Tabletop Game: Aces & Eights

Aces and Eights: Shattered Frontiers is an Old West-themed tabletop RPG released in 2007 by Kenzer and Company. The focus of the game, unlike earlier efforts like TSR's Boot Hill or the horror motif of Deadlands, is on Wide Open Sandbox play: specialized rules are provided for gambling, prospecting, brawling, chases, cattle drives and so forth, but the game provides the tools to create virtually any nineteenth-century character concept and allow the game master to create almost any style of The Western. The hit-location system is particularly innovative and noteworthy; it uses target silhouettes and a bullseye transparency to allow the attacker to aim anywhere he likes: dice and playing cards then determine the amount, and direction, of deviation. The game also uses 'the Count' rather than initiative, a simultaneous-action system that takes quite a bit of bookkeeping but allows total player freedom during combat.

Obviously, heavy use of western tropes should be expected.

Aces and Eights makes use of the following tropes:
  • Alternate History: The official continuity begins to diverge slightly in the 1820s, but the major breaking-point was the failure of the Clay Compromise, leading to an earlier War between the States (1851-1855), French intervention, and a Western frontier with a completely unwritten future.
  • Critical Hit: In addition to hit point damage, almost any injury that does five or more points of damage has side effects varying by location.
  • Critical Miss: Fairly frequent, although the provided table means that only about one in five is actually an Epic Fail.
  • Did The Research: There are a lot of little touches, particularly in the chapters on horses, firearms, and history, that show how much work went into the game.
  • Guns Are Useless: Averted. Combat is very, very risky. Natural healing is quite slow. And wounded survivors are still at the mercy of nineteenth-century medicine.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted. Slavery, prejudice and sexism are all present 'as is'. The game even suggests that a common motivation for player characters to move out to the Shattered Frontier is a desire to escape or at least reduce the social stigmas common to the period.
  • Random Number God: Players get to spend points for talents and skills however they wish, but the six attributes they start with are randomly determined with a flat 3d6 roll - and bad rolls can be crippling.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Not common... but a skilled and lucky combatant can do it.
  • The Western: Straightforward or 'deconstructed', whichever style you like.
  • Western Characters: Stats for non-player characters include most of the stock characters of Westerns. In addition, player characters can gain more building points by following a 'profession,' most of which you can find in the list of Western Characters.
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