Character Name: Vera Custer.
Inspired by: Besides the last name that echoes the American Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer that perished at the Battle of Little Big Horn (Custer's Land Stand), Vera Custer has no known inspiration.
Life Points: 3.
Ability Type: Neutral.
Ability: "For one whole round, she gains the same ability of another character in play of her choice." The round language here can be confusing, however, because of how a round is used in A Fistful of Cards and High Noon. One round there counts from one Sheriff's turn to another. The Dodge City rulebook clarifies how round is to be interpreted for Vera Custer, "at the beginning of her turn, before drawing any cards (in phase 1), she chooses any other character still in play. Until her next turn, she has the same ability as that character." So she holds the copied ability from the beginning of one of her turns to the beginning of the next. If placed in Jail, she must resolve the Jail before she is able to choose an ability. Thus, an unsuccessful "draw!" will result in her losing her turn and having no ability until her next turn. The Dodge City FAQ spells this out, "Q13. If Vera Custer is in Jail, can she copy the ability of Lucky Duke (if he is alive) before checking for the “draw!”?
R. No, unless she already copied Lucky Duke’s ability in the previous turn. As a matter of fact, Vera Custer’s ability is triggered during phase 1 (before drawing), but the Jail forces to entirely skip this phase. So, you have to check first if Vera Custer escapes from the Jail: if she does not, then she has no ability whatsoever until her next turn."
Activation: At the beginning of her turn, after dealing with Jail and Dynamite.
Cards enhanced by Vera Custer's ability: Depends on the ability she copies.
Cards less powerful when played against Vera Custer: Depends on the ability she copies.
Cards more powerful when played against Vera Custer: Jail; besides this, it depends on the ability she copies.
Good role: Sheriff
Characters that counter Vera Custer well: This would of course depend on the character whose ability she copies, but as a 3-point character she will be more vulnerable to strong offensive characters like Willy the Kid, Slab the Killer, and Belle Star. Also, Bill Noface becomes a difficult match, as copying his ability doesn't work too well: to draw 3 cards, Vera Custer would have to have 1 life point.
Characters that Vera Custer counters well: Depends on the abilities she can copy.
2-player value: Poor. Since she can only copy the other player's ability, she will be on par with him ability-wise. Thus, if Tequila Joe is the person she is in a duel with, they will both have a useless ability. However, Vera Custer is likely at a disadvantage because she only has 3 life points and most characters have 4, and a Jail has a 75% chance of nullifying even the 1 ability she can copy until her next turn. She is only really on par as a Sheriff (where she will have 4 max life points and cannot be jailed), and only really at advantage when playing against a 3 life point character. Of course, this is considering all things equal, not counting the cards she has in play in front of her and the life points she and her opponent enter the 2-player duel with.
General Strategy as Vera Custer: Vera Custer takes a lot of thought to play well. As she always selects a new ability at the beginning of her turn, she must choose an ability that best suits her hand, current position, and the position of her team mates (if Vera Custer has any). Initially, it makes perfect sense for Vera Custer to pick a character with a defensive (think of Jourdonnais, Molly Stark, Elena Fuente, Apache Kid, El Gringo, Paul Regret; even Calamity Janet) or neutral ability (especially card increasing abilities like those from Black Jack, Pixie Pete, Jose Delgado, and abilities that improve your card drawing selection like those from Kit Carlson and Pedro Ramirez) if possible. Abilities of these types will give Vera Custer some time to get some good offensive and defensive blue/green cards in play in front of her before the bullets really start flying. Hopefully, if Vera Custer is an Outlaw, her teammates won't start attacking the Sheriff right away, but it can never be known which opportunities will present themselves so she should always try to be ready! Once she gets a good set of cards down, Vera Custer can shift towards copying abilities that increase her offensive powers or increase her ability to weaken her opponent's hand or card base (think of Jesse Jones and Pat Brennan). Then she should go after players she must eliminate or is suspicious about.
As the game progresses, Vera Custer should study her hand and the goals of other players. Vera Custer should decide from there whether to pick ability that already increases the cards in her hand (say, having many BANG! in her hand and then selecting Willy the Kid's ability), or balances it if her offensive/defensive side is weak. Thus, you could imagine Vera Custer having no defensive cards and selecting Elena Fuente's ability to compensate; or having many Missed! but no offensive cards and using Calamity Janet's ability to balance this. Vera Custer also has to consider the order in which players should be eliminated. As she can only copy the abilities of characters in play, she shouldn't try to knock any old character out as fast as she can. She wants to eliminate characters in the order that will hurt her copycatting the least. This is very important for a Vera Custer that is a Renegade, Sheriff, or Deputy.
Vera Custer will always have to pay attention to the opportunities that each round presents. Let me give some examples of scenarios: If you have a lot of cards in your hand that exceed your card limit, and you have a pretty good idea that you will have to discard many of them, check and see if Doc Holyday, Sid Ketchum, or Sean Mallory are in play. That way, you can either retain those cards in your hand (Mallory), use them to shoot a BANG! (Holyday), or use them to regain health (Ketchum). If you have excess beer(s), check and see if El Gringo, Bart Cassidy, Tequila Joe, or Chuck Wengam are in play. That way you can be less concerned about spending the cards in your hand and hope to take a hit (El Gringo, Cassidy), gain needed life points back (Joe), or gain cards (Wengam). If a Dynamite is out or you have a Barrel, maybe copying Lucky Duke's ability could be a good idea. If the card on the discard pile is really appealing, check if Pedro Ramirez is in play; if he is, copy his ability and then draw the card. There are numerous other scenarios, but I think you get the idea. The ones I described all centered around events occurring to her, but she should also think of her team mates' (if she has any) situations. If a player is about to be eliminated, see if Vulture Sam, Greg Digger, or Herb Hunter is in play. You can copy one of their abilities to split a player's leftover cards when he dies (Sam; or gain them all if Vulture Sam is the one who perishes), gain needed life points (Digger), or draw cards (Hunter).
The Vulture Sam scenario has been mapped out well in the Dodge City FAQ: "Q03. If Vera Custer has currently the same ability of Vulture Sam and another player is eliminated, who takes his cards? A. The cards of the eliminated player must be divided between Vera Custer and Vulture Sam. Who among Vera and Sam is next to the killed character, in clockwise order, chooses the first card (either randomly from the hand of the killed character, or among her “in play” cards). Then, the other one takes another card, and so on, until all cards of the eliminated player have been distributed between the two."
Finally, if Vera Custer is going to end up in a 2-player duel (definite if she is a Renegade, and possibly is she a Sheriff; for an Outlaw this next part won't matter as she has no control over whom she will face), then she should try to eliminate the players with more life points before ending up in the 2-player duel. She is at a strong disadvantage in a 2-player duel with players that have more health than her (see the 2-player Value section above).
Playing against Vera Custer: Vera Custer is a very difficult character to anticipate, and how difficult she is to play against strongly depends on the strategy of the person playing her. Thus, your most powerful tool against Vera Custer is for both you and other players to not not give her suggestions! However, Vera Custer does have a few strong weaknesses. For one, since Vera Custer's ability activates at the beginning of her turn, she has no ability at the beginning of the game (unless she is the Sheriff). If Vera Custer is further down the line, she can be a very easy player to eliminate in the first round, having no ability and only 3 life points. With the 3 cards dealt at the beginning of the game to her, it is very unlikely Vera Custer has 1, if any, defensive cards. Of course, eliminating someone at the beginning of the game can be dangerous: (1) It can really piss off the human player of Vera Custer who may no longer wish to play BANG! anymore, and (2) you can off a team mate. Neither of those are particularly pleasing scenarios, but many people like a more aggressive beginning, so this might work for them.
Another good way to weaken Vera Custer is to throw her in Jail. Unsuccessful Jail "draws!", as the Dodge City FAQ explained, make Vera Custer both lose her turn and her prior ability. She is not able to retain the ability she copied the turn before. This will leave her very open during that round, making it a great time to try to eliminate (or at least strongly weaken) her.
As with most 3 life point characters, most offensive cards are more effective against Vera Custer. This is particularly true of Duels, Indians!, and Dynamite. If you see one of those in a General Store, grab it, and play it against Vera Custer. Stealing or discarding cards from Vera Custer's hand and then attacking her is always a good idea, especially when she has fewer cards in her hand.