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Co-op Case Study: Bang!

The 21st century has seen a number of pivotal cooperative games, such as Lord of the Rings (2000), Shadows over Camelot (2005), and Pandemic (2008). However, the adjacent teamplay space has seen several games that were just as foundational. One of the earliest was Bang! (2003), which brought the idea of hidden teams into the mainsteam.

This article was originally published in the Meeples Together blog.


Publisher: daVinci / Mayfair (2003)
Cooperative Style: Hidden Teams
Play Style: Card Management, Take That

Overview

Hidden roles are the heart of Bang! They’re dealt out at the start of each game: one player openly becomes the sheriff, while other players secretly become deputies, outlaws, and a renegade. These roles describe hidden teams that share victory conditions: the sheriff and his deputies are trying to kill all of the renegades and outlaws; the outlaws are trying to kill the sheriff; and the renegade is trying to be the last player standing.

The actual gameplay of Bang! is fairly simple. Players draw cards and then play cards. Sometimes the cards allow for the draw of additional cards, the healing of damage, or other administrative actions. However most of the cards are “Bang!s”, which allow players to shoot each other — though in a somewhat limited fashion based on the range of their weaponry.

Characters die over the course of the game, and when they do, their roles are revealed; eventually one of the teams meets their victory condition.

Cooperative System

The cooperation in Bang! largely comes through shared combat. Players attack other players who they surmise are on different teams. The problem, of course, is figuring out the teams. Everyone can identify the sheriff, since his role is open — but beyond that players make guesses depending on what players do.

The result still works — and it can be great fun when the lack of teamwork infrastructure backfires, causing a sheriff to accidentally kill one of his deputies — but the teamwork play might have been even more intriguing if it were supported by cooperative mechanics.Unfortunately, this means that Bang! suffers the same problems that its predecessor, Werewolf (1987), did: there’s no mechanical support for the hidden teams. Thus, figuring them out is all guesswork and speculation — combined with the oratory abilities of the players. (At least in Bang!, players can explicitly figure out some roles through the attacks that are carried out; if someone is attacking the sheriff, they’re probably not a deputy.) Beyond that, there’s no additional support for cooperation: no way to explicitly share resources, aid an ally, or anything else.

No Challenge System Elements. Hidden Teams.

Adventure System

Bang! uses a two-part character allocation system, where each player gets a role (which defines their victory) and a character (which gives them a special ability). Bang! expands its “adventure gaming” by allowing characters to play special blue/permanent cards, which give them items that they keep over the course of the game.

With that said, the adventure gaming elements of Bang! aren’t necessarily that important. The roles, of course, make the game go ‘round, but everything else is just color.

Expansions & Variants

Bang! has been heavily expanded, though the expansions have not been particularly revolutionary: they mainly add cards. More recently a variant game called Samurai Sword (2012) offered some good changes to the gaming system.

Most obviously, Samurai Sword removes Bang!’s problem of Player Elimination by instead awarding honor as characters are “defeated” — after which the defeated characters return to play. It also allows for more cleverness in its hidden roles: different players in a team can now earn different amounts of victory points for collecting honor, meaning that it might benefit one teammate to attack another in order to shift the honor points to the player who gets more reward for them.

Despite these change, Samurai Sword still doesn’t have any infrastructure for figuring out roles, nor for aiding fellows — making the hidden team aspect of play as chaotic as ever.

There is also a Dice Game (2013), which adapts these ideas to a new medium.

Final Thoughts

Bang! should rightly be congratulated for bringing the idea of hidden teams into the mainstream. Though they existed as far back as the Werewolf / Mafia party games, this was the first inclusion of those same ideas in a major release. The result is a fun game, but not necessarily an example of a great teamwork game — which would be built on both good ideas and solid mechanics.

Emilliano Sciarra

Italian game designer Emilliano Sciarra began work on Bang! in 1999 with the goal of creating a game that could be played by seven or more players. After completing his design, he found a publisher in daVinci Games (now dv Games). The initial print run of 2000 copies appeared in Italy in July 2002 and sold out in just three months. It’s since been translated into six additional languages and has been a resounding international success. Because of that, Sciarra has spent all of his game design efforts on supplements to Bang! and on complementary games like Samuari Sword.

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The original article can be found on the great Mechanics & Meeples