We have a real pet peeve with many American card games, especially those of the “Ha! Take that!” variety. While they often have clever artwork and descriptive text, the gameplay leaves much to be desired. Draw a card, play the one that’s best for you (or worst for your opponent), repeat. Virtually no strategy and very little reason to play (especially once you’ve read all the “jokes” on the cards). Generally I avoid them like the plague. Given this it was a little surprising that I actually enjoyed playing Bang!, the first game from the Italian company daVinci Games. I think it certainly qualifies as a “Take that!” sort of game albeit with a few interesting twists.
The theme is one of a gunfight in the old west and each player is dealt a character that has a special ability (more on these later). The first twist is that you’re also dealt a role: either the Sheriff, a Deputy, the Renegade or an Outlaw (there can be multiple Outlaws and Deputies depending on the number of players). The Sheriff must announce himself but all other roles are kept secret. These roles determine how you win the game—the Outlaws must kill the Sheriff, The Deputy must keep him alive and the Renegade must be the last man standing. This does mix things up a little although we found that it was usually pretty easy to figure out who was who before too long.
The mechanics of the game are pretty simple: draw 2 cards, play as many cards as you like and then discard down to your hand limit. (Each character starts with either three or four life points which represent both how many shots it takes to kill that character plus the number of cards he can keep at the end of his turn.) The “basic” card is a “Bang!” card and this represents you taking a shot at a fellow player. Simply play it down and announce your target. This raises the first complication which is that you can only fire at targets “within range”. The range is the number of positions around the table between you and your target (in either direction). So with your default Colt .45 (range of “1”) you can only hit the players on your immediate left or right. You can upgrade to a superior gun by playing an appropriate card or even by hopping on a horse! (Either of these types of cards remain in front of you until another player steals them or forces you to discard it.) If you meet these requirements, your target has the option of playing a “Missed!” card to avoid taking the hit. If she can’t, then she loses a single life point (and has her hand size reduced). A player that loses his last life point is out of the game and reveals his role card.
Basically, that’s the game although much of the variety comes in the various cards and their uses. There are Mistress cards that force one player to discard a card, cards that send players to jail, Barrels you can hide behind and so on. For the most part they’re pretty straightforward and what you would expect in this sort of game. One of the more interesting examples is the Dynamite card. The player who plays it places it in front of himself until his turn comes around again. Before he starts his turn he draws a card and looks in the corner. Each card shows a regular card symbol on it and if it’s between the 2 and 9 of spades, it explodes. If it’s any other card he passes the dynamite to the next player who must perform the same check when his turn comes around. The silly tension of passing along this bomb as the fuse slowly ticks away is great fun and adds much to the light spirit of the game.
I really like the quality and production of this game. The cards are of high quality and look to withstand a fair amount of use. The artwork is very nice and each action card has symbols describing its function. Cards that are one-use-only have a brown border and those with a lasting effect have a blue border. The role and character cards have text in both Italian and English. A nice touch is the fact that the character cards are back printed with a sequence of bullets. The players use an unused character card to record how many life points they have left. All in all it seems that much thought went into the design of the components which bodes well for the quality of the gameplay. The English rules were clear and no ambiguities arose that they did not answer.
For the most part playing the game is pretty straightforward and easy. The cards feature icons that describe their use but there are also six cards whose function is described only in the rulebook. Ultimately, it took us one playing to get familiar with what each card could do, so a learning game is probably necessary. There are 16 different characters which adds much to the variety although some seem to be much more powerful than others. Slab the Killer requires other players to play 2 Missed! cards in order to defend against his shots whereas Pedro Ramirez may draw his first card from the top of the discard pile. I think the characters could have been a little better balanced with some changes to their numbers of life points. We also found that the Outlaws won almost every time which is a little troublesome. I think that giving the Sheriff an extra life would help a little and that it would be even better if you require the Outlaws to kill both the Sheriff and all Deputies in order to win.
The big question is, as with most reviews, “Is the game good?” To be honest I have a hard time answering that question. It’s true that I’ve enjoyed the times we played the game and perhaps that’s the best (only?) answer I need to give. The problem is that I have a hard time justifying my enjoyment. Bang! definitely belongs to a class of games that I really don’t respect. If I gave you a list of reasons why I think Munchkin is a poor game, you could apply almost every one of them to Bang! as well. If I wasn’t reviewing the game I wouldn’t even bother about this contradiction, I like the game because I like the game! However, I think a good review explains why a game is recommended or not but in this case I’ll have to leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. So, while I can’t say that it’s a good game, I can say that I enjoyed it and hopefully I’ve described it well enough for you to decide if you’d like to give it a try.