In my reviews, I’ll try to give a brief overview of the game, then talk in depth about three main things: the components, the rules, and the gameplay. These are the things I care most about, so I’ll offer my perspective on those areas.
A Fistful of cards is the only small expansion for Bang! currently available (though this should be changing soon with the deluxe edition). I’ll write this review with an assumption that you know what the original game is all about. For my review of Bang!, click here. For my review of Bang! - Dodge City, click here. For a more detailed description of Bang! or its expansions, I suggest reading the rules online at Da Vinci’s website and/or checking out one of the reviews that spends more time explaining the game.
A Fistful of Cards introduces some global effects into Bang! These effects vary from round to round and, depending on your situation in the game, can either help greatly or hurt a lot. If you make it to the last card ("A Fistful of Cards"), no one will last much longer, as each player is subject to as many Bang!s as cards he has in his hand. This basically helps keep the game from dragging on (and works pretty darn well).
This pack only contains a few cards, but the quality is once again quite high. The card backs are stylish, as usual, and are easily distinguished from the rest of the Bang! cards. The fronts are also very well done, but are in a different style than the original game or the Dodge City expansion. Instead of gritty, colorless sketches, the artwork is full of color and looks much more polished. I personally like the art on A Fistful of Cards a lot, so it doesn’t bother me too much that it doesn’t match.
The real downfall to this expansion is in its translation. Some of the cards are unclear, and some are simply mistranslated (e.g., “phase 1” to “phase 2”, etc.). This causes a lot of confusion and FAQ-checking, which is really a shame. Players shouldn’t have to trust the owner or someone else to throw down rules clarifications out of the blue for a game to be playable. All they needed to do was send the text for fifteen cards to a native English speaker with good grammar, but it looks like they just proofed it themselves. Even though I’m being pretty critical, these errors really only affect a couple cards, so it’s not a huge deal.
The only other negative point is the price - at $5 for $15 cards, it seems a bit steep. When you consider that the cost of Bang!, Dodge City, and A Fistful of Cards is still only ~$25, it’s not too bad, but it doesn’t seem to be as good of a value as the original game or the Dodge City expansion.
The general rules for setting up and using the expansion are a bit ambiguous and seem to cause a lot of confusion, but they’re quite simple. I’ll just explain them in their entirety here:
Set aside the card “A Fistful of Cards”. Shuffle the rest of the expansion together, face down. Place “A Fistful of Cards” on the top (also face down). Turn the whole deck over – one of the expansion cards should be showing now, and “A Fistful of Cards” should be on the bottom of the stack. Place this deck in the center of the table. At the beginning of the second round before the Sheriff’s turn, the Sheriff moves the top card from the first pile to a second pile. The first card is now in effect, and the players can see the next card coming. The Sheriff then takes his turn and play proceeds as normal. When you get to “A Fistful of Cards”, you leave it in effect until the game is over.
The rules on the cards are generally easy to understand with a couple exceptions (Abandoned Mine is just confusing, Ranch is mistranslated, and of all things, A Fistful of Cards is mistranslated). Once you get past the translation problems, it’s pretty simple, but again, I don’t know what the translators were thinking when they decided they didn’t need a native English speaker to proofread their rules.
I won’t give a rundown of each card, as you can find that easily enough elsewhere. Instead, I’ll highlight a few of my favorites:
Russian Roulette – Starting with the Sheriff, each player must dodge a shot (play a card with a missed symbol, use a Barrel, etc.) or lose two life. This goes around until someone gets hit. - This card is totally random, but it’s always pretty fun to watch. Sometimes you get burned, but that’s Bang!
Peyote - Players guess the color of the top card before drawing and keep it if they guessed correctly. A player continues to do this until they guess incorrectly. - This one is just plain fun. I’ve drawn as many as 6 and as few as 0 cards during the Peyote phase.
Dead Man – The first person who was eliminated comes back into play with two life and two cards. - Like the Vendetta card (another good one), this one can either really change things around or be the final nail in the coffin, depending on the situation. Either way, it’s nice to let the first player out get something in return for being offed so quickly.
There are a couple cards I don’t particularly care for (Abandoned Mine, Law of the West), but the great thing about this pack is that you can remove cards as you please, as long as you don’t mind the final card showing up sooner.
Since the rules here apply equally to everyone, the effect on the gameplay is more or less even. Sometimes a certain card will be really good for one or two players, but the next may not be – it all depends on the current situation. This gives A Fistful of Cards good replay value, as a card like Russian Roulette or Vendetta may really help the Sheriff’s team one game but the outlaws the next.
Apart from the global effects, the game mechanics are more or less unchanged, which is a good thing in my book. The actual use of the expansion goes pretty smoothly once you get a hang of it -- if you can remember to use it! I don’t play with this too often, so when I do, I sometimes forget to use the cards.
Overall, I like the effect this expansion has on the gameplay (with the exception of a couple cards mentioned above). I think anyone should be able to enjoy this expansion as long as you don’t mind Bang! getting even more chaotic. I play Bang! to have a good time and generally don’t mind losing, so for me, anything that mixes it up a bit is good fun. If you think the basic game (with or without Dodge City) is already pushing your limits in the area of luck, you may want to steer clear of A Fistful of Cards. Otherwise, as long as you play enough Bang! to get $5’s worth of fun from this expansion, I’d recommend picking it up.
Nicely done, Brendan.
With the Italians now making so many games (and putting them into English, because it is not only a large market on its own but is now the 2nd language for a lot of people), the question is why they won't get a native speaker-- preferably a person who really understands rules-- to proof their games?