brought neat new additions to the table. Just not ones they would want to play with.

In the end, the value of a game’s expansion is determined by the base game. There have been game expansions released in the past that have “fixed” the base game, but there is nothing to fix in Dark Horse. The game plays very well as it is. The expansion improves upon the game play and introduces fun new ways for the players to interact with each other and the game board. Some of the more abstract aspects of the game have become a bit more concrete and the game now has a bit more teeth, too. If you are a fan of Dark Horse, then Dark Horse: Rebels & Rogues should be very well received and enjoyed by you and yours.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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