Sunday, 2 January 2022

Ruthless at Tombstone - New Year's Eve Game

Regular followers of the blog will know I very often like to squeeze in the odd game or two over the Xmas-New Year break and very often the theme can be quite a variance to the normal fare encountered here on JJ's, with friends who like to deep-dive into the less often encountered areas of the hobby, but no-less historical or fun to explore and play.

I can't say that the exploits of characters in the nineteenth century American 'wild-west' have ever grabbed me to the extent of collecting and painting miniatures to refight some of the historical encounters, with the exception of a brief romance with an idea to build a 28mm Plains Indian-7th Cavalry collection, that now seems a distant memory.

The scene is set and our initial cast of characters are introduced as we played a series of games or 'Acts' following the start game with Gunfight at the OK Corral (Act I), Ambush at Tuscon Station (Act II), Logging Camp at the Spence Ranch (Act III), Tombstone (Act IV) and ends in the shoot out at Iron Springs (Act V)

However, any excuse to spend time rolling bones with friends in between Xmas and New Year, playing 28mm cowboys over at my mate Vince's purpose created wargames room, and engaging in some historical play as well, was too good an opportunity to have some final 2021 fun and so myself, Steve M and Chas joined Vince just prior to New Year's Eve; exploring the adventures and exploits of the Earp brothers and their climactic clash with the Clanton and McLaury brothers together with 'Doc' Holliday and Billy Claiborne throwing in their lot with the respective feuding sides, that reached a climax at 3.00pm on Wednesday October 26th, 1881 at what became known as the gunfight at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.

Vince had prepared all the handy character record cards showing character traits and skills together with a wipe clean pen marker for recording ammo used and wounds received, that kept the game flowing seamlessly.

Any game with an unfamiliar theme is enhanced and opened up by the passion for the subject by the game host and organiser and Vince's enthusiasm for our series of historical scenes, or as they are referred to 'Acts', keeping the Hollywood movie trope alive, and linked together to form a mini-campaign with the effects of one act carrying over to the next, was infectious and I found myself immersed in it and the characters involved.

Now this looks like a fun way to spend the day, with a cast of characters ready to stand in for the line up at Tombstone in 1881.

The whole day was also enhanced with Vince's collection of terrain, figures, with some great horse and rider conversions from some civil war cavalry sculpts and the rules 'Ruthless' which are free to download from Mark Fastoso's Web page see below, with an interesting twist in that the rules are free but you pay to purchase the historical scenarios to recreate these kind of actions, which appeals to my sense of history rather that just playing through a fictitious Cowboy style shootout made so familiar by the movies.

Ruthless - The Fastest Rules in the West

On arrival after teas and coffee, Vince briefed our respective line ups with me taking on the role of the Clanton and McLaury brothers ably supported by Vince bringing in other associated characters and with Chas and Steve taking the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday.

These are the kind of rules I like, one page, back to back, with playing cards (keeping that cowboy theme going) laid by the respective players deciding activation sequence, and a simple but not simplistic set of rules covering movement, shooting and reactions, with a few short paragraphs for each section, that quickly became easily memorised with little need for the QRS.

The Scenario set up from our briefing notes sets the structure for our five linked games as recounted below in a summarised version;

Act I - Gunfight at the OK Corral 26th October 1881

Scene Setter -
This is a game in a number of Acts. Your decisions affect your resources and circumstances in later Acts.

You also are judged on Victory points earned for achieving your objectives and winning each Act.
As well as this you must consider the law and the court of public opinion. The loser in this category will go down in history and have a posse on their tails !

To win the overall game, you must have the most Victory Points, as well as Legal Standing Points. Any other result is a draw.

The town Sheriff is Johnny Behan. He is an elected official and has much support amongst those who earn their money from farming. Before the Earps arrived, he was the main man in town. He also reneged on a promise to make Wyatt his deputy if he won the election, something the Earps have not forgotten.

Virgil Earp is a Federal Marshal for Cochise County. His brothers Morgan and Wyatt, are his deputies, although he is not adverse to deputising others, as the occasion demands.

A City Ordinance now prohibits any firearm, dirk or bowie knife being carried within the city limits. Weapons must be checked at livery stables or saloons.

The next day, Virgil decides to disarm the cowboys and deputises Doc. He takes Wyatt and Morgan with him and walks down Fremont Street, looking for the cowboys. The trouble between the Earps and the Cowboys is the talk of the town. A number of onlookers are standing around, waiting to see what happens next.

As the Earps and Doc near Fly’s boarding house, Sheriff Behan comes up to them and says something like “There is no need for you to go down there. I went down there to disarm them.” Virgil tells him to get out of the way, as he means to check. The Earps step into the alley next to Fly’s. The cowboys and one horse stand in the alley. Billy Clanton and Frank McClaury have pistols on their hips. Tom McClaury is standing behind his horse. Virgil shouts “I have come for your guns.” Everyone who is armed, moves their hands to their guns and stands ready. Virgil says “No. I don’t mean that.” Someone pulls a pistol and fires.

Actually it was Holliday who opened fire with a levelled Coach-gun fired at Frank McLaurey that missed! Then Billy Clanton grabbed a carbine from his horse as those that were armed drew their pistols. The ensuing gunfight would see Frank McLaury left dead at the rear of the building next to Fly's with multiple gunshot wounds and Doc Holliday beaten senseless by Ike Clanton as the gang made its escape.

Our first game played had enabled us to see how the rules worked and get used to the card play that drives activation and we all seemed to get up to speed quite quickly as the scenario wound through the turns to its conclusion as the Clantons and their supporting cowboys escaped off table and set up the next decision point in the campaign, as the Clantons decided to go on a bit of night stalking, taking pot shots at the Earps in town during the night with their rifles.

Sadly for them they missed on each occasion, but on the last attempt a Tombstone citizen spotted Billy Clanton with his rifle and the shout went out as to who it was that had been sniping and Billy Clanton was now a wanted man.

The game moved to Act II with the Earp's sitting on a strong lead of 7VP but still all to play for with severely wounded or killed Earps likely to reduce that lead significantly.


Doc Holliday and the surviving Earps, see Morgan Earp (wounded in our game at the OK Corral) and Virgil's wife Allie, onto the train to California.

Frank Stillwell & Ike Clanton lie in wait by a goods wagon siding, with shotguns. They are waiting for the Earps to begin to leave. At that point, they have no clear shot to the wounded Earp, as Allie is partially in the way. 

This game proved to be an interesting little scenario, with the cowardly, blustering Ike Clanton leaving Frank Stillwell after the first exchanges of gunfire between the outlaw and the lightly wounded Morgan Earp, with the former missing with his first shot, but managing to hit Morgan with his second, narrowly missing Allie but leaving the latter now severely wounded and pulling some much needed victory points back to the Cowboy gang.

After Ike Clanton ran at the first exchange of gunshots Frank Stillwell showed what a dangerous character he was, severely wounding Morgan Earp on the train and wounding Wyatt and Virgil who came running back into the rail yard on hearing the gunshots, before, with the help of Doc Holliday, overwhelming and killing Stillwell in a hail of gunfire.

The avenging Earp brothers together with Doc Holliday came rushing back into the yard on hearing the exchanges of gunfire and cautiously approached the rail car from which Stillwell was taking cover only to be met by an advancing Stillwell letting fly at close range with his shotgun, wounding the other two Earp brothers before falling back into cover.

The inevitable outcome soon followed as the at bay Stillwell was surrounded at close range and fell dead to multiple gunshots, that left the Earps now fired up to go off on their vengeful Vendetta Ride against the remaining members of the Cowboy gang responsible for these last two attacks.


The Posse arrive at the ranch looking for Pete Spence and Indian Charlie Cruz. They are told that Sheriff Behan has arrested Spence and he is in Tombstone jail, but Cruz is at a logging camp a mile or so away. Sunset is in about half an hour.

The first Cowboy gang member to be on the receiving end of Earp rough justice was Indian Charlie Cruz, who seeing the strange riders approaching the logging camp and all alone quickly took cover to give himself a chance to see if the riders were friendly or not and to prepare for the worse.

The Earp posse split around the small gully to approach from different sides and with Cruz identifying the Earps, the left most group of riders came under rifle fire from the trees above, which missed causing the two groups of riders to spur towards the firing and ride down the unfortunate Cruz from both directions leaving him dead and the posse members unhurt.


The Earp posse have sent Charlie Smith and Dan Tipton back to Tombstone to obtain $1000 in funds for the posse. They arrange to meet up later. 

Sheriff Behan learns of their presence in town and catches them crossing the street. He and his two deputies attempt to arrest them.

Another relatively short Act with the scenario a straight forward get in and get out affair for Tipton and Smith as the two posse members attempted to get to their horses before Behan and his marshals arrested them on the street.

I say arrested them as Behan had at least to attempt to remain within the law and attempt to detain the two men rather than simply gun them down and only opened fire after Tipton and Smith did and after they closed on one of the marshals and assaulted him, leaving him battered but upright.

Smith was killed as the two then ran for their horses leaving Tipton to escape with half the funds obtained from the Tombstone citizenry.

Honours even but still leaving the Earps ahead on points as we went into the final Act at Iron Springs.


The Earp posse rides to Iron Springs (10 miles from Tombstone) to meet Smith and Tipton. As they crest the rise, they see 5 cowboys breakfasting by the stream, not far away. One of them is Curly Bill Brocious. He is on the Earp “to do” list.

William 'Curly Bill' Brocius

Our final little battle proved as intense as the historical encounter with Curly Bill and his boys running to the cover of the trees and rocks as Wyatt Earp was seen riding point for the posse and cresting a nearby ridge, and on spotting the Cowboy camp dismounted and likewise ran for cover.

The posse again split and approached the river gully from different routes with Wyatt Earp leading his party in long range suppressive rifle fire as Doc Holliday and others moved around to the other end of the gully to likewise dismount and cover the position in rifle fire.

With the cowboys around the camp armed in the main with pistols and shotguns, the return fire was limited and the rifle fire slowly but surely began to take a toll of cowboy members wounded or forced into cover, allowing both Holliday and Wyatt Earp to lead their respective parties across the small creek to finish off the skirmish.

At this moment I should have had my ambush party in play but I had mistaken them for the cowboys I had defending the creek and camp, and Vince was wondering when I was going to spring the trap!

Unfortunately my perceived bravado was no more than an ignorance of the extra five men that I could have used to defend against and potentially drive off the attack on the camp - oh dear, how sad, never mind!

As Wyatt Earp waded into the stream up jumped Curly Bill advancing on the lawman with shotgun levelled and let him have both barrels at short range, only managing to hit him in the leg and falling himself under a hail of return fire.

At the other end of the camp, Holliday and his men made short work of the remaining cowboys, wading across the creek to clear the position after successfully suppressing the defenders with their rifles, and with the dead and wounded cowboys causing a failed 'Skedaddle Test', brought the scenario and game to an overall end, just as the other cowboys were closing on Holliday from the rear.

An overall win for the Earps but with Frank Stillwell's audacious attack at the Tuscon Station and with a better handled defence of the Iron Springs Camp, it might have been quite different and I think speaks well of the replay value of this neat little gaming system that allowed me to delve into Wild West history in a very entertaining way and to engage with a theme that is not my usual fare.

The rules invite a very relaxed game among friends with plenty of banter and laughs and that was the way we played it, making this a very enjoyable way to spend a pre-New Year's Eve day rolling bones and having fun.

Thank you to Vince for organising our day and to Steve and Chas for running the Earp posse and especially, to Vince's better half, Joan, for keeping us fed and watered throughout the day.

A great way to end 2021 and an opportunity to wish everyone a happy and fun New Year ahead.



  1. Excellent write up JJ. Just like being there.

    I thought you did well to keep Ike in the game for as long as you did. Not least given his proclivity to run his mouth and then run away !

    We would have won the last "Act" too, if it hadn't been for Steve, who at the end of every turn said "and now you have to make a skedaddle roll". You remembering the other cowboys in the trees, might have helped too !

    Happy New Year.


  2. Nice AAR write-up. I know they sell other scenarios but was curious whether you'd given a try at generating your own given the experience from this first set of Acts?

  3. Hi Terremen,

    I didn't buy the Tombstone scenario, I just watched "Little Wars TV" "5 Table Tombstone" on Youtube, took a few screen shots of each table and wrote my own scenariio and characters based on the video. Obviously it owed a lot to LIttle Wars TV, but I fleshed out the detail.

    Doing it this way was a lot easier than I expected. I used the historical record and examples from other free "Ruthless" scenarios, to balance the characters and the scenarios. For instance, Wyatt Earp said he knew Frank McLaury to be a dangerous man and a good shot, so his characterstics and stat values reflected this on the table. You can see in the video that Wyatt Earp's stat value is 3, so I made Frank McLaury slightly worse at 4 and gave him the "Gunfighter" and "Tough As Nails" skills (historically he kept shooting despite several wounds).

    Also I kept in mind that the various "Acts" don't need to be balanced, as long as the overall Victory Conditions and Legal Standing scores are balanced. This seemed to work well, as even in unbalanced Acts, it was possible for the underdogs to pick up useful points.

    Ruthless is not like other wargames, as it is a small campaign in one sitting. You have to bear in mind that characters you lose in one Act are not definitely not going to appear in the next Act ! This gives a different dynamic and certainly gives a different feel to the game.

    All in all, I didn't find writing the scenario and doing the character cards too difficult, as long as you remember it is relative stat values and abilities that matter and not the precise numbers or traits (e.g. Wyatt is better all round than Morgan).

    I have another scenario I am generating from scratch, based on historical encounters and I am not finding the work too hard, Whether it plays well on the day only time will tell.