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BANG!

Reviewed by Greg J. Schloesser

BANG! (daVinci Games; 3-7 players, 30-45 minutes; $11.95)

 

I had heard this new da Vinci release being compared to Werewolf, a party-style game that has been all the rage in some circles, but leaves me completely flat. I simply fail to see the enjoyment of the game as it seems to be, as my buddy Ted Cheatham asserts, an exercise in mob mentality. So, when these comparisons were made, I had little interest in Bang!Cover

While attending the Spiel show in Essen, Germany, the Great Dane Mik Svellov insisted that Bang! by Emiliano Sciarra was a great game. Mik and I agree on most games, so my interest was aroused. Sadly, da Vinci games did not have a booth at the show, so the game was proving elusive to locate. Eventually, MikCover informed me that copies were available in the Heidelberg Spielverlag booth, so we immediately headed for their booth. The first sign of trouble was that the booth was enclosed, with patrons being funneled through in a ‘U’ shaped pattern. This pathway was narrow to begin with, but once you crammed in hundreds of people, it became a barely moving mass of crammed humanity. I’ve been married 18 years and I got just about as close to some of these people that I have with my wife! I’m convinced that Heidelberg Spielverlag actually translates into ‘human sardines’! Slowly and painfully, Mik and I managed to make our way to the farthest corner of the booth to locate copies of Bang! Our good buddy James Miller proved to be the wise one, remaining outside and giving us instructions to secure copies for him!

Later that afternoon, we managed to play two games of Bang! with five players. It took just a round or two to get used to the various cards, but after that, the games flowed smoothly as we laughed and taunted our way through. I enjoyed both playings, in spite of spending most of one game trapped in prison, dodging bullets being shot at me from my dastardly opponents! I was also very pleased to discover that the game has very little in common with Werewolf. Rather, I find it much more part of the same family tree as games such as Saloon, Family Business and even Ohne Furcht und Adel (published as Citadels here [Summer 2000 GA REPORT]).

Players in the game assume various roles, including sheriff, deputy, outlaw or renegade. With a full contingent of seven players, there will be two deputies, three outlaws, one sheriff and one renegade. These numbers change a bit with less players. The role being played by each player is kept secret, with the exception of the sheriff, who is known to all players. Thankfully, this is one of the few similarities to Werewolf. Why the secrecy? Well, each player has his own victory ‘goal’ dependent upon the role he is playing. The sheriff, in order to maintain law and order in the town, must dispatch all of the outlaws and the renegade. The deputies, being loyal to the sheriff, share his same goal. The outlaws, however, are a dastardly bunch and their aim is to kill the sheriff and take over the town. They also have no scruples about killing each other! The renegade, true to his name, simply wants to kill everyone and be the sole survivor! Of course, he must keep the sheriff alive until the very last moment, lest victory be snatched by the outlaws. It is easy to see that in the early stages of the game, it can be risky to shoot at other players until their correct identity is discerned.

In addition to the role each player assumes, they also receive a character identity. There are 16 different characters in the game (Willy the Kid, Jesse Jones, Picture of ‘Bang!’Lucky Duke, etc.), each with their own special ability. These are not hidden, so everyone knows the abilities of each player.

Game play is very simple and, fortunately, there aren’t too many ambiguous cards. Each player begins the game with a number of cards equal to his ‘hit’ points, which are listed on the character card. Players can exceed this limit during their turn, but must discard down to their current hit point level at the end of the turn. Thus, it is wise to use these cards during your turn so that you can gain their full effect.Bangcard

On a turn, a player takes three simple actions:

1) Draw two cards from the deck;
2) Play as many cards as you desire; AND
3) Discard cards in excess of the number of hit points you have remaining.

The heart of the game is, of course, in the cards. The ultimate aim is to achieve your goal by dispatching your enemies. We’re talking the wild west here, so this means shootin’ ‘em! This translates into game terms as playing ‘Bang!’ cards. However, the game does have a clever built-in ‘distance’ mechanism, where distance is measured by how far folks are seated from each other. For example, opponents seated next to a player are considered at a distance of ‘1’ from that player, while opponents seated two players away from a player are at a distance of ‘2’, and so on. This is important as without any additional weapons, a player may only shoot opponents who are at a distance of ‘1’. Additional weapons allow player to fire at a greater distance, while other cards (horses) can increase or decrease a player’s distance to or from opponents.

There are a wide variety of cards in the game and, fortunately, da Vinci Games had the foresight to print the cards in both Italian and English. All cards carry icons that are designed to help players quickly identify the use of a particular card but, in actuality, can be a bit confusing in spite of the little player aid cards that explain their meaning. Further, there are a handful of cards that are special and require players to consult the rules for a full explanation of their use. Repeated playings will undoubtedly help players memorize these cards and better decipher the icons. Sadly, most games do not have the luxury of garnering repeated playings in such a short time frame, so the confusion will likely last when playing.

That being said, the game is not as confusing as other games of this ilk. As mentioned, there really aren’t many rules ambiguities and the game does flow rather smoothly. There is a decent enough variety of cards to keep matters entertaining and fresh. Players can wield an assortment of weapons, ride horses, dodge bullets, challenge opponents to a duel, get tossed in prison, consort with a mistress, visit the general store, fend of Indians and even drink beer to heal wounds!

When a player is shot at (the target of a ‘Bang!’ card), he has the opportunity to play a ‘Missed’ card to avoid the shot. If unable to do so, he takes a hit and slides his ‘bullet’ card down a notch to indicate his current level of injury. If a player loses all of his hit points and is unable to drink a beer to restore some points, he perishes and is out of the game, his cards being discarded. That player reveals his role to the other players. If the sheriff had the misfortune of slaying a deputy, he is penalized and must discard all of the cards he possesses. On the other hand, dispatching a vile outlaw is rewarded, with the hero drawing three extra cards as a sign of appreciation from the townsfolk.

The game is generally fast. All games I’ve played have clocked in at 20 – 40 minutes. Experienced players could likely play a full game in 15 minutes or less. There are lots of opportunities for role-playing, laughing, taunting and moaning in despair. Like many, if not most card games, there is a large ‘luck of the draw’ element and you can often suffer or prosper based on the hand of cards you draw. I spent about 2/3 of the second game I played locked in prison, unable to draw the required card to break free. When I ultimately did escape, I was immediately tossed back into prison on the next round! So, not only can the luck of the cards impact you, but it is also easy to gang-up on a player. However, if one accepts that this is a possibility and plays the game with a light, “devil may care” attitude, Bang! can be as much fun as a good old fashioned barroom brawl!- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Greg J. Schloesser


 

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