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Jeremy Avery
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Some games are harder to rate than others. Sometimes I give a game 5 stars and regret it later. Or give it 3 but wish I could rate it a half star higher. Then again, some games are 5 stars -- period. BANG! is one of those games. Not only did the theme of this game grab me (there aren't a lot of good German games with a Western theme) but also the gameplay grabbed me. This has: action cards, partnerships, hidden roles, special abilities for each player, different goals for each partnership -- and even more that make this game special.

Players start out with one character (eg. 'Black Jack' or 'Jourdonnais' which is made known publicly, and that character has a special ability no one else has (eg. 'Trade 2 cards to regain a life point' or 'May draw a card everytime he is hit'.) So part of your strategy will be to take advantage of your character's ability to the fullest. But that's only the beginning.

Then players are dealt a 'role' and this is kept secret -- and herein the enjoyment of the game. You see, depending on how many players play, the roles are different, but however they are distributed, they are teamed together -- sort of. For example, in a 5 player game, there is 1 Sheriff, 1 Deputy, 1 Renegade, and 2 Outlaws. The roles are be dealt out and kept secret, except for the Sheriff, who declares himself. Now in order to win, the Sheriff and the Deputy need to kill both Outlaws; the Outlaws must kill the Sheriff; the Renegade must kill everyone, but loses if Sheriff dies before the Outlaws do. 'Well,' you say, 'that's not too hard to follow.' Ah yes, but remember that no one knows who anyone else is. And at the beginning of the game you can only 'shoot' the player on your right and the player on your left. So the Sheriff may start out by taking a swipe at the person on his left -- who may well be his Deputy! So the first important goal for each player is to try and figure out who is on his team -- and more importantly, who is not -- so he can start attacking his opponents! But even that is not as straightforward as it appears, because anyone who kills an Outlaw gets a 3 card reward -- even if it is the other Outlaw who makes the kill!

So players are trying to figure out the roles of every player, and that largely is found out by how they behave towards the Sheriff. If one player is not shooting the Sheriff, even though they sit side-by-side at the table, then it's a good bet he is a Deputy. So the Deputy may shoot at the Sheriff a couple times to try and throw the Outlaws off his scent -- but if the Sheriff kills his deputy (in defense, your honor!) then he loses all his cards.

The second unique feature of the game is the idea of 'range.' You see at the beginning of the game, everyone has a revolver which has a range of 1. (Weapons in the deck have a range of up to 5.) That means you can shoot people who are sitting in the seats immediately to the right and left of you. What that means is how people are seated around the table determines whether or not you can hit them. If Jenny is the Sheriff and I want to shoot her, but she is 3 seats away from me, and I only have a gun with a range of 2, I can not take a shot at her.

But there is a game going on while all this other stuff takes place. It is a card game, and a fun, quick one at that. Players have a hand of cards and at the beginning of their turn take 2 more, then play as many as they want to on one turn. The BANG! card is the heart of play, as your basic 'shoot' card. The player being shot at then gets to play a 'Miss' card if he has one in order to avoid the shot. That is the basic part of the game, but there is so much more because fo the variety of action cards.

What kind of action cards? Indian attacks force everyone else to play a BANG! card or get hit; General Store cards get everyone an extra card, but with an interesting distribution method; Gatling Gun takes a shot at everyone at the table who must discard a 'Miss' card or take the hit; Dynamite cards (that get played on you first) go around the table (like 'hot potato' turn by turn) and have a 12.5% chance of blowing up on any given player; Jail cards can be played on anyone and have a 75% chance of causing that player to miss their turn. I could go on, but you get the idea.

What you end up with is a game that plays 4-7 players, in about 20 minutes a game (with experienced players), and provides some neat and unique gaming.

Part Mafia/Werewolf, part Mille Bornes, part cheesy Western movie, part partnership game -- whi one has it all. For under $10. BUY IMMEDIATELY. =)

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