The camaraderie of a cooperative game is tough to replace, unless you can drown it out in a hail of bullets and violence set in a Western theme. Welcome to Bang!, the fast paced card game of the Wild West. In Bang players all adopt the role of a western archetype; Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaw or Renegade and attempt to kill one another. Really, it’s that simple. It is for 4-8 players and a game should last anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. It also involves the pantomiming of shooting motions, hurt feelings, and mispronounced Italian words. Hence, fun for all ages.
One of the real neat aspects of Bang is that each player has a different goal for winning based on the role that they are randomly given. For example, an Outlaw wins if the Sheriff is killed, however the Renegade only wins if they are last one standing when the smoke clears. The Sheriff wins if only he and his deputies remain. At the onset of the game only the identity of the Sheriff is known, everyone else keeps it a secret, though by a couple of rounds into the game you can usually figure out who is who based on whether or not they are trying to kill the Sheriff. The game ends when one of two conditions are met; the Sheriff is killed, or the only people remaining are the Sheriff and his Deputies (note: Deputies only come into play with 6 or more players). When I first played it seemed like the Renegade was getting the short end of the stick since they only won if they were the last survivor and seemed to have no allies, however after playing it becomes obvious that this is not the case. The reason is that no one really wants to kill the Renegade, at least not until the end of the game. The Sheriff is really the man on the hot seat since the multiple Outlaws will be gunning for him from the get go. Despite all of this the game seems well balanced to not favor any role. In the games that we have played the winning role is pretty well spread out.
In addition to roles, each player also gets a character to portray from a host of cowboy types. This determines how many wounds you can take before dying and what special ability you have. Some abilities emulate the effect of an item (such as the built in Scope of Rose Doolan) and others are unique unto themselves, like Slab the Killer and his hard to resist Bangs! Players are also limited in who they can shoot at based on proximity around the table. To begin the game each player has a range of one, meaning that they can only shoot at players one place away from them at the table. Over the course of the game you can acquire items and new types of guns to increase the range. This is fun since you wind up making enemies with your neighbors, and it also does a good job of protecting the Sheriff from all of the Outlaws who would like nothing more than to open fire right away. It also another reason why the more the merrier with this game.
The rules for the game are perhaps the simplest I have ever seen in a game. You can easily understand the game within two turns of playing it. Each round a player draws two cards, then plays however many cards from their hand as they would like to (the only limit is that one Bang a turn is the max, unless you have a Volcanic gun or are Willie the Kid), and then discards to the number of cards equal to your current life total. Play moves to the next player. Between the number of players and the ease of the rules Bang is excellent for a night of casual gaming or when time is short.
The art on the cards is pretty plain, but also has a lot of personality to it. The characters in particular look cool, like shady western villains and heroes should. A personal favorite is the Mancato! (Missed!) card, which is played to negate a Bang on a player. The graphic is a bullet flying through a hat, narrowly missing the valuable contents contained within. Oh yeah, all of the cards are bilingual. They are written in both English and Italian, allowing you to make enemies with people that you would not normally even be able to communicate with. Though there is an element of teamwork in this game, especially among the Outlaws who all have a common goal of killing the local lawman.
Sometimes a little touch can go a long way in a game, and Bang has an excellent example of this. On the back of all the character cards are five bullets. These are used to track a player’s health during the game. Each player gets an unused card and flips it over, bullet side up. Using their character they simply show the number of bullets that they have life. Perfect! It eliminates the need for dice or any sort of counter and works perfectly. I am so into it.
I don’t have many criticisms of Bang. It is certainly not the most complicated or strategy heavy game out there, but it doesn’t claim to be. It’s elegance lies in it’s simplicity. It’s great for repeated plays, especially since a game can end very quickly. I like this game a lot.