Wild Card Thursday – Bang!

bang!Those who know me know there are certain games and mechanics I generally don’t enjoy; some of those being player elimination and larger group games, there are of course exceptions to the rule and Bang! is one of those exceptions.

Released: 2002
Designers: Emiliano Sciarra
Plays: 4-7
EPT: 30 minutes

Bang! is a social deduction, card, hand management, player elimination game in which players take on the rolls of cops and robbers in a spaghetti western. The rules of Bang! are fairly simple yet often altered; I will thus explain the rules and add any additional house rules my group prefers in parentheses; I also played with the early print runs pre-bullet and pre-re-reprint and this the components may vary slightly.

The game has four roles the players take up at random with various win conditions; there is the sheriff who must eliminate all the outlaws and the renegade, the vice (deputies) who aids the sheriff in this pursuit, the outlaws who must eliminate the sheriff, and the renegade who needs to be the last man standing. Each role posses its own unique play styles and strategies. The game’s complexity enters in that all roles minus the sheriff are kept secret from the other players.

The game begins by creating a role deck as outlined in the rule book which alters by number of players (I recommend playing the game with 5-7 players; with 4 the social deduction element is often lacking). Once the deck is assembled the players are each dealt a role; the sheriff reveals their role while the other players keep their card face down. Each player is then dealt a character card face up (I recommend dealing each player 2 character cards and letting them pick one). Players then use the character card they didn’t select as their life tracker; placing the card face down and laying their character on top of the card revealing bullets equal to their character’s health the sheriff gets an extra health point (in the new version players have a board which they place bullet tokens on to track their health). When each player has selected their character they share their special ability and are dealt cards from the playing card deck equal to their health; the players hand limit is equal to the amount of health they have left.

During play players can get shot in which case they move their character card up hiding an additional bullet so as to constantly show only bullets equal to their current health (or remove a bullet from the board in the new print runs). Players can heal once injured by playing various alcohol cards (beer, whiskey, saloon, etc) players can never, however, gain health above that which they started with.

When the players have all completed set up they are ready to begin. Play starts with the Sheriff then progresses clockwise. A turn is composed of 3 phases; draw two cards, play as many cards as they desire, and discard down to your maximum hand size. In the base game there are two card types; brown bordered and blue bordered. Brown bordered cards have an instant action and are played to the discard pile while blue bordered cards have a constant effect and are played in front of the player with the exception of the jail card which is played in front of another player (you cannot put the sheriff in jail).

During play certain cards have a book icon representing the card is moderately complex and for the first few games will require players checking the rule book to see how the card resolves; other cards have additional rules, such as a player can only play 1 Bang! card per turn, these cards being the ones used to shoot the other players (there are exceptions to the rule such as a player with the Volcanic pistol). Additional special rules are; you can only have one card of each name in front of you, so you can’t have two Barrels or two Appaloosas and you can only have 1 gun at any given time. Guns are crucial as they increase your combat abilities. Players are at varying distances; those next to you on either side are 1 distance away, those next to them are 2 distances away, etc. so if you want to shoot someone a distance of 2 away you must have a gun with a range of 2 or greater (each player starts with a Colt .45 with a default range of 1). As players are eliminated they are no longer counted when calculating distance meaning as the game progresses players will get closer and closer to each other.

Each card has a symbol and number in the lower left corner as well matching those of a standard poker deck; beyond thematic value these cards can impact play with the aid of cards such as Dynamite and Barrels. There are plenty of minute details and aspects of card variances, but detailing them would be tedious and unnecessary as the rule book does a fantastic job of doing so on its own. As players are eliminated they come with various rewards or penalties dependent on the character’s role as well as the killers. These include; if anyone kills an outlaw they are rewarded with drawing three cards and if the sheriff kills a deputy they are punished by discarding their hand and any cards in play in front of them.

The game forces players to adapt to the role they are dealt as well as the perception they want to place before the other players. On occasion the outlaws desire to play it cool and avoid the sheriff and deputies rage, while other times they will go out guns blazing. The renegade often acts as a balancer attempting to kill outlaws and deputies alike in a manner that it will end with a shootout between just the sheriff and the renegade; as that is the only way the renegade can win. The deputies will often avoid firing until they learn who the outlaws are so as to minimize friendly fire.

I honestly do not recall my first game of Bang! though the reason this is so is because when I played it the same weekend included many many more plays of the game. It is fast enough that you can play a few games in one sitting and with the random roles and asymmetric player powers, starting healths, and hand sizes rarely do any two games play the same. After that weekend I made it a quick goal to buy my own copy as well as the Dodge City expansion (which I would highly recommend).

In college I went to a Summer Training Program where me and a few dozen other collegiates lived and worked at a YMCA camp in Colorado in dorm like conditions. I brought Bang! with me and almost every night for a few weeks the game was played. Not long into the summer a friend bought Bang! The Bullet! which included the expansions as well as a few other cards. We learned quickly that this is a game you keep close to the recommended player count. With my copies of BANG! and Dodge City we could host a game of up to 14 players; which we did for a few nights. When playing with more than the 7 players (more with expansions) the player elimination resumes its role as a game ruiner. The games speed with 5-7 players is reasonable enough that once a player dies the game will be over in 10-15 minutes so they can wait and watch (it is still a terrible mechanic as it forces the eliminated players to watch rather than participate. Our group attempted to find ways to make up for player elimination and after a week of failed attempts we learned the best way was to have a N64 with Super Smash brothers for the eliminated players to enjoy.

Bang! as itself is a decent game; but with the expansions it is much better; there are some things players must be aware of, however. Analysis Paralysis is very possible; as is often the case with social deduction games it is not uncommon for a player to spend far too much time attempting to decide who is a friend and who is a foe before taking their shot. Grudge matches are also a trap players can fall into that can hurt the game; as a common grudge player I have to intentionally allow myself not to hold a grudge when I realize it is not in my best interest. There are then some groups I have played with that I have since avoided playing with later as they ruin the game; one such group has a player that will kill you if you play the dynamite because he simply doesn’t like the randomness and another that pre-removes certain characters that they think are too strong or too weak; with the right group, however, it can be a great game.

How does Bang! stand against the rubric? The game has amazing iconography that makes the cards quite simple to understand with the aid of an icon guide; though after a few games the guide becomes unnecessary. The art is run and fits the theme well while the pacing is quick if played with the right group. Aside from the player elimination (which is arguably necessary) and the first few rounds in which no one want to shoot in fear they may hurt an ally there are few downsides from the game and it thus scores a 7 out of 10.
Visuals – 1.5 // 2
Skill/Luck – .5 // 1
Pacing – 1.5 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1.5 // 2
Mechanics – .5 // 1
Fun Factor 1.5 // 2
Tomorrow on Favorite Fridays we will look at 7 Wonders; a game that brought card drafting back to the table! Until then you can find us on social media;
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