Play in Process: Bang!, The Ultimate Wild West Narrative

Each week in Play in Process, Richard Clark shares what he’s been playing and why it means something to him.

A small group of church people I meet with weekly had a “game-night” earlier this week. The group organizer encouraged us to bring some games. So, I brought Bang!

Bang! is a card game in which you assume a role chosen at random, mafia style: You are a sheriff, a deputy, an outlaw, or a renegade. Depending on your role, you have a particular objective. You want to be the last one standing, survive to the end, kill the sheriff, or kill the outlaws. These roles remain a secret, except for the sheriff. You are also given a particular character with certain special abilities. Once you have assumed your role and character, you proceed to shoot people.

The game is strange: because the sheriff goes first, it almost always starts with the sheriff shooting at some random person. What follows is perhaps the most interesting Wild-West narrative you’ll ever witness:

One day, the sheriff came outside and just started shooting his wife. No one really knew why. He claimed it was because he simply couldn’t reach his friend from such a far distance. His wife, his friend, his other friends, they all started shooting randomly. Meanwhile, they would stand around and discuss the odd lack of clear battle-lines. There were no obvious enemies or heroes. Even the hero was known for cold-blooded killing. Once he took out a howitzer and shot it at the entire town – just because he was bored and had nothing else to do.

Eventually, he managed to kill his own deputy. No one understood why. Least of all, the deputy himself, who had a hard time remaining at peace after death. In fact, after death he made it his mission to haunt the town, whispering rumors of traitors and heroes. It was the ghost of the deputy that ultimately helped the town to start choosing sides. Perhaps it was the perspective of death that made the obvious so much clearer to him, and that made the victory so much more urgent.

One outlaw was tired of living and begged for death. We happily obliged. She died a drunken, sorrowful death.

Just when the battle lines were clear – the remaining two outlaws, the sheriff, the remaining deputy, and the renegade were all unveiled – things got confusing. In a fruitless attempt to convince the sheriff that she had turned good, the outlaw started shooting at another outlaw – only to be gunned down by a deputy. Did I mention that three times, the sheriff lit dynamite and threw it randomly into the saloon? The third time, it took out the renegade.

It was down to the last stand: The outlaw, the sheriff, and his wife, the deputy. This part was predictable and uneventful: They mowed down the outlaw.

To be honest, the game went on far longer than I thought it would, and it was a little bit tough to explain certain parts of the rules. But these guys took it in stride, and infused their own personalities into a Wild West narrative that, even in the height of absurdity, rang true to me – mainly because it was our story. Most of all, it felt like the kind of epic experience we could all look back on and maybe even learn from. I know I learned something: Next time, I should kill that meddling deputy last.

About Richard Clark

Richard H. Clark is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Christ and Pop Culture. He has a Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Louisville, Ky. He is also the managing editor of Gamechurch and a freelance writer for Unwinnable, Paste, and other outlets.
E-mail: clarkrichardh [at] gmail [dot] com.
Twitter: @deadyetliving

  • http://bangcardgame.blogspot.com Martin Pulido

    Nice review. I agree that BANG! is an excellent game for its thematic fun, replayability, and mafia-like intrigue. You can’t apply the same strategy each game with the shifting roles, characters, and cards dealt. And some random elements, like the Dynamite, really can throw the wrench into some games. I am amused how hectic you made the whole game sound in the narrative format.

    Another great thing about BANG!, which you did not mention, is the ease in which players can add their own variants, house rules, and even custom expansions to the game (some have been circulating online for free download, such as El Dorado, Death Mesa, and O. K. Corral; Robbers’ Roost is on its way). If you or others are interested in looking at BANG! mods, as well as strategy guides, house rules, tutorials, FAQs, and more, visit the BANG! Blog.

  • Ian F

    First time visitor. Excited to see Bang here. It’s a regular at the Camp I work at, and you can always count on a game at the CCCA WI Sectional. The game length is cut down by the two expansions, though one of these is rather boring.

    I’ve had some great games with lots of intrigue. A co-worker is now always guaranteed to kill me no matter our roles because of our history in the game.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com Richard Clark

    @Martin & Ian – Thanks for the comments guys! It’s definitely a game that doesn’t get as much love as maybe it should.

  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    My first game of Bang! was the quickest game I’ve ever played. Everybody got exactly one turn. The wife in the couple who was teaching us ended up being the sheriff. I was an outlaw and seated to her immediate right. I was Willie the Kid (who can play any number of Bang cards). I drew card and everything in my hand was a Bang. It was glorious.

    Every game after that has been much longer and not quite so exciting.

    I still like the game but with any more than five players, the game tends to drag on too long. Also, some players will get knocked out sometimes an hour or more before the game finally crawls to an end, so it’s almost a must to have some alternative form of entertainment lying around. I haven’t found that the expansion shorten the game by any appreciable duration, though I only have Dodge City and a Fistful of Cards.

    We enjoyed the game enough to want to get it for several friends as Christmas gifts, but right at that time the publisher discontinued the base set in favour of the (cost-prohibitive) Bullet, which included the base and several expansions. That was a real downer as I was willing to spend ten bucks (what I paid for the 3rd edition) on a game for friends, but not thirty. Apparently, that isn’t an issue now, but I’ve since lost the urgency to play Bang! and have my friends play.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    I’m going to get the bullet at some point. The cards are a lot better done – in english now. None of that confusing foreign language crap. ;-) Also, the special cards are explained on the card – which makes the whole game seem a LOT less confusing for newbies.

  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    Yeah, see, I’m all behind the idea of the 4th edition cards. I just like the idea of being able to expand at a pace instead of instantaneously. It’s great if you’re familiar with the game and know you like it, but the people I wanted to purchase for had never played. I’m glad 4th ed. is available as a base set now, but for too long there was just no base set at all.

    But yeah, if I ever get a set to replace my current one, I’ll get the Bullet. Hm, do you know if 4th ed. accounts for colour blindness? I had to mod all my green-bordered cards because one of our players couldn’t tell the difference between them and the regular cards.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Wow, I never thought of that. No idea.

  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    Yeah, most game developers don’t either. I’ve had to mod several games because we’ve had too many times where this guy will be doing some off the wall, out of the box strategy and it turns out he’s just playing normal but thinks he’s invading the red territory when he’s really still just moving pieces into his own green territory. It’s kind of awesome but it ruins games.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    In other gaming news I tried to read over Dominion’s rules tonight in order to play it but I didn’t have enough time and was consequently confused. So I didn’t even attempt trying to explain it at our men’s game night.

    But yeah I am excited about trying it.

  • http://goodokbad.com Seth T. Hahne

    @Drew – Here’s the short version of Dominion rules.
    ________________________________

    1. The goal is to end with the most victory points. The game ends when the Province pile (6VP) or any 3 other stacks get depleted.

    2. Every game uses the 3 VP stacks, the 3 money stacks, and the Curse stack (though it’s usually a waste of time to even put the Curses out since they won’t be used unless you use the Witch card). Add to this any 10 other piles chosen by whatever means you feel appropriate.

    3. Each player begins with 3 Estates (1VP) and 7 Coppers. At game start, each player draws 5 cards from draw deck.

    4. Play moves clockwise.

    5. Each player’s turn runs through three phases: ABC. Actions. Buy. Clean-up.

    a) Action Phase. A player may play 1 Action Card from his hand of 5 cards. Do what it says on the card in the order specified (check rules for details). One can only play 1 Action Card per turn unless receiving a bonus from an action card already played. Move on to B phase.

    b) Buy Phase. Use the Treasure Cards in your hand to purchase 1 card from any of the available stacks. Card cost is in the lower corner. Only 1 card may be purchased unless +Buys were gained in the Action phase. Any gained cards go into your discard pile (rather than your hand or your draw pile). Move on to C phase.

    c) Clean-Up Phase. This is divided into two parts: Discard and Draw.
    • Discard. Take every card that you play, every card in your hand, and every card gained and discard them. Don’t worry, you’ll see them again soon.
    • Draw. Draw 5 new cards from your Draw stack. If you do not have 5 cards in your draw deck, draw what is available, then shuffle your discard pile, make this shuffled stack your new draw deck, and draw cards until you have 5 in your hand. (Note: never shuffle your discard until you need to draw and can’t).

    Your turn is over. Player to your left begins his turn, always in ABC order.

    6. Keep going like this, in clockwise turn order until the game is over.
    ____________________________

    The game mechanic is pretty simple. The complexity comes with strategizing over which cards to buy and how to use them as they com up in your hand.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    Thanks that is helpful–I am sure I will figure it out, I just had like 10 mins to figure out the rules and I didn’t really get it quick enough to try to explain it to all new players including me!


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