Gaming Unplugged: Bang!

July 16, 2007

In the American Old West — or at least in movies set in that time — sheriffs and deputies faced off against ruthless outlaws and renegades in winner-take-all horseback gunfights set against the dusty backdrop of saloons and poker games. Bang! recreates those hallmarks of the so-called “spaghetti westerns” (and their Italian origins) in a fast-paced card game for 4-7 players.

To begin, each player is dealt a character card; these represent parodies of various Western legends, with names such as “Willy the Kid”, “El Gringo”, and “Calamity Janet”. Each character has a special power, as in Cosmic Encounter, and the number of hits the player can take before being eliminated; your current “hit” total is also your maximum hand size. The second cards dealt out are the role cards, most of which are kept hidden from the other players; the sheriff is revealed and gains an extra “hit”. The other characters are mostly outlaws (who win collectively when the sheriff is killed), but at least one of them is the deputy and secretly allied with the sheriff in his quest to rid the town of its unsavory element(s). In larger games there is also a Renegade, whose unenviable goal is to be the last man standing. Finally, everyone is dealt a starting hand of three cards.

Once the set-up is out of the way, play begins with the sheriff. On your turn, you draw two cards from the deck; cards include various pieces of equipment (such as guns and horses), “Bang!” cards, “Missed!” cards, and various special events. You then play as many cards as you wish, with the exception of only being able to play one “Bang!” card under normal circumstances. Certain cards are restricted by range (how many seats away you’re sitting from your intended target), which is usually where most of the equipment comes into play. If someone plays a “Bang!” card on you, you take a hit unless you respond with a “Missed!” card of your own. When you’re done playing cards, you must discard down to your current life total and then play passes to the left.

All of the cards have symbols on them that represent what they do. A few are too complicated and have a symbol referring to the instructions, but these are rare. Certain cards (and certain characters’ abilities) are centered around the “Draw!” mechanic: each card also has a playing-card suit/value in one corner. When a player has to “Draw!” he flips over the top card of the deck and compares its suit/value to the card’s requirements to see what happens.

Obviously, most of the action is centered around the sheriff, as the majority of the other players want him dead. If anyone kills an outlaw — even another outlaw — that person draws a three-card reward. If the sheriff mistakenly kills his deputy (or one of the two deputies in a seven-player game), then he suffers a stiff penalty. The game ends when one of the surviving characters achieves their victory condition.

A large amount of this game’s strategy comes from bluffing your role and trying to figure out where the alliances of the others lie. Deputies rarely fire on the sheriff, but if the outlaws don’t (or can’t, due to range problems) shoot at him, then the sheriff may wind up hurting those who are actually helping him. Further complicating matters is the Renegade, who will usually masquerade as a deputy by helping the sheriff pick off the outlaws (who will win if the sheriff dies before they all do).

Once your family/group gets past the initial hurdle of learning what that the various symbols mean and how the special cards work, Bang! proceeds quickly and smoothly. It’s probably not destined to be a centerpiece of game night, but it can serve as a nice diversion or as a warm-up for the Big Game.