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Bang! is card based parlor game that combines strategy and cunning. Varied gameplay and a strong theme make it an ideal way to spend an evening with four or five friends.
Bang! is an award-winning spaghetti-western themed card game that's been around for years, but for one reason or another doesn't seem to have made much of an impression on the UK game-playing public. Certainly I'd never heard of it before it arrived on my doorstep and none of my friends had either. A quick look at the rules suggested that it would be beyond my children, so pizza and beer were laid on for six willing wannabe desperadoes.
Once we all sat down I tried to explain the rules. This wasn't easy, particularly as I myself had never played and the rule book runs to several pages. It all got a bit tense and my initial enthusiasm wavered at the glazed eyes, shuffling feet and odd nervous cough (cue tumbleweed).
Fortunately however the pizza had generated a certain amount of good will and we eventually decided just to start playing and see what happened.
What in fact happened was a lot of fun and laughter. By the end of the first game we all pretty much understood what was going on, and the second game was much quicker and slicker. The aim is basically for the sheriff and his deputies to kill the bad guys and vice versa, but there's one bad guy who wants to keep the sheriff alive until everyone else is dead and only then kill him, which adds a nice dynamic.
Each person is given their role and a personality at the beginning but just the sheriff makes his role known. Only as the game is played does it become clearer who everyone else is because of the way they play.
It seemed perfectly natural that the way to regain your strength is to have a beer.
The gameplay itself is simply drawing and playing cards, but the wild-west theme is surprisingly strong. The artwork is simple but interesting and the different personalities are evocative. Around the table we had El Gringo, Slab the Killer and Vulture Sam among others. There was plenty of random shooting and dodging behind barrels and some mean weapons were brandished before being forcibly removed by other players.
It seemed perfectly natural that the way to regain your strength is to have a beer. And there are other nice touches such as the use of standard poker/playing-card notation on the cards to sometimes determine the outcome of a particular play. I also really liked the fact that the cards were printed in Italian with English translations, but maybe that's just me.
The beauty here is in the social interaction. As with any sort of secret assignment game, from wink-murder to Mafia to Risk, there is excitement as the players feel their way into the game. You trust no-one and watch your back.
At the beginning it's hard to know what to do. If you are a bad guy and start shooting at the sheriff you will give yourself away and might find a couple of deputies after you. And if you are a deputy and you start shooting indiscriminately you risk harming the other deputy, and starting a grudge match with your own team member.
Fortunately there was always someone willing to wade in pretty quickly and start taking pot shots. Then the chit-chat and psychology begins. After all, there's a fine line between speculation over another player's role and misinformation about your own. And there's something great about a game that allows a player's personality to come out in the strategy they adopt.
There's something great about a game that allows a player's personality to come out in the strategy they adopt.
The two games on that first evening were completely different experiences. In the first I was the sheriff and was flanked on either side by my two deputies. As it turned out this made me virtually untouchable and identified one of my deputies as a highly competitive and ruthless operator. We won easily. In the second game I was a bad guy and sat between the sheriff and a deputy and I was pretty soon pushing up the daisies, but happily managed to take the deputy with me.
We all want to play again - it's a fun way to spend a couple of hours. There are so many variables, taking into account not only the luck of the cards but also your own strategy, personality and approach, that each game promises a different experience. Expansion sets are also available to add new characters and game-playing features (though you might as well buy them all together in the latest editions of the game).
There may be similar or better games out there, but I am happy to stick with this for now, and I reckon it could become a bit of a classic for those of us in the know.
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