Tuesday, September 15, 2015


So what made Desperado a wargaming classic?

First a little something for those new to the concept of miniature gaming. In Desperado, as many as 8 or 12 players gather around a game board where model buildings, figures, and animals are used to set the scene. The board becomes the arena that players of online games like Team Fortress are used to, but created with physical models instead of pixels. Dice are rolled to control movement and combat and charts are used to decide who shot whom (and where).

Desperado is an old-school skirmish wargame. It is not designed for point-based tournaments with one-on-one match-ups. Rather, it is a social game where several people play together, each controlling one or two characters. Generally, players are divided into teams working toward common objectives. I call it a "social" game, because the emphasis is on having a few laughs, and not on cut-throat competition. Losing in a spectacular way is far more entertaining than winning in a game like this.

The turn sequence is driven by cards, with each character taking their entire turn when their card comes up. Movement is limited by dice rolls, so a carefully planned move may be thwarted by a bad toss. Fire is accomplished with percentile dice (two 10-sided dice which represent the "ones" and "tens" places), and  takes into account range, type of weapon, the number of shots taken in one turn, and a very, very short list of other modifiers.

The wound chart is what probably made Desperado's reputation. When you score a hit, you roll for location and severity on a table that includes probably 30 different results. Players subtract health as they accumulate wounds, and they write down and apply specific penalties (limping, etc.).

Melee rarely happens in this game due to the lethality of fire, but when it does, the system is an opposed die roll with some bonuses and penalties.

The GM (or referee, or judge) is absolutely indispensable, because unlike a game like 40K, there is a subtle role-playing element. The scenarios are not clear "capture the flag" types of things. The game accommodates off-script situations with a generic skill test.

To understand Desperado, one must also grasp the nostalgic element of it. This game came out in 1992, and was one of the first "beer and pretzels" rules. It is by no means perfect, although some of the gaps in the original were filled in with the house rules provided in this edition. Thousands of gamers have played this game, and it is beloved by many. When people describe a Desperado game to you, they generally smile and begin recounting a hilarious string of mishaps, explosions, quips, and spectacular shots just as if it had happened to them in the real world. I've watched rules lawyers who start off scoffing at these humble little rules end up laughing alongside everyone else as unlikely but entertaining things unfold on the game table.

If you're looking for a point-based "faction"-building style of western game, Desperado is not your ticket. It is, in fact, meant to be the game you play at 8:00pm at the convention after a day of hard tournament gaming. It takes no preparation from the players, and a minimal amount from the GM. If you play Desperado, I guarantee you will never have to see a therapist because a 12 year-old crushed your ego with his 750-points of Elven gunfighters!

by Forrest Harris,
Editor and co-author of Desperado; The Knuckleduster Edition


If you are a gamer of a certain age, you will fondly remember Tom Kelly's Desperado. The humble pair of comb-bound, type-written booklets arguably launched the "beer-and-pretzels" revolution in American wargaming. It preceded Volley and Bayonet, Brother Against Brother, and a host of other "light" games that displaced the massive rulebooks that by the early '90's were beginning to collapse under their own weight.

Tom Kelly, as the story goes, used to run a wild west shootout for other dealers after hours at Historicon. It became so successful that he was encouraged by his fellow dealers to publish them. The rules were written down one year in the car on the way home from the show, and first published in 1992 in the form most of us remember.

Knuckleduster sold the original two volumes for many years, but Tom eventually stopped having them printed and invited me to re-publish them with up-to-date graphics. What resulted is a testament to this most hallowed of all Wild West games. In 66 pages, we cover the original rules verbatim, with sidebars which contain rule interpretations and house rules, plus scenarios, painting tips, and information about building your own scenery. Charts and a summary of house rules are also included.

Knuckleduster has also created a figure which exemplifies the spirit of Desperado. Named "Groin Shot McGhee," he sports a well-used boilerplate over the part of his anatomy Desperado is famous for including on its wound charts. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!

Desperado is available now at www.knuckleduster.com.

Groin Shot McGhee, 32mm (big 28mm, "heroic") with slotta base
Groin Shot McGhee, 28mm with integral base

Paperback: 66 pages
Publisher: Knuckleduster
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0966704649
ISBN-13: 978-0966704648
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.2 x 11 inches