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[Review] Bang!

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Joined: 03/23/2011

For a long time, I was wondering if any game would be produced that would successfully simulate a Western theme. Way out West was a good game, and did this to a small degree, as did Lawless! Yet none of them had the “showdown” flair - the feel of a Spaghetti western. At the same time, there are very few games that successfully handle up to seven players. Until I played Bang! (daVinci Games and Mayfair Games, 2002 - Emiliano Sciarra), Citadels was the top game that fit this niche - one that I enjoyed greatly, due to theme and game play, but when we played Bang!, all that changed.

After my first few playings of Bang!, I was incredibly impressed. It was so thematic, and so much fun - that I thought Citadels was replaced for sure. I immediately ranked the game as a “10”, and wanted to play it all the time. After several more plays; however, I found that the game, while extremely fun, wasn’t quite the same. It didn’t have the same staying power of Citadels, so I ranked it slightly lower. I will admit that this game is probably a bigger hit with adults, as they enjoy the Western theme much more than a fantasy one. And really, the game is a big hit no matter where I take it - so I have to highly recommend it!

Note: There are two editions of the game – my summary is of the second edition rules.

A pile of seven role cards are shuffled together and dealt out to each player (a few roles are not included in less than a seven player game.) For purposes of this review, we’ll assume that a seven player game is occurring. Each role is kept secret, except for the player who receives the sheriff card - they reveal their card so that all know who the sheriff is. Each player is dealt two character cards – each character has a different special ability and “life points”. Players decide which of the two character cards they will use – and turn the other one face down – revealing five bullets. During the game, players slid their character card up and/or down the bullet card to demonstrate how many life points their character currently has. At the beginning of the game, each player starts at full life, except the sheriff, who receives an additional life point (Max 5). A deck of eighty cards is shuffled, and each player receives one card for each life point they have. The Sheriff gets the first turn, and then play proceeds clockwise around the table.

On a player’s turn, the first thing they do is draw two cards. After doing so, the player can play as many cards as they like from their hand, with only two restrictions – they can only play one Bang! card (with some exceptions) and they cannot play two of the same card in front of them. There are many different cards that players can play during a turn:
- BANG! : This card allows a player to “shoot” another player. Typically, a player can only shoot a player who is a distance of “one” away from them. (The players sitting directly to the right and left of the active player.) Some cards allow players to shoot further. If the player cannot counter the BANG! card, their character immediately loses one life point.
- Miss! : This card is played in response to a BANG! card. (Obviously, the shot misses.)
- Remington, Schofield, Winchester, Rev. Carabine: These cards are laid down in front of the player, and increase that players’ shooting range to the number shown on the card.
- Volcanic: This gun allows a player to shoot only at a range of one, but the player can use as many BANG! cards as they want.
- Indians! : This card causes every other player to discard a BANG! card, or they lose a life point.
- Horse: This card increases the player’s distance from others (those sitting next to him need a gun with range of “2”, etc.)
- Appaloosa: This card increases the player’s range with all guns by one.
- Gatling: This card acts like a BANG! card, but hits ALL other players.
- Jail: This card is played in front of another player. On the next player’s turn, they turn over the top card of the draw pile. If the suit of the card (all cards have a number and suit) is a heart, they may take their turn – otherwise they lose their turn. Either way, the jail card is then discarded.
- Beer: This card heals one life point of the player. It can be used defensively, but only if the player has just lost their final life point.
- Schoolmarm: This card forces another player to lose either a random card from their hand, or one of the face up cards in front of them.
- Panic: This card allows a player to steal a card from another player, either randomly from their hand, or one of the face-up cards they have on the table. This card only has a range of “1”.
- General Store: One card for each player is dealt face up on the table in front of everyone. The player who played the card chooses one of the cards for their hand, with the next player choosing one, etc. – until all cards are taken.
- Barrel: This card is placed in front of a player. Every time a BANG! card is played on them, they may draw the top card of the deck – if the suit of it is hearts, the shot is a miss.
- Duel: The player chooses another player to have a duel with, and discards a BANG! card – which his opponent must also do. This continues until one player cannot discard a BANG! card, at which point the duel ends.
- Wells Fargo: The player immediately draws three cards.
- Stagecoach: The player immediately draws two cards.
- Saloon: Everyone heals one life point – the player playing the card heals two.
- Dynamite: This card is placed in front of the player. On their next turn, they draw a card from the deck. If this card is between the two and nine of spades, the dynamite explodes. Otherwise, the dynamite passes to the next player, who must check to see if the dynamite explodes on their turn. This continues until the dynamite finally explodes. The player causing the dynamite to explode loses three life points.

After a player is finished playing cards, they discard any cards above their maximum hand size (their current life), and play passes to the next player. Whenever a player loses their final life point, they are out of the game. If the person is an outlaw, the player eliminating them gets three cards immediately as a bonus. If the sheriff eliminates a deputy (stupid sheriff!), the sheriff must lose all cards in hand and on the table.
There are three victory conditions:
- If the Sheriff is killed, the Outlaws (even dead ones) win! UNLESS
- All the outlaws are also dead, and only the Renegade is alive – then the Renegade wins! OR
- All the Outlaws and Renegades are killed – then the Sheriff and Deputies win!

Some comments on the game…

1.) Components: For all the different actions and mechanics in the game, I think it’s admirable that a deck of cards is all that’s needed. Keeping track of each player’s life using two cards is an excellent mechanic. The cards are of good quality in both editions, and I enjoy the Western-flavored artwork. There are some minor changes between the card art in the first and second editions, and I have to say that probably the second edition is superior. Even more importantly – the box from the second edition is fantastic – having a plastic card holder in a box with a lid. I wish that I had waited to buy the second edition based on the box alone.

2.) Rules: The rulebook is fairly long for a card game – although I suppose Bang! is not your everyday card game. The format isn’t too bad – although I wish many of the special cards had a description of what they do on the cards. Instead, the cards have symbols on them, letting you know what each card entails. Little reference cards are included that explain most symbols, but still some special cards are only explained in the rules. I know that this allows the game to be distributed in more languages, but this means that during the first couple games, players are constantly referencing the rulebook. The game is remarkably easy to learn, but the special cards could give some pause. Some rules were changed from the first edition to the second – for the better! – but these rules can be referenced online, and I highly recommend getting them if possible - they remarkably improve game play.

3.) Theme: One reason that Bang! is so popular, is that the game just oozes theme all over. It’s probably the best example of a game’s theme matching mechanics that I have ever played. If you are the sheriff, you feel a righteous indignation welling up in you against these vile outlaws. And the outlaws feel that it is their sworn duty to waste the sheriff and his puny deputies. Games that I have played have often turned into a role-playing game, complete with sound effects and Western drawls. The pictures on the cards, the names of the characters, and the clichés that occur – all give the game a “spaghetti” western feel.

4.) Players: One of the things that makes Bang! so attractive is the fact that it accommodates up to seven players. And indeed, a sever player game of Bang! is superb, my favorite way to play. Games with fewer players are also quite fun, but the dynamics change quite a bit. The fewer the players, the more powerful the Sheriff and especially the Renegade become – but weapon power also decreases. Strategy and tactics must be shifted depending on the number of players.

5.) Renegade: There is no denying the fact that the player who receives the Renegade has the hardest task ahead of him. Some have complained about this, but since roles switch often in a set of games, we in our group look at the Renegade as a fun challenge to play. There are also some variants on the internet that use points to weigh the game a little in the Renegade’s favor (or at least so he has a fighting chance). I haven’t tried any of these – but they do look interesting, and since the Renegade rarely wins a game, I may try some.

6.) Characters: I usually, when teaching new people to play Bang!, skip the characters – just concentrating on the roles. However, the characters’ special abilities add quite a bit to the game. Some of the character’s abilities seem much stronger than others, but we just take this into stride – akin to the role of the Renegade.

7.) Fun Factor: One factor many people dislike when they see it in games is the elimination aspect. Bang! certainly has this, but because the game is fairly quick, and players have a vested interest in the outcome of the game – it’s not that big of a problem. The game is pure fun! The Dynamite card, while kind of a crap shoot, is probably the most thrill-packed card in the game – you can hear people holding their breath during checks to see if it explodes or not. Some people may think that the game, especially the beginning of the game, is just guesswork – people shooting at one another randomly, but I feel that the strategy is still there.

8.) Strategy: I’m afraid to really delve too deeply into the strategy – for a few reasons. One, while the game certainly has strategy, thinking too much about it might detract from the fun. Two, there are some excellent articles that people can find on the internet. Suffice it to say that players must play according to their role, the character they receive, and the number of players in the game.

Bang!, while not in my top ten games, still receives my highest recommendation for a game. Even though I’m not as enamored with it as I was with my first playing, the new expansion has breathed new life into it, and at least one more expansion is definitely in the works. Italian designers know how to put the word “fun” into a game, and Bang! is the epitome of this labor of love. Bang! is inexpensive, extremely fun, and accommodates a lot of players. And it captures the Western flavor almost perfectly. Why would you not buy it?

Tom Vasel

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