The other day I ran across mention of yet another Western-themed game, which prompted me to once again think back to the earliest days of the pencil-and-paper RPG, and a truly great Western-themed game that I played on numerous occasions. As was always the case, however, I couldn’t find any mention of it online, because it turns out I was misremembering the name.
The game that I thought was called Gunfighter was in fact called Boot Hill, and if you played it even once you’ll remember. Unlike any other pencil-and-paper game of its time, Boot Hill was about unrelenting action. You looked at a map of a small frontier town, the DM gave you an area to start from, you made your choice, the other players made theirs, and the clock started ticking.
An entire game might last a half-hour, or maybe an hour at most if players were extremely cautious, but in game-time each battle was often a matter of only seconds, maybe a few minutes at most. And it was riveting. Even today I still carry memories of the imagined places and battles in my mind, and they all took place forty years ago.
I don’t know if anyone has ever connected the dots, but I’m willing to bet that Boot Hill was one of the earliest — if not the earliest — deathmatch games, albeit in paper-and-pencil form. If you enjoy pencil-and-paper gaming and can find it, preferably in one of its earlier incarnations, you might enjoy it for its ease of access and relatively short duration. Or you can just keep playing over and over until the sun comes up.
— Mark Barrett