There are some games that you just love within minutes of starting play. I feel that way about Bang! I joined a group of gamers one night at the local store, they taught me the rules in about a minute, and soon afterwards I was learning why Bang! has been printed and reprinted dozens of times.
Bang! is a card game set in the old American west. Each player has a job- typically this is either sheriff, deputy, outlaw, or renegade. Over the course of the game you play cards in your hand and try to eliminate other players until you are the winner. The sheriff player wins if they are still in the game at the end. The deputies also win if the sheriff is still playing. The outlaws want the sheriff out of the game, and the renegade wants to be the only player left at the end. The beauty of the game is that everyone's job but the sheriff's is secret. You don't know if the person sitting next to you is an outlaw or a deputy. You'll try to guess as the game progresses but that uncertainty adds real excitement to the game.
The game is played in a familiar fashion by drawing and playing cards from a deck. The cards may give a player a horse to ride on or a barrel to hide behind. There are also Bang! cards, which allow you to, well, Bang! someone. You can avoid a Bang! by playing a "Missed!" card. There are other special cards that let you heal from previous Bangs!, and one card that represents a stick of dynamite that you throw to another player. That person can pass it down the table, until it randomly goes off. Players can receive a certain number of Bangs! before being knocked out of the game.
Bang! is ultimately a game about gunfighting but the designer has made it extremely tongue-in-cheek and kept the violence somewhat abstract. You heal yourself by playing a "Beer" card for example. And you don't shoot someone, you Bang! them. Now we know there's nothing funny about gunplay and drinking beer will not heal injuries nor is it a recommended pastime for children and teens. For these reasons playing Bang! may not be to everyone's taste. Others may, however, see the game as ironic rather than harmful and those families may find a lot to like in it.
I think there are several things to recommend about Bang! I like the secret roles the players have and the excitement and tension that creates. Who is going to attack the sheriff and who is going to protect her? And if someone plays a Bang! card on the sheriff, is it a bluff? Are they actually the deputy and trying to find out who the outlaws are? If players enjoy secrecy and guessing they will love this game. I'm also pretty fond of how simple the rules are and how light and fast the game is. This is something you can learn to play in minutes and finish a game in maybe a half an hour.
Bang! does play best with five or six people. I think it would be a bit of a bore with fewer so keep that in mind. It also does require some ability to understand that each player may win in a different way, and it helps to be old enough to enjoy guessing secrets and have some chance of success.
Bang! has been printed a number of times in different forms. At present it is available in a silver plastic bullet-shaped case. Again, if this is horrifying then clearly there are better games out there for your family. But if this seems like a fun diversion then I recommend it highly. You can find Bang! at Pandemonium Books in Central Square and Danger Planet in Waltham.
Pros: simple and exciting game, some fun guessing and surprises
Cons: violent theme may not appeal to everyone
Beyond the Basics: lot of supplements and replay value