I love card games. I played the Pokemon CCG competitively, I designed and printed my own card game staring my real life friends, and I'm currently designing a card based video game. On my vacation last winter, I was introduced to a unique card game called BANG!
After playing two rounds to get used to the rules, I fell into the rhythm of the BANG! and enjoyed the next 6 or so matches over the course of a few days. The game was new and exciting, that is, until we played it too much. After exhausting the fun out of the game, I couldn't help but break down BANG!'s core design. After jotting down a few notes, drawing a few charts, and listing a few features I had practically reviewed BANG!. Here's what I came up with on my vacation.
The rules for this game are a bit complicated. So I'll write this article so that you don't have to be familiar with the rules, strategies, or other intricacies. If you're interested, you can read more about the rules of BANG! here or here.
In a nutshell, BANG! is a combination of several card games including Pokemon, Mafia, Poker, and War. Players draw character cards, which can be powered up offensively and defensively (Pokemon). Each player also draws a hidden role that governs each player's goals and how they can strategise to win. Other players have to make smart decisions and read into each others actions to try and discover their hidden roles (Mafia). There are several cards and strategies that rely on calling bluffs and playing against others withoutknowledge of the exact cards in their hands (Poker). On a basic level, BANG! is played where all the players draw cards from the same deck. If you don't draw the "BANG!" attacking cards or a counter card you will essentially lose in the exchange. This simple system is very similar to drawing the higher card in war.
BANG! is a game that can be played really quickly. It's possible to be knocked out of the game in minutes after dealing the cards. Unfortunately, there's a trade off in quality. The more rules/styles of play BANG! added to its design, the more abstract and complex it became.
- Players only manage one character with one set of special abilities.
- Simple health system.
- All players play from a single deck. This keeps everything simple and somewhat balanced.
- Instructions and card details are written using an icon code making card interpretation easy.
- The version of the game I played contained a few blank cards allowing players to make their own characters or special moves.
- Like when playing War, a large element of random exists. Without the ability to select cards to build a deck, players can only work with the cards they draw. Sometimes the game works for you. Sometimes, you get a bad run.
- Playing according to one's hidden role is a difficult task that exists outside of the realm just playing cards. Keeping the role a secret takes a certain amount of bluffing with one's demeanor and card moves. I found it very difficult to create a bluff with card moves sometimes because of the limitations of drawing form the deck. There are times when even if you want to make a bluff, you can't.
- Some of the roles have goals that are a lot more difficult to achieve than others.
- There are a few abstract rules that keep the game balanced and/or playable.
- Players can't heal themselves when only two players are left.
- Players have to discard a number of cards from their hands at the end of their turn to make their current life points (bullets).
BANG! is a game that works in layers to build a significant amount of variation, complexities, and contrary motion.
Click to enlarge.
- At the core, BANG! is nothing more than a game like War where your offensive and defensive power are decided by the luck of the draw.
- The next layer consists of character abilities, blue/green cards, and brown cards.These cards range in abilities. Some boost offensive/defensive power. Others heal. And others still allow players to draw cards.
- The roles that each player tries to keep hidden determine the goals for each player. To win...
- the sheriff must eliminate all the outlaws and the renegade.
- The outlaws must eliminate the sheriff.
- The deputy must help the sheriff achieve his/her goal.
- And the renegade must eliminate all the other players.
- As you may have noticed, the balance isn't even (see chart below). The design of the roles are very specific allowing for an amount of back stabbing and double playing for the outlaws and renegade especially .
- On top of all these elements is the layer of distance. In this card game, the order in which you sit around the table means more than turn order. Distance is actually a factor in the game. The default gun can only shoot players one distance away (ie. the players to the direct left/right of you). The players just beyond them are 2 spaces away. And so on. When playing, you may be safe from the people sitting across form you, but keep in mind the players at your elbows may be your worst enemies. Some character abilities and blue cards affect distances.
- The last layer comes from the "high noon" or "a fist full of cards" expansion sets. These cards are kept in a separate deck. At the beginning of each round, a new card is drawn. Each card has a unique effect on all players for the duration of that round. For example, one card prevents all players from playing BEER (healing) cards for the whole round. This is just another element that mixes things up .
As I mentioned above, the contrary motion for this game is like an intricate web.
See what I mean? Because each role has a specific goal, it may be fortuitous for...
- the sheriff to let the deputy take a few bullets for him/her.
- an outlaw to kill another, weakened outlaw to obtain the "draw 3 extra cards" bonus and to prevent any other player from nabbing the bonus.
- a renegade to help the deputy/sheriff if the outlaws are growing too powerful. After all, at the end of the day/game, the renegade intends on killing everyone.
There are some cards that give bonuses or threaten all the players equally. The general store card allows everyone to draw a card from a limited selection. The brawl card forces everyone to discard a card. And, my personal favorite, the dynamite card slowly moves around the table. Before passing this card on, each player must draw a card to see if it explodes or not dealing massive damage.
The interplay, or should I say gunplay, in BANG! is simple and effective. If someone shoots (attacks) at you, you have a few options to counter it.
- If your character has a special bullet dodging ability, that comes into effect.
- If their character has a special ability to counter your ability, then there are still other options.
- You can deflect the shot possibly with a barrel card. If the barrel doesn't work...
- You can play a MISS card. If you don't have a miss card and you're down to your last hit point...
- You can play a BEER card and essentially heal yourself back to one hit point after taking the bullet.
Another example of interplay comes from the DUEL card. When someone plays this card challenging you to a duel, you both go back and forth playing BANG! (attack) cards. Whoever runs out first or refuses to play a BANG! card takes the damage. Sometimes it's advantageous to take a hit to keep your valuable BANG! cards. Other times it's good to force the player who initiated the duel to waste all of their BANG! cards trying to get you.
In the end, BANG! is a complicated game that's great to play with friends until the drawbacks become apparent. It's popular over in Europe and something of a rarity here in the states. Despite it all, I'd play it again. It's just too interesting, complex, and still fairly simple to pass up.