Mosey into The Old Saloon expansion for Bang: The Dice Game

I love the card game Bang. It was one of the first games I ever bought.

Like, I don’t think you understand. Bang makes me feel like a kid again. I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog if it wasn’t for Bang.

But I never get to play Bang because dV Giochi came out with the annoyingly great Bang: The Dice Game, which takes the concept and overall feel of Bang and makes it into a faster game that is easier to teach. I begrudgingly acknowledge that Bang: The Dice Game is, in some respects, better than Bang.

And yet, The Dice Game can still feel a bit bland in comparison to the wealth of options and variety available in the card game. A die only has six faces. Bang has dozens and dozens and dozens of different cards.

So, when I heard that an expansion was coming for Bang: The Dice Game, I was immediately intrigued. Would it strike a perfect balance by adding some spice to The Dice Game without sacrificing too much of its simplicity and speed?

The Old Saloon adds a number of new modules. Let’s take a look at them.

New dice

Bang: The Dice Game is a dice game, so naturally The Old Saloon adds two new dice. On your turn, you still roll five dice, but you can choose to replace one of the original dice with one of these. The “loudmouth” die is weighted towards attacking: it has faces with double bang and double Gatling symbols, but it also has a new face for shooting yourself. The “coward” die is weighted towards healing: it has a double beer symbol and a broken arrow that allows you to return an arrow. The new dice are a different color to distinguish them from the original dice (although they are both the same color, which can make them difficult to tell apart at a glance).

I’m not big on the names of these dice. I know the whole game is kind of cheeky, but the word “coward” is so negative that it begins to affect the calculus of whether you want to roll that die. (Also, interestingly, unlike the shoot yourself symbol on the loudmouth, there’s no new negative symbol on the coward die… maybe the negative thing about it is just that it calls you a “coward?” Is this toxic masculinity used as a game mechanism?)

Regardless, the new dice are probably my favorite part of The Old Saloon. They give you more control. You can consider what your goal is each turn—do you need to attack? do you need to heal yourself?—and then pick a die based on that.

Plus it’s funny when you really want to take someone else out and—of course—you shoot yourself instead.

Ghost player

Possibly the biggest addition in The Old Saloon is the ghost. The first person to be eliminated becomes the ghost. The ghost still gets to take a turn, but they only roll two dice and they can’t use the results directly. Instead, they give one of the symbols they’ve rolled to any other player (or, if they roll doubles, they can give two symbols). On the first roll of the recipient’s next turn, they must set dice to those symbols.

So, for example, the ghost can try to give a beer to a player they want to help or dynamite to a player they want to hurt.

Obviously, adding the ghost extends the length of the game a little, but it also offers some much needed consolation to those in the unfortunate position of being eliminated first.

Plus it’s funny when the ghost saddles you with two dynamite from beyond the grave and—of course—you roll a third one and blow up.

Indian chief’s arrow

The Old Saloon also adds the Indian chief’s arrow, which is yellow to differentiate it from the ordinary blue arrows. You simply add this to the pile of arrows and, any time a player must take an arrow, they can opt to take it. The Indian chief’s arrow is worse for you in that it counts as two arrows. However, if you have both the Indian chief’s arrow and the most arrows (including the two from the Indian chief’s) you do not take any damage when the Indians attack.

This is the module that surprised me the most. I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy it, but it’s great! From a game design perspective, this is genius: it flips the arrows from something you don’t want into something you do want, inverting your whole thought process about rolling more times. Plus it’s funny when you try to get the most arrows, but—of course—you fail and lose half of your life points.

Role cards with abilities

The Old Saloon also adds an alternate deck of role cards. The secret roles (deputy, outlaw, renegade) now have a once per game ability that allows you to do something like, for example, take a second turn in a row or prevent another player from being eliminated. However, to use your ability, you have to flip over your card and reveal your role. There are enough different deputy, outlaw, and renegade cards that you can shuffle each type up and never be sure who will have what ability.

I like what these add but, in practice, we haven’t actually invoked the abilities very often. Sometimes we forget about them. Other times we are reluctant to reveal our identities. Other times we try to save them until the best possible moment but—of course—get eliminated first. Still, even if you don’t end up taking advantage of these right away, they give you something to grow into as you get more comfortable with the expansion.

New characters

The expansion also adds a number of new character cards. Most of these can just be added to the deck from the original game, although a few require other modules from The Old Saloon—for example, one character lets you roll the loudmouth die in addition to the five original dice instead of replacing one.

All of the new characters fit in perfectly with the original ones.

The only one whose ability even sounds bad on paper is the Apache Kid, who allows you to take the Indian chief’s arrow from another player. When I saw that, I was like, “That’s it? That sounds lame.” However, this is actually an awesome, game-changing ability. It puts the Apache Kid in pole position if he wants to make himself immune to arrows. Plus, it’s funny if someone thinks you’re on their team and they start going for the most arrows, but you’re not on their team and you use the Apache Kid to pull the Indian chief’s arrow out from under them.

More tokens

Technically, the expansion also adds a couple more bullet tokens (in case you’ve lost some or don’t like making change as often?).

Final thoughts

Because the expansion is structured as modules, you might consider picking and choosing which ones to add in. However, if you’re reasonably familiar with Bang: The Dice Game, I would actually suggest just putting them all in.

You know how the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has this grandiose reputation and is the basis for multi-hour long movies, but in reality it was actually over in about 30 seconds?

Without the expansion, Bang: The Dice Game feels a bit like it’s the actual Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: straightforward, stark, and blisteringly fast.

With The Old Saloon, Bang: The Dice Game becomes more like the embellished version of history. There’s more to see, more to do, and it feels like you’re in the middle of a bustling Wild West town where there’s something exciting going on around every corner.

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.