Bang is a dangerously fun card game

I used to be a normal person who didn’t own any board games. Then I went to a party with some friends and played Bang.

It wasn’t my first experience with modern board games—I’d played ones like The Settlers of Catan, 7 Wonders, and Agricola before. But there was something different about Bang… it had this je ne sais quoi that spoke to something deep inside me. Afterwards, I had a dangerous, Damascene realization: “I’m an adult with a job and income… I can buy Bang for myself and get other people to play it with me.” That was the moment where I mentally transformed from “player who just shows up” to “game facilitator.” I was infected.

Bang is essentially a Wild West card game version of the game Mafia or Werewolf. One player is designated as the sheriff. All of the other players have a secret role: deputy, outlaw, or renegade. The sheriff and the deputies win if the outlaws and renegades are eliminated. The outlaws win if the sheriff is eliminated. And a renegade wins if everyone else is eliminated. Each turn, players use cards to draw guns, shoot at each other, dodge bullets, increase their health, etc. Since all of the roles except for the sheriff are secret, considerable intrigue surrounds who is on which team and—consequently—who to shoot.

I’ve seen things in Bang. I’ve seen the sheriff shoot at his own deputy. I’ve seen the deputy shoot at his own sheriff. I’ve seen an outlaw shoot down his own teammates just to get a clear shot at the sheriff. I’ve also seen delight and laughter and joy.

Bang was created in Italy and most printings have both English and Italian on the cards, creating a Spaghetti Western vibe. There are several editions of Bang available, along with numerous expansions and licensed versions, including Halo and The Walking Dead. The edition I have is called Bang! The Bullet. It comes in a 109-mm-cartridge-shaped tin with the core game, most of the expansions, and a plastic sheriff’s badge.

I bit on The Bullet because it includes lots of expansions. However, there are a few things that I dislike about it.

It’s difficult to transport because it rolls around and the lid comes off easily.

Also, the shape of the bullet is historically inaccurate.


Two things are immediately obvious about The Bullet‘s bullet. First, it’s rounded on top instead of pointy, so it’s for a pistol or lever action rifle. Second, the cartridge is rimless.

Bang! The Bullet's tin

You’ve probably seen movies where a cowboy is loading a revolver by sliding cartridges into the back. The reason those cartridges don’t just slide all the way out the front is that they are rimmed: a tiny protruding ridge around the bottom fits into a groove in the revolver’s cylinder. By contrast, most ammunition used in modern semi-automatic pistols is rimless to allow it to be stacked inside a magazine.

Rimless cartridge (left) vs. rimmed cartridge (right).
Rimless cartridge (left) vs. rimmed cartridge (right).

Since The Bullet‘s cartridge is rimless, it is for a semi-automatic pistol. Semi-automatic pistols weren’t invented until the 1890s—the very tail end of the Wild West era. They do appear prominently in several notable Western movies like The Wild Bunch, Big Jake, The Last Hard Men, and Duck, You Sucker, but those movies all specifically deal with societal change and the decline of the cowboy way of life.

None of these firearms use a rimless cartridge.
None of these firearms use a rimless cartridge.

If the shape of the tin was more stylized, it probably wouldn’t bother me. But it looks unmistakably modern (basically like an elongated .45 ACP or .45 Winchester Magnum). It wouldn’t work in any of the firearms depicted on the Bang cards or any of the other firearms commonly associated with the postbellum American West. It’s like if there was something called Bang! The Hat, but instead of a cowboy hat, it was a baseball cap.

Bang! The Dice Game

Bang! The Dice Game

Bang has spawned a whole family of related games. When I heard Bang! The Dice Game was coming out, I immediately added it to my Christmas list because it sounded like a great way to get my Bang fix faster. It’s more or less a hybrid of Bang and Yahtzee. The secret roles are the same, but instead of drawing and playing cards each turn, players roll six dice and use the results to attack and heal.

The Dice Game has a few advantages. It plays in roughly half the time of the card game, so eliminated players don’t have to wait as long for the next game. Also, the dice only have six sides, so there are only six actions to explain to new players. The downside is less variety and strategy, and an overall less dramatic feel than the card game.

The cartridges on The Dice Game's tokens are rimmed (although they look quite a bit like .22 caliber cartridges, a smaller caliber than any of the firearms shown in the game).
The cartridges on The Dice Game’s tokens are rimmed (although they look quite a bit like .22 caliber cartridges, a smaller caliber than any of the firearms shown in the game).

Family friendliness

The manufacturer’s officially recommended minimum age for both Bang and Bang! The Dice Game is eight years old. Bang may not be appropriate for young children for several reasons. The central conceit of the game involves using guns to shoot people. Players tend to cheekily say “I’m Bang-ing you” a lot. The card for healing yourself is called “Beer,” with a picture of a frothy stein on it. Plus, the various expansions include cards called “Russian Roulette,” “Whisky,” “Tequila,” “Hard Liquor,” and “Peyote.” That said, it’s probably not that much different than letting your kids watch a John Wayne movie (except for the peyote part).

Bang's thirst-quenching beer cards.
Bang’s thirst-quenching beer cards.

Final thoughts

Today, I probably wouldn’t buy Bang. I still think it’s a great game, but I’ve had to set some personal limits to keep myself from buying too many games. These days, I tend to only buy games that either support two players (so I can play them at home with my wife) or are easy to teach (so I can play them with anyone, anytime). Technically, Bang has variants for two or three players, but you need at least four or five people for the actual game. And, with all of the symbology and card types, Bang is pushing the limits of what is tractable to many new players.

On the other hand, Bang! The Dice Game offers a very similar experience in a faster game with a flatter learning curve.

Still, as good as The Dice Game is, I sometimes find myself missing the epic feel of the card game, wanting to chase that high that got me hooked in the first place. In the right setting, with the right group of players, you can bring it out and be transported from sitting around your kitchen table to squaring off in a riveting showdown at the OK Corral.