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SPIEL '17 Preview: Bandido, or Close That Loop

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Game designer, escape room expert, and director of the Brantford Games Network Scott Nicholson recently tweeted the following:

How true! Rare is the game that includes rules like "The player who just opened the box has won." or "Whoever has the largest hands wins." (Exception: Start Player) After all, a game that doesn't push you around is hardly a game at all. The rules of the game constitute an artificial environment, and when you undertake the playing of a game, you submit yourself to those arbitrary, yet ideally internally consistent rules that comprise that world. You lay down cards that punish you, move into spaces that deny you, and contemplate choices that discomfort you — all in the service of trying to come out ahead of your fellow travelers.

Almost every game presents you with choices, and your willingness to engage those choices is what it means to play a game. Even the simplest games — in this case Bandido, by Martin Nedergaard Andersen and Swiss publisher Helvetiq — are driven by a designer's choice to make your life more difficult. An (apparently invisible) bandit is attempting to tunnel out of jail, and you and your fellow players need to stop him.

"Hi there."

Why would you do this? This bandit doesn't even exist, and even if he did, you're probably not employed by a law enforcement agency and have no responsibility for maintaining this person's incarceration. On the off-chance that you do belong to a fictitious police agency, you'd probably gas the tunnels with a sleeping agent or tear gas to render the bandit unable to attempt any further tunneling.

But no, that's not your way. Instead you will each take three cards in hand — cards that represent both the tunnels being created and the dead ends that prevent further movement — and you'll take turns laying down a card to extend (or stymie) this tunnel network. You might not want to play one of the cards, but you must. You have engaged this game, perhaps even on your own since solitaire play is possible, and now you must follow through.

Initial choices

Naturally as you take turns, the tunnels must observe some minimal level of verisimilitude. You can't abut a tunnel with a wall of dirt. If you could do that, you could negate play by stacking the deck of cards on top of the bandit and asphyxiating him. Follow the paths, narrow the routes to freedom, and hope to plug the holes.

Don't do this

As the game progresses, you realize that in some ways you're simply counting holes. How many ways can this guy reach freedom? Five? Can I make a play to cut that number down to four? Can I keep the holes close to one another so that someone else can bring that number down to three?

Bandido is a simple game, marketed for players aged six and up, and I've now played the game on a purchased copy a half-dozen times, with players counts from 1-4 and with players as young as five. You might think about figuring out the odds of making this play or that, but I've hardly memorized the deck after six plays, and you're just playing the odds over and over again anyway. Maybe the next player has a card perfect for the situation and maybe they don't.

"What now, brown cow?"

The rules are silent on whether you should talk about what's in your hand or indicate where someone might want to play, and while that absence will surely annoy some, I figure that each group will do whatever it prefers, which might be what they would have done anyway. I've played with adults in silence and with kids in total cooperation with face-up hands. It doesn't matter. You do what you want to do, and as long as all the players agree, then you're taking on the burden of those difficult lives together, each suffering the same burdens and part of the same world.

The number of tunnels shrinks and grows. You might see the net closing, then someone shrugs — perhaps you — and says, "Oh, well" as they triple the number of tunnels in play. Sometimes you benefit by narrowing the bandit's options. If everything becomes gnarled underground, you might be unable to play at all, in which case you can place your hand of cards on the bottom of the deck and draw three anew. Will you find better choices or a tunnel you'd never want to play, but must?


If your life wasn't difficult enough previously, you can give the bandit six starting tunnels instead of five. Why didn't he dig six starting tunnels in the first place? I don't know; why'd you lock him in a jail surrounded by loose dirt? I suppose you just wanted to make things difficult for yourself...

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